Category Archives: employee communication

The Price of Secrecy

The most comprehensive, carefully thought-out company policies are basically rendered void if they’re not enforced.

And, moreover, not letting employees know that violations of these rules are being dealt with can actually have a pretty corrosive effect on an organization over time.

So says a new study from researchers at the University of California, Irvine, who used questionnaire data from “a large U.S. governmental agency” to find that “lower employee trust with tenure is incrementally linearly lower over the course of employment, not the result of an early breach of the psychological contract.”

This occurs, the authors continue, “for employees at all hierarchical levels, but is steepest for non-supervisory employees, suggesting that employees [lacking] information about policy enforcement may be driving this phenomenon.”

In other, plainer words, your people want to know that policies are being enforced, and keeping them in the dark about enforcement proceedings only serves to chip away at employees’ trust in the organization.

“The decline happens incrementally over the span of an employee’s tenure with their organization when policy enforcement is kept secret from other employees,” says lead author Jone Pearce, dean’s professor of organization and management at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business, in a statement.

“Secret proceedings weaken, rather than support, employees’ perceptions that policy enforcement is taken seriously, which then works to undermine trust in their organizations.”

Unlike legal trial proceedings, the authors write, most companies’ policy enforcement proceedings “lack the fundamental feature of due process procedures: They are not open.”

In addition, they note, organizational secrecy can spread as employees “assume secrecy is what the organization expects, and so they withhold information that they should be sharing, potentially causing additional harm to organizations and employees alike.”

While the company might contend that keeping policy proceedings hush-hush is done in the interest of privacy, being open about enforcement proceedings actually “helps protect against someone making false charges and allows all employees to know that violations have consequences,” according to Pearce.

“Openness keeps those rendering judgement honest, while secrecy undermines accountability. Hiding enforcement proceedings may help a company or its employees avoid embarrassment; however, it comes at a price. And, that price is a loss of trust in the authorities and their policies.”

And, compounding the problem is the possibility that this skepticism might trickle down from veteran workers to more junior colleagues who are still forming impressions of their employer.

“Understanding why employees with more tenure trust their organizations less also has important theoretical and practical implications for human resource management practices,” the authors point out. “Longer tenured employees are often sources of guidance for newer employees on understanding organizational values and expectations, and may spread their low trust to their less experienced co-workers, further undermining others’ organizational trust.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Blessing/Curse of Social Media

Anyone who’s been following coverage of Tropical Storm Harvey’s rampage through Texas and Louisiana knows the invaluable role social media’s played in helping victims get the word out to rescuers. The advent of social media has brought us many gifts — and curses. Witness the effect it’s having on our children, as documented by researcher Jean M. Twenge in her new book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–And What That Means for the Rest of Us.

Social media can — as Twenge and others have pointed out — both infantilize and enlighten us. And it can also have interesting effects on organizations, as a new survey out today from the Northern California Human Resource Association reminds us. That survey, which queried 20,000 HR professionals about social media and transparency, reveals that 59 percent agree with the statement that “The rise of social media has made my organization more transparent.”

“Transparency” isn’t always a good thing, of course — the good folks at Google could certainly tell you that, as they continue dealing with the fallout from engineer James Damore’s memo arguing that fewer women than men hold technical positions because of biological differences, not discrimination, and the company’s subsequent decision to fire him. The memo, which was posted on an internal company blog, was widely disseminated via social media, as was the reaction to it by other Google employees and Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s stated reasons for firing Damore.

The Google episode (and an earlier episode at Uber) were addressed in NCHRA’s survey, which asked respondents whether their organizations have changed their views/philosophy on how employees should utilize social media in light of those events. Only 24 percent of respondents said they felt their organizations had changed.

Another interesting finding: 68 percent of male respondents feel their organization has become more transparent due to social media. but only 54 percent of female participants said that was the case. And, while 69 percent of respondents from large organizations with 10,000 or more employees say their organizations have become more transparent thanks to social media, only 50 percent of those from organizations with between 201 and 1,000 employees say the same.

