Do you feel a larger purpose for, and transcendent meaning in, your work? Do you manage to focus on your work at least 20 percent of the time during the day? Do you get recharged by inspiration every so often, as opposed to surviving on caffeine? Do you regard your manager to be supportive and caring? Do you experience trust at work? These are the key questions to gauge how happy/unhappy people in the workforce feel about their work (click here).
Positive answers would mean a happier workforce, which in turn enables and drives better productivity. Managers who figure out these principles create a better work atmosphere not just for “their employees,” but also for themselves (who are also employees). But do managers follow these principles? I think you know the answers from your workplace better than anyone can tell you.
According to 2013 Gallop poll, only about 30 percent of the workforce in the US felt “engaged in work,” compared to 13 percent worldwide (covering 142 countries). So, Americans do better on average than worldwide but not enough to pat ourselves on the back. “Engagement” alone wouldn’t mean much, except that it correlates to better productivity. In the NYTimes op-ed piece I cite above, the followup analysis is even more discouraging.
Many managers know the answer to “If your employees feel more energized, valued, focused and purposeful, do they perform better?” (By the way, it’s “yes.”) However, managers generally don’t, or don’t know how to, provide an organizational infrastructure that promotes purposefulness for their employees. And, no, requiring employees to give 2-month notice for professional travel (and wait longer for approval for travel), filing multiple forms and hunting down even more signatures, and waiting for three months for results for almost anything, are not on the critical path to making an employee feel valued or engaged.
So, what’s an “engaged” employee? S/he would be “involved, committed, passionate, enthusiastic, focused and energetic.” How about taking a quick sample among your colleagues, say 10, and see how many feel engaged? The authors of the op-ed piece wrote that “investing in employees beyond paying a salary didn’t seem necessary till recently.” I am not so sure.
I think in bygone eras, employers even in large organizations understood that paying attention to their employees’ “lives,” beyond the shop floor or office, would ultimately bring better work performance. It was not uniformly practiced then but there was genuine caring. There were studies demonstrating that giving employees interval coffee breaks would be beneficial for the companies. Somehow that got lost in the digital age. So, we are rediscovering these days that people who get a break every 90 minutes perform better.
The op-ed authors did a study with a control group to demonstrate that accountants who worked with flexibility, some degree of autonomy, and break periods, performed superior to the group without all these “perks.” The better-performing accountants worked shorter hours to accomplish the same tasks, had a lower turnover rate, and were in better spirits. But the company, that is the managers of the company, that provided the site for this study, still reverted to the old practice because “We just don’t know any other way to measure them [the accountants], except by their hours.” How sad.
One glaring aspect of this op-ed is the focus on how “leaders or managers” experience high burnout. Granted that it usually takes high-level managers to institute major organizational change for everyone; however, ultimately it’s the “other” burnt-out employees that affect the companies’ performance. I am so tired of separating management from employees as if managers are not employees themselves.
As long as people in management keep thinking that they are not part of the employee pool, they treat “others” with suspicion (and vice versa). Thus, distrust is born. Even though studies have shown that when employees (including some managers, I am sure) have flexibility, and therefore autonomy, their productivity increases, managers and business owners cannot let go of the feeling that someone is cheating on them. Newsflash: Yes, someone is always trying to cheat the system; we have never had a 100 percent cheating-free society.
The question is: Do we hold back the majority in order to, hopefully, stop or catch the few cheaters? Or, could we choose to release the majority’s enthusiasm and grow a bigger and richer opportunity space, and endure the few that would cheat no matter what? A trick question: Do managers cheat?
Managers are not leaders. However, if you are currently holding a managerial position and want to make some fundamental differences, here are a few things you can do/lead:
- Ask some colleagues (by that I mean people of all ranks) to take a leisurely 20-minute stroll with you. Don’t talk about work.
- Put on your calendar one hour every week (more if you can) to just chill and reflect.
- Walk around and talk to people causally. This used to be called “management by wandering/walking around.” Google it and rediscover MBWA.
- Write some notes of appreciation to individuals who report to you.
- Bring some interesting and tasty food to the office every so often.
I have no doubt that you can come up with more ideas during that “hour” of reflection. If so, please share with us.
Enjoy your week at work. Till next time,
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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Editor’s note: Dr. Yang has a PhD in Management from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Wharton for a number of years, and consulted for small groups and small organizations and on cross-cultural issues. Her professional worldview comprises three pillars: 1. All organizations are social systems in which elements are inter-related. 2. To improve organizations, the focus should be on the positive dimensions on which to build. This philosophical foundation is Appreciative Inquiry. 3. Yang subscribes to the methodological perspective that she is part of the instrument from which to gain quality data from respondents, and with which to compare and contrast with others’ realities.