Posts belonging to Category employee engagement



Millennial Meltdown

stressed womanBy definition, employee burnout occurs when someone begins to feel emotionally and physically spent after doing a difficult and demanding job for a long time.

With that in mind, it seems to make sense that older employees—baby boomers bearing down on retirement age, Gen Xers now hitting their 40s and 50s—would be the most likely to feel worn down from work.

Doesn’t it?

Not necessarily, according to a recent Monster.com survey, which actually finds millennial-age workers to be the most burned out of the bunch.

In a Monster poll of nearly 1,100 employed or unemployed job seekers, 81 percent of workers said they feel some sense of burnout in their jobs. Eighty-six percent of millennials report experiencing some level of burnout, compared to 76 percent of more experienced workers saying the same.

Of course, with some of their more seasoned colleagues moving into different positions or getting ready to settle into retirement, many Gen Y workers may find themselves bearing a larger load than ever before in their relatively young careers.

Looking through that lens, maybe it’s not so surprising that more members of Gen Y are feeling fried, according to Jeffrey Quinn, vice president of Monster’s global insights.

“It’s probable that millennials are expected to take on larger roles than their more experienced predecessors, and thus are feeling the pressure,” said Quinn, in a statement.

“That said, millennials are proving to be more open-minded than the more experienced workers when it comes to job locations and roles,” he said. “This flexibility will be advantageous to the millennial generation, allowing them to cast a wider net and find better success and satisfaction in their careers.”

HR and managers can play a part in helping Gen Y get a handle on their increased responsibilities, but should bear in mind that “millennials have a very different mindset from the older generations in the workforce,” says Jay Meschke, president of Leawood, Kan.-based CBIZ Human Capital Services.

“For example, millennials are eager to please, but they tend to require more feedback than other generations,” says Meschke. “Executives should communicate and provide [frequent] feedback that is timely and specific, and addresses performance issues, not intergenerational differences.

“It’s also important to create an emotional connection,” he adds, “through simple acts like highlighting internal promotions.”

Now Serving: Free College Degrees

150px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011_svgIf you happen to notice your local Starbucks barista acting even more upbeat and happy than normal, it may not caffeine-related.

Starbucks employees nationwide will be eligible for a free college education through Arizona State University’s online program beginning this fall, according to AZCentral.com:

The new initiative, touted as the first of its kind, will allow many of Starbucks’ 135,000 workers to graduate debt free from ASU with no requirement to repay or stay on with the company. The funding will come from a partnership between ASU and Starbucks.

ASU President Michael Crow is scheduled to appear in New York on Monday with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to launch the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, as it is called.

“Starbucks decided human capital is one of the most important things they can invest in,” Crow said. “Everybody is concerned about what are the ways to get through college.”

In a news release, Schultz talked about “the fracturing of the American Dream.” He said: “There’s no doubt, the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind. The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try and do something about it.”

Kudos to Starbucks for this initiative, and here’s hoping many other organizations follow suit in an effort to increase the country’s knowledge base.

h/t to USA Today

 

 

Turning Employee Cynicism into Trust

Employee trust. It’s a subject most of us steer clear of around here. Too hard to define. Too hard to measure. Impossible to teach or train.

78459275 -- smug businessmanBut Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard has taken a stab at breaking down that nebulous force called trust, and its nebulous nemesis, cynicism. In his new book, The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success, he offers 10 strategic steps toward reconfiguring the latter around the former. Here is the recent release, via the Alister & Paine website, about his book, and those steps.

I like some of his comments, including this one:

Mocking irony, snark and cynicism are very much in vogue, but they are also toxic to your company’s culture. Once cynicism gets a foothold in your culture, it spreads — just like an ill-advised tweet or blog post. You need to proactively fight it.”

And this:

Cynicism is the defense mechanism of people who feel unsafe and powerless. It’s an expression of the uncertainty that comes from working in an environment where ethics are lax, employees don’t feel valued and information is withheld. When it thrives in an organization, it signals a lack of employee trust — a problem that’s gotten significantly worse over the last generation.”

And just for the record, here are the steps in as much of a nutshell as this posting will allow:

1) Know that trust has two dimensions, external and internal. External is between an organization and its customers; internal is between employees, managers and top-level management, and it’s here where Karlgaard says you should start. If employees “don’t feel that they can trust your company with their careers,” he says, “you’re in trouble.”

2) Get clear on what a culture of trust and earnestness looks like.  Hold a company-wide trust summit where everyone can share their opinions about trust within your company. In addition, Karlgaard says, “identify the ways cynicism manifests — for instance, through snarky comments, manipulating customers, talking behind co-workers’ backs and so forth.”