“Within the HR community, transparency is usually regarded as a positive attribute within the organization, because it can be used to cultivate trust,” says NCHRA CEO Greg Morton. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen several instances in the news recently that illustrate how that transparency can backfire if the organization has underlying cultural issues that haven’t been addressed.”

Well said. In other words, it’s probably best if HR be vigilant about listening carefully to employees and addressing any issues that are uncovered first, rather than waiting for transparency to do the job — and cause plenty of avoidable problems.

Cutting Costs or Watching Workers?

“Managing by walking around” is an old expression describing one no-frills way that supervisors can keep their finger on the pulse of the workplace: By simply strolling around the office to check in on employees and the status of the projects they’re working on.

Managers at British banking and financial services firm Barclays are apparently taking a different approach; one that saves them the steps and instead relies on technology to keep tabs on workers.

As Bloomberg recently reported, Barclays has installed devices that track how often bankers are at their desks, using heat and motion sensors “to record how long employees are spending at their posts,” and providing managers with a multi-colored dashboard that shows which workstations are unoccupied.

The devices—called OccupEye, and made by U.K.-based Cad Capture—also enable supervisors to analyze workspace usage trends, and weren’t intended to be used for monitoring people or their productivity, according to a Barclays statement emailed to Bloomberg.

Rather, they’re designed for “assessing office space and usage,” according to the bank. “This sort of analysis helps us to reduce costs, for example, managing energy consumption, or identifying opportunities to further adopt flexible work environments.”

I can’t help but wonder if Barclays employees are a bit skeptical about the purpose of these devices. While the bank says “there have been no official human resources complaints,” managers were “peppered with queries when investment bank staff in London discovered black boxes stuck to the underside of their desks in recent months,” according to several Barclays employees who spoke to Bloomberg on the condition of anonymity.

Employees at other British companies, however, have made their feelings pretty clear upon discovering the same sensor systems in their workspaces.

Last year, the Daily Telegraph removed the OccupEye devices the same day they were installed there. Originally intending to keep the sensors in place for four weeks as part of developing plans for making their offices more energy-efficient, the British newspaper immediately scrapped those plans when its employees (and the country’s National Union of Journalists) complained of feeling like they were under surveillance while at work.

Such concerns aside, Bloomberg found at least one other British bank, Lloyds Banking Group, using sensors similar to those in place at Barclays, with an eye on cutting costs by eliminating extraneous office space.

“It’s important to keep office and working space under regular review,” Lloyds spokesperson Ross Keany told Bloomberg. “While we use motion sensors in some of our sites, we also make sure to engage colleagues and seek their feedback on what would work best.”

Soliciting employee input seems like a smart move in this situation. These types of tools might truly be intended to trim office space, cut back on energy use and, ultimately, save money. Still, it’s not hard to imagine workers—in any environment—feeling just a bit like Big Brother is watching when these sensor systems are put in place. We’ll have to wait and see if U.S. employers begin to adopt similar technology, but—if the Daily Telegraph rollout is any indication, at least—careful and continual communication with employees would be advised throughout the process.

Knowing the Unknown

Hal Gregersen has studied more than 200 corporate leaders.

Gregersen, the current executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, has worked with executives all over the world, from France to Helsinki, Finland. In his travels, he’s found that many CEOs and other leaders face a common challenge: overcoming a feeling of being isolated within the organization.

This morning, Gregersen shared some of their experiences as he kicked off the International Coach Federation’s ICF Converge event, held Aug. 23 – 25 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. His keynote presentation, “Asking Catalytic Questions,” offered some examples of executives that have wrestled with overcoming what he calls “a dangerous disconnect.”

CEOs such as Walter Bettinger at Charles Schwab, for instance, have told Gregersen that they sometimes grow concerned that “people tell him what they think he wants to hear, and [are reluctant] to tell him what he doesn’t want to hear,” said Gregersen.

Encouraging open and honest communication with employees is obviously important for any executive seeking to avoid isolation at the top of the organization. But it also requires some self-reflection—and some acceptance of one’s own limits, said Gregersen.

