Happiness and Engagement: Can’t We All Get Along?

Are you happy at work? Do you awake refreshed each morning? Do you leap out of bed eager to take on a new day? Do you look forward to hanging out with your co-workers as you complete your spreadsheets and TPS reports? Do you find joy and camaraderie with Meghan in the next cubicle whilst doing these mind-numbing and meaningless tasks? If so….why?

On the other hand, are you engaged at work? Do you have an emotional and psychological attachment to your work and your employer? Do you go above and beyond? Use discretionary effort? Do you, as the kids like to say, “give a shit?”

And, if you are, God bless you, ‘engaged,’ must you also be happy? Do they have to co-exist? Should they? Can they?

Questions for the ages.

And we’re going to have a bit of a discussion on Wednesday (June 28th – 2 PM ET) over at TLNT when I’ll be leading a webinar with the super-long title of Happiness and Employee Engagement; Mutually Exclusive or Necessary Partners for Organizational Success? (click here to register). Here’s what I’m going to be chatting about:

Employees make a bargain with their employers upon the acceptance of a job; to complete required job duties, hit assigned goals and, ideally, contribute to the success of the organization, financial or otherwise, through committed actions and endeavors. Meanwhile, employers make a commitment to their employees to provide a safe workplace with a job that fulfills basic human needs and, ideally, allows for some level of satisfaction and professional growth.

Nestled within there however, and often unspoken until the employment relationship begins, is the goal of the employer to have “engaged’ employees and the desire of many employees to be ‘happy’ at work.

But what do these terms really mean, and how can employers and employees work together to foster the most productive environment for business success? In this webinar, our speaker will explore how we measure and promote employee engagement, how employee engagement and business success correlate, and whether “happiness” does, or should, be involved.

In particular, we’ll focus on:

  • The state of employee engagement
  • The role that employee happiness plays
  • The critical importance in defining, clarifying and understanding the differences and the interdependence for organizational success.

So come join us! Sponsored by our good friends at Cornerstone on Demand , this will be a great way to spend Hump Day because, of course, if you’re neither happy nor engaged, all you’re thinking about is how you’re on the downhill slide to Friday at 5 PM!





Repeat After Me: Just Don’t Be a Richard

I’ve had numerous conversations over the last several months that have given me pause as an HR professional.  Wait, let me amend that. Conversations that have given me pause as a business professional.

These conversations were with employees, managers and leaders who work in fly-over country for salt-of-the-earth, middle America, un-sexy companies in non-glamorous industries.  Insurance companies, manufacturing plants, and hospitals. Restaurants, transportation providers, call-centers and governmental entities.

You know…real jobs with real people; not the “world of work” we’re fed via the glossy pages of Fast Company magazine and its brethren.

This, my friends, is the world where punitive attendance polices still exist (as opposed to flexible work/life integration practices) and performance management programs cozily snuggle up next to forced rankings. A place where business owners and/or organizational leaders still feel it’s A-OK to suggest that a female candidate can be paid less because “she’s probably not the primary bread-winner for the family.”  A reality where not everyone has access to Slack or Dropbox or, believe it or not, even a mobile device with WIFI capability. This, of course, means that work schedules are posted on a bulletin board and employees take a bus across town to physically visit the workplace to check their schedule for the next week. And, in a perverted distortion of humanity, if they can’t physically view their schedule (or get hold of anyone via telephone) and thus miss a scheduled shift, they are then penalized via that draconian attendance policy. Full circle in a Kafkaesque world.

These are the workplaces that are veritable orgies of old-school management practices overlaid with a slick (and false) veneer of culture, values, and sexy branding. The sort of places that win a “Best Places to Work” award conferred by the Chamber of Commerce, local media conglomerate, or a third-party Rewards and Recognition vendor that paid big bucks to ‘sponsor’ the awards.

Workplaces where, sometimes, the managers/leaders still operate as if they’re running a Dickensian workhouse. Why? Sometimes it’s due to… 

  • Narcissistic love of power – “I’m in charge and I make the rules” (Waah ha ha!!)
  • Managers who developed their personal style of management at the knee of a mentor (raised up in the 70’s) and are too afraid or too lazy to adjust at this stage of the game
  • The ingrained belief that “everyone is out to screw us” (most often evidenced in business owners as opposed to leaders in an enterprise organization or governmental entity)
  • Stereotypes
  • Prejudices
  • Privilege

When will the day arrive when more workers can reap the benefits of our “new way of working?” Will we ever bridge the digital divide and find a way for everyone to benefit from the use of technology? What about workplace flexibility and the ability to take sick leave and not be ostracized for giving birth or having surgery or spending time with an ill family member? I think we can look back to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (106 years ago) and see vast improvements…but there are still locks on the doors.  Those barricades, placed on the doors by owners and managers, are now preventing people from opportunity and freedom of another kind.

Workplace freedom.

Note: this post, and its title, was inspired by a recent conversation with a business owner who said that her company’s policy around unlimited vacation for employees is “take off whatever time you need, just don’t be a dick about it.”  

Simple. Easy. Common sense.  


image: via tshirt hub


Will They Stay or Will They Go?

SHORT STAY 3You know what’s a hot buzzword lately? Stay interviews. The stay interview is nothing new but it does seem to be gaining traction – at least as a topic for conference sessions and general chit chat amongst business leaders and HR folks; I myself have had 3 very different conversations within the last few weeks.

I reccently shared my thoughts with the folks over at Small Business Trends (go check it out) where we discussed both the purpose and the format of stay interviews and also tossed out some sample questions to ask employees when you’re trying to determine if they intend to hang out with you for a bit longer. Questions like:


  • “What keeps you here?”
  • “What do you like most about your job and work in our organization?”
  • “What motivates you to do your best work, and how can I support you in that?”
  • “What is it about working here that you wouldn’t miss if you went elsewhere?”

Should managers be having these conversations with employees on a regular basis? Of course they should. Do we have to turn everything into a formal HR process? Of course not. The thought of assigning yet another form or checklist to the oversight of the HR overlords makes my eyes twitch.

This resides firmly in the domain of people management…you know…with the managers. Maybe they could gather this information by, oh I don’t know, having actual human conversation with their staff? Amazing! What a novel concept!

I’m a fan of “stay interviews” (although I refuse to call them that); certainly much better than what most of us do now which is saving up these questions to ask Joe Employee when he’s already decided to “exit.”



HR Service Delivery: Signed and Sealed

signed-11_8Looking for a hot conversational topic when you’re stuck chatting with a bunch of HR professionals? Whether you’re sitting with two of them at the train station or stuck in some in-house training session with your company’s entire HR team here’s a surefire discussion starter: ask them who they serve in their organization. In other words whose needs are they there to meet and/or satisfy? The business? Leaders and managers? Employees?

I guarantee this exchange will be both captivating and heated. I’ve participated in informal roundtables with this as the topic du jour and enjoyed cocktail parties (whilst sipping a lovely Kir Royale) where the discussion on this subject was so tempestuous we managed to barely escape just short of actual fisticuffs.

The answer, proffered by your average HR practitioner, to this seemingly basic question will vary based on any number of factors; the type and size of organization she has worked in as well as the sort of organization in which she was trained in the ways of HR. The answer will be formulated depending upon the HR pro’s previous mentors or bosses, and also the type of specific roles he has held in the human resources field. What was measured? What mattered? (note: contrary to popular opinion what matters does not get measured nor does what gets measured….matter.)


The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is “HR serves everyone.”

We serve the needs of the business. In accordance with laws, regulations, policies and the dictates and desires of our CEO or business owner, we serve, protect and defend.

We serve the needs of managers and leaders. We don’t cover up their shenanigans of course, but neither do we bring them down and lay blame. Rather, we assist them in everything related to the management of their people/human capital/resources. We coach, guide and support them so they can focus on running the business.

We serve the needs of employees. We hold their hands, we answer their questions, and we help them solve problems. We may, depending upon the need, talk to their mothers, spouses, priests or parole officers.

And when we do all of these things right we are also serving the needs of those who are external to our organization – our candidates, our communities, and our customers.

