A punch to the face taught me to fight. Why a culture unafraid of failure always wins.

1996 sparring competition

I was 16 and it was my first real sparring match.  Although I started karate when I was 13, I had braces.  For safety reasons, we weren’t allowed to spar with braces, so my training in sparring was delayed, significantly.  I was three years behind everyone else my age and I was TERRIFIED of being punched in the face.  Thinking back now, I’m not sure if I was more afraid of the pain or crying in front of everyone like a baby.  To make things worse – I’d always been afraid of ending up with a nose like my dad and knew having it broken in a fight would not help my situation.  This was the day I learned how to fight…not because of any tip, trick, move, or skill.  On this day, I was punched square in the nose, hard.  A loss I still reflect on often, this is the day, the pivotal moment, that led me to go onto become the #2 ranked female collegiate fighter in the nation just three years later.

Master Shojiro Koyama,  was very traditional.  He disagreed with the decision to let women compete years before I walked into his dojo and was known to pair up young, petite female students with much larger and stronger male students in sparring exercises.  We were encouraged to challenge one another physically, it was practice after all.  But, we were discouraged from striking with full physical strength.  I was competing by the time I started training with M. Koyama but only in kata.  In class he would coach me in sparring exercises, frustrated by my over-thinking and apparent lack of instinct.  “No thinking!” he shouted at me repeatedly one day, his way of trying to get me out of my own head.  Over and over he would tell me not to flinch and to counter immediately after blocking an attack.  But, all I could do was freeze and close my eyes.  I was scared.  I had never been hit in the face before and was paralyzed by fear at even the thought of it! So, the day I had my braces off I was filled with emotion.  I had braces for FOUR YEARS, so thoughts of eating corn on the cob or biting into the candy apples at the state fair later that year were really exciting.  Realizing I would now need to spar with others who appeared unafraid of a broken nose was terrifying.  I continued to struggle in practice but the true horror set in the day of my first competitive fight.  Her name was Samantha – and she was good.  I knew her from previous competitions and she was a much better and more confident fighter.  I was toast.  I remember the punch coming at my face and I closed my eyes, as I sadly had done EVERY time in practice.  Those I trained with were shouting from the sidelines as Master Koyama had shouted at me in practice, but I didn’t hear them.  All I could do was brace myself for the inevitable punch that was now too far along to block.  Boom!  I knew she hit me because when I opened my eyes, they were watering.  Oddly enough, all that I could think of was not to let the ref see my eyes watering or she, my opponent, would get a point!  Not sure why I thought the blatant strike went unseen by the ref who was just two or three feet away from us. I refused to blink in an effort to prevent the tears from streaming down my face.  But they weren’t tears from crying.  If you’ve ever hit your nose or been hit in the nose, you know what I’m talking about here.  Tears naturally well up in your eyes following such a hit, but there’s no sobbing or lip quivering like the tears that accompany emotional or physical pain.  The ring judge saw the hit and my opponent was awarded the point.  Naturally I lost the fight.  My biggest fear had come true and it wasn’t the life altering event I’d expected!  Although my teacher tried breaking my habit of flinching and freezing for years, my fear of pain and embarrassment was stronger.  And suddenly the fear was gone.  I’ve never flinched or frozen since.

Is this really such a unique story though?  Parents, teachers, co-workers, our friends, family, bosses – we get lots of advice from those around us.  But, how much of it do we take or even listen to?  I didn’t believe my mom about drinking….until I drank too much.  That friend that everyone cautioned me not to trust – I refused to believe it, until she betrayed me.  So many painful lessons that could’ve been prevented had I just listened to the advice I was given.  And I don’t think I’m the only one who has these stories.  So, why is advice only right in hindsight?  There is no better teacher than failure.  Athletes recall every shot they miss, poker players remember the turn that led to losing a hand.  And if you’re gritty, you walk away from that failure assessing and sometimes obsessing over what you need to do to prevent that mistake from happening ever again.  Isn’t this what innovation and improvement is all about?  How much would we achieve if we made failure acceptable?  What would you try today if you didn’t fear the shame of defeat?  According to Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership and Management, Dr. Amy Edmonson, a lot.  Dr. Edmonson has spent decades studying what makes some teams effective and high-performing and others, not.  Ultimately, she discovered better teams actually are more accepting of mistakes.  In 1999 she coined the term psychological safety – the belief that you won’t be punished or judged for making a mistake.  Without this fear of shame, embarrassment, or judgment, people are more comfortable asking questions, open to learning, speaking up, taking risks, and as result, perform better.

It’s counter intuitive and scary, but failure and success are not mutually exclusive.  Part of learning to walk is falling.  We learn the value of money when we are without it.    For individuals and teams, failure can make or break us.  In 1999 I attended a national competition in Denver, Colorado.  I was competing for first place against a woman I’d competed against before.  She grew up training in karate as her father was a well-respected instructor.  She fractured my nose and I quickly countered with a punch to her ribs.  She won the point, taking first place.  I walked away for the second and final time with a loss and a bloody nose.  These are the two fights I still think of more than 20 years later despite sparring hundreds of times in practice and competition.  They’re not memories of regret, they’re not memories of sadness…..I remember them as lessons in the journey of my success.

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!

Building an Inclusive Arizona: Sales

CO+HOOTS Foundation Executive Director Lisa Glenn Nobles and Culture Engineered Founder Teresa Marzolph discuss how we can build an inclusive Arizona ecosystem focusing specifically on diversity in the sales cycle. The first in our monthly series on Building an Inclusive Arizona, this conversation will focus on the need for diversity in the Arizona business ecosystem and help companies develop a common language and best practices around inclusive sales cycles.

WORKFORCE EVENT: ROI of Creating a Strong Company Culture

Most professionals agree, having a strong company culture is important.  Like most things in business however, only initiatives that produce results gain support (and investment).  Because strategies to develop, sustain, or improve a company’s culture like any other project requires time and money – the question is inevitable:  what is the ROI of culture?  On March 26th,  AZ Biz Link‘s workforce event hosts a discussion with a panel of experts on the topic of creating a culture that produces valuable results.

Moderator:

  • Kevin Black, Principal & Founder | Edge Challenges

Panelists:

  • James Murphy, President & CEO | Willmeng Construction
  • Julie Eklund, Director Human Resources | Kimley Horn
  • Michele Shuey, Global Director HR Business Partnerships & Employee Engagement | Nextiva
  • Teresa Marzolph, People Strategist & Founder | Culture Engineered
  • Gretchen Mastello, SVP Global People Operations | Axon

How Good Surveys Go Wrong. Choosing the Right Employee Survey for Your Business.

 

So, you want to know more about your employees.  Why not just run a simple employee survey, right?!  Unfortunately, this is the haphazard approach has been adopted by many companies and is why 78% of companies using employee surveys fails to see improvement.  Any survey produces data, but quality data comes when you use employee surveys strategically.  So, before asking your employees to take a survey, consider the problem you intend to solve using survey results.  Comparing five of the most popular types of employee surveys used today, which one best serves your company’s needs?

1.  Onboarding (New Hire) Survey

Purpose:  Onboarding surveys are designed to examine an employee’s experience from the time they apply for a position through the time the employee completes the “new hire” phase which is different for every company.  Often surveys are done at various integrals following their first day with the company such as weekly, or monthly.

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  Generally, companies are most interested in surveying their new hire process when they are scaling rapidly, seeing a significant drop in engagement amongst new hires, or new hires are turning over at a higher-than-normal rate.  By effectively using an onboarding survey, companies gain insight to what they are doing right and wrong when hiring and onboarding employees.

Tip:  A company will typically use survey results to answer the following, “are we hiring the wrong people OR are we hiring the right people yet failing to meet new hire expectations as their employer?”.  While more often than not, the answer is “both” – through analyzing survey data they can identify what side of the equation they are struggling with most, hiring or onboarding.

2.  360 Degree Survey

Purpose:  The 360-degree feedback survey is designed to solicit anonymous feedback regarding an employee’s performance from all levels within the company (supervisor, peer, and subordinate).

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  360-degree surveys are generally best suited for larger companies as launching and managing this type of survey is complex.  When conducted successfully, results from this survey can provide a holistic view of an employee’s performance.  360-degree surveys place an equal level of importance on lateral, subordinate and supervisor feedback whereas traditional reviews tend to view an employee’s performance with a top-down approach, taking only the supervisor’s perception into consideration.  Therefore, a company that places importance on working collaboratively at all levels within the organization will likely feel 360-degree surveys are of great value to their success.

Tip:  If you wish to launch a 360-degree survey, consider engaging an expert.  Feedback from 360-degree surveys has been criticized as unactionable and irrelevant to improving a company’s productivity.  Quality questions (proving to be valid and reliable), random sampling, and strategic coaching are key to using this tool effectively.

3.  Pulse Survey

Purpose:  The pulse survey is a simple and relatively short survey designed to get insight to the overall health of a company, often conducted more regularly than other surveys (so as to identify fluctuations in employee satisfaction or perceptions on aspects of the company).

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  Companies looking to gain quick and valuable insight into employee perceptions for the purpose of implementing strategic changes will benefit from this type of survey.  Because identifying trends is key to this process however, only those companies willing to share survey results with employees (to some extent), committed to addressing workplace issues (as identified in survey results), and conducting surveys on an ongoing basis should engage in this type of survey.

Tip:  Prior to announcing or launching a pulse survey in the workplace, leadership must determine their commitment to addressing workplace issued identified by the survey, how they will share the results with employees, and the frequency they will conduct pulse surveys.  While employee morale will typically improve immediately following a pulse survey’s launch, they just as quickly deteriorate (or even worsen) if the company fails to engage employees in the action plan following the survey.  Keep in mind, survey trends are more important than any one set of survey results when it comes to pulse surveys.

4.  Employee Engagement Survey

Purpose:  Employee engagement surveys are designed to assess the level of which employees understand and care about their work as it relates to the company’s success.

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  A trending concept since the 1990s, employee engagement is believed by many companies and scholars to be key to creating and sustaining a high-performing business.  Employee engagement is especially critical to companies with a relatively flat organizational structure, comprised of a large Millennial population, and/or are in highly competitive industries.

Tip:  Keep in mind that changing employee beliefs and notions about work is a very robust and complex process.  While a good employee survey will provide insight into an employee’s understanding of how his/her work matters to the overall company’s success, your plan to change the employee-company relationship needs to recognize the manner in which your company informs, supports, and recognizes employees of their importance.  It is fair to assume your employees had some ideas and expectations of work before coming to your company.  Since hiring them however, you’ve either perpetuated or defied these ideas – both of which have different pros and cons, depending on their preconceived notions.  You can have a mission statement, vision statement, values, handbook, policies and procedures, but all of these are just words on paper until you act on them which will ultimately dictate the level of which your employees feel engaged in their work.  Review each way you, as a company, interact with employees and look to make it as meaningful of interaction as possible.

5.  Exit Interview Survey

Purpose:  Perhaps one of the most commonly used and widely recognized surveys used in the workplace, exit interview surveys are used to identify company turnover trends – why people are leaving the company.

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  Because the cost of turnover is considered to be so expensive (a study estimates 1.5-2x an employee’s annual salary), it is recommended that most companies conduct exit interviews when an employee leaves the company (voluntarily).  Exit interviews are even more critical for companies in industries where there is a labor shortage (regionally such as teaching or nationally such as skilled trades or truck drivers), or when companies have a high turnover rate (for the company as a whole OR within one group such as department, tenure set, or demographic).  Understanding why people choose to leave your company will help you hire, train, develop, and ultimately retain better.  Conducting exit interviews is a company’s first step in the process.

Tip:  While use of exit interviews is a common practice, most companies fail to do this well one reason – a lack of discussion.  The number one response people give in an exit interview to the question (or some derivative of the question), “why did you choose to resign from the company is “more money”.  Realize however that is a reason to accept a new job, not leave a job – for the sake of your company’s needs .  Were they looking for a job?  What prompted them to look?  Or if they were not on the job hunt, and instead were actively recruited by the new company, why did they take or return the recruiter’s call?  In most cases, candidates are unaware what the new job pays until they interview.  If these questions don’t work and the person insists he/she was not actively looking for a new job, don’t hesitate to ask the hypothetical question – what if your company was willing to match their new compensation, would they stay?  This question can work magic.  This one question has allowed companies to retain some of their best employees for a fraction of what it costs to recruit, hire, and train a new employee.  If you are unable (or unwilling) to match their new offer, it still gives you amazing insight into the other reasons they wish to leave.  These are likely the reasons that played into their decision to leave your company.  The position offer more money merely presented a manner of carrying out their decision to leave.  Don’t be surprised though if these conversations take some by surprise.  Quality exit interviews can be uncomfortable for the resigning employee and the company representative.  Because of this a neutral party such as HR is generally the best person to conduct exit interviews, or engage a reputable third-party to perform exit interviews for the company.  With valuable data collected from interactive, dialog heavy exit interviews, you start to see employee departures as learning opportunities – a mindset common among the best employers.

Regardless of what survey you intend to use, keep in mind these three tips:

  • Don’t ask unless you plan to act. Asking an employee to share his/her opinion does two things – it engages them in the solution (holding them him/her accountable) and implies that you and/or the company value feedback as part of the continuous improvement process.  When you fail to act, employees will often feel betrayed or as their opinions are unimportant, causing them to underperform and in some cases even act out against the employer.  So, when you ask, make sure you’re asking with intentions to improve – not because it’s a “to-do” item on your list.
  • Who is asking is often equally as important to what you are asking. Many leaders fail to realize how fearful employees are in giving honest, open feedback to company leadership.  Unfortunately, retaliation is not as uncommon as we’d like in some workplaces.  So, if you are new to the surveying process or recognize employees may be uncomfortable sharing their feelings or insights with the company directly, engage a third party.  We all wish employees trusted us more, but trust is something that is earned.  Being sensitive to employee feelings by providing them an extra layer of anonymity is not only a great step in earning their trust, but also the only way to ensure that the data you collect is true and useful.  A censored survey only serves to inflate egos and ultimately serves no person or company for much else.
  • How you ask can make a difference. Are your employees comfortable taking an online survey, OR is it better to use a paper survey.  Do all employees have access to the same communication tools (ie Slack, email, intranet)?  By failing to recognize what level employees are comfortable with technology, you may inadvertently be censoring your survey results.  Have a communication plan for launching your survey – informing employees of when the survey is available, when it ends, how information will be used, where they can access/get their survey, whether or not the survey is anonymous, and information about the third-party administering the survey if you choose to engage a separate company.  You will need to remind people to participate.  Depending on the type of survey and reasoning behind the survey, you may even wish to partner with your marketing team to develop inspiring communications that will motivate employees to participate in the survey process.

Equipped with a purpose, relevant data, and the genuine intention to improve as an employer, surveys will be your key to shifting from a reactive, chaotic place of work, to a thoughtful, collaborative, proactive culture.  What survey is standing between you and a better workplace?

 

Want to learn more?  Click here to see what feedback solutions we offer!

Culture Engineered Event – Innovative People: DoubleDutch

The Energy of a Team Coming Together

DoubleDutch brings the power of digital to some of the largest live events. Established in 2011 and headquartered in Silicon Valley, they took off on the startup tech rocketship of VC funding and fast growth. As is so often the case, the journey to profitability and category leadership proved to be an intense ride with towering peaks and deep valleys that might have made it hard for some companies to recover. But not DoubleDutch. How do you revolutionize an industry?  The DoubleDutch answer – create a workplace culture of curious, fearless people.  With a 3.9 out of 5-star rating on Glassdoor and a 92% approval rating of CEO and Founder, Lawrence Coburn (who by the way responds to every Glassdoor review, personally), they maintain their position as leaders within their space.

Want to know how they do it?  Join the discussion in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 18th!  We are proud to have DoubleDutch GM and recently promoted Global Director of Employee Engagement, Jackie Roberts share with us the innovative people practices of DoubleDutch.  Get your ticket here!

Feelings in the Workplace – An Insightful Tool or the New “F” Word?

Emotional employee

Crying, yelling, arguing, fighting.  Not ideal in any workplace.  So, when the Huffington Post asked Culture Engineered for tips to include in their article, Crying At Work Happens. Here’s How to Handle It, According To Experts, we stressed the importance of taking a broader approach to such events.  Excessive emotion in the workplace is often and indicator of larger, underlying issues.  Here are some things to consider when emotions erupt in your workplace.

What’s the frequency?

How often are employees overcome with emotion in your workplace?  Weekly?  Daily?  By the hour?  While emotions are a healthy part of the human experience, they are consuming and leave little time or energy for productivity.  Too frequent of outbursts can suggest a culture of enablement or a stressful underlying culture where emotions bubble up.  Such a workplace benefits from training on managing emotions or communication, shifting to proactive interactions and away from reactive.  On the other hand, companies without emotional displays are not necessarily best either.  Life is full of ups and downs.  Given the significant amount of time spent at work, odds are, emotions will sometimes get the best of us at the office.  Letting go in front of someone requires a certain level of vulnerability and trust.  These traits are found within most successful environments.  A workplace without emotion may indicate a lack of trust or an expectation of apathy and therefore may benefit from opportunities to interact outside of work.  Company picnics and office happy hours are a great start, but trust is built by leading with integrity and compassion.  Train and encourage managers to have meaningful conversations with employees over shying away from emotional employees.

Is there a trend?

Where are the breakdowns stemming from?  If a select few are displaying signs of duress repeatedly, its less likely a company-wide culture issue.  Review the surrounding factors of each event, identifying trends.  Are the same people involved with each episode?  Are outbursts more prominent in one department or role?  Unfortunately, we often fail to talk about the string of events leading up to an emotional moment instead, focusing on the straw that broke the camel’s back.  If an employee breaks down because she was warned about coming in late that morning, there is likely more to the story.  Is there a history between the employee and manager?  Has the employee struggled to get to work on time in the past?  Why? These discussions are extremely valuable, helping employees to develop skills needed to succeed as well as uncovering organizational challenges within the company that may be temporarily are prohibiting it from greatness.

Employee behaviors can be signs of potential larger, developing issues within a workplace.  Companies willing to assess their workplace from this perspective can expect to have a more honest, committed, and successful workplace as result.  It’s not always a fun process, but when done right, companies benefit, greatly.

Your company culture – an asset or barrier?  We’re here to help.  Contact a Culture Engineer today by clicking here.

Culture Engineered Launches a New Tool for Schools!

Frustrated teacher

Today, Culture Engineered officially launches a survey focused on assessing the employee experience for educators as it relates to school performance.  The process began in fall of 2017 when a staggering number of requests were received from schools around the US in an effort to improve their workplace.  Not a surprise to many as the national teacher shortage has in recent years moved from a fear to reality.  The shortage especially taking a toll on schools in Arizona, 866 teachers reportedly having abandoned or resigned from their role within the first four months of the 2017-18 school year1.  Culture Engineered is headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona.

Education continues to remain in the spotlight for the state as Arizona Governor Doug Ducey recently announced his plan to restore $400 million to schools in fiscal year 2019, including $34 million for the second year of the teacher salary increase.2  A much needed salary increase as seen by most given the 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey ranked Arizona median pay for teachers 45th in the nation.3   A good start, but is it enough?  To be clear here, the “it” being money.  Can we expect an increase in pay to improve classroom interactions?  Will better pay make schools a better workplace?  While a raise definitely won’t make schools any worse, our 2017 research suggests that teacher pay does not necessarily guarantee a better performance or more success.  Of the ten attributes of the employee experience, educators appear to have a very unique expectation of the workplace.  Equipped with data and tools, Culture Engineered again applies the theory that happy employees produce superior results and looks to roll-out this process, starting with select Arizona schools in preparation for the 2018-19 school year.  Additional “school” survey modules are expected to launch late 2018 for other valuable roles within education including school Support Professionals.

Think your school could benefit from our data-driven approach?  Complete the school inquiry form by clicking here OR call us, 855.444.2404.

Wish to nominate an Arizona school to participate?  Click here.

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?