“The best and most innovative leaders constantly and systematically try to figure out what they don’t know they don’t know,” he told the roughly 1,600 corporate coaches in attendance. “It’s part of their everyday work.”

Gregersen pointed to Tesla CEO Elon Musk as an example, noting that a pre-teen Musk reportedly sat down and read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica in an effort to broaden his knowledge base.

On the other hand is recently-ousted Uber chief Travis Kalanick.

“He didn’t know that he didn’t know how to interact with one of his own drivers,” said Gregersen, referencing the now-famous viral video showing Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver; a clip that has racked up more than 4 million YouTube views and helped precipitate Kalanick’s downfall at the company.

Kalanick might be an extreme example, but “it can be tough to know what you don’t know,” said Gregersen.

The higher one flies in an organization, “and the better we become, it can be tempting to think that we have it all figured out.”

In studying leadership, Gregersen says he’s also discovered that the best leaders know the right questions to ask in their quest for more knowledge—of themselves as well as others. And that journey sometimes requires knowing when to shut up and listen.

“How long do you wait for others to answer your questions?” Gregersen asked those in attendance, noting that four seconds is typically considered an appropriate length.

“For some leaders, and for some coaches,” he joked, “this might seem like an eternity.”

The best leaders, however, eagerly ask the right (and sometimes uncomfortable) questions, and listen carefully to the responses they get. Making this kind of effort, he says, expands an executive’s knowledge, of course. But, from a business perspective, it can also help prevent learning new information about an important issue before it’s too late, according to Gregersen.

“If we don’t seek out surprises, surprises tend to find us.”

 

The High Cost of Caregiving

You may or may not be familiar with the story of Kristian Rex, a New Jersey man who cares for his elderly father, a former boat captain who once had “arms like Popeye” and who now — thanks to a debilitating stroke — is unable to perform basic, daily routines such as shaving himself. As shown in a recent award-winning commercial (for Gillette, no less), Rex Jr. must perform these and other tasks for his dad, and he does so with care and grace, as any good son would.

Many of us will find ourselves in Rex Jr.’s shoes one day, as the number of elderly in the U.S. continues to grow. In fact, an estimated 40 million Americans already serve as family caregivers and of those, 24 million juggle those responsibilities with holding down a job (Rex Jr. is a bit of an outlier, as women make up the majority of caregivers for elderly parents.) Nearly one in five adult children provide care for at least one elderly parent at some point, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. These caregivers spend an average of 77 hours per month with their parents, the Center finds, or the equivalent of about two weeks of work. Caregiving also exacts a mental and physical toll on health, with women caregivers reporting more pain and significantly higher out-of-pocket costs for their own healthcare, a study by the Center for Retirement Research finds. The study also finds that both male and female caregivers say they’re more depressed and suffer from poorer health because of parental care.

Many employers recognize the burden that caregiving employees shoulder: A new survey by the Northeast Business Group on Health (undertaken in partnership with AARP) finds that more than three quarters of the 129 mostly large employers surveyed agree that caregiving will grow in importance to their companies over the next five years. Respondents cited increased productivity, decreased absenteeism and reduced healthcare costs as the top drivers that would make a compelling case for investing in benefits that would make them “caregiver friendly” organizations.

“Family caregiving is an issue that affects the vast majority of us,” says AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond. “We are either caregivers now, have been in the past, will be in the future or will need care ourselves.”

Fewer than half of the companies surveyed have programs or benefits designed specifically for caregivers, such as caregiver support groups, subsidized in-home back-up care for those being cared for, or counseling services. For those that do make such offerings available, communication appears to be an issue, with most saying their employees are only “somewhat” or “not very” aware of these benefits and services.

Plenty of compelling reasons exist for employers to get serious now about offering — and communicating — these services.

“The implications of this trend are significant not only for workplace productivity but for employee population health and healthcare costs,” says Dr. Jeremy Nobel, Executive Director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center. “Caregivers tend to abandon their own physical and emotional needs and employers need to plan for how to respond.”

