Archive for the "Employee Motivation" Category

What Workplace Studies Can Tell Us

Compensation Cafe logoBy Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Experiments in the workplace can help show the impact of innovative practices, and provide insight into management philosophies.

Experimentation in the workplace isn’t necessarily a new idea. As early as the 1920s, studies have looked into the effect that various workplace changes, such as lighting and scheduling adjustments, could have on productivity.

Today, many companies and even municipalities continue to experiment, in pursuit of insights that can create a better workplace.

I recently wrote about the conclusion of one such study on Compensation Cafe. This study centered on a government-run nursing home in Sweden that had implemented a 6-hour workday, and the outcomes that stemmed from that change.

Studies like this reflect a delicate balance between two management philosophies.

As with earlier studies of the workplace emerging from the Industrial Era, an emphasis is on factors that can make workers more productive and positively impact the bottom line. But there is a shift as well in some of the outcomes, reflecting an employee-centric view that aligns to the philosophies of the Human Era. In these cases, policies are examined that have potential to improve the employee experience and well-being.

Workplace experiments can offer the opportunity to examine how outcomes related to each philosophy are weighted against each other, tracking the evolution of our thinking about work.

Take the outcomes of the experiment in Sweden for example. Researchers there found that 6-hour workdays were able to improve a whole host of outcomes related to employee happiness, health, and even productivity. Unfortunately, the changes were also reported as costly and difficult to implement, leading to skepticism about such practices among policy makers.

Perhaps the experiment in the nursing home was slightly ahead of its time, or perhaps we simply need to learn more about how to make human-oriented practices more sustainable. As I wrote in the full post on Compensation Cafe:

These experiments have shown that we can increase well-being and productivity, and that things like happiness can have tangible outcomes. As we build our collective knowledge across organizations and settings, we can solve for the remaining variables like cost and ease of implementation.

Much like some of those early experiments, findings may not have supported the desired outcomes, but instead offered insight that is much more valuable over the long run.

What are your thoughts about experiments like this and the future trajectory of the work experience?

2 Steps to Reduce Voluntary Turnover to Zero

by Lynette Silva

Complex call centerRecognize This! – Understanding the importance of the work and the people doing it make work matter and make work more human.

The new year is nearly upon us (and I, for one, am ready to put paid to 2016). With the new year often comes the opportunity for evaluation of our lives and our priorities. Many of us start a new year with new ambitions, goals for change, ideas for improvements. And for some, that means thinking about a new job or a new career.

If I were to ask you, what types of jobs do you think might have people reconsidering their career path I’m willing to bet call center worker likely would appear on your list. Rightly so – call centers rank among the highest turnover jobs in the world at 30-45%. And that adds up to a lot of money (often in the multimillions of dollars) in terms of finding, hiring, training and coaching new inbound customer service representatives.

So what if I told you about a call center with workers who deal with irate customers call after call, day after day, and yet their turnover has been zero – ZERO – for several years?

SpotHero, a startup online company that rents out parking spaces, has figured it out. (Check out the full Planet Money podcast or transcript for the full story.)

1. Recognize the importance of the work being done

All work matters. Otherwise, why bother doing it? And for the customers of the product or service being provided, the work of the providers particularly matters. Yet sometimes we can fall into the habit of elevating one role over another. “Sales is king. Everyone else serves us.” “Product rules! Without a good product, Sales would have nothing to sell.” There’s no good endgame in this attitude, though. Instead, recognizing the importance of every role in creating a powerful whole is what creates organizational success.

Case in point at SpotHero: Their customer service team is called Customer Heroes. Because to the customer in the middle of a problem, that customer service rep is their hero in that moment. As one employee from the Product group explained:

“The rest of us are trying to make a good product and help our company grow. The Customer Heroes are on the front lines making those minute improvements to humanity all the time, all day, every day… We think of them as the heroes of the company because they’re heroes for individual humans out there in the world.”

2. Recognize the importance of the people doing the work

“Being heroes for individual humans” – what a wonderful way to remind people why their work matters. But knowing your work matters isn’t enough. As humans, we also need to know we matter. SpotHero addressed this important point in multiple ways, including capes for their heroes to wear and Hero Appreciation Day. They also strongly acknowledged what it means to work human by providing a room where people could get away after a hard call. To take a break, to reflect, to restore, to rejuvenate. They call that room the Zen Den.

