Category Archives: employee engagement

The Toll of Talking Politics

It’s fair to say that this very unique presidential race has engendered plenty of, let’s say, spirited conversation.

Even if you abstain from political chatter at the office, you’ve probably heard at least one co-worker offering an in-depth analysis of the candidates and the issues shaping the 2016 election season.

And, as we enter the homestretch, employees are growing weary of such talk, and months of discussing politics—and hearing others discuss politics—is starting to take a toll on the workforce.

So says new research from the Washington-based American Psychological Association. The organization’s Politics in the Workplace: 2016 Election Season survey recently polled 927 employed American adults, and finds workers feeling stressed (17 percent), more cynical and negative on the job (15 percent) and less productive (13 percent) in the midst of political chit-chat.

Overall, 27 percent of workers reported at least one negative outcome stemming from political banter. Younger employees (age 18 to 34) are feeling the most ruffled, with more than one in four saying they’ve experienced added stress due to political talk in the workplace. In addition, more than twice as many men said election-related conversations are making it more difficult for them to get work done.

The especially vitriolic tone of this year’s race isn’t helping, either. Overall, 47 percent of employees said individuals are more likely to talk politics in the workplace this election season than in the past. On the bright side, though, a majority of respondents (60 percent) said co-workers are generally respectful toward those with differing political views.

That said, more than a quarter (26 percent) have seen or heard colleagues arguing over politics, with 11 percent of employees admitting they’ve entered the fray themselves at some point. Twenty percent of respondents, meanwhile, say they’ve taken to avoiding certain co-workers because of their political views.

“The workplace brings people together from different backgrounds who might not ordinarily interact with each other,” says David W. Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, in a statement.

“When you add politics to the mix—a deeply personal and emotional topic for many—there is potential for tension, conflict and problems for both employees and the organization.”

Indeed. And there might not be much that our major political parties agree on at the moment, but employees from both sides of the aisle seem to acknowledge that election fatigue has set in.

“Regardless of political identification, the heated discussions and divisive rhetoric this election season have the potential to take a toll on people’s well-being and even affect their job performance,” says Ballard.

“While employers may not be able to limit political discussions in the workplace, they can take steps to ensure those conversations take place in a civil, respectful environment. A psychologically healthy workplace is particularly critical during challenging and polarizing times, and these survey results highlight the fact that, despite conventional wisdom, people are often more alike than they are different.”

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Don’t Forget About Boomers

It’s easy to get caught up in how to attract and retain the millennials and members of Generation Z who will comprise the overwhelming majority of the workforce before too long.

Then there are the Gen Xers to consider—so crucial to your success today, as they settle into vital management roles within the organization.

But what about baby boomers?

We all know that boomers are hitting retirement age, but many are staying on the job. Much has been made of how companies will replace the knowledge and experience that boomers will take with them when they do leave the workforce, but a new survey from the Futurestep division of Korn Ferry looks at what this generation is bringing to the business now, and what motivates these employees most.

The poll asked more than 1,300 global executives to evaluate the role of baby boomers in their organizations. More than half (55 percent) of respondents said that boomers were willing to work longer hours than other generations, and were considered the second-most productive cohort, after Generation X.

Naturally, these seasoned employees require little hand-holding on the job, with 31 percent of executives saying boomers need less feedback than their younger colleagues, “demonstrating how boomers are also seen as reliable, in addition to hardworking,” according to a Korn Ferry Futurestep statement.

How do these dedicated workers find fulfillment on the job? Fifty-four percent of executives said that offering boomers the opportunity to make an impact on the business was the best way to retain boomer talent.

“This far outstrips the ambition of other generations, with just over a quarter (28 percent) of executives surveyed indicating that making an impact at work was the key motivator for millennials,” according to Korn Ferry Futurestep, “highlighting just how integral baby boomers are to businesses today.”

Most companies recognize as much, of course, and are eager to take advantage of boomers’ wealth of knowledge, with 50 percent considering “experience and expertise” as the main reason for bringing them into the business.

