The Future of Remote Work

Remote worker

Last weekend, I caught up with some friends….in the very awkward social distancing way that we’ve grown to know in 2020.  It’s a group that has known each other for years….some since childhood.  Perhaps due to so much history, we rarely talk about work.  This time though, much to my HR-geeky pleasure, everyone seemed to have something to say about how work has changed this year in light of COVID19.  Nearly everyone, despite working in different industries, at different levels, and with varying levels of expertise, is now working remotely either some or all of the time.  Few expect to ever return to an office full-time and are now realizing what it means to work 100% remote.  Many are not happy about it.  The annoying HR person in me wanted to shout, “I knew it!”.  Fortunately though I know to keep that annoying HR voice in check in social settings.  She’s a buzzkill!

What are we missing about our workplaces?

What we miss about collocated work depends on role.  For managers – it’s seeing and knowing employees are working.  For employees – it’s the interactions with coworkers.  Ultimately though, these are two sides of the same coin, because whether managers are unsure employees are working, or employees miss interacting with peers, it comes down to our dependency on visual communication.  According to a recent survey of more than 2,300 US workers, 74% say “people” are what they miss most about the office.  As much as 93% of communication is thought to be nonverbal (Mehrabian & Wiener, 1967 and Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967), with body language and tone of voice having a much larger impact on our understanding of messages.  Although there is some debate on the extent to which we depend on tone and body language in communication with others – anyone who has worked in a remote capacity would likely agree with this information.  Emails, texts, slack messages without tone or body language, are often misinterpreted.  When stress enters the scene, communication becomes even more fragmented.  High levels of stress actually impairs brain function.  The part of the brain responsible for planning, communication, and logical reasoning suffers – leading to more frequent mistakes, frustration, ultimately leading to feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Feeling stressed, left without the nonverbal cues on which we depend to connect with others, not only our work suffers, we also suffer personally.  So while very few of us miss the commute or inconvenience of sitting in an actual office, we do miss interacting with others.  We are after all social creatures.  Yes, introverts, even you.

What challenges lie ahead?

Social isolation

A closely watched industry during the pandemic has been call centers.  Historically resistant to the work-from-home model, call centers were part of the 88% of companies to seemingly overnight switch to remote work, encouraging and in some cases requiring employees to work from home and socially distance.  Last month, J.D. Power published findings from a survey of 124 customer service organizations where 86% of companies say they plan to implement permanent work-from-home models even after the pandemic – clearly happy with how their teams are performing.  Call centers, notorious for their workforce analytics, recognized an unexpected phenomenon, increased Average Handle Time.  Average Handle Time (AHT) is a common call center key performance indicator (KPI) reflecting the average amount of time that a call center employee spends on the phone with customers/callers.  During the pandemic, 55% of companies saw an increase in AHT, despite lower call volumes.  Why?  Employees and customers alike, are lonely, more eager than normal to chat with someone on the phone – even a stranger.  Perhaps one of the few positive effects to life in quarantine, it’s not something to be ignored or monetized.  This finding serves as warning of how significant yet subtle we are to our need for social interaction and connection.

Exit, employee engagement. Enter wellbeing.

For years we have been consumed with the concept of keeping our employees engaged, certain that better engagement means happier and more productive employees.  Historically, employee engagement was a term used to identify an employee’s involvement, enthusiasm, and commitment to their workplace.  Although methods of calculating  engagement vary, most consist of qualitative data reflecting a combination of two things: 1) the extent to which an employee understands his role as it relates to the company’s success, and 2) behaviors in how an employee approaches her work.  With the pandemic however, we’ve seen this definition change, both rapidly and drastically.  Today’s definition of employee engagement has shifted toward a definition of wellbeing.  For many of us, our workplaces during the pandemic have validated what research has revealed for years, a culture of wellbeing is a high-performing culture. A 1997 study illustrates the positive correlation between employee mood and quality service interactions with customers.  A 2005 study confirms the importance wellbeing has on creativity.  More recently, a 2019 meta-analysis of 339 independent research studies related to wellbeing and either employee, team, or company performance, found positive correlations between employee wellbeing and customer loyalty (0.30) and employee productivity (0.20).  It turns out, we humans are a bit more complex than previously predicted by the traditional concept of employee engagement.  Even if we care deeply about our professional success, the success of our company, and understand and are committed to the importance of our work, the quality and output of our work can still be jeopardized by how we think and feel – even when thoughts and feelings are unrelated to work.  Health concerns, fearing for the safety and health of our loved ones, caring for our children unable to attend school or daycare, concerns about the economy, racial tensions….basically the entire 2020 human experience is taxing to both our emotional and psychological state.  And because our modern world is primarily made up of knowledge-based jobs, dependent on our cognitive ability to solve complex problems, our thoughts and emotions have a significant impact on how we work.  In times of stress, cognitive function is impaired.  Research and the pandemic serve as evidence that good work is not simply a choice as an extension of our work ethic.  Good work is a byproduct of our wellbeing.

