Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a DisruptHR presentation given by a friend about her best leadership experience. It got me thinking about my own most impactful leadership experience, and it's not what I ever expected it would be.
It started when I inherited the regional talent management portfolio of the global company I was working for. A group of high potentials had been promised accelerated leadership development, and I was in charge of making it happen. But then, downsizing and budget cuts threatened to slash the program entirely. I knew that if I showed any doubt about the program's viability, it would be the end of it--leaving us with a group of high potentials who would quickly become flight risks. So I fought to keep the program alive, but I was nervous. I was nervous because Day 1 of the program made me skeptical. It involved taking the leaders off-site to work with horses. As layoffs were happening in the company, the optics of senior leaders spending the day playing with horses made me nauseous.
Working with horses was meant to serve three purposes: (1) to get the leaders out of their element, force vulnerability and spark new learning; (2) to build a shared team experience, and; (3) to highlight the importance of nonverbal communication, as horses are highly sensitive animals. Given that this company was very hands-on and action-oriented, I figured this might have merit.
The day arrived with various exercises involving the horses. There were more horses than people, so I was able to join in to 'audit' the program myself. The first lesson I witnessed was from a leader who could not connect with the horse. Despite his insistence and increasing assertive commands, the horse was not going to follow his lead. His non-verbal communication was indicating that he was not comfortable with horses, and so the horse refused to follow him. He had not allowed himself to be vulnerable upfront and build a connection with the horse. He realized that when they weren't getting results, their style was to become more assertive, and because that approach wasn't effective, they were creating a greater rift between the leader and the follower.
In the same exercise, I had no problem quickly building a bond with my horse, and the trust between us was palpable. I didn't have to say a word or even use reins, and the horse would just follow me. A+ for me, right? Well, the bond became too friendly, and I overused my strength. The horse would now follow me when it was no longer required or nudge me to play or to gain direction. This was my lightbulb moment. Both in my professional and personal life, I've struggled dealing with people who seem to have a co-dependency. People depend on me for things when I knew they could do on their own. But this exercise helped me realize that this co-dependency was my own doing. To build relationships and trust quickly, I create the co-dependency. And while this helps me feel in control and competent, it does not help me get out of the weeds and let people experiment on their own.
The final lesson we learned was about teamwork. A group of three worked together with a horse to complete an obstacle course. One person led the horse with reins, another gave instructions on how to navigate the course with a map, and the third rode the horse blindfolded. This exercise required massive amounts of trust and communication, not only among the team members but also with the horse. The leaders recognized how much communication is truly needed between the "visionary" leader, the "project manager," and the participant/employee blind to the change. Navigating the course was 3-4 times slower than anticipated and when groups progressed too fast the blindfolded participant would halt the whole thing. Us as leaders quickly realized the importance of each role and how essential change management and communication were to completing the task.
These lessons have stuck with me, even seven years later. So, am I suggesting that you get your leaders playing with horses? No, not necessarily. But I am encouraging you to put yourself and your leaders in uncomfortable situations that will test the agility of their skills with different audiences and in different contexts. I also encourage you to reflect on your strengths and question whether they are hindering your progress elsewhere. Trust me--it's worth it.
Last week I was a part of Mediate BC's "Unconference" which was a virtual gathering of people who work in the Conflict Resolution/Mediation space to build on one another's collective wisdom and applying great ideas to practice.
Two gentlemen and I wanted to discuss racism and critical thinking. Lofty goals for a 45 mins segment. So we narrowed down to discussing 'faulty logic' which underlies a lot of racist justifications. This is particularly apparent given that election results are still pouring in in the United States.
Specifically, what we are seeing is in many individualistic societies, a debate means one person wins, another person loses. Rather than creating collective, collaborative solutions for both. On top of this, with the expanse of global communications and infinite information, instead of having greater knowledge, we are finding people can find niche communities to justify their beliefs.