Once boomers are on board, how do you retain them?

It’s not necessarily money. Just 6 percent of respondents cited regular pay raises and promotions as the best way to retain boomers in their organizations. No, as previously noted, 54 percent of respondents said boomers most value the opportunity to make an impact, followed by “creating a culture that aligns with their values,” at 22 percent, management responsibilities (10 percent) and work/life balance (8 percent).

“While many in the baby boomer generation are working longer to provide more financial security after seeing their retirement account balances tumble during the Great Recession, their desire to extend their careers is not entirely financially motivated,” says Jeanne MacDonald, president of global talent acquisition solutions at Korn Ferry Futurestep.

“What is often overlooked is the fact that the majority of the people in this generation are highly motivated, enjoy what they do, and they provide great experience and value within the global workforce.”

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A Badge for a Brave New World

This morning’s Washington Post profiles a Boston-based company called Humanyze that has developed a high-tech employee badge that records the employee’s every conversation, monitors their movement in the workplace and delivers this information to management to help them evaluate performance. Some people may see this as a brilliant innovation, while many others will probably view it as a terrifyingly Orwellian invasion of privacy (although it should be noted that the badge will not record activities in bathroom locations, so there’s that).

Actually, the badges don’t record the actual conversations of employees, just “how they say it.” They deliver the information to bosses in aggregate form, so they don’t get to look at individuals’ personal data, according to Humanyze. And, employees can choose whether or not to wear the badges, Humanyze CEO Ben Waber told the Post. “If you don’t give people choice, if you don’t aggregate instead of showing individual data, any benefit would be dwarfed by the negative reaction people will have of you coming in with this very sophisticated sensor,” he said.

Each badge (the latest versions of which are slightly larger than a credit card) hangs around the wearer’s neck like a lanyard and is equipped with two microphones for real-time voice analysis and sensors that track where you are in the office. The information collected by the devices can be invaluable in helping companies determine which of their locations are the most and least-productive, and why, said Waber.

The process is based on research that shows that the success, or failure, of a certain location is often based on the amount and quality of interaction between employees at the location and the facility’s physical layout.

He provided the Post with the following example:

A bank has hundreds of retail locations. Some perform really well. Some don’t perform as well. The executives want to understand what the high-performing branches do differently. It turns out that in one company, the high-performing branches were very cohesive. The people who work in that branch talk a lot to each other. The people in the lowest-performing branches almost never talk to each other. The company used Humanyze technology to identify that issue and also change how they pay people and how they organize the branches’ management process. Top line sales grew 11 percent.”

Humanyze has sold thousands of the badges to Fortune 2000 companies around the world, Waber said. The company doesn’t make money on the badges themselves; instead, it makes money on the data it produces, he said.

“Within three or four years, every single ID badge is going to have these sensors,” he said. “We are only scratching the surface right now.”

 

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Workers Open to Working Elsewhere

dissatisfied employeeAs you walk through the cubicle farm/office maze/factory floor of your organization, know this: More than half the people you’re passing are open to finding a new job elsewhere, and of those employees, 44 percent are actively looking for new jobs.

That’s according to Aon Hewitt’s latest Workforce Mindset study, which surveyed 2,000 employees. What are the factors most likely to lure employees away from their current jobs? The following are the five key differentiators, according to the survey:

1. Above average pay (62 percent)

2. Above average benefits (61 percent)

3. A fun place to work (58 percent)

4. Flexible work environment (57 percent)

5. “Strong fit with my values” (56 percent)

Of course, the common prescription for avoiding turnover has been keeping employee engagement levels high. But that’s hardly a cure-all either, according to “The Dark Side of Employee Engagement,” a new Harvard Business Review piece by Lewis Garrad and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. They cite a number of studies showing that highly engaged employees can be too satisfied with the status quo, more prone to burnout and its attendant ill effects and “too positive” — in other words, highly engaged people can crowd out the more introspective, less-extroverted types who nonetheless are often key to a company’s overall success.

So what to do? Try “training employees to leave their jobs,” writes Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes, particularly if you want to retain your star employees. Many workers, particularly younger ones, leave companies not necessarily because they’re dissatisfied with their compensation or their manager but because they want to try something new, acquire new skills and push themselves in new directions, he writes. Holmes found that giving employees stretch roles at Hootsuite to try out new positions and acquire new skills without having to leave the company has yielded positive results.

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When Grief Hits Home at Work

From the beginning of the American workplace, there have been workers in various stages of life and life events. All part of the 515860456 -- sad employeehumans-as-resources thing.

I’ve been through my fair share: raising kids while working; having kids while working, for that matter; getting them into college, then becoming an empty nester; surviving the end of their dad’s and my marriage, then getting them used to another …

But not until I lost my spouse — my kids’ zany, crazy, brilliant, life-loving dad and stepdad — did I know just how profound an impact the grief  event could have on work. And that was three short months after seeing my incredible dad through his final wrestling match with cancer.

I have a whole new respect for employers that choose to acknowledge and focus on the power pain can have on employees, and for colleagues and supervisors who’ve mastered the art of listening.

In fact, listening is just one of many helpful suggestions I came across recently in this piece, Helping a Grieving Friend in the Workplace, from Cincinnati-based Hodapp Funeral Homes. Until I went through my own nightmare, I honestly never would have considered the part managers, co-workers and HR can play in working to regenerate engagement and productivity in a shell-shocked, grief-stricken worker.

I’ve had those moments, fingers poised on the keyboard, when the words won’t come. I now know the fear, loneliness and incredible self-doubt, wondering if I can handle the same tasks I aced throughout my career in journalism and publishing, or the same projects around the house I used to enjoy. I know the frustration over how long it all seems to take.

But I also now know how helpful help is. And I also know I can now help others.

Judie Bucholz, a faculty member at Columbia Southern University specializing in human and organizational systems, weighed in on all this with me. As she put it,

“We know dealing with death is difficult, and yet, as an American society, we typically give our employees three days off to ‘deal’ with it and come back to work as if nothing ever happened. The reality is something did happen and three days is hardly enough time to acknowledge the reality of death, let alone deal with it.

“We cannot change corporate America and business, so what can we do to help those we work with [or employ] who are grieving the death of a friend or family member?”

She suggests the following:

  • Offering to take the kids for a day or for a sleepover;
  • Volunteering to do chores, such as cutting the grass, trimming the hedges, cleaning the pool, washing the car, etc.;
  • Sending gift certificates to favorite eateries, spas, beauty salons, etc.;
  • Helping with a project so the employee can leave early one Friday.

Yet, she says:

“Perhaps the best thing we can do is ask our co-worker [or employee] how he or she is doing and then take the time to listen — even if it makes us uncomfortable.”

And if those dealing with loss and grief want to quietly focus on work without talking, or silently space at a computer monitor from time to time, just let them do that, too.

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The Cybersecurity and Culture Connection

The cyber risk realm is one that’s generally inhabited by those in the IT department.

New research from Willis Towers Watson, however, looks at the role human resources can play in helping the organization wrestle with cybersecurity-related issues, and what HR can do to help in the event of an actual cyber breach.

The London-based consultancy recently analyzed employee survey results from 12 organizations, examining engagement attitudes and opinions from more than 450,000 workers corresponding to a period in which significant data breaches were identified within the firms.

Employees’ responses were benchmarked against global high-performance companies and global IT staff from Willis Towers Watson’s database of employee opinion survey data. Overall, employee opinions within the organizations experiencing data breaches didn’t stack up favorably, with scores ranking the lowest in three aspects of company culture—training, company image and customer focus.

For example, fewer workers at firms that have recently encountered a data breach feel they have received adequate training for the work they do and have access to training to improve their skills and learn new ones to advance in their roles, while smaller numbers of employees at these companies feel their employers treat corporate social responsibility and customer focus as top priorities.

The lower scores emerging from organizations affected by a data breach were “expected,” according to Willis Towers Watson, but HR leaders “can use a number of tools at [their] disposal to help create a culture conducive to effective cyber risk management,” says Patrick Kulesa, global research director.

For example, he recommends stressing in training programs “the importance of customer information and the role that every employee plays in safeguarding details about customers—especially when training new hires generally and all hires in IT,” and suggests considering making such training programs an annual requirement for all employees, “to keep skills fresh.”

Kulesa also urges HR leaders to advocate providing or sponsoring continuing education programs on new developments in technology that impact the business.

With respect to consumer focus, “provide employees an opportunity to raise concerns about poor customer service, through employee surveys or other appropriate avenues,” he says, adding that leaders and managers should be evaluated on “how well they reinforce the value of customer service and reflect the image of the company through their actions.”

Ideally, such actions will help mitigate the organization’s risk of experiencing a cyber breach. But HR can also be integral in the recovery effort should one occur, says Kulesa.

“Help the businesses impacted to get out in front of the event through clear communications to employees, or through assisting leaders in crafting and delivering such messages,” he says.

In addition, “describe the steps already in place to encourage an effective culture—competencies for leaders, training for staff, avenues to raise concerns,” says Kalesa, adding that HR must also “be clear about steps being taken to improve risk management and the role each employee can play in that process.”

And, most importantly, “focus on continuing improvement,” he says, “not assigning blame.”

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Workers in the West Like Bosses Best

When it comes to finding someone to blame for issues like, say, sagging retention rates or sinking employee engagement scores, managers sure seem to take it on the chin a lot.

Kristen Frasch, our managing editor, pointed out as much on Monday, using the HRE Daily space to reference just a few fairly recent reports that underscore managers’ supposed shortcomings.

The bulk of Frasch’s post, however, focused on Red Branch Media CEO Maren Hogen’s recent “love letter” to managers, in which she offers an “ ‘atta boy’ and ‘atta girl’ to those blamed for everything from a lack of snacks in the workplace to why you can’t have ‘just one extra week off,’ ” and encourages disgruntled employees to also look at themselves when trying to pinpoint the source of their unhappiness.

Now, just days later comes a survey from CareerBuilder that should give managers—more than half of them, anyway—another reason to feel good about themselves.

The Chicago-based employment website and HR software provider polled 3,031 employees, asking respondents to rate their supervisors’ performance, assigning them a letter grade between “A” and “F.”

Overall, 62 percent of employees graded their bosses’ performance as either an “A” or “B,” with 22 percent giving their manager a “C.” Ten percent said their supervisor merited only a “D,” with the remaining 6 percent reporting their superiors had failed, earning an “F” for their efforts.

Pretty solid scores for most managers, but those in the Western region of the United States seem to be doing something particularly special.

On average, Western-based bosses were graded higher, with 32 percent of respondents giving their supervisors an “A” grade, and 35 percent saying their manager deserved a “B.” Workers in the Northeast were a tad more critical, with just 23 percent handing out “A”s to their bosses, and 34 percent reporting their managers were worthy of a “B.”

What’s the secret to supervisors’ success out West? The answer may lie in a laid-back managerial approach that employees seem to respond to in a big way.

For example, 30 percent of workers in the West said they interact with their boss once a week, or less, in person. More than one-quarter of employees in the South (27 percent) said the same, as did 24 percent of respondents from the Northeast and 23 percent of workers in the Midwest.

Less face time doesn’t necessarily equate to less feedback, though. In fact, 69 percent of employees in the West said they feel their bosses provide enough guidance and input, while 59 percent of workers in the Northeast feel their managers offer sufficient support.

In a statement, Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder CHRO, reckons that “we’re starting to see a slight shift of favor toward management styles that are seen as a little more hands-off, which employees view as trust from their bosses.”

Naturally, there’s a point where a manager can become a little too detached. The key, of course, is finding the sweet spot between aloof and overbearing, which many managers—especially those in the Western states—have apparently recognized.

“Everyone craves respect,” says Haefner, “and it seems like bosses in certain regions have figured out the perfect balance to keep subordinates happy.”

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A ‘Love Letter to [all the Bad-Rapped] Managers’

Who hasn’t heard and read the reports in the last few years on the real reason employees leave their employers? Bad managers, right? 522472388 -- managerNo doubt anyone visiting this site has seen and heard them.

We’ve certainly written our fair share, from criticizing managers’ reluctance or inability to truly promote career development to pinpointing the need for managers to grow their big-data skills to lamenting the unhappiness and decimation of the middle-management ranks in general, which of course supports the theory that unhappy managers make for bad bosses.

Which might be precisely why this recent post by Maren Hogan on the HR Examiner site, My Love Letter to Managerscaught my eye, an eye that’s always on the lookout for something counterintuitive (warning, she doesn’t hold back on some of her descriptors). That or the fact that I am a manager, so a love letter to me … well … what’s not to like?

Counterintuitive does seem to be the operative word here, when you consider all that’s been said about retention and turnover, and the especially egregious part managers play. As Hogan puts it,

“Retention issues? It’s the manager’s fault.
Productivity problems? Blame the manager.
Engagement dipping? Someone get management in here!

Can this really be true? After all, many of these problems have roots in giant, macro issues. The economy, changing workforce dynamics, an always-on mentality spurred on by technology advances. It’s sort of simplistic to blame the manager, isn’t it?”

I especially like what she says about this mega-trend, if you will, of citing management as the reason people leave work, hate work, aren’t engaged and aren’t productive. She thinks this trend “could be part of a blame culture that has slowly seeped into our workforce over the past couple of decades.” In her words,

“Whether we’re blaming millennials for the faster pace and fancy [results-only-work-environment] perks, or blaming executives for the glaring inequality between them and us, or blaming managers for every issue in the workforce, very few seem to be stepping up to take personal accountability.”

She’s got some helpful suggestions for employees who might be prone to disparaging their managers, such as considering how they, themselves, might change the situation before blaming their direct supervisor; doing better and faster work if they don’t like what’s been assigned to them so they can prove they’re capable of taking on something more interesting; taking self-assessments of their most-productive times during the workday and building their reputations as team players; and even getting better at confronting difficult and destructive employees themselves, so managers aren’t blamed for failing to take action.

So why am I sharing this with you? Well, first, I kind of agree with Hogan that managers have taken a bad rap for far too long for the ills of corporate culture.  More importantly, though, I believe employers and their HR leaders could go a long way toward curing some of those ills by paying more attention to the workloads and expectations placed on their managers.

They might also consider committing serious capital to training all employees in personal accountability, starting with Hogan’s list above.

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Pawternity, Could it Happen Here?

A good bit of attention has been paid recently to a phenomenon taking shape across the pond.

521075238 -- petsIt seems a growing number of companies in the United Kingdom — mostly smaller start-ups — are beginning to offer their employees what’s being called pawternity leave; i.e., paid-time-off to bond with their new four-legged furry friends or tend to their old ones.

This piece that appeared on the appropriately-named website, “The Bark: Dog is My Co-Pilot,” mentions several employers that have gone this route — Mars Petcare, BitSol Solutions and Now What.

At Manchester-based IT company BitSol, company owner Greg Buchanan says pawternity is actually good for the bottom line, according to this piece in USA Today.

“You know, we are quite sympathetic to pets in the U.K.; we’re a pet-loving country,” he tells the paper. “Obviously we take it on a case-by-case [basis]. If somebody’s asking for time off for a goldfish, no, no — then it’s not quite what we set out for.”

He also cautions that “[i]f you do give time off for pawternity leave, you are limiting the number of people available to you.” However, he adds, “I believe morale of staff definitely improves and they actually want to work harder for you.”

The Bark piece puts the number of pet owners in the U.K. who have been offered time off to care for Fido or Fluffy at nearly one in 20. It also mentions that Mars Petcare, a pet-care company, was one of the first employers to institute a formal pawternity policy, now allowing its employees 10 hours of paid leave when adding a new pet to the family.

