A Few Considerations for Remote “Team Engagement”

remote work from home

Even as we grapple, globally, with the containment and fight of the pandemic, there are many lovely things happening as a result of the ‘Rona. One thing I’ve noticed is how my neighbors on Nextdoor are less passive-aggressive and actually being, well, neighborly! No doubt you’ve seen (or maybe even participated in) activities like:  

  • Group sing alongs in places ranging from balconies in Italy to neighborhoods in Philadelphia
  • Teddy Bear Hunts for the kids in the neighborhood
  • Kids writing letters/drawing pictures to send to residents in nursing homes

On the work front, of course, the deployment of numerous cubicle-dwellers to a new #WorkFromHome arrangement has resulted in:

  • Thousands upon thousands of blog posts and articles about how to “work from home”
  • Massive growth and usage for Zoom’s teleconferencing software and Microsoft’s cloud-computing solutions
  • Lots of snacking and day-drinking

There’s also been a lot of scrambling, by managers of these newly virtual workers, to find ways to maintain a sense of camaraderie and connection for their teams. Tips and hints are shared across social media channels as managers and HR leaders promote holding:

  • Group coffee chats and Happy Hours 
  • Scavenger Hunts (in the house)
  • Game night with trivia, bingo or “two truths and a lie
  • Group lunch gatherings 

The efforts to do these things are lovely and it’s wonderful that managers realize the importance of the human-to-human connection. However, a word of warning is in order.

Just as no one wants to have to be at the office (building) for extended hours, no one wants to have to be at the virtual office for hours on end. Even in the best of times it’s often a challenge for those who WFH to shut-it-down and draw a distinction between work time/home-time. And now, during this strange-new time when people have been sent to WFH, often with no preparation or planning, it’s more challenging than ever. I fear that for many the pressure to be “always available” is already strong, even while emanating from a place of good intentions, and will only increase as our #StayAtHome situation lingers. 

So here are a few tips for managers and HR leaders:

  • Rather than institute a group lunch (“let’s all bring our sandwich and get on a Zoom call together!”), allow your team members to take a REAL lunch break so they can get up from their work station. Encourage them to walk around the block, play with their dog, do a few stretching exercises, or take a power nap. 
  • Happy Hour is fun; for some. Just as when you gather for an in-person Happy Hour, not everyone may want to attend…and that’s….OK.  Make it acceptable for your team members to bow out, no explanations necessary.

Keeping your team connected is more important than ever…but a little team-distancing, just like social distancing, is OK.

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Note: the great folks at Workhuman have made their Life-Events and Conversations Products available to all organizations in response to COVID-19 crisis. Check it out here.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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The ennui of the average worker

Once upon a time people worked in offices like this. Desks lined up in neat and orderly rows. Handbags tucked securely inside drawers. Open concept…well, for some of the employees.

As this picture dates from the 1960’s, my guess is this was where the gals in the secretarial pool sat. The fellas, no doubt, had plush and luxurious offices with windows.

I am worn out just looking at this picture.

Now for all I know these busy employees were doing stimulating and enthralling work. Maybe they were processing multi-million dollar wire transfers to exotic foreign lands or solving complex engineering problems.

Perhaps Beatrice there (2nd desk, cat eye glasses, bouffant hairdo) read The Feminine Mystique and realized she too suffered from ‘the problem that has no name’ so she marched out and got a job a few years ago.

At first it was fun. There was something new to learn every day and she was thrilled, beyond belief, to feel productive and empowered. She learned to operate that fancy multi-line telephone on her desk and initially found the endless repetition of running adding machine tapes hour-after-hour somewhat soothing. Mr. Jones, her boss, was very nice to ‘his girls.’ which is how he referred to Beatrice and her coworkers Enid, Maeve, Wanda Mae and Gladys. He (well, his wife) made sure the girls got a bouquet of flowers on their birthday to place on their desk, and he never (ever!) raised his voice; he didn’t want to upset anyone lest she be having her monthly female visitor.

But then boredom set in. Excruciating, teeth-numbing, soul crushing boredom.

Beatrice, after several years in her job, has moved from satisfaction to the point of contentment. But this is not contentment that resulted, as one might have anticipated, in continued happiness and acceptance. Rather, it resulted in further listlessness. Restlessness.

Ennui.

Beatrice became what we call today, 50 years later, a ‘disengaged employee.’

Disengagement at work is not always due to compounding negative forces; it can just as easily arise due to ennui.

Perhaps that’s a ‘problem that has a name.’

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image of 1960’s workspace via Sacramento Municipal Utility District

this post originally appeared at the HR Schoolhouse

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Elephants in the Workplace

An elephant never forgets. We all know that saying. It implies, for some reason, that elephants possess some incredible long term memory. (Apparently though, there is some research backing this up).

There are also elephants at work. Which can be super awesome.  Or sometimes quite dreadful.

On the plus side of the column there’s the “institutional knowledge” guy/gal. I can’t tell you how many times, upon joining a new organization, I’ve relied on the HR or Payroll lady who remembers (with amazing recall) the minutiae of an employee investigation that took place years before or can recollect, with incredible clarity, the ER/EE medical co-pay rates circa 2005.

But, more often than not, these pachydermian recollections are used for evil as opposed to good. Have you ever heard…

  • “Susie is inflexible” (Because Susie didn’t want to change the office hours and start at 8:30 instead of 8:00 back in 1999)
  • “Tom has a bad temper (That one time? He yelled at Stu in Receiving? Remember?)
  • “Trixie provides really poor customer service” (OMG! In 2010 Mrs. Szymanski called and she was so pissed it went all the way up to the CEO at magical-corporate-office-in another-state!!)

Naturally, most of these stories are based on ancient information and, more often than not, very few data points. Any self respecting statistician who claimed to draw meaning from such lackluster numbers would be drummed out of business.

Trixie, (as just one example), in the course of her career with ACME Corp, may have dealt with 20,000 customers. But it’s the 5 (.00025% of customers) who asked to speak to a supervisor or, in 2018, left a comment on the company Facebook page, who have become those data points.

Of course, it’s today. We can use technology and gathering of e-scores to determine exactly what Trixie’s deal is.  We do pulse surveys and NPS and whatnot. Can’t we?

But not all organizations have that technology at their disposal.

So the elephants are consulted

And they … never forget.

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The Employee Experience: As Simple as “X” and “Y?”

Sixty years ago Douglas McGregor from the MIT Sloan School of Management presented two theories of workforce motivation he named “Theory X” and “Theory Y.” Over the intervening decades these theories have been used by leadership teams, HR professionals and OD folks as they craft and create HR policies, performance management programs, rewards and recognition, and work space design.

If it’s been some time since you gave much thought to McGregor’s work, here’s a refresher:

Theory X assumes that:

  • people dislike work
  • people want to avoid work (i.e. “people are inherently lazy”)
  • people do not want to take responsibility

Theory Y assumes that:

  • people are happy to work
  • people are self-motivated to pursue objectives
  • people thrive on responsibility

In a Theory X organization:

  • management is authoritarian
  • control is centralized with a belief that people must be coerced
  • a reward and punishment style (i.e. “carrot and stick”) is used; financial incentives (or financial punishments) are believed to the best motivator

In a Theory Y organization:

  • management is participative; employees are involved
  • feedback, especially positive feedback, is continuous
  • it is assumed that control, rewards and punishments are not the only ways to stimulate people
  • people have self-direction and self-control

Simplified perhaps. Because, of course, we all learned in our earliest forays into leading others that management of a team requires some combination of Theory X and Theory Y style.  Every employee is unique.  Yet “simple” is helpful as we tackle what we consider to be the nuanced and complex workplace issues today; decades after McGregor first shared these theories in 1957.

So as I sit here, day-in-and-day-out, and think about the employee experience (which, let’s face it, is merely an amalgamation of previous terms and is now the trendy catch phrase/buzzword for everything else that has come before it) I often find myself stripping all the glam and sexy stuff down to a pretty basic question… “Do you provide an X or a Y experience?”

For therein lies the problem; without asking that question and truly examining a few key principles about how people are viewed, numerous organizations continuously circle round and round in a never-ending journey of futility.  They may telegraph to candidates, applicants and new hires all the Theory Y things they do when, in reality, the policies, rewards and management style exhibited by the vast majority are most assuredly Theory X.

Not to mention there’s a real danger of ongoing confirmation bias; a Theory X organization which operates with control and coercion may find, as time goes on, that employees become so accustomed to punishing behavior (“you’re 5 minutes late! Here’s your penalty!”) that they do, in fact, exert minimal effort and thus confirm all the assumptions that managers have had all along. “See how lazy they are!  You can’t trust people to show up on time. We have to punish them or no one will come to work!”

Let’s be real though; there is not one single HR pundit or “Future of Work” speaker out on the vast global conference speaking circuit touting “Top Ten Ways to Motivate Your Lazy Unwilling-to-Work Employees!”  Nope; that wouldn’t sell a lot of tickets.

Instead, managers from assorted disciplines attend their specific professional development conferences, sign up for the “HR Track,” and take copious notes as some HR consultant/speaker talks about “The New Way of Work.”

And then those very same managers head back to the office, roll up their sleeves, and bust out the Theory X.

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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!

 

 

 

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