Category Archives: employee engagement

Studying an Attitudinal-Economic Relationship

I came across this recent blog post I thought I’d share. Pretty interesting work being done by Jeffrey Saltzman, CEO at OrgVitality and an affiliated fellow at the Center for Leadership Studies at the School of Management at Binghamton University in Vestal, N.Y.

He establishes some pretty compelling arguments, with research to back it up, for there being a correlation between organizational performance and the performance of a country or region. (He calls his index for this regional-performance concept Employee Confidence.)

What’s more, he asserts both those performance readings can be used predictively. He suggests some interesting linkages between what he calls “citizenry attitudes” and unemployment. He says the attitude quotient can be used to predict future unemployment figures of a region — likewise, employee attitudes at a company can be used to predict future organizational performance.

Two other conclusions of his research, which you’ll simply have to link to to see how he formed:

  • People tend to be more positive when working productively and on the whole would rather be working harder than not having enough to do. When they do not have enough to do, either at their employer or when unemployed, there is a tendency to feel that their contribution is not valued either by their employer or society.
  • The notion that creating societies with strong social safety nets, such as unemployment insurance, diminishes the desire to work does not bear out.
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    Not sure what a senior HR leader can do with all this information, but I have a high degree of “blogger confidence” they’ll (you’ll) find it intriguing.

    Escape from the Job

    You have to know most employees are retention risks when the antics of Jet Blue’s (former?) air flight attendant Steven Slater receive such acclaim.

    While your employees probably won’t have Facebook fans numbering in the millions or see supporters creating a legal defense fund — hopefully, that won’t be necessary! — HR leaders would be foolish not to think that at least some of their workers are dreaming of leaving their jobs in similarly brazen fashion.

    According to a recent HREOnline™ story, Top Performers Begin Their Flight, employers “need to know what their workers are thinking and what they want from their careers — and then align these with the direction of the business.”

    So says Bram Lowsky of Right Management. That’s hardly rocket science, but airline companies, and probably most companies, seem to be unaware — or uncaring — that employees are fed up with work conditions.

    With survey after survey showing that workers are fed up and just waiting for a chance to move on, the time is shrinking for HR executives to take the steps necessary to re-engage desired workers.

    Raising comp is a common method, but  pay alone won’t be sufficient. In this HREOnline™ story, Tom McMullen of Hay Group advises HR leaders to focus on “their ‘total’ reward programs by offering clearer career paths, more meaningful work experiences, improved work climates, global mobility and targeted development in addition to increased monetary awards.”

    Or watch employees jump ship — albeit not as dramatically as Slater!

    Vacations are Good for You

    OK, a bit of soft news, but worth sharing: This recent release from the University of the Rockies suggests week-long vacations aren’t long enough for optimal benefits to occur — for both employee and employer.

    The study — conducted at the Colorado Springs, Colo., graduate school that specializes in master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology — maintains the benefits of vacation length peak at about 10 days, which supports previous research findings that 10 to 14 days of vacation may be the optimal length.

    What are the benefits to taking, or granting, a vacation of optimal length, you ask? According to this release, an increase in job satisfaction, a reduction of and protection against job stress and burnout, and an increase in professional well-being (which, of course, boosts employee engagement and morale and, in turn, boosts customer service, your employer brand, the list goes on).

    I’ll be interested to see if anyone cares to comment on this, but it’ll have to wait awhile. I leave Thursday for vacation. I’ll be gone 10 days.

    Maligning vs. Pitying Micromanagers

    I noticed a couple of mentions over the last few days about the evils of micromanagement and how this horrible and uninhibited trait can impact a workplace.

    One, from Beeson Consulting, warns that this obsession with every little thing that every single person under you is doing can, and will, prevent you from becoming the senior leader you’re trying to be. “Managers who are perceived by their troops as meddlesome micromanagers,” it reads, “are probably, in turn, viewed by senior executives as not having the bandwidth to step up to higher-level positions and handle greater responsibilities.”

    Another, by Suzanne Lucas, a.k.a. the Evil HR Lady, questions why more companies don’t just fire the poor (anti-)slobs. The reason, she suggests, is that they’re still stupidly promoting non-leadership behaviors such as “attention to detail” and failing to promote (literally) their “self-motivated, results-oriented” employees.

    The key for those suffering from this malady is to learn to delegate, obviously. The key for companies, writes Lucas, lies in implementing a results-oriented workplace environment (ROWE), where “managers let people do their work without hovering.” (We’re actually focusing on that very approach in Human Resource Executive®‘s August cover story.)

    Personally, I’m wondering if more companies shouldn’t be training and coaching their micromanagers away from their addictions, or maybe directing them to their employee-assistance programs … or maybe we should all consider them disabled and in a protected class??!!

    OK, I jest … well, mostly. As a parent, wife and manager, I’m here to tell you it’s damn hard to break out of the “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself” cycle. Or the killer mind-set of “If I don’t ask him about his progress, he won’t make any.” Thankfully, I’m getting better. But for some, it might take a 12-step program to overcome.

    Risks of the Recovery

    Better times are coming. More people are looking for work. Wages are thawing out. Defined-contribution employer matches are returning.

    But before your workforce rebuilding goes full bore, consider the landmines of the recovery, Matthew S. Effland, employment lawyer with Olgetree Deakins, told attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2010 conference.

    Despite the name of his session, “And the Tide Rolls Back In — Legal Issues in Rebuilding Your Workforce Post-Recession,” Effland’s warnings were not confined to the law. He spoke a lot about “survivor anger” spreading through corporate America right now — among people who’ve been working on frozen wages, doing the jobs of laid-off former co-workers as well as their own, and feeling minimized by their companies’ efforts to infuse new blood into the organization by recruiting outsiders and paying them higher salaries than their own.

    “Think about what you can do to make sure you’re taking care of the survivors,” said Effland. “Their disgruntlement can lead to litigation if you’re recruiting from outside to replace a position equal to theirs at a higher wage.”

    Also be careful not to “give into the pressure” to selectively re-hire laid-off employees, those problem workers you were able to let go of in the name of hard times. Those who are not re-hired when others are, or who are told to reapply for the same position, “will feel some sense of entitlement, and may sue, and may have a case” if they fall under a protected class, he said.

    “Avoid the shortcuts and the push for speed-hiring,” Effland said. “And make sure you fully document your hiring process. When you decide not to hire someone back, you better be able to justify it and explain it in a court of law.”

    Experimental HR

    Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a global IT services company headquartered in Noida, India, urged the SHRM audience to treat HR “as an experimental journey,” and to consider follow his example of treating the employee first, the customer second.

    Management doesn’t create value, he said. It can only “induce, encourage [and] enable the creation of value by the employees.”

    HR leaders, he said, should consider the leadership of Ghandi, MLK and Nelson Mandela. What they did, he said, was create dissatisfaction with today and develop a romance among their followers with tomorrow.

    Autocracy doesn’t work, he said. Democratize the workplace. Managers need to be answerable to employees instead of just the other way around. And the result of treating employees first is that customers will be served better.

    To create an environment conducive to change, however, requires trust. In his company, Nayar facilitated that trust by providing an environment of 100 percent total transparency. His 360-degree assessment is posted on the company intranet. If an employee asks him a question — and 99 percent of the questions are negative, he said — his answers are sent to all employees.  (The questioners must also reveal who they are.)

    His $2.3 billion company continues to grow rapidly — without new services, new products, new locations. It’s due to placing trust in his employees.

    “Transfer the problem to them. They create magic in the interface of customers and employees,” he said.

    The Meaning Behind the Work

    Dave and Wendy Ulrich made a nice coupling on stage Monday at their session, “The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations that Deliver Value to Employees, Customers, Investors and Communities.”

    No surprise the joint session at SHRM worked, considering the Ulrichs have been married for many years and share three children and a granddaughter. But it was their joint message and the subject of their new book, The Why of Work, that carried an especially cohesive and cogent argument — that organizations would do well to start looking at themselves as places where people find meaning and purpose. More importantly, that organizations should be looking for ways to cultivate that new realization and approach.

    “We’re taking a different cut from human resources,” said Dave Ulrich, professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and a prolific and well-published HR expert. Wendy is a professional psychologist and founder of Sixteen Stones Center for Growth in Alpine, Utah. “We’re basically combining HR and psychology,” he said.

    They’re also taking their show on the road, if you will, to refute the notion that fostering the relationship between worker and work, and helping employees find meaning and purpose in their jobs is some warm and fuzzy, soft and cuddly notion. “I hear this criticism in some circles,” said Dave Ulrich. “I tell them they’re just wrong. Still, I can’t convince everyone.”

    The Ulrichs’ base their premise on the early works of Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. At the time, Frankl discovered that, even in the harshest and cruelest of settings, some people remained vibrant and vital because of their stories and their strengths, and the strengths they could bring to one another. They found meaning in their identities.

    So, too, should “organizational strategies be stories,” said Ulrich. ” Successful leaders should be meaning makers. We want to begin to change the conversation” about what HR’s purpose should be as well.

    Calling on another famous thinker from the past, Wendy Ulrich told the story of medical researcher Jonas Salk, best known for his discovery of the polio vaccine. Salk, in one interview, recalled how his mother found lessons to be learned in all his setbacks. She created the learning environment that, in turn, created the famous scientist.

    “Do we inculcate a learning environment in our organizations?” she asked. “How do we learn from our setbacks, and help our employees learn from theirs? What are we doing in HR to promote that?”