Implications for the Future of Work

Stop obsessing on the physical and look to the psychological.

Several new terms and phrases have surfaced so far in 2020 such as social distancing, maskne, and a new normal.  Another term to surface recently is bossware – software apps that allow companies to monitor the computer and online activity of its workers that functions a lot like spyware.  While some software is more invasive, covertly capturing employee private social media passwords, others are much more overt, tracking an employee’s key strokes and opening and closing of work-related applications to then calculate and report productivity scores back to the employee, his/her boss, and his/her boss’ boss, and even coworkers.  A recent article reported two such software applications have seen a 500% and 600% increase in prospective or actual users since the pandemic!  These tools are growing in popularity serving as a reminder of Albert Einstein’s quote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.  A micromanager pre-COVID will likely be a micromanager post-COVID unless she decides to develop into an actual leader.  True leaders understand leading people effectively when it comes to work, means first understanding the value of the work.  Unless a company’s success somehow depends on how many keystrokes are made by an employee in a sitting or how many websites and software applications she opens and closes in her shift, the data collected is useless.  Without a qualitative measurement, these metrics mean very little.  Something understood by most modern workplace HR professionals, if you want to identify holes and gaps in any people-facing system or structure, put down incentives and consequences.  People will naturally seek out ways to game systems to avoid pain (consequences) and achieve pleasure (incentives).  Rarely do they drive the behaviors you hoped to elicit.  Instead, today’s leaders and workplaces are best to invest in creating a high-performing culture.  Generally high-performing teams, remote or onsite, are made up of more self-aware workers and have a higher level of psychological safety within teams.  A study on high-performing and average leaders showed high-performing leaders were significantly more self-aware than average leaders.  A 2017 report identifies employee self-awareness and emotional intelligence as having a significant impact on employee performance in two different areas, contextual performanceinterpersonal behaviors or actions that benefit the organization, and task performanceusing skills, knowledge, or accomplishing specialized tasks to support core functions of a business.  So, while some managers choose to focus on driving the physical tasks associated with knowledge-based work, such as typing, opening and closing programs, etc,. others are choosing to focus on an employee’s psychological approach to work like self-awareness, emotional intelligence, psychological safety.  Research shows us that those workplaces investing in employee mindfulness and wellbeing see a much bigger return on their investment compared to those allocating dollars to bossware-type technology.

It’s a team effort

For years we have stressed the importance of leadership, making statements like “people don’t quit companies, they quit managers”.  But, in many cases the manager is simply the embodiment of the company.  Who hired and trained the manager?  Who holds the manager accountable?  And when employees don’t quit – is it only because of a good manager?  Most companies attribute their high employee retention in part to managers, but not entirely.  So, if the saying is true, how would any of this make sense?  Managers are an important part of the employee experience, but less as a standalone component, and more as a byproduct.  How individuals and teams feel and perform today has much more to do with their connection to the team, as a whole.  High-performing teams, as mentioned previously, have a higher level of psychological safety.  To measure psychological safety, individuals indicate how much they agree or disagree with statements like, members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues, and it is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.  While a manager can clearly impact whether a person feels comfortable speaking candidly or asking for help, peers within the team also have influence.  Psychological safety isn’t just about how individuals perceive the leader.  Psychological safety is about how individuals perceive the team.  It’s a team measurement highly reflective of a team’s potential to be high-performing.  Research on social relationships and business performance further demonstrates the importance of trust and connection within teams.  A report by Gallup shows 20% of employees say they have a best friend at work.  Based on their findings, they predict companies where 60% of employees have a best friend at work see 36% fewer safety incidents, 7% more engaged customers, and 12% higher profits.  In a separate study, 72% of workers indicate the most meaningful and memorable recognition they received came from someone other than their direct manager – placing a high value on other workplace relationships such as peers, customers, and indirect leaders.  Looking toward the future, it’s critical we look to create an environment conducive to success – where employees look to peers and leaders for support and connection.  Particularly for remote teams – even the best leaders do not have the bandwidth to serve as the sole thread linking employees together.  People perform and feel better when they support one another, can collaborate on projects, and have a network within the workplace.  Historically we have hired, developed, and rewarded leaders based largely on their ability to solve problems.  In doing so, we’ve inadvertently stifled the creativity, innovation, and success achieved when we instead empower entire teams to solve problems.  Leaders of the future will not be tactical problem solvers.  Instead, leaders of the future will be coaches, understanding how to ignite and enable teams to collaborate.