A great example of this is the rise of QAnon. Which, oversimplified, grew from a group of people who around two decades ago started discovering atheism and science instead of their (usually) Christian upbringing. They realized that some things don't make sense, and that science had better answers to some of life's questions. They, then, felt awakened by knowledge and got positively reinforced to challenge the status quo by like-minded individuals.
The "challenging of religious ideals" then created momentum and after events like 9/11 and Al-Qaeda and ISIS (aside: which, are also going through their own faulty logic and aren't' actually rooted in Islamic beliefs anymore either), anti-religious became anti-Muslim.
Some people stopped their journey there, but many others, on the 'high' of discovery and this new sense of community wanted to challenge more. So they started challenging the very thing that had brought them answers previously. How could they believe in science when not all scientists agree on topics? It didn't feel secure to 'bet on the horse' that constantly has ongoing discussions and debates. And how can you be reinforced for being 'right' if there is no 'right' answer yet? This group, then, started praising each other for challenging science and, thus, arose the anti-vaxxers and 'climate change is a hoax' groups because not all scientists were unified on this issue (n.b., which is not true, once you take into account retractions and corporation-sponsored research).
From there, the 'challenge everything' kept growing and with a globally-connected community continually reinforcing each other, we are now faced with an ever-growing (and almost mainstream) group of flat-earthers, conspiracy theorists, and QAnon.
I discuss this because I want to show how consistently surrounding yourself with only people who share your views creates an echo chamber. You are reinforced that your ideas are right and never expose yourself to people or ideas that challenge that.
We are now at the point where we are forgetting to have these other conversations. Or perhaps you grew up in 'polite society' where you were told not to have these conversations and don't know how to have them. We either avoid or we fight because both parties think they are being rational and logical and that "they are right".
But first, we need to check ourselves. Ask yourself:
Being open and humble in what you know and don't know is challenging but it's also very freeing. Removing your ego from things that aren't tied to your identity takes an enormous weight off.
Once you have done some introspection it's time to have some real conversations. If people
For example, the same underlying value of protecting human rights is there to justify people wanting others protected and to wear masks as it is to justify why people don't want mandatory masks because it infringes on choice. So finding that collective underlying value is important to find a common ground to start hosting a conversation. There's a great example of a guy on TikTok who initially wanted to 'expose' how dumb the other viewpoints are but has slowly been changing his approach to be genuinely curious. From this curiosity, he ends up finding commonality and has even changed a few people's minds.
It's important to remember that we are all in some form of social isolation right now, so we don't need to isolate ourselves even further. It's time to extend hands, bridge gaps, and grow.
Over the years, I have continuously had to build a business case for diversity. But recently, I've begun to detest the idea that I even have to do it. We say "not only is it the right thing to do, but look it also saves us money!" But over time, I realized that the upper echelon wasn't typically listening to the "it's the right thing to do" they were just listening to the "why would I do this financially".
I know I'm biased because discussing diversity only in terms of financials goes against my values. To me, "it's the right thing to do" should be enough. So I contemplated how can I create a business case for diversity that would let me sleep better at night. So here goes:
The dollars and 'sense' of it
Many argue that a corporation's purpose in a capitalist society is to make money for its shareholders. Who are our shareholders? Are they a diverse group of people? Are they only composed of most the 'haves' versus the 'have-nots'? If we focus on just our current shareholders we are also focused on a limited group of spending power. So focusing on only current shareholders is a limiting mindset and it's not strategic. We never think of business in this way, it's never just about current customers, it's also about future customers. We need to think about who we can lift up to create greater purchasing power to have a greater pool of shareholders.
Additionally, at a macro-level corporations are not just about making our shareholders money, but corporations truly exist to stimulate the economy. Businesses create jobs, employees have more money to spend within the community, governments collect more taxes which stimulate further growth, and so on. But, we cannot have a healthy economy when only some members can contribute to spending within it. When only the 'haves' have disposable income and the 'have nots' go into debt to try and pay bills, the debt and interest payments further add to the 'haves' wallets--creating larger and larger discrepancies. These discrepancies are creating billionaires that can't possibly spend that level of wealth within one lifetime, never mind one that stimulates the economy for all, implying an eventual ceiling of wealth growth. Therefore, it's in everyone's best interest to have more equal wealth distribution to drive growth at all levels of the economy.