Here’s the deal…so often in human resources we’ve tended to think of these things as mutually exclusive. “I can’t be an advocate for employees if my role is to protect the needs of the company” is something I’ve heard more than one HR practitioner say. Or “I need to maintain impartiality so I can’t be too friendly with employees.”

Both of which, of course, are utter crap.

You can work in HR and be a competent and caring business professional without being a solemn and dour robot intent on spreading doom and gloom with every policy update. You can serve others without being servile or subservient. It’s not the role of the HR lady to keep a candy dish on her desk, bake muffins for birthdays and holidays, and take minutes at the weekly leadership meeting but you can still be pleasant and kind.

The strategies and goals of the business inform what HR does…but the how is what each of us as HR professionals determine once we realize who we serve.

The how is the magic sauce.

This question – “who does HR serve?” – is perhaps the most elemental aspect of human resources and goes well beyond a practitioner grasping the bodies of knowledge or being fully capable in the HR competencies. The answer to this question lays the foundation for one’s entire career in and around HR.

So I wonder…how many HR professionals are truly delivering … to all?


Will your Employees Love It? Or Leave It?

love-it-or-list-itI am the super fan of all things HGTV – Property Brothers, House Hunters (omg – House Hunters International!!). I get to fulfill my desire to be a voyeur, wonder what it would be like to move to the coast of Spain, and pile disdain upon the aforementioned house-hunters who, in my estimation, make the wrong decision.

One of my faves is Love It or List It in which interior designer Hilary Farr and real estate agent David Visentin battle it out to see if the featured homeowners will stay in their current home (with lots and LOTS of design and renovation changes) or if they will take the plunge and move.

Predictably formulaic and more than likely ‘staged,’ it’s still an enjoyable show.  At the onset of each episode we meet the family who are facing a dilemma because they’ve either outgrown their house (often due to the addition of new family members) or they’ve neglected their house to the point of it needing major repairs/renovation to make it livable.  The battle lines are drawn because one (or some) of the family members has a great desire to abandon the abode and the other family member(s) is determined to stay in place.

While recently watching a few episodes it struck me that there are similarities to the employment experiences in our organizations.  Leaders and HR professionals must continually ask the question “will they love us or leave us?” because:

  • When something has changed in the employee’s life they may begin to explore leaving. This could be as early as week 1 of their tenure or after 10 years of internal career growth.  The addition of new family members may lead to the employee wanting flexible work, needing better employee benefit offerings, or simply desiring a change because some other aspect of their life has shifted.
  • When the original perceived value has declined the employee may believe it’s easier to start over.  For the homeowner this comes about when there’s a decline in property value due to economic conditions, property taxes rise, there are changes in the neighborhood or there is some other altered state brought about by external forces.  In our organizations this often arises when we over-promise (“You’ll get a promotion within 12 months! “We’ll absolutely pay for you to get your MBA!” “Of course you can work from home!  We encourage workflex arrangements!”) and fail to deliver.
  • When we, the employer, are not meeting their needs anymore they may start reviewing their options.   Just as Hilary (the decorator) does on the TV show we have the opportunity to tap into the human desire for shared memories, history and the perceived value of various intangibles. Quit often on the show the homeowners opt to stay where they are because they have happy memories, love their neighborhood or feel some other emotional tug that anchors them to their existing home.  But we can’t assume that this (or having a friend at work which is often cited as a reason employees remain and are engaged) is enough – employees are often wondering “what have you done for me lately?”
  • When the employee thinks something better exists out in the marketplace they may begin searching for other opportunities.  If employees feel underpaid, undervalued, or believe they are viewed with the same regard as a piece of office furniture they may start testing the waters.   Much like the homeowners on “LI or LI” they may have unrealistic expectations of what their ‘renovation budget” will buy, but once they’ve made that mental switch in their mind to begin looking we run the risk of losing them.

I’m not sure, over the run of the show, how many people have chosen to “Love It” versus how many have chosen to “List It.”

But I sure know how many people in my various organizations made the choice to “Leave It.”


this post has been pulled from the archives; it first ran over at the HRSchoolhouse

image courtesy of Hilary Farr Design


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