How will you remember 2020?  Spoiler alert, it turns out bad memories tend to stay with us more than the good ones.  As 2020 has had its fair share of distress, to say the least, most of us will associated 2020 with health concerns, social and racial tensions, and economic woes, no doubt.  But, how each of us changes from these events will likely differ, greatly.  In 2007, days after my 27th birthday I caught a virus and was rushed into surgery after learning my body was shutting down and that I had only a few hours left to breathe.  A month after recovering, heading home from picking up a coworker’s wedding gift, I lost control of my car and hit a concrete barricade at around 50mph head on.  Months later in an attempt to reconnect with someone I was in a relationship with earlier that year, I learned he’d been killed in a tragic accident.  It was not a fun year, but most certainly a memorable one.  Today however, I reflect on 2007 as the year that saved my life.  To that point, I’d been living a fairly shallow life. Most of my relationships revolved around parties and going out, not about connecting.  I looked to food as comfort, not nourishment.  I treated my body like a well-insured weekend rental car, not bothering to make maintenance a priority.  2007 presented me with the painful but valuable opportunity to reconsider my entire way of life.  It’s been better each day because of it.  So although 2020 has no doubt been painful for you personally as a parent, spouse, friend, and member of your community, and professionally as a leader, what will matter most is how you come out of it.  How has 2020 changed your relationship with humanity?  How will you choose to lead the future of work?

 

Interested in learning tools to help your team collaborate and connect?  Click here to learn more about Team Ethos.

Reducing Turnover with Employee Exit Interview Data

Person holding I quit sign

I am a self-admitted feedback enthusiast, mainly because I put a high value on exerted energy.  Without feedback, I believe energy is instead spent frivolously in a manner that resembles “guessing”.  Feedback is such a huge part of my foundation and every fiber of my being that when my business coach advised me to develop a marketing strategy around imagined behaviors of my target audience, I stopped working with said coach that day.  So, it goes without saying that employee feedback and analytics are at the foundation of every Culture Engineered strategy.  Although workforce analytics are somewhat new in the world of HR, exit interviews are perhaps the most popular and widely used employee feedback tools used in business.  And it’s with a heavy heart that I say, exit interview data sucks.

Not all data is valuable.

In a Payscale study of over 38,000 people, 25% of participants indicated higher pay as their primary reason they sought out new employment, making it the #1 reason people quit.  When the same participants were asked however why they were attracted to their new role with the new company, only 16% indicated “better pay”, making it the #3 reason to accept a new position.  The #1 reason was “the opportunity to do more meaningful work” at 27%.  How is it then possible that a person would, in a single move, choose to leave a job for one reason only to then accept a new job for an entirely separate and unrelated reason?  There is an answer – but you’re not going to like it.  It doesn’t make sense because how we make decisions is complex, depending much more on our emotions than on logic.  Logically, if 25% of people quit due to low pay, 25% of people would then seek out a job for better pay.  We at Culture Engineered also conduct exit interviews and find more than 90% of those surveyed initially indicate low pay as their primary reason for resigning. Through exit interview analysis however, we find the actual percentage of resignations due to pay dissatisfaction to be closer to 10%, most of which are shortly following an annual appraisal or assuming additional responsibilities.  It’s usually a combination of reasons an employee chooses to quit.  We refer to these internal factors as push factors.  Similarly, it’s often a combination of reasons we are attracted to a new opportunity, external factors we refer to as pull factors.  The key to collecting valuable data from an exit interview is to ask valuable questions.  Ask about attributes of the employee experiences specifically to understand the person’s feelings about pay & benefits, recognition, etc.  Most importantly though – find out what event triggered the person’s decision to leave the company.  This is critical.  Like any relationship, we accept and tolerate certain flaws or frustrations.  But then one day the straw breaks the proverbial camel’s back and we’re done.  Our relationships with work are no different.  Employees are often unaware of what causes them to look for start looking for jobs, or respond to a call from a recruiter.  And even if a person is aware of the event that prompted their job search, he/she will often avoid sharing the details of the event in an exit interview because it is a painful or sometimes humiliating moment.  Getting exiting individuals to open up about this point of no return event is critical and takes practice and rapport.  But it’s worth it.  By learning about this moment your employee shifts from an “us” to a “them” mindset, deciding to separate from the company they once celebrated joining will give you the insights you need to repair and preserve your company culture’s foundation.

Getting clear on purpose

In a study of 210 companies in 33 industries, 157 had a practice of conducting exit interviews; however only 50 were able to provide even one example of how exit interview data was being used in their business.  Although unclear why data was collected but not used, it begs the question what is the purpose of exit interview data?  Data alone solves nothing.  Exit interviews like so many employer practices have become habitual, making it a harmful practice.  Each time we as leaders ask for employee feedback, we are asking employees to collaborate with us.  This holds true for performance discussions and surveys.  Have you ever had someone ask your opinion only to do the complete opposite of what you recommend or suggest?  Like me, the thought, “then why even ask me!” likely crept into your mind.  Now imagine that person is asking your opinion on something that actually impacts your life, like your job and workplace.  If I do this enough, asking for your opinion on parts of your life that I control only to then do what I feel is best without considering your suggestions, wouldn’t you just stop sharing your thoughts with me?  Would you feel like I valued your opinions or your time?  Is it possible you may even be more hurt than if I hadn’t asked at all?  If you’re being honest here, the answer is yes.  It feels terrible when someone invites you into a conversation and exercise only to then actively reject you.  This is the same feeling employees develop when we ask for feedback and discard it without ever really giving it consideration.  So, before conducting one more exit interview, or using any feedback tool, consider what it is you intend to do with the information.  Are you asking to identify any legal risks associated with difficult employees exiting your organization?  Is your company interested in identifying training needs for frontline managers using exit interview data related to management engagement?  Or are you using exit interviews as an early warning detection of culture issues lurking below the surface?  There is no wrong answer, so long as you have an answer.  Collecting it because it’s what you’ve always done is not an answer.  Attrition is expensive and one of the best ways to identify issues driving attrition in your workplace is analyzing exit interview data.  Simply collecting this data alone though solves nothing and may actually be making matters worse.

The estimated cost of employee turnover ranges from 16% annual salary for lower paying jobs, all the way to 213% annual salary for highly paid executives, making exit interview data very appealing.  But, it’s only when we take the time to ensure we’re gathering quality data that helps to solve an identified problem that data serves as a feedback tool.  Why are people quitting your company?  The answer to this question isn’t the end.  The answer is where the work begins.  Do you have the energy to solve for the problems your data reveals?

Want actionable insights to keep your best employees?  Click here. 

The Power of Internal Marketing

Marketing to employees

What do you rely on most in your world?  Water?  Your smartphone?  Coffee?  Okay, clearly these are my go-tos but whatever you find critical to your day-to-day routine, one thing holds true, all of those things are marketed, heavily.  TV and radio commercials, ads in our online publications and Google searches….our favorite celebrities and influencers posting and blogging about them….ALL methods of marketing the importance of products that we already hold valuable.  And although life without these things may seem unimaginable today, it’s likely you decided this to be the case only after they were first marketed to you.  Marketing strategies identify, articulate, and some may argue create, consumer needs aligning those needs to specific products and services.  Now consider this, how important is employee buy-in to your workplace?  Enter the case for internal marketing.

Have you ever introduced a benefit plan that everyone hates?  Or perhaps you’ve rolled out a new commission plan to a sales reps who feel commission payouts are unattainable?  If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of leading a company change where employees were not bought in, you’ve learned the hard way that without buy-in, successful implementation is a mere pipedream.  As consumers and employees make decisions and choices not on logic but on emotions and psychology.  Just as a good product or service is not enough to ensure high market share, a great workplace is not enough to attract and retain valuable employees.  Without marketing highlighting why our products, services, and workplaces are great – people fail to remember, and the magic is lost.  Here are some internal marketing ideas to enhance your company culture that generate a return on your investment (in people).

1.  Why you?

What drives customers to choose you over competitors?  Why do employees choose your company over any other?  If you’re having difficulty answering the second question with as much confidence as you answered the first, don’t feel bad as this is the case with most leaders I meet with.  Many have responses like “we offer a great benefits package” or “we pay top dollar”.  When challenged however, reasons just don’t hold up.  So, give pause to the question of why employees choose your company because the answer is important.  The answer should serve as the foundation to every employee initiative – recruiting, onboarding, retention, and so on.  Why people choose you as their employer reflects what your employees value most.  How well you deliver on this value ultimately determines how happy, engaged, satisfied, and successful your employees are.  You meet with employees individually to discuss why they choose you.  Because it can be a complex answer, one-on-one discussions can provide great insights.  Because anonymity can lead to more honest answers however, you may instead prefer to use an employee survey to solicit a variety of responses.  Regardless of the method you choose, asking is critical.

2. Your vibe attracts your tribe.

Knowing why your most valued employees choose you is the most important piece of information a leader can have.  A close second is how to communicate this message.  When recruiting for an open position for example – it’s important to know what speaks to your tribe.  Where do they look for jobs?  Are they even looking?  What about the job and your company’s culture is of interest to the “right” employees (“right” meaning having shared values with others in the company as well as the skills and experience necessary to perform the duties of the position).  This year for the first time since recorded, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported more open jobs than unemployed workers to fill them.  This means employers must actively attract candidates to fill their open positions – no more relying solely on unemployed workers actively looking for jobs.  When competition is high – marketing will often determine the winner.  Like never before, it’s important for employers to market their employer brand.  This is different than marketing your brand to end users and consumers.  An employer brand comes back to why you (as an employer)?  Passive candidates, because they are by definition not actively looking for jobs, require more from recruiting than just posting openings to a job board.  They are not looking for you.  Like marketers find consumers, employers must instead target and source candidates the candidates they want to hire.  And because educated candidates, like educated consumers, tend to be more valuable – get your online (employer) brand together.  What are current and former employees saying about working for you on review boards such as Glassdoor and Indeed?  How does your website’s careers page reflect your culture and employee experience?  The goal is not to have the most robust or most beautiful online representation.  Your goal is to have the most accurate online employer brand representation – because that is the one that will attract your tribe.