Decades of research shows that increased diversity and inclusion actually allows for more innovative solutions by challenging views and greater breadth of experiences/knowledge/ competencies (CEB, 2009; Martin, 2015). This provides companies with a competitive advantage over their less diverse and less inclusive competitors. We see tangible results in the form of greater return on equity and sales (Catalyst, 2008; Corporate Executive Board, 2009; 2012; Credit Suisse; Deliotte; 2012; Herring, 2009; McKinsey, 2010; 2012), increases market share (CEB, 2009; Centre for Talent Innovation, 2013) and higher customer satisfaction (CEB, 2012; Deliotte, 2012; McKinsey, 2012).
Positive Gain Spirals
Having a competitive advantage may already be a good enough case for some, but for those looking for a more systematic, holistic argument--a more inclusive workplace begins to great positive gain spirals towards greater employee and business results. Specifically, it creates positive momentum by increasing employee engagement (CEB, 2012; Deliotte, 2012; McKinsey, 2012) which increases productivity (Martin, 2015) and increases retention of employees (CEB, 2010; Martin, 2015).
We see this pull through again to the financials with more inclusive companies having higher operating profit (Towers Watson, 2012), higher profitability (CEB, 2009), and greater EBIT margins (CEB, 2012; Deliotte, 2012; McKinsey, 2010; 2012)
The more engaged and happy employees are, the more that they promote the organization as a good place to work which, in turn, helps promote more people to want to work for the company, as well as ensure a positive reputation for customers and shareholders.
"The Right Thing To Do"
At the beginning of this article, I glazed over the fact that diversity, equity, and inclusion is "the right thing to do", but this cannot be overstated. Diversity itself is not a value but a fact. That is every individual comes from a different story, experience, and values framework, so pretending that we are all the same, or that subgroups of us are all the same, just doesn't make sense.
So if we know that we are all unique, and we want to be treated as individuals, why would we treat anyone else as just a number or part of a group. We need to understand individuals, as such--individuals. Understanding people's unique needs, motivations, experiences, and struggles helps us better understand how to work with, lead, coach, and support them. This is the epitome of inclusion.
And diversity, equity, and inclusion are bigger than just one company's money and business results. If we invest in a greater pool of diverse employees, suppliers, and shareholders, we can increase prosperity within a greater number of families and communities. This allows for increased wealth to be distributed to a greater piece of society.
But…What's In It For Me?
If you are still not convinced that diversity, equity, and inclusion are good for business and society, let's talk about how it can benefit you personally. For instance, being more inclusive enhances your cognitive ability/agility, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills (CEB, 2015; Chally Group, 2015; Harvard Business Review, 2010). Specifically, learning people's individual needs, motivations, and strengths helps you understand how to better adapt to them, helps develop your creative problem-solving skills, which, in turn, will drive better team performance (CEB, 2015; Harvard Business Review, 2010)).
Developing these skills will, then, help you get noticed more by your organization. That is, most organizations use agility/adaptability as a key criteria for identifying high potentials (CEB, 2005; 2009; Harvard Business Review, 2010) and a greater number of organizations are using emotional intelligence as a key criteria (CEB, 2009; Chally Group Worldwide, 2015). So by being more inclusive, you also increase your likelihood of getting access to promotions, specialized development programs, and pay increases.
Overall, the typical business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion only outlines a fragment of why it's imperative. Not only is it good for business, but it also is good for yourself, your employees, and society. If you feel you are in a position where you are asking people to justify the costs or the efforts of the work, it's time to take a step back and consider how you would want to be treated, what you value, and what kind of society you want to live in.
The community has always been a part of the creation and development of any business. We consider the community based on our potential target market, access to raw materials and suppliers, and the costs of operations. Sometimes, but rarely, we also consider the local talent pool and skills availability.