    One clear path to helping people find meaning and happiness in an organization, they said, is to promote the importance of the team and relational strengths. “HR,” said Dave Ulrich, “is the force of the organization that shapes identity.

    “One of my greatest fears in HR today,” he said, “is that we’re so worried about talent, we’re forgetting about the organization — its systems and the capacity to work together.” That’s where the meaning and purpose lie, he added — “building on your own strengths to strengthen others.”

    The Ambiguity of Employee Engagement

    Most HR leaders would be quick to say that employee engagement is a good thing; far fewer would actually be able to definitively define it.

    That’s because there seem to be a zillion definitions out there. But many employers and consultancies continue to attempt to measure it, nonetheless.

    Right Management is no different, but Douglas Sietsema, its talent management practice leader, (who I caught up with at the SHRM convention) mentions an interesting correlation.

    One recent survey found that 65 percent of employees said their managers positively impacted their engagement, while 25 percent said managers had a negative impact and 10 percent said no impact.

    What’s interesting, he notes, is that the numbers are pretty similar to another survey — this one measuring leadership.

    In that survey, 60 percent said their companies provide some leadership, 22 percent said no leadership and 15 percent said consistent leadership.

    “That’s where we started to see leadership, engagement — that correlation kind of thing.”

    Leaders provide a sense of identity, of buy-in, he says.

    “Leadership is what leads to engagement,” Sietsema says.

    Military Cross-Cultural Issues

    There’s a big push during the SHRM conference this year — rightfully so — on hiring veterans. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be winding down, there may be many military personnel looking for work in the civilian world. Should the economy ever truly recover, companies may even be able to hire some of them.

    Should that happen, HR leaders should consider that the civilian leadership/organizational structure just doesn’t speak to many people trained by the military — most of whom were young when they entered the service and may not have held another real job beforehand.

    And that lack of understanding leads to disillusionment and turnover, says Emily King, president of mymilitarytransition.com, who works with companies to help them better onboard vets.

    “It’s like going to another country,” she says. “You don’t know the language.”

    Part of the problem is that in the military, the mission is simple, straightforward and understood by everyone. In private organizations, it’s often just the opposite  — with the mission becoming more diffused as it filters down the ranks.

    Vets have an abundance of positive abilities to share, she notes, including leadership and loyalty, but those traits are not free and have to be earned by the organization.

    By the same token, it’s really the vets that need to change — to learn how to fit within the organization.

    “Trying to push back against an entire organization doesn’t work,” King says.

    Employees Sometimes Do Know Best

    Before you stop reading this, thinking it’s some department-store promotional, hear me out.

    The other day, I was in a Kohl’s Department Store madly searching for the right print in the right size in the little time I had. Taking my quest to the customer-service desk, thinking I’d probably be directed to another store (if I was lucky), I was directed instead to a telephone on the wall across from the desk. I picked it up and was immediately connected to a very friendly Kohl’s.com representative who quickly checked her “kiosk” of wares, found it and, while we were chatting, shipped it to my home, no shipping charge attached.

    “This is our new service,” she told me. “If you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for in any of our stores, we can now direct you to this phone and you get it sent, no charge.” Misson over, headache abated, faith in your fellow humans temporarily restored. How simple.

    “I’m impressed!” I told her. “I haven’t heard of this particular type of service before!”

    “We came up with it ourselves, employees here at Kohl’s,” she said, sounding immensely proud. Some stores have installed computers in their customer-service departments, “but this just felt more personal; it made common sense,” she said. “We don’t think anyone else out there is doing this but us.”

    In my old reporter mode, I immediately tried to track it down, thinking there might be an innovation case study for us in it somewhere. But the best James Barnes, Kohl’s’ manager of public relations, could give me was that the company is “very focused on implementing concepts that improve the customer experience and provide excellent customer service.” So, oh well, I guess I wasn’t going to get names — no what, why, where and when either.

    I did come across this release, though, about a new book by the CEO of HCL Technologies, Vineet Nayar, pushing his notion that companies of the future need to shift their mind-sets and start relying on the good ideas of their employees when it comes to customer service, or fail. His book, Employees First, talks about solving much harder, more strategic problems around customer satisfaction by giving up the age-old notion that C-suiters and line leaders are where your solutions lie.

    “Nayar argues,” the release says, “that the best way for companies to meet their customers’ needs is to stop making customers their top priority. Instead, companies should shift their focus to empowering employees to solve customer problems — in part by making management accountable to the employees who are the real creators of value.”

    In Nayar’s own words: “Perhaps the biggest surprise for readers of my book will be that Western-style companies can achieve even greater success by making their approach to business more democratic. Companies with traditional top-down, pyramid-like hierarchies with rigid reporting structures make it very difficult for critical competitive information, garnered on the front line, to flow uphill to the C-suite, where strategic business decisions have traditionally been made.”

    Kohl’s might be onto something here. Its employees certainly seem to be.