3) Then, get the “rules” in writing. Put the results of your trust summit in writing and ask all employees to sign the document. Creating an official “standards of behavior” document helps too. I happen to know some companies are doing this now — documenting desired behaviors, then hiring and managing for them — including Starbucks, which I recently wrote about in this HRE feature.

4) Let only “Boy Scouts” and “Girl Scouts” lead. The key here is to hire and promote leaders who truly do live the values your company espouses.

5) Never lie or hide the truth. Even in the case of very bad news, tell them anyway. ” … [P]eople should never feel they’re being kept in the dark,” says Karlgaard. “Transparency and trust must co-exist.”

6) Show employees that you care. When people don’t believe their leaders care about them, not just as workers but as human beings, trust can’t thrive.

7) Aspire to predictability. “[E]mbrace innovation to your heart’s content in areas such as product development and marketing campaigns,” he says. “Just don’t be unpredictable in your behavior, priorities and values.”

8) Make it safe to speak up. Bottom line, there’s no such thing as a dumb idea and when your employees make honest mistakes, let them admit to them without being scolded and belittled. “Either trust rules your organization, or fear rules it — you have to choose,” says Karlgaard.

9) Celebrate grit and gumption. Basically, reward, reward, reward. Or, as he puts it, “notice and celebrate the behaviors you want more of … . Engagement and cynicism can’t co-exist in the same moment.”

10) Lastly, constantly drive home the “meaning” of the work people do. I know we’ve all been hearing this, probably too much, that each employee needs to understand his or her link — his or her line of sight — to the top, to the whole organization. What I like about Karlgaard is his focus on the actual narrative; the story about your business that you need to be infusing into your entire workforce. He calls it your “true north.”

“My point?” he asks. “Figure out what meaningful things your company provides customers, whether that’s peace of mind, easier lives, reliable support or something else, and look for ways to convey that purpose at your company.

“It’s hard to be cynical about your work and your customers,” he adds, “when you actually do believe in what you’re doing.”

Again, maybe stuff you’ve heard, but not quite like this:

 The next time you’re considering how to make your organization a better place to work, think beyond an in-house masseuse, climbing walls, and free fresh-baked cookies. While employees will certainly appreciate ‘fun’ perks like these, they don’t mean anything if your culture isn’t grounded in trust.”

 

Another Sign Your Talent May Be Bolting: Hooky

160611067-- sick employeeA month ago, almost to the day, Editor David Shadovitz posted this about a Utah State University professor’s study laying out specific behaviors to look for in top talent about to head out the door.

I thought the signs themselves, as revealed by researcher Tim Gardner, were interesting and deserve repeating. Employees about to leave, he found:

  • Offered fewer constructive contributions in meetings;
  • Were more reluctant to commit to long-term projects;
  • Became more reserved and quiet;
  • Became less interested in advancing in the organization;
  • Were less interested in pleasing their boss than before;
  • Avoided social interactions with their boss and other members of management; and
  • Began doing the minimum amount of work needed and no longer went beyond the call of duty.

Now, thanks to this from Monster Worldwide, we have another dimension to offer up in this flight-detection protocol: playing hooky. Or at least playing “I have a doctor’s appointment.”

According to Monster’s global poll, based on votes cast by Monster visitors from Dec. 2 through 6 of last year, 44 percent of respondents consider telling their boss they have a medical appointment to be the best excuse to leave work for a job interview.

The second-most-popular choice for getting out of work to interview for other work is also health-related: saying they’re sick, weighing in at 15 percent. Of course, the way I see it, both excuses — especially the latter — requires some play-acting as well, so perhaps there are some additional behavior traits we can read between the lines.

There were other non-health-related excuses — childcare, at 12 percent, and delivery/repairman at 8 percent — but faking personal health challenges topped the chart.

Especially interesting, I thought, were the differences in faking forte by country. As the Monster release states:

French respondents are the most likely to create faux doctor’s appointments when sneaking out for interviews, with 54 percent answering that they believe it is the best excuse;      conversely, French respondents are the least likely to fake an illness to excuse an interview-related absence, with only 7 percent selecting it as the best option. Respondents in the United States were the biggest proponents of the call-in-sick method, with 16 percent choosing illness as their preferred excuse. Canadian respondents were the least likely to use a delivery/repairman excuse, with under 7 percent selecting this option and were the most inclined to use a childcare-related excuse, with 16 percent picking this answer.”