But the community is more intertwined with the business than we recognize. That is, each stakeholder is connected to the community in a larger way. For example, when we utilize local resources and suppliers, our business expansion or contraction is now directly impacting job creation and reduction for those businesses to meet our demand. Additionally, we impact the employee's partners/family when we create compensation policies, work schedules, and working climate. Compensation policies also impact the employee's disposable income and how much they will spend in their local community.
This level of intertwinement sometimes makes business leaders uncomfortable. We justify that we don't need to consider this breadth of the community because businesses are required only to provide profits to their shareholders. However, the community is a major stakeholder and are even usually shareholders themselves. For example, employees (insiders) in the U.S. can be up to 20% of shareholders, directly impacting their family, and the disposable income available in the local economy.
Too often when companies choose to enter or leave a market, we only look at the P&L statements. We think this factory is no longer viable because there are better tax incentives in another state or country. We don't consider the broader implications of what it means to leave that community. We see examples of this in towns where one business is the main employer.
For example, let's take Newton, Iowa as an example. A local member of the community, Frederick Louis Maytag founded the Maytag Corporation in 1893 and by 1925 it was primarily a washing machine company. Maytag was one of the very few companies during the 1930's Great Depression to be growing and making a profit. And Newton, Iowa's population grew by 74% because of it. Despite being profitable, Maytag decided they wanted to cut employee's wages by 10%. Reasonably, the workers went on strike. Even though this company was founded with a local leader, the company decided this strike was unacceptable and martial law was declared with tanks and machine guns being brought in against the workers. The workers were forced to go back to work with a 10% pay cut. Then, in 2001 the company decided it was cheaper to move the facility to Mexico and severed ties completely from the city by 2007. This resulted in 1,800 people losing their jobs, or 12% of the community. The city of Newton was forced to incentivize new companies to come to their town and diversify their economy to ensure mass relocation or poverty spikes didn't occur.
The impact of these types of choices has a detrimental effect, not just to the community, but to all stakeholders at large. Consider the spouses who may need to adjust their work. Or the suppliers who then also have to relocate. But even consider the negative publicity's impact of how shareholders will feel about these decisions. Sure, a few will be excited that their dividends will go up, but many will feel sour from the disloyalty and heartlessness. Divestiture of company's based on moral reasoning has long been a trend and shareholders are requiring more and more disclosure.
Small businesses typically understand this dynamic as they are members of the community themselves and see how they a cog in the larger wheel. However, as larger and larger corporations take over, the distance between CEO and the local community increases and the inevitable lack of empathy surrounding that community takes hold.
Company's need to be more mindful if they choose to enter a community, especially if they will be a majority employer. If it no longer makes sense for a company to operate within a community, adequate notice and planning should be required to allow for the community to adjust. Very rarely are you going to see your good news story in the headlines, but layoffs and divesting will be. Therefore, during these times, it's important to make decisions with respect, dignity, and while considering the larger implications. Overall, there is a larger obligation to that community not just morally, but potentially financially.
As we try to navigate this new normal and will likely have an ebb and flow of easing and imposing stay-at-home restrictions, we need to start thinking about a better way of working.
Before lockdowns, some organizations allowed for flexible work arrangements or accommodated certain individuals to work remotely. However, these programs can sometimes have unintended consequences. For example, those who take leave or work from home have been shown to have slower wage growth and earn fewer promotions because they are seen as less motivated or dedicated.
As we are seeing now, individuals can be just as, if not more, productive at home by working hours that work for them.
So how can we utilize our new insights about working from home and redesign the way we do work. Two examples of how some companies have done this already include redesigning work through a person-centred approach or a results-centred approach.
The People-Centered Approach
(also known as the Predictability, Teaming, & Open Communication approach)
In this approach, you, as a manager or as a department, state that you have a collective goal of ensuring every team member's personal interests and needs are met. That is, ensuring both professional and personal goals are met for each team member.