When pressed about why a Zen Den matters, why adding people to reduce call loads wasn’t enough, call center manager Leah Potkin replied:

“Well, where’s the fun in that? Then maybe they won’t be burnt out from how much work they have, but they’ll be burnt out emotionally from just feeling empty and not really thinking their work matters, when the work they do is just so, so important.”

Think about the people you work with every day. Think about your own work. As we wrap up 2016 and prepare for a new year, how can you remind others – and yourself – that your work matters, that you matter?

What happens when work becomes a hobby?

By Derek Irvine

Compensation Cafe logoRecognize This! — In the gig economy, a growing portion of people are working for reasons other than pay. That could mean big shifts for how companies motivate and attract workers in the future.

The gig economy has gotten quite a bit of press recently, as the popularity of technology-enabled platforms has made it easier than ever for people to find and get paid for gigs. The most popular options continue to be ride hailing and online tasks, but the sector is growing to include ad-hoc project work, professional services, and even personal help.

Although the gig economy is still relatively small in comparison to the traditional economy (approximately 8% or so), the dynamics of gig work could end up having a large impact on the ongoing evolution of the employer-employee relationship. Compounding the issue is the rise in automation and machine learning that is spreading from industrial settings to service and knowledge-based jobs.

As I wrote in this post on Compensation Cafe, one of the more striking shifts has been toward a growing segment of workers that participate in the labor market because of reasons other than pay – referred to as “hobbyists.” They seek out opportunities to socialize or have fun, or simply have a desire to do something productive with their time.

The idea of working human is deeply resonant with this approach to gig work – prioritizing a sense of belonging and meaning over pay (although adequate compensation is still vital). There are also implications for the changing landscape of how businesses and HR leaders will need to adapt to this shifting mindset among workers.

Below are some of the biggest implications, summarized from my original post, as some of these changes spread outside of the gig economy:

  • Increasing pressure on organizations to create positive work experiences that can attract and engage these workers, as a solution to high rates of churn and an unpredictable supply of talent over time.

  • Shifting focus away from traditional attractors, such as benefits and employee perks, to leverage more fluid and immediate aspects of their rewards portfolios, such as social recognition.

  • Continuing evolution of performance, balancing the need for one-off gigs with repeat or ongoing work, concurrent with a greater emphasis on continuous performance conversations.

What are some other implications for employees and employers when work becomes less like work and more like a hobby?

Don’t Make Your Employees ‘Prisoners’

By Derek Irvine

Compensation Cafe logoRecognize This! – Motivating employees requires more than compensation, which can create “prisoners.” Instead, companies need to emphasize a richer employee experience.

There is an interesting “iceberg” effect when it comes to employee motivation. Company leadership tends to focus on what is immediately visible, both for top talent and for severe underperformers for example. This focus can come at the expense of less visible, but no less impactful dynamics

What can get missed are the employees in the middle, an interesting proportion of whom show up and stay at their jobs despite being generally unmotivated, performing just enough to not bring attention to themselves. As I write on the Compensation Cafe, this group of employees was the subject of some recent research:

A report in the Wall Street Journal highlights a study by Aon Hewitt that looked at this group of employees. That study found 8% of employees fit into this profile of “prisoner” employee – defined as those “who stay at their jobs despite feeling unmotivated” – which was related to both longer tenure and salaries above market rates.

The article goes on to suggest that compensation is generally an ineffective lever in increasing motivation, and in fact may only contribute to increased feelings of being “held prisoner.” The net impact is a reduction in functional voluntary turnover, negatively affecting colleagues and sapping the company’s potential.

The solution is probably two-fold. For employees who are either unwilling or unable to become more motivated and productive performers, the business and HR need to have processes in place to identify and move those employees out. For everyone else, there is much more hope.

As I write in the full post, I argue that it may be helpful to leverage solutions that can create a more positive employee experience. Some of those solutions can include:

  • Developmental coaching and ongoing feedback can help to uncover barriers to that employee’s motivation and find solutions in the form of new roles or responsibilities.

  • Social recognition can also be a powerful motivator that builds on those conversations, amplifying examples of good performance and engaging a positive cycle of behaviors that align with the company’s core values.

  • Finally, a greater proportion of the overall compensation portfolio can be aligned towards real-time performance, creating more opportunity for motivation creation.

What are your thoughts on the best ways to transform “prisoner” employees into productive and energized contributors?

Off to HR Tech 2016!

By Derek Irvine

international-conference-1597531_960_720I’m packing my bags and heading to Chicago for the 19th Annual HR Technology Conference and Expo. It’s a fantastic show for seeing what the future of HR holds and what the leaders of the field are thinking about today. I always come back to the office with a ton of energy and ideas.

If you’ll be at the conference, I hope that you can stop by a pre-conference session I am hosting alongside Jay Dorio of IBM (October 4th at 2:30 pm). We will be sharing the results from a new global study conducted by the WorkHuman Research Institute at Globoforce, and the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute. The session will introduce a new Index and set of leadership and organizational practices that help to make the workplace more human.

I am truly excited about this research because it provides HR and business leaders with actionable ways to give employees a better experience at work and demonstrates why that can drive results. What can our organizations become when we think about human potential in terms of “giving” rather than “taking” (and take Adam Grant’s work to heart)?

Later in the week, also be sure to catch Globoforce’s Eric Mosley and David Sparkman of UnitedHealth Group (October 7th at 9:30 am). They will share the story of UHG’s cultural transformation, based on core values of integrity and collaboration, and driven by social recognition. It is yet another great example of how organizations can emphasize giving to achieve positive results.

I hope to see you there!

Productive, But at What Cost?

By Derek Irvine

business peopleRecognize This! – Failing to address disruptive behavior by high-performers can actually hurt overall productivity. Leaders should focus on creating a culture that encourages everyone to contribute instead.

What should a leader do when one of their most productive employees is also the most disruptive?

It’s a challenging question that gets at the costs versus benefits of retaining that employee. Many of the costs might be difficult to fully measure. For example, a disruptive employee can have a negative impact that is felt across the organization, reducing the productivity of the entire group.

In these instances, it becomes clear that organizational success is less about a small winner’s circle of highly-performing mavericks. Rather, it is about creating a culture and employee experience where everyone can work to their full potential.

Anecdotally, this was precisely the case at a high-tech manufacturing firm in Pennsylvania. As a local newspaper described the situation, the disruptive employee at this company was not only the most productive, but also a supervisor of the most productive team. The level of output was high enough that leadership continued to retain the employee despite poor behavior.

The situation deteriorated, both as attempts to coach the employee were unsuccessful and greater emphasis was placed aligning employees to the core values of the company. It got so bad that coworkers began to actively avoid this employee by changing their own schedules. At that stage, productivity was no longer enough justification and the employee was terminated along with his immediate team.

Then, a funny thing happened. Productivity actually increased overall, with the largest differences among those working in closest physical proximity to the terminated team.

This outcome points to the impact that emotional and behavioral contagion can have in the workplace, and the underlying costs associated with those dynamics. It’s well known that employees can “catch” the moods of others, which can easily spread disruption and take energy away from the work that needs to be done. Behaviors can be contagious as well, if employees perceive that disruptive employees are being rewarded by the company, and adjust accordingly.

Avoiding these negative forms of interaction, while promoting positive forms, is crucial for leaders and HR teams alike. There are a number of solutions to help maximize the productivity of each worker.

At one end of the spectrum, individual efforts like coaching and performance feedback can be effective in changing the behavior of disruptive employees or teams, as well as minimizing their spread. Such efforts can also be integrated alongside organizationally-focused initiatives, such as social recognition, to align all employees behind a singular culture based in a set of shared core values. At the extreme, termination may be the option of last resort.

Regardless of the path chosen, leaders can expect greater organizational success by creating a human culture for the entire workforce, instead of catering to a few disruptive high-performers.

How has your own organization handled disruptive employees?

Doing Gymnastics at Work

by Traci Pesch

US Women's 2016 Olympics ChampionsRecognize This! – The sport of gymnastics offers several lessons we can apply to make work more human.

My daughter did gymnastics for 6 years. It’s an intense sport for which, unless you’re deeply in it, it is hard to understand the level of commitment necessary. To be a top-level gymnast requires dedication of your entire mind and body, relentless practice of 30-40 hours a week, and mental discipline to engage in 6+ hour meets where you must focus completely for less than 2 minutes of competition on one element and then wait an hour or more for another less than2 minutes of complete focus on another element.

Gymnastics is a unique sport, but some elements are the same for all sports that offer us lessons for the workplace, too.

“Superstar” is relative.

Yesterday’s superstar is today’s team player. Look at Gabby Douglas. In the 2012 Olympics, she won the gold medal in the individual all-around competition. By 2016, she missed competing for the all-around final despite having the third-highest score. (Two of her teammates took the top spots, and only two competitors from each country are permitted to compete.)

Is Gabby any less of a superstar? Certainly not! Her talent and skill still place her in the highest ranks in the world. And yet the rulebook lessens her. For those still clinging to a forced ranking model of performance valuation, think  about your superstars who are being labeled as less than stellar for no other reason than strict rules on how many “5s” you’re allowed to have.

False valuation models can break the spirit of even your best employees. Working more human requires us to consider how we can equip and encourage all of our people to do the best work of their lives.

Failure is inevitable.

Simone Biles, by every measure, was the standout hit of the Olympics. The strength, power and grace she packs into her tiny frame is astounding. She set a new American record for the most gold medals in women’s gymnastics in a single Olympics (4 medals) and joined an elite global group with a total of 5 medals in a single games. And yet, she wasn’t perfect. In the balance beam final, she wobbled badly enough she had to grab the beam. On this world stage, that’s failure. She missed the mark.

But she still took the bronze. How? Why was her wobbly performance better than other wobbly performances that didn’t medal? First, she incorporated harder elements in her routine. She intentionally set a higher bar. And when she did wobble, she put it behind her quickly and went on to finish strong.

Failure itself is not bad and can often be a sign of trying to shoot high. But we will never know what we can achieve if we don’t try. How much more innovative would our teams be if we lifted the fear of failure, gave them the room to try, support them as the make the attempt, then help them recover quickly, learn and move forward?

The team is only as good as the team.

I get annoyed by the phrase, “A team is only as good as the individuals on it.” It implies that the individual is solely responsible for themselves. Gymnastics teaches something different. The team is only as good as the team performance overall. Gymnasts must find ways to improve their own skills, yes, while also helping their teammates continually improve too.

How can we all train like gymnasts to support each other and make each other better? How can we build more human teams at work designed to elevate the team to success while simultaneously improving the individual?

With the 2016 Paralympics beginning, new inspiration is all around us. What lessons from the Olympics do you see that can be applied as well strive to make work more human?

A Mandate for Positivity?

By Derek Irvine

signature-962354_960_720Recognize This! – Encouraging positivity at work can be challenging, but is achievable through a strong culture of recognition and making work human.

It’s no surprise that positive workplaces can help contribute to a whole host of beneficial results, from better health to greater productivity. The challenge that many companies face is how to go about creating a more positive and human-centered workplace.

It’s often a goal that requires walking on a fine line between promoting a positive culture and ensuring that positivity remains authentic and unforced. For many leaders, it boils down to one of the core questions behind a recent piece in The New Yorker: “Can you actually create positivity by mandating it?”

The short answer, after reviewing the available research, is a qualified yes.

Leaders can create positivity, but not through generalized policies or broad directives. Instead, it needs to be fostered through calling attention to authentic and specific examples of leaders and coworkers bringing positivity to their own work and work relationships.

The cumulative power of these moments, amplified through social recognition, can help drive a culture of positivity and ultimately, working human.

What makes this approach successful is striking the right balance between establishing expectations while allowing for individual flexibility in how to meet those expectations. Past research, for example, has found that rules or norms in this middle area are optimally effective – neither too vague to hamper action nor too prescriptive to be demotivating.

Social recognition hits that sweet spot. At a company-wide level, it provides a shared framework that aligns expectations behind a set of core values. Within each unit or location, leaders and coworkers are empowered to recognize the specific behaviors that are locally relevant but still deliver upon those shared expectations. The combination captures the unique way each person can contribute to the purpose of the overall organization and find meaning in their work.

An additional benefit stems from the collective awareness that is created by those recognition moments, of the number of different ways that employees have brought positivity into the workplace and been recognized for their contributions. Rather than forcing a single exemplar that may not fit everyone’s personality or style, employees can see how their own personal approaches to positive work can fit into the same culture.

Finally, social recognition can help connect this positivity to the bottom-line, ensuring that employees are motivated and energized to contribute their best selves at work, living the core values that drive the organization forward.

What does your organization do to help you bring more positivity to work?

The Future of Worker Productivity

By Derek Irvine

future stock tickerRecognize This! – Less pure output and more holistic wellbeing, productivity is driven by the employee experience and technologies that can give leaders greater insight.

Last week, I wrote about worker productivity from the perspective of economists and the figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In that post, a decline in productivity appears to reflect deep transformations in the employee experience, alongside lower levels of technology and people investments.

A recent article on Quartz also looks into the question of worker productivity, but offers a distinctly different perspective. That article captures the ways several companies are using wearable sensors and other continuous methods to help measure and understand productivity at a micro, rather than macro level.

The benefit of doing so appears to be a more complex picture of productivity, not only as output, but also as an amalgamation of happiness, health, and wellbeing – and the opportunity to capture much more of the employee experience-productivity relationship.

Data from badge-based sensors or pulse surveys can provide company leadership with real-time data on areas for improvement: linking movement to worker happiness and productivity, proactively addressing motivation that appears as career development concerns, or understanding the impact of culture policies on efficiency.

The ultimate goal of collecting this data is to better equip organizations to align employees and work or project roles, increasing the employee experience and productivity simultaneously.

One example of what that could look like in the future: “an intelligent system to analyze the project, break it into smaller tasks, generate job roles, and recommend team members who are best suited to tackle certain portions of the project based on insights stemming from their personal data.”

Although this kind of technology might still be years away from mainstream adoption, there are solutions and investments that companies can make today to achieve many of those same goals.

At the intersection of culture and technology, solutions like social recognition and ongoing performance discussions provide rich data on the networks of relationships that employees share and the work that is produced from those relationships.

Viewing the organization through these dual networks – employees and work – allows leaders to be more proactive and data-driven on which roles can contribute value, how those roles should be arranged, and who might be best to place in those roles.

Culture can amplify this employee experience by addressing the human aspects of that work, linking people to a set of core values, offering opportunities for growth, and lending meaning and purpose. Taken together, these attributes contribute to a holistic view of the employee experience and worker productivity.

How is your organization looking into the employee experience and productivity?

Compensation Cafe: What’s Happened to Worker Productivity?

By Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Compensation Cafe logo

Numbers have come out recently from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on worker productivity, and the conclusions aren’t all that positive. According to the report, productivity has been on the decline in the US for the previous four quarters at an annualized rate of 0.4%. Yet, number of hours worked over the same period have increased by 1.5%.

What’s going on?

There are a couple of opinions out there, summarized in a recent post I wrote on Compensation Cafe:

One argument is that all of that innovation and technology aren’t doing much to help productivity. … Another argument points to lower levels of investment by companies, responding to greater uncertainty in markets and talent pools alongside downward pressures on profits.

Underpinning both arguments is the idea that fundamental changes to the employee experience and the expectations of the employee-employer relationship may be playing a role. Gone are the days of long-term relationships built on mutual investment, in personnel and technology.

As I write in the full post:

Instead, employers need to rethink the terms in a way that maximizes benefits to employee and employer alike. The emphasis needs to rest on enriching the employee experience beyond the standard quid pro quo. One way is to introduce greater humanity into the workplace, specifically in ways that allow employees to feel valued and empowered to maximize their own productivity.

A particularly valuable approach along those lines is in building a culture of recognition, which allows a company to signal its investment in its people while also reinforcing more human ways of working. It can be an effective solution supporting change management and innovation, ultimately improving productivity.

What types of factors are important to your own productivity?