3.  Fake begets fake.

Speaking of accuracy….have you ever hired someone with the perfect resume followed by the perfect interview only to realize that it was all BS?!  That guy was never the top sales rep with his previous company!  Just days into the job it was evident he never sold anything in his life (oh – except he sold you on giving him the job – ouch!).  Take a look at your hiring process.  Is it genuine?  If you’re attracting candidates who seem too good to be true only to later disappointed when they prove to be, assess how authenticity is tested in your recruiting and hiring process.  Why employees choose you is just as important and why those who don’t belong in your company don’t choose you.  You cannot successfully be all things to all people.  So, own who your company is….and isn’t.   If you don’t believe in employees to work remotely, make it known early in your recruiting process.  If you choose to offer only one medical plan because it affords you lower premiums and makes it more affordable for all employees to cover at least themselves (rather than more coverage to less employees), say so!  An authentic message is not appealing to everyone.  With authentic messaging we appeal to desired candidates and simultaneously repel those who would not be successful with our company.  Open jobs can be costly to a business, but the wrong hire, catastrophic.  Take time on the front end to articulate who your company is, what the culture is really like, what your employee experience has to offer.  When it comes to recruiting, quality trumps quantity ever time.

4.  Consistency counts

A friend of mine works for Charles Schwab.  One day she was telling me how she was butting heads with another leader of an internal team on a project.  Then as if by magic, her frustration seemed to vanish and she said, “but we resolved it once we stepped back to consider what was best through the clients’ eyes”.  What the heck was she talking about?  I asked her to explain – and she did.  She told me this phrase is what most Schwab employees use to settle disagreements and make decisions.  I couldn’t believe it.  Charles Schwab employs nearly 20,000 people and this one simple phrase allows team members to solve problems, for the most part, consistently.  Consistent messaging sticks.  We as humans, appreciate knowing what to expect because it allows us to and predict benefits and consequences and ultimately make what we consider to be better choices.  Marketing has long time realized this concept with what they refer to as “the rule of seven”.  The rule of seven suggests people need to be exposed to a message at least seven times before they remember it.  While unsure there is any true science showing seven to be a magic number, I can say that many companies I meet with struggle to communicate with enough frequency and consistency to resonate with employees.  One of the attributes of the employee experience we at Culture Engineered test on is communication.  Of the ten attributes we test on, the communication attribute shows challenging to most companies, regardless of industry, size, or structure (flat versus hierarchical).  What we often find is that communication itself is not bad.  It’s just not done consistently or frequently enough.  One of the best ways we’ve found to resolve the communication issues in the workplace is to start all corresponding communications with the phrase, “because you asked for more effective communication, we’d like to announce (insert initiative)”.  This phrasing helps align a changed way of communicating in response to employee feedback and also helps make messaging sound more consistent.  Leaders are usually resistant at first, fearing employees will feel they’re repeating themselves.  In three nearly three years we’ve been using this approach to resolve communication issues, we’ve not received even one employee response suggesting we’re over communicating.

5.  Engage your superfans

What product or service are you in love with?  For me, it’s our vet Dr. Mangone.  We foster dogs, specifically senior dogs.  I’ve had dogs all of my adult life and am known to take in strays fairly frequently.  Most need some sort of medical attention.  Until just two years ago, I had with me my Dingo mix dog, Caleb, a rescue I took in when I was in college.  He lived to be 17 years old and our vet cried with us when Caleb took his last breath.  If our vet treated people, I’d be a lot better about going to him as my doctor.  I sing his praises to others constantly and have referred fellow animal lovers to him.  I am a superfan when it comes to our vet – promoting him more confidently and convincingly than perhaps any ad or paid advertisement ever could.  Who are your superfans that work within your company?  A few weeks ago I visited a well-known tech company here in the valley.  While they’re recognized as a tech success story here in the Phoenix-metro community, they’re also notoriously known for laying off employees annually during the holidays, despite healthy financials.  The tech community in Phoenix is a close community – so when companies with healthy profits routinely and systematically layoff the employees who helped the company to be a success, word travels quickly.  During my visit however the woman showing me around their campus beamed.  Telling me stories of the team coming together to earn bigger bonus payouts and giggling proudly as she divulged the company has a $15K per month allowance for sugary employee snacks, she seemed oblivious to how insensitive this seemed to the outside world.  To me, an outsider, it was nauseating.  Don’t get me wrong, layoffs happen and unfortunately I’ve been on both sides of that unpleasant situation – but to scale only to later layoff employees recklessly and in the same breath preach company culture and loyalty is disgusting.  Remembering the countless conversations with developers I’d had over the years who once dreamed of working for this company only to later be tossed aside without reason, her admiration for the company made me feel like I was in an alternate universe.  But then I realized, she’s a superfan.  I of course do not condone the reckless practices of this company nor am I encouraging the use of manipulation to mask unethical practices.   I do however have a question for the leaders running ethical and honest businesses out there, what would happen if you nurtured your superfan employee relationships?  Are you inviting them to collaborate on employee/culture initiatives with you?  At Culture Engineered, we’ve found the key to articulating and driving a company’s employee experience is the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS).  While our survey is anonymous, we are able to deconstruct the employee experience with this metric and determine what of the ten attributes of the employee experience are driving that employee experience to be positive.  High eNPS scores are the marks of your superfans.  Because of the high correlation with high eNPS scores, employee satisfaction, and performance, it’s important to understand what about your employee experience resonates and inspires your superfans.  These are your advocates….your key employees….drivers…stars….whatever term you prefer, they are as passionate about your company’s success as they are about their own success.  Today, identify them if you haven’t already done so.  Learn what makes them so dang into your business and invest in those aspects of your employee experience.  Not only will you make them even bigger advocates than they were even before, but you will attract more by focusing on creating the experience that the “right” employees value most.

 

We need to realize that internal marketing is only manipulative when we fail to be honest, ethical, or authentic.  It isn’t enough to invest in making our workplaces great – we also need to ask what our employees appreciate and commit to making what employees value a priority.  Great leaders and companies invest a lot of time, money, and energy into making the employee experience satisfying and rewarding.  But if we’re not sharing with employees our intention to make them feel more valued, and instead allow them to assume our great culture happened by chance, we’re missing the opportunity to show them how important they are to us.  We as leaders will fail.  We will mess up.  Sometimes we will be forced to make difficult decisions that employees don’t fully understand.  Be transparent and open with your intentions when you can.  This in itself has a huge impact on employee perceptions and feelings about their work – arguably more so than most bonus plans or costly perks.  Today – start incorporating these basic marketing principles into your employee interactions and initiatives and be amazed at how quickly and positively employees will respond.

Managing difficult employees – Can good employees have bad attitudes?

There are two reasons an employee fails to meet reasonable employer expectations – either they can’t or they won’t.  Falling short of expectations is often assessed through the lens of skill or will.  When the employee is trying but lacks the knowledge or experience needed to succeed in his/her role (skill issue), the solution is most commonly solved with training, coaching, better systems or access to resources, or sometimes mentoring.  Managing difficult employees, employees that are not trying however (will issue), is a much bigger challenge.

Behavioral issues are often misdiagnosed as skill/performance issues and therefore often go unresolved.   This is especially unfortunate as these behavioral issues can be incredibly damaging to a company’s culture and success.  Some of the most common workplace behavioral issues are:

  • Excessive absenteeism or tardiness (when not as part of an accommodation)
  • Insubordination
  • Gossip
  • Disruptive to others
  • Poor quality of work
  • Harassing behavior
  • Theft
  • Failure to meet KPIs
  • Emotional outbursts

There are two reasons behavioral issues are more difficult, 1) inexperienced leaders, and 2) employee actor-observer bias.

Experience Matters

Perhaps the hardest lesson learned in managing and leading people is that we all perceive, think about, and value things differently.  It’s easy to say, but when leading a team of conflicting personalities and priorities to achieve a common goal – the leadership can seem overwhelming.  Diagnosing why a person with the desire to succeed isn’t, is a tactical diagnosis.  An employee wants to get more sales, has a great attitude, works hard, and asks for help – it doesn’t take a lot of experience to recognize he needs training.  He’s putting the work in but needs help turning activity into sales.  What about the salesperson that isn’t “working hard”?  She previously hit her quota every month – but her sales have declined steadily over the last few months.  Is she calling out sick all the time?  Is she showing up late?  Leaving early?  When at work – is she working effectively or talking with co-workers and tending more to her social media accounts than customers.  Is she selling to fewer people, closing smaller deals, or both?  She has shown she can do the job, but somewhere along the line stopped.  Why?  This is a harder problem to solve because it requires insight, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand.  Generally, these are leadership qualities developed with experience.  It’s by managing and leading people that you develop the confidence and self-awareness needed to step outside of your own head willing to look at a situation from the perspective of another.  Good people make bad choices all of the time.  Many inexperienced managers assume the person “doesn’t care” or simply “has a bad attitude”.  A leader I worked with in the past would respond to managers complaints about an employee by asking the manager, “was the employee bad when you hired him or did you make him bad?”.  If you want employees to understand the “why” behind your company’s purpose, you need to understand their why as well.  Why do they choose to work hard?  Why do they sometimes choose not to?  You can discipline them, you can warn them, you can suspend them, but nothing serves as a solution to a behavioral problem unless you first understand the why behind it.  Why did they stop caring?  That’s the first step on the path to a solution.  Most employees can regain their love and passion to succeed in their role.  First though – we as leaders NEED to ask what caused it to be lost in the first place.

The actor-observer bias at work

The actor-observer bias is one of several attribution biases, concepts used in social psychology to describe irrational patterns in how we view our own behaviors and interpret behaviors of others.  The term refers to our tendency  to attribute our own behaviors to situational factors while attributing behaviors of others to internal factors.  Put simply, we see our behaviors as a reflection of a situation but perceive others behave a certain way because that’s who they are.  This bias causes behavioral problems to surface in two ways, 1) biased employees see their decisions and behaviors as the only option, rather than a choice, and 2) biased employees subscribe to the idea that only bad people do bad things.  Because someone doesn’t see himself as bad a person, he is incapable of doing bad things and as such, his behaviors are justified.  Think of an employee who is frequently late or absent.  Does she always have a reason?  Does she seem to feel you too should excuse her absence –as though she had no choice but to be late or miss the day?  A person harassing others, although clearly a more serious offense, often does not recognize himself as a harasser.  Because the person doing the harassing believes the person he is harassing either wants or deserves the unwanted attention, he typically feels his behavior is justified.  Ironically, the harasser is often the most offended by harassing behavior demonstrated by others, seeing other harassers as bad people rather than people engaging in harassing behavior (2 Reasons Your Harassment Training is Failing).  Research suggests this bias occurs less often with people we know well – most likely due to exposure.  We see ourselves, behaviors, and decisions as a reflection of situations and the more familiar we are with situations faced by others, the more we recognize that most of us are neither all good nor all bad.  Self-awareness allows us to see ourselves objectively, recognizing the impact our decisions have on others – and that every decision is a choice.  So, next time you’re forced to address an employee’s excessive absences or tardiness, ask him, “do you feel that everyone else that makes it in on time for work has it easy?  Do you feel they do not have extenuating circumstances that they must manage in order to get to work?”  This question can be a game changer in addressing similar behavioral issues.  With more serious behaviors like harassing others or insubordination, it’s important to focus on how the employee’s behavior impacts others – and how the behavior is not in line with the company’s values or culture.  When behavior issues are deliberate such as theft, fraud, or harassing behavior that’s hostile, manipulative, or calculated, it is very unlikely the leopard will change his spots.  There is always a chance that a person engaging in scheming and cunning behavior will change for the better; however, this is a decision she will make on her own.  No punishment, threat, or training will change the behavior and in many situations the person will only use warnings to behave poorly in a more conspicuous way.  It is up to each company and leader to find the right balance of forgiveness and accountability.  People will make mistakes and poor choices – to what extent you, as a leader, are willing to accept the harm those mistakes and poor choices brings to you, your company, and employees, is a choice you must make.

It would be great if we all just got it.  If we all saw our behaviors and decisions as choices and possessed the self-awareness to see how we impact others.  The reality is, we are flawed.  There is no such thing as a perfect person and therefore cannot be a perfect employee, or leader.  A successful workplace culture isn’t about perfection.  A successful culture is about a group of unique individuals coming together to achieve a common purpose.  So the key is establishing a common set of values and then communicating, upholding, and delivering on those values relentlessly – addressing when actions or behaviors deviate from what benefits the group, as a whole, or their collective purpose.  Strong and healthy workplaces have behavioral issues. They only differ from toxic workplaces in how leaders respond to those issues.  Address the behaviors harming your company’s culture today because it’s the only way you will ever achieve your purpose.

 

Watch our tutorial on how to address employee behavioral issues here.

Need help with getting employees engaged?  Contact a Culture Engineer!

Should you ban employees from dating?

Coworkers flirting

Recently, Culture Engineered was asked by the Huffington Post how an employee should ask a co-worker out on a date.  While a topic dreaded by most HR and People professionals, it led us to consider whether or not a non-fraternization policy still holds any relevance in today’s workplace.  Do these policies protect the company legally?  How does workplace romance impact a company’s culture?  Below we consider these challenges faced by employers managing employee conduct.

Non-Fraternization Policies and the Law

Traditionally, a company policy is designed to keep the balance of power between employees (as individuals) and the company as a whole – defining good versus bad conduct and consequences that are associated with the bad.  But, can policies apply to conduct outside of work such as with romantic relationships?   A quick glance at statutes in California (Lab. Code § 96k), Colorado (Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402.5), Louisiana (La Rev. Stat § 23:961), New York (N.Y. Lab. Code § 201-d), and North Dakota (ND Cent. Code Sec. 14-02.4-01), such a policy seems useless in preventing workplace romances from developing.  Local governments within these states have similar statutes and rules prohibiting employers from taking adverse action on employees for off-duty, off-company-premises conduct, so long the conduct is lawful.  Looking deeper however, interpretation of these statutes is narrow when it comes to office romances, failing to recognize a romantic activity as a “protected recreational activity”.  So, while non-fraternization policies may cause some gray areas to surface within a company, the good news is that when challenged, they are being upheld.  But a word of caution:  be specific.  A broad non-fraternization policy may constitute as interfering with employee rights to engaged in concerted activity, protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) – a BIG NO-NO.  These rulings have not been so favorable for employers (ie Guardsmark, LLC v. NLRB, 2007 WL 283455 D.C. Cir. 2007).

Romance Impact to Culture

Everyone likes a good love story.  How is this viewed today by employees when it’s happening in the workplace?  In the case of two California Department of Corrections employees working at a prison where the warden was having an affair with three other employees – not so good.  Although all employees engaged in the “relationship” were consenting individuals, the situation still resulted in a sexual harassment suit.  Not that surprising?    How about the fact that no sexual advances or harassing comments had ever been made to either plaintiff?  Miller v. Department of Corrections, No. S114097, 2005 WL 1661190 (Cal. 2005) plaintiffs alleged the favoritism shown to those who engaged in a sexual relationship with the warden caused the plaintiffs to be subjected to a hostile work environment.  The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs causing companies even more reason to be concerned about workplace relationships – even when consensual.  But with all the studies on workplace camaraderie and positive correlation with employee engagement, there has to be some benefit to employees liking each other enough to date, right? Unfortunately, modern studies on this issue bring something we already associate with workplace romances – complexity.  In a 2016 study, researchers sought to investigate the relationship between romance in the workplace and employee engagement.  Employees participating in a romantic relationship with a coworker for the purpose of improving their workplace status had lower levels of employee engagement.  While this result was anticipated by researchers, the impact uncertainty plays in workplace relationships with regards to engagement was not.  Rather than a decrease to employee engagement, engagement increases the more uncertainty within the relationship!  So while a recent CareerBuilder survey found 37% of people say they have dated a coworker of which 33% have led to marriage – clearly not all coworkers are thrilled about it.  But you have a policy, so that can’t be happening in your company, right?  The same survey shows that 45% of survey were unsure if their company had a dating policy.  Yes, another study to suggest only HR reads the handbook – great.

In summary – some guidance is needed in the workplace and when it comes to office romances.  It’s unlikely that a healthy balance will happen organically.  Too strict of a policy – a company is likely to lose talent and make for an unrealistic vibe in which employees are forced to leave or lie.  Too vague of a policy – layout the welcome mat for the NLRB and expect to have some weird discussions with your leaders (23% of CareerBuilder survey participants admitting to dating someone in the office say they dated someone at a higher level within the company).  Take a proactive approach.  Develop your policies around the culture you wish to create rather than reactively creating policies solely to ward off lawsuits.  Only good employees follow policies, bad employees look for loopholes – and find them.  Review your policies today – who are you tailoring them to?

LOOKING FOR A NEW CAREER OPPORTUNITY? WHICH SOUNDS IDEAL TO YOU?

Option 1:

  • Amazing travel benefits for you and your family (although you may want to hold off on booking that trip to China for a while)
  • Great work-life balance
  • As an employee, your travel is PRIORITY – more important than even purchased customer travel
  • Opportunity to serve as an authority on fashion when it comes to boarding flights (your ability to pass judgment is not limited to adults – teenager attire may also be subject to your personal views)
  • Running late for your next shift OR you need to catch a return-flight home? Don’t worry!  The company will aggressively and proudly drag even an elderly, paying customer from a seat so that you can fly comfortably without delay.  A policy supported by the CEO (for a while at least).

Option 2:

  • Contribute to technology that may change modern society’s manner of daily travel
  • Work alongside some of the greatest minds in tech
  • Receive unwanted sexual advances by your manager…on your first day (Don’t worry though….HR only tolerates it because he is a great performer. If he was a bad performer…he’d be out.
  • Advance self-driving technology without stress or accountability since it’s technology claimed to have been stolen by Google anyway

Good news – both companies are hiring and will probably be looking for PR and HR professionals for quite some time.  For employees working with well-known brands – not all press is good press.  Look to leverage your company’s brand with employees in positive times and address challenging public blunders as you would with customers.  When it comes to the product of “employment”, employees are perhaps the most valuable of consumers.  What are you doing to market to your employees?

Contact a Culture Engineer