Each team member states what their needs and goals are for the week and the team re-works the work schedule and priorities to ensure both personal and professional goals are met. This process adds time, especially in the beginning. It will usually add about 30 minutes to weekly team meetings and it will take a few months for people to build psychological safety and trust to be transparent in what their needs are. The leader setting the example will go a long way in this approach.
The people-centred approach helps enhance communication, build team cohesion, and helps achieve team goals. Teams create innovative ways of not only completing work but prioritizing work by eliminating unnecessary processes or initiatives. This approach had been found to make teams 2x more efficient, 1.5x more effective, and increase client value by 15%.
For individuals, twice as many people will feel more comfortable taking time off for work, satisfaction with work-life balance increases by 24%, and intent to stay increases by 29%.
The Results-Centered Approach
(also known as the Results-Only Work Environment)
In this approach, as a manager or as a department, state that you have a goal of 'gettin' 'er done'. That is, people should be free to do what they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. The purpose of this approach is to allow people to be more focused, productive, and efficient based on their own style.
Weekly team meetings will be required in the beginning to help bring transparency and clarity to the process. Employees will discuss how they would change their work practices if they could choose their hours/location/etc. This allows the team to have a better understanding of who is available when.
Employees are then empowered to experiment with their own productivity. After two months, the manager should do a check-in and discuss what changes are needed, share success stories and problem-solve any barriers. Additionally, it takes a bit of sophistication on the manager's part to understand what is a fair workload and what will achieve the strategy rather than 'fill the days'. Parameters also need to be set up about what constitutes good work. For example, it's not just that the task was done, but the task was done after consultation and collaboration with stakeholders.
The results-centred approach has been found to reduce turnover to 6% compared to 11%, increase schedule control and decreased work-family conflict, increased sleep, energy and self-reported health and exercise, reduce smoking and drinking and increased family meals.
As you can see, both of these approaches are not HR-led, but leader-led. However, which you choose depends on your company values and strategy (e.g., respect & caring vs. excellence and results). People-centred is more about a philosophy shift about the nature of work and creating team cohesion, collaboration, and team 'wins'. Versus, a results-centred approach is more individualistic and about business strategy achievement. Regardless, they are still both business strategies for goal achievement, rather than work-life balance initiatives.
Both require a significant amount of energy, especially in the early stages, but the benefits outweigh the costs. Regardless of which you may choose, here are some tips to help you ensure a successful implementation:
Most companies and managers believe that they are able to interview people for jobs effectively based on their own experience and intuition (1). Specifically, they prepare for conducting interviews by reviewing resumes and then tailoring questions based on the individual, essentially 'free wheeling". This is referred to as an unstructured interview.
I, as well as the vast majority of the research, argue that a structured (or planned) interview is your best bet for hiring a candidate. A structured interview is one that is planned through standardized questions, trained interviewers, a controlled length of time, and specific response evaluations. That is, every candidate gets asked the same questions and are evaluated on the same rating scale. An unstructured interview, on the other hand, is generally a more 'off the cuff' approach where interviewers ask tailored questions to the individual to understand their specific experiences and to get a 'sense' or 'vibe' of the person (1).
Research shows that people perceive the unstructured interview as the most effective way to understand a candidate, when, in fact, it is the least (as compared to planned interviews, cognitive tests, and personality tests; 2; 3). Planned interviews are twice as likely to predict outcomes such as how well candidates do in training orientation, how successful they are on the job, and how long they stay with the organization (4; 5)
So let's go through the potential arguments against planned interviews and my rebuttal...
Argument 1: In a small company/team, we need to get to know people and ensure that they will get along with the group.
Rebuttal: Sure, by taking an unstructured approach, you are unintentionally (or intentionally) examining how much the candidate is like you (6). However, this reduces the diversity of who you are hiring, not just in terms of gender and ethnicity, but also in thoughts and experiences.