Back From Vacation — And Stressed

That week in the Bahamas was everything you’d hoped it would be. And now it’s Monday, your first day back at the office — and life stinks.

If this scenario rings true to you (regardless of whether said vacation was in the Bahamas, Disney World or your own backyard), then take heart in knowing you’re hardly alone: Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of 1,000 full-time U.S. workers polled by training and communications firm Fierce Inc. say they’re either more stressed or have the same level of stress upon returning to work after taking paid time off. The reasons why aren’t that surprising, with most respondents citing having to catch up on missed work, followed by having to readjust to “a work mindset” and needing to resolve major issues that arose while they were away.

Not all employees feel equally stressed, however, with only 14 percent of respondents who said they were “very satisfied” with their job feeling more stressed returning from vacation. Meanwhile, 38 percent of those who reported being unsatisfied with their jobs said they felt more stressed returning to work.

“The fact that returning to work is a stressful situation speaks volumes to the lack of support many employees feel both leading up to, and returning from, vacation,” says Stacey Engle, Fierce’s executive vice president of marketing.

Interestingly, while more than half of employees believe their managers support and encourage them to take time off, only 40 percent say the same of their co-workers. Once again, there’s a correlation between this factor and job satisfaction, with 57 percent of those unsatisfied with their current job saying no one encourages or supports them in taking paid time off, while just 18 percent of those who are very satisfied say the same. Lower-paid employees also report a lack of support, with 45 percent of those with annual household incomes of $50,000 or less saying no one encourages them to take a vacation. Meanwhile, less than 30 percent of employees who make $100,000 a year or more say no one encourages them to take time off.

Then there’s the perennial issue of under-vacationed Americans: Although a third of the Fierce survey respondents say they receive 20 or more vacation days each year, one in every five say they receive less than 10. Not surprisingly, younger and lower-paid workers tend to receive the least PTO days. By way of comparison, countries within the European Union require a minimum of four weeks (20 days) of paid leave for all workers, while a number of them(such as Germany and Switzerland) are even more generous.

Given that there is no national law requiring paid time off in the U.S., employees and HR need to keep the lines of communication open regarding the issue of vacation. As Fierce’s Engle says, “employees need to feel empowered to ask for what they need, and managers must be open to hearing concerns of these employees.”

The Trouble With Leadership

Unless you’ve been hiding under a fairly large rock lately, you’ve no doubt heard that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was asked to resign from the company he co-founded, which went from a mere prototype in 2009 to a monster with a market valuation of $70 billion earlier this year. Of course, along with that (paper) wealth generation a whole lot of other things went on, including a series of ethically questionable decisions and allegedly rampant harassment and disrespect of workers by managers, including Kalanick and his direct reports.

Mr. Kalanick has plenty of company: Senior leaders in general are failing the grade, at least according to the employees who work for them. Less than half of U.S. employees (45 percent) have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organization’s top leaders, according to Willis Towers Watson’s latest Global Workforce Study. That’s down from 55 percent who expressed trust and confidence in their organization’s C-suite denizens for a similar study in 2014. Only 47 percent believe leaders have a sincere interest in employees’ well being, while just one in four (41 percent) think their organization is doing a good job of developing future leaders.

These low scores don’t bode well for an organization’s long-term success.

“The fact that a significant percentage of workers don’t believe their leaders are as effective as they can be is worrisome, given that strong leadership is a key driver of employee engagement,” says Laura Sejen, WTW’s managing director for Human Capital and Benefits. The Global Workforce Study includes survey responses from 3,015 U.S. employees from 441 American companies, out of a total of 31,000 employees and 2,004 companies from around the globe.

Employees tend to view their immediate managers much more favorably, the survey finds: 81 percent of U.S. workers say their managers treat them with respect, 75 percent say managers assign them tasks that are well-suited to their skills and abilities and 60 percent say their managers communicate goals and assignments clearly.