Mary Ellen Slayter, a career-advice expert for Monster, says all employers ought to look at this as a reminder that “they have no choice but to be on both sides of this coin.”

“Making it easy for people to be honest is a good approach,” she says. “That means when you’re recruiting, make an effort to schedule interviews before or after work hours — or perhaps at lunch. With your own workers, don’t press them about how they’re spending their requested time off.”

As for what you’re supposed to do when you notice your top talent scheduling an inordinate number of doctor’s appointments, that’s anyone’s guess. I would think that might be a good time to start examining their engagement levels.

Do Workers Value Their Benefits?

disgruntledThe latest Mercer Workplace Survey finds that the perceived value of employee benefits among workers who participate in their company’s health and retirement benefits is starting to erode — especially among the younger generation. Workers under the age of 50 who say their benefits are “definitely worth it” in terms of what they pay out of pocket has “dropped precipitously” in two years from 45 percent to 30 percent, according to Mercer.

The survey, which is based on input from 1,506 employees enrolled in their companies’ health and retirement benefits, finds that benefits are still critically important: 93 percent agree with the statement “My health benefits are as important as my salary” while 86 percent disagree with the statement “My benefits don’t matter much to me.”

These rising levels of discontent can at least be partly attributed to cost-shifting by employers, says Mercer’s Beth Umland:

Out-of-pocket expenses for employees are likely to continue to rise. We’re seeing more cost-shifting and rapid growth in high-deductible consumer-directed health plans as employers are asked to cover more employees under health reform.”

Employees are also undoubtedly peeved about cutbacks in 401(k) matches and delayed matches by many companies. Although AOL has reversed its decision to delay its 401(k) match (CEO Tim Armstrong had originally said the delay was needed to compensate for the cost of “distressed babies,” among other things), other large firms like JPMorgan Chase, Oracle and Caesars Entertainment have reduced or delayed payment of their 401(k) matches and lengthened vesting schedules for their DC plans, according to an analysis of hundreds of government filings by Bloomberg News.

IBM shifted last year to a lump-sum payment of its 401(k) match, similar to what AOL originally did. Oracle stretches out the vesting schedule for its DC plan participants: employees are 25-percent vested after their first year of employment, another 25 percent vested after a second year and fully vested after four years with the company, according to Bloomberg.

These measures can make it much harder for employees to save enough for retirement, Brigitte Madrian, a Harvard professor who studies retirement policy, told Bloomberg:

There’s been an implicit contract for years and years — workers save and companies match — but now they’re changing the rules. Most individuals can’t do it on their own. We’re going in the wrong direction.”

The Mercer findings directly contradict a new survey from Guardian Life Insurance Co. which finds workers value their benefits plans more than they did two years ago.

Guardian says this increase in perceived value “suggests that American workers are valuing their benefit packages more than ever and reaffirms the value of workplace benefits for employers’ business strategy, especially for retaining employees.”

Whether to Treat Them Like They Own the Place …

Came across an intriguing conundrum on BLR’s HR Daily Advisor site: whether it’s wise to treat employees like they own their company or not.

144339020 -- trading keysThe piece by Dan Oswald, BLR’s CEO, makes cases for both. One suggests that inspiring this kind of ownership culture, where employees treat company reputation and resources as their own, can also engender abuses of, say, the organization’s travel expenses. Especially if certain employees are used to spending their own money on luxuries.

The lesson here, writes Oswald, is that “if you have someone with a real sense of entitlement, you might not want him thinking like an owner. It can be really expensive.”

On the other hand, employees — especially highly talented ones — taking ownership of their organization can be extremely beneficial to innovation, productivity, customer service, operations improvements, recruiting, you name it.

“That’s why Facebook uses the following motto with new hires: ‘This is now your company,’ ” writes Oswald. “That simple statement is plastered on all of Facebook’s onboarding materials, and it’s the first thing new employees see when they walk in the company’s training center. It’s a company goal to have every single employee carry a sense of ownership — not just in the individual jobs, but within the company as a whole.”

I happen to know Starbucks’ approach is a similar one, based on a feature I’m currently working on. At that company, instilling “coffee passion” and company knowledge in every barista is a well-thought-out leadership and talent-management approach. It includes store walk-throughs for new hires, followed by debriefings about what they liked and didn’t like; encouragement to strike up real conversations with customers about the coffee they’re drinking and the company’s ideals and philosophies; coffee-tasting rituals between managers and new hires; invitations to every employee to submit ideas to improve any and all company systems; and even a strong urging from the top down to look for other potential Starbucks recruits in their conversations with customers and friends.

So how do you create such a culture? Oswald has a few suggestions:

First, you  need to hire the right type of person. You need to hire people who think this way when they walk in the door. In fact, at Facebook, they talk about hiring  for the culture, not the skill set. Their rationale? Skills can be taught, but  mind-set can’t.

Second, you need to train and reinforce the ‘ownership’ mentality  at every level in the organization. That means you provide your people with the  information and opportunities that will allow them to act like owners. You  can’t expect people to act like an owner if they don’t have the information or  the freedom to do so in a meaningful way.

Finally, you must recognize and reward the people who think this  way. When people make a contribution because of their ‘ownership mind-set,’  make sure you let others know that you appreciate and respect that type of  thinking.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could say,  ‘He acts like he owns the  place!’ and ‘She acts like she owns the place!’ about every one of your employees and mean it in the best [as opposed to the worst] way possible?

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Two different surveys showed up recently with some employment-related things to think about this Thanksgiving.

89319425-- thanksgivingThey’re not related … er, then again, maybe they are.

One, a new Thanksgiving survey from Chicago-based CareerBuilder, finds one in five workers (19 percent) plan to spend Thanksgiving this year with co-workers either in or outside the office. Most of them (14 percent) have to work the holiday.

Which brings us to the second poll from Menlo Park, Callif.-based OfficeTeam that finds 24 percent of workers are most thankful this holiday for — aside from salary — their friendly co-workers. (This was followed by a good benefits program, 20 percent; easy commute, 16 percent; challenging assignments, 15 percent, supportive manager, 11 percent; other, 9 percent; flexible hours, 3 percent; and don’t know/no answer, 1 percent. (Here is a report on the survey, and an infographic.)

So safe to say, if that many employees have to be working on our heaviest-travelled, family-focused national holiday, then at least it’s a consolation that they value the friendship and pleasantness of the employees alongside them in the same boat.

If you think about it, says Robert Hosking, executive direction of OfficeTeam, it makes a lot of sense that co-worker relationships are this important.

“Many full-time workers spend more than half of their waking hours at the office,” says Hosking, “so having friendly colleagues can make all the difference when it comes to job satisfaction.”

So what can HR leaders do with this information? I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to encourage behaviors and nurture environments that allow employees to do more of what OfficeTeam recommends they do to increase workplace happiness: socialize with co-workers, step away from the desk, explore flexible-scheduling options, take advantage of perks, and set goals and meet them.

Who knows, with enough focus on the above, maybe “friendly employers” will top next year’s gratitude list.

 

 

A Little Help?

little helpI recently spoke with Mark Royal and Mel Stark of The Hay Group, to discuss the latest edition of the annual “Most Admired for HR” list; a group of companies Hay and HRE annually identify among Fortune’s Most Admired Companies as those that typify best HR practices.

Over the course of our approximately 50-minute chat—snippets of which will appear in our December cover story highlighting a few of this year’s winners—we talked a lot about the traits Most Admired organizations share.

When asked what sets the HR functions at these companies apart, both Royal and Stark repeatedly pointed to their ability to redefine career arcs; getting employees involved in customizing their professional development courses—wherever they may lead—and helping them create plans for navigating their chosen paths.

Leading employers, for example, “are clarifying where employees should expect career development to happen—in their day-to-day job roles versus through formal development initiatives—as well as the roles and responsibilities of employees, managers and the organization in career development processes,” said Royal, senior principal at Philadelphia-based Hay Group Insight.

Some recent data, however, suggests the “average” employer hasn’t yet latched on to this idea.

For example, a recent survey from Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based talent mobility consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison asked 379 U.S.-based workers if their organizations used career planning and development to prepare employees for roles. Respondents said:

• Rarely (35 percent)

• Never (30 percent)

• Sometimes (19 percent)

• Frequently (10 percent)

• Nearly always (6 percent)

So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s just 16 percent of employees saying they are the beneficiaries of career planning and development support on a consistent basis, with 65 percent saying they hardly ever receive such support, if they receive any at all.

Those numbers align with Hay Group employee opinion norms, which reveal that only 57 percent of employees hold favorable views of their opportunities for learning and development in their organizations, and just 44 percent rate their opportunities for advancement highly.

Without the proper career planning and development support, workers will naturally scuffle, said Kristen Leverone, senior vice president of global talent development practice leader at Lee Hecht Harrison, in a statement.