Based on his recent column on the U.K trend toward better treatment of its workers, I reached out to HRE‘s talent management columnist, Peter Cappelli (George W. Taylor professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia), to see if this four-legged phenomenon could happen here.

“I’d say the U.S. model of just giving people personal time for whatever is important to them makes more sense than trying to define legitimate reasons for leave,” he told me. But he did seem impressed with how far the Brits will go in their efforts to accommodate pet owners.

Personally, I have been thinking about getting a dog lately. And being single, I’m concerned about what will get chewed or stained while I’m at work. Not even sure the effort would be worth it without a benefit like this.

But …… moving to London seems like a pretty drastic solution.

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‘I’m Not Your Mother!’ In Defense of Happiness

Figured the day after Mother’s Day was a perfect time to run with a post I’ve been hanging on to for a while from China Gorman, then CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, now board chair of Las 520179370 -- happy workerVegas-based management consultancy Universum North America.

Her title? “I’m Not Your Mother!”

Now before you start imagining a tough stance on the softer side of workplace culture, I’m here to tell you this is all about the importance of breeding out-and-out happiness at work. But, as Gorman writes, it took some ups and downs and ins and outs to get her to this point:

“Early in my career as a business leader, I always believed that people were my critical competitive edge and that creating a strong, caring culture was my job. But happiness? Come on. I wasn’t my employees’ mother.

“The nature of the employer/employee relationship, I believed, was a commercial relationship. Employees come to work, do a good job and I pay them. The more I could remove obstacles from their ability to do good work, the more I could offer development and thanks for a job well done, the better they performed. Its wasn’t rocket science. Treat people well and they’ll treat your employees well. I got that. But trying to make them happy? I didn’t think that was part of the deal. And I was a pretty effective business leader.”

Then she matured. She spent some time at Zappos — “a culture whose leader is all about making his workforce happy,” she says. And while the Zappos culture wouldn’t be a fit for her, “it worked for them,” she adds. “And they were happy. Really happy. And their business results were such that they could sell the business to Amazon for over $1 billion.”

Sitting atop the Great Place to Work Institute, says Gorman, she was deluged in data proving there was “a direct line from employee well-being to financial performance.” As she puts it, that’s where she took a turn:

“And so, while early in my career, the notion of employee happiness didn’t register as a leadership imperative, I now believe that creating a culture that … delivers happiness to employees is quite clearly a practical and effective way to achieve top-line growth, profitability, customer loyalty and, most importantly, employee loyalty.”

As the chair of the WorkHuman Advisory Board at Dublin, Ireland-based reward and recognition company Globoforce, Gorman also came across that company’s recent white paper, The Science of Happiness. It cites some pretty compelling research posted by the Wall Street Journal and the iOpener Institute that finds happy employees:

  • Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least-happy colleagues,
  • Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much,
  • Spend 65 percent more time feeling energized,
  • Are 58 percent more likely to go out of the way to help their colleagues,
  • Identify 98 percent more strongly with the values of their organization, and
  • Are 186 percent more likely to recommend their organization to a friend.

I love how Globoforce puts it in the paper:

“It is tempting for many to think of company culture in terms of fringe benefits — like funky offices, on-site massages and free soda. These outward trappings of companies with great culture are often what we think of when we think of Great Places to Work.

“But perks grow from culture, not the other way around. Perks are just the manifestation of what makes a particular group of people [your employees] happy. Likewise, leaders tend to see culture in terms of things they can do — like setting goals and core values. Their participation is an important part of the picture, and trust in leaders is one of the key drivers of engagement, but execs cannot dictate a great culture. They can only lay the groundwork for a great culture to take hold.

“It is your employees who control your culture. When they are happy, it thrives. If they are stomping around complaining … well, your culture probably stinks — no matter how great your mission statement is or how free your dry cleaning.”

A few things to think about as you contemplate “mothering” your workforce into an entire family of engaged, productive and happy people who support your bottom line.

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