Unfortunately, there’s much room for improvement as well: Just a bit more than half (56 percent) say their managers make fair decisions about how performance is linked to pay and only half (50 percent) say managers have enough time to handle the “people aspects” of their job. Only 40 percent say their managers coach them to improve their performance.

What’s the solution? No clear-cut one, obviously, but it might be wise for HR leaders to help their organizations get serious about building a stronger pipeline of future leaders and helping current managers become better coaches.

“Given the increasingly important role that managers and supervisors are playing in defining the work to be done, motivating workers and ensuring a sufficient talent pipeline, many organizations are taking a keen interest in how manager behavior affects engagement and how managers can build more engaged teams,” says Patrick Kulesa, WTW’s director of employee research.

This Just In: Change is Awful

The saying goes that “change is inevitable.” But when it comes to the workplace, Americans would rather have none of it, according to the results of a brand-new survey from the American Psychological Association.

Employees in the U.S. who’ve been affected by change at work are more likely to report chronic work stress, less likely to trust their employer and more likely to say they plan to leave the organization within the next year compared to those who haven’t been affected by organizational change, according to the APA’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey, which is based on responses from 1,500 U.S. adults and was conducted on behalf of the APA by Harris Poll in March.

Half of American workers report having been affected by organizational change within the last year, are currently being affected by such change or expect to be affected by it within the next year, the survey finds. Workers experiencing recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress compared with employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated change (55 percent vs. 22 percent), and more than four times as likely to report experiencing physical health symptoms at work (34 percent vs. 8 percent).

Workers reporting recent or current change also were much more likely than other respondents to say they experienced work/life conflict and felt cynical and negative toward others during the workday (35 percent vs. 11 percent) and ate or smoked more during the workday than they did outside of work (29 percent vs. 8 percent).

There’s plenty more in the survey results, much of it dispiriting and depressing. The upshot seems to be that too many U.S. workplaces appear to be afflicted with leaders who’ve adopted a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. However, this article that ran in McKinsey Quarterly a number of years ago (published by the consulting powerhouse McKinsey) offers some interesting food for thought that holds true today. One of its important points, as you may already know, is that people need to understand the point of change–why something is being changed, their role in helping the change succeed and how all of it will lead to better conditions for both themselves and the larger organization. The theme is that while change may be inevitable, the negative side effects shouldn’t be and don’t have to be.

 

An Extreme Twist on Team-Building

Tired of the same old activities designed to create a spirit of trust and teamwork among your employees? Survival Systems USA has an extreme experience to offer that could literally teach your workers how to sink or swim together.

The Groton, Conn.-based safety and survival education provider has taught underwater egress training and water survival techniques since 1999, delivering instruction to, among others, employees of the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., the New York Police Department and the National Guard, as the New York Times recently reported.

In imparting survival skills to those who might have to use them on the job, “we’ve seen residual effects along the way: improved morale, self-esteem, capabilities people didn’t know they had,” Survival Systems USA President Maria C. Hanna told the Times. Until recently, she said, “we’ve never stopped long enough to say, ‘You know, this is something that can appeal to a market in a different way, using the tools from aviation to help people develop themselves.’ ”

The company has begun putting those tools to work in hopes of attracting corporate customers searching for drastically different team- and morale-building exercises.

In November, for example, Survival Systems conducted a one-day aquatic survival training program for a group of three university students, four personal trainers and the owner of a paving company, according to the Times.

These individuals—who ostensibly had no work-related reasons to undergo such training—spent the first part of the six-hour program jumping from a 14-foot platform into an indoor pool. With life vests inflated, they were then given a matter of minutes to find a way to stay warm while floating. Another task required those taking part to work together to board an inflated life raft under the direction of one member of the group.

Program participants spent the next part of their Saturday strapped into Survival Systems’ Modular Egress Training Simulator, which the Times describes as “a plastic and metal craft that can be arranged to resemble the cockpit of almost any helicopter or small plane on the market.” Meanwhile, other pieces of equipment duplicated the downwash from rescue helicopters and generated rain, darkness, smoke, fire and winds of up to 120 miles-per-hour.

Once inside the simulator, these brave souls were submerged and flipped into a pool as part of an exercise that includes three rounds. First, participants must reach for the simulator’s window frame, unfasten their seatbelts, pull themselves out and swim to the surface. The second round adds a degree of difficulty to the task, by closing the aforementioned window. In the third scenario, individuals must pretend their window is stuck and escape by holding onto the simulator’s seats and making their way to an adjacent, open window.

An instructor remains nearby at all times, “ready to whisk [participants] to the surface if anything goes wrong,” the Times points out, adding that “though no one has drowned during the training, the primordial fear remains.”

The same article notes that the curriculum for this program is still being fine-tuned, and this particular group was offered the training for free, in exchange for their feedback. The experience, however, will soon retail at roughly $950 per person; a price that Survival Systems says is in line with that of its other one-day programs.

Greg Drab, owner of Advantage Personal Training, has sent multiple employees—including the four trainers taking part in the November session—through the program at no cost, but sees the $950 as a bargain.

“You get to see how people handle stressful situations,” Drab told the Times. “This unifies the team.”

Now THAT’s Honest Feedback

There’s a saying that people want the truth until they get it.

Consider the leadership team at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, who might regret asking interchange manager Michael Stuban to fill out an exit survey on his last day before heading into retirement.

Stuban, who spent 35 years with the organization, offered his two cents and then some.

In a recent interview with The Philadelphia Daily News, Stuban described the “brutal” frankness with which he approached the online questionnaire.

“When they asked for an honest exit interview, I gave them one,” Stuban told the paper, with a bit of a laugh. “I sent it minutes before I officially retired.”

For what it’s worth, the 58-year-old Stuban wrote that he didn’t really want to retire just yet, and that he actually liked his job.

He may have enjoyed his work, but it seems he wasn’t so crazy about the people he worked for.

The “out of touch” executive-level managers at the helm of the “rudderless” agency, for instance, are “only looking out for themselves,” according to Stuban. He characterized the past five years at the commission as “terrible,” with “no morale” among employees.

These same co-workers were asked to take part in classes “where we were told we are not political,” wrote Stuban, who opined that the commission frequently hires incompetent employees “based on political connections,” according to the Daily News.

Stuban didn’t mince words when it came to the idea that corporate politics were not at work within the organization.

“That’s bulls—,” he wrote. “Jobs/promotions are filled by the politicians … it’s who you know, not what you know. Positions [are] created for people who are not qualified.”

And, Stuban apparently felt so strongly about the thoughts he was sharing that he had to disseminate them throughout the organization. Stuban emailed his completed exit survey not just to the HR department from which it came, but to more than 2,000 colleagues as well, according to the Daily News.

At least one of them found some levity in Stuban’s sentiments.

“Want to get away? Southwest is offering great fares … ” replied the employee, in a reference to the airline’s well-known commercial tagline.

Turnpike Commission Chairman Sean Logan didn’t find Stuban’s candor quite so funny.

Logan, a former Pennsylvania State Senator, was equally blunt in his reply, which went out to those same 2,000-plus turnpike employees, the Daily News notes.

“Mr. Stuban … I don’t believe we ever met, and after reading your exit questionnaire, I am grateful that we didn’t.”

According to the paper, Stuban was made aware of Logan’s brusque response, and, perhaps not surprisingly, felt the chairman failed to see the point of his missive.

“If it was an effective company and someone told you there are problems and no morale, you don’t have to believe me, but maybe someone should check into it.”

No one outside this particular organization can really say how accurate Stuban’s depiction of its culture may or may not be. And who knows how the commission has responded, or plans to respond, to the issues that Stuban alleges exist within the agency.

But if morale really is a problem there, then Logan’s reaction to Stuban’s candid, albeit harsh, feedback probably won’t encourage other workers to offer their honest (and invaluable) opinions to those above them. And that’s the organization’s loss.