“Pressures are mounting for a hyper-efficient workforce made up of just-in-time employees who are skilled and ready to take on roles and responsibilities quickly,” said Leverone. “But, with just 16 percent of employees [in the LHH survey] reporting they receive career planning and development support, many employees will struggle to succeed if they lack resources to build the skills needed to perform optimally.”

And, employees that aren’t adequately equipped to perform their jobs aren’t typically happy employees, which creates employee-engagement and possible retention issues as well, adds Royal.

“Opportunities for growth and development,” he says, “are among the most consistent predictors of employee engagement.”

Got Issues? Talk to Watson

The bleary-eyed attendees sipping their coffee and munching their pastries got a non-caffeinated jolt at this morning’s opening general session at HR Tech when Kenexa founder Rudy Karsan took to the stage and told them why he’s so optimistic.

“We are living in the golden age!” he said, a statement that might be viewed quizzically in this era of government shutdowns and economic and political turmoil. But that’s a shortsighted view, as Karsan went on to note how, in fact, the human race is much better off today than at any time in its history.

“Every positive metric has not only grown but accelerated in the last 50 years, while every negative metric is decelerating,” he said. Today, an average person has better health than a monarch did 100 years ago, Karsan noted. Rapidly growing GDP and plummeting illiteracy levels are being accompanied by innovations such as vertical farming, transforming cities like Munich, where a growing percentage of that German city’s fresh produce is produced within its boundaries.

The future will be even better because of innovations like cognitive computing, said Karsan. This led him to the main part of his presentation, which was a demonstration of how IBM’s Watson computer can help organizations boost employee engagement and productivity by rapidly answering their questions and helping them with their development. (IBM recently acquired Kenexa.)

“One of the best ways to engage employees is to give them access to information effortlessly, where and when they need it,” he said.

Watson can serve not only as a “knowledge concierge” to employees, quickly resolving concerns related to payroll and their employer’s philanthropic activities, but it can also help managers translate the findings of employee-engagement surveys into action plans so they can become more effective mentors and champions to their employees, said Karsan. It’s able to do this not only by supplying direct answers but also combing through the company’s informational warehouses and finding relevant documents and reports, he said.

In a follow-up interview after the presentation, Karsan told me that Watson is already live at clients such as USAA. “We do expect some bumps in the road as we deploy Watson to other companies — it’ll be no different than any other major innovation,” he said. “Look at the early days of the Internet.”

Speaking of the Internet, it’s important to note that Watson isn’t connected to the Internet; it hasn’t been programmed but instead is taught the domains it knows.

I asked Karsan whether having constant access to a service like Watson could risk employees becoming a bit lazy — what if Watson went down one day and they’d have to do their own research? “If you have the right person in the right job, laziness does not exist,” he responded. “The laziness trait gets expanded when you have people doing what they perceive as meaningless work. That’s why it’s important to put the right person in the right job in the first place.”

Karsan says he’s particularly excited by Watons’ potential impact on managerial and leadership development. “These are not hard sciences,” he said. “It’s more of an art form — there’s lots of communication and collaboration involved. Watson will give you a range of solutions, rather than a deterministic solution. Watson will not replace judgment. It will lend precision to a lot of the guesswork out there — it will let us replace guesswork with data and science.”

Just Another (Long) Day at the Office

long day 2In recent months, The Leader Board has touched on the issue of employees being unable to disconnect from work while on vacation. We’ve talked about how many United States workers aren’t guaranteed paid vacation time to begin with, and we’ve shared survey results showing a majority of American employees don’t use the vacation time they do have.

Now, here comes data that suggests U.S. workers are finding it harder and harder to even leave the office at all.

A recent survey from Milwaukee-based Right Management polled 325 employees, asking participants if workers in their organizations were working longer hours than five years ago. They said:

• Yes, a great deal (67 percent)

• Not really (23 percent)

• Yes, somewhat (10 percent)

So, a clear majority of the employees polled find themselves and their colleagues spending more time at the office.

And, according to Right, these workers are barely coming up for air while they’re there. Another Right survey saw 81 percent of 1,023 North American employees indicating they don’t typically take what they consider to be a proper lunch break at work. The grind doesn’t end after going home, either: A June 2013 poll from Right found more than one-third of 422 workers dealing with work-related emails outside of business hours.

Given the business climate of the past five years, these findings don’t come as a great shock. But they do help paint a picture of a frazzled workforce putting in more hours, dealing with more stress and perhaps becoming increasingly disgruntled as a result.

And that’s a picture that HR leaders—already battling to keep employee engagement levels high—probably don’t want to envision with a recovering economy (and job market) on the horizon.