Additionally, you are likely only measuring how charismatic a person is (7; 8), not how well they work within a group. Generally, those with good physical appearance (facial attractiveness, attire, weight) and non-verbal cues (eye contact, smiling) is what you are hiring (7; 8). And, no surprises here, these attributes don't show to predict job performance (9).
People shouldn't be 'fitting' in with your team, they should be 'fitting' into your strategy. That is, candidates should provide a complementary skillset to help you achieve your strategy. Diverse thoughts and styles will likely get you to your strategy better than hiring a 'mini-me' which can open yourself up to biases such as groupthink.
When hiring for really small teams, perhaps no one person will have all the skills necessary to help, so some will argue ‘fit’ is more important. But in these situations you aren’t hiring a technical expert, but a generalist or 'chameleon'. That is, you are hiring for different skills such as agility, problem-solving skills, proactivity, etc. which can all be assessed with planned questions. This is to say, you can still hire for collaboration or influencing skills (rather than the intuitive sense of fit), but what you choose to assess needs to align with the strategy and/or values of the company.
A word of caution: as you increase diversity decision-making will take longer and conflict will increase, however it also bring about more innovation and better financial results, so it's worth it (10).
Argument 2: A planned interview seems impersonal and candidates hate them.
To help ensure a good candidate experience, leave time for candidates to ask their own questions. Additionally, they will see the experience as even more fair if they have advanced knowledge of what the questions will be, even if just a few hours before.
Argument 3: Well I can 'read between the lines' the things that a planned interview will miss.
Rebuttal: When you are hiring, you may think that a planned interview doesn't address the uniqueness of the person's background or the role. Therefore, you may think that because you are adapting to the individual or the situation you will be able to detect patterns and links that a planned interview never could (14).
However it's important to remember, with a planned interview, each candidate is still being evaluated as an individual. From a question like "tell me about a time you received a complaint from a customer", they can respond in a way that is unique to their experiences and their own learnings. The only difference is with a planned interview you have (a) decided that customer service is important ahead of time and (b) you want to see how all candidates respond to the same question and (c) you can evaluate their responses across one another. A trained interviewer can also begin to pick up on subtle patterns. For example, are they self aware? Do they see the errors they make and learn how to overcome them the next time? Do they use the same approach or style each time?
Argument 4: But I've hired good people in the past without a planned interview.
Rebuttal: Have you? Do you have data that supports that? Check your attribution bias. That is, do you think your good hires are a result of your skills? And what about bad hires? Was that not your fault because they must have lied in the interview or become unmotivated once hired? You are more likely to attribute any success to yourself and the failures to others (15).
Attribution bias is compounded by other biases and memory issues. For example, research found that hiring managers only remembered half of the answers to interview questions (16). Additionally, hiring managers' perceptions are heavily skewed by negative information (17). Research shows that hiring managers adding their intuition or instinct along with a planned interview actually REDUCED the predictability success (18) showing how negatively impactful human error really is.
If you are feeling uneasy at this point, it's okay. Research has found that it's not just hiring managers that aren't effectively choosing the right people - similar results have been found with clinicians, social workers, parole boards, judges, auditors, admission committees, marketers, and business planners (19; 20; 21; 22). We are all subject to human error and biases.
Argument 5 - We don't have the time or money to make a planned interview
Rebuttal: Planned interviews create an approximate savings of $40,000 annually per manager role (23). Creating a planned interview will cost a fraction of that. Planning an interview will only add a few extra weeks to the process, but once the interview is created it won't add any time for future candidates who are being evaluated on the same competencies.
Furthermore, replacing an employee costs approximately 1/3 of their salary (24). In Canada, that's, on average, $18,000 (25). This cost is because it take at least a month to fill the job, it costs money and time to train new hires, plus the productivity lag to get them up to speed. Having a good planned interview will reduce the cost by approximately half based on the value gained from its ability to predict job performance and tenure (4; 26).
So what is the solution?
Well, if it hasn't been obvious already, create a planned interview. Here are the basic steps to do so (27):
I was already planning to write an article about the contingent workforce a few months ago, but now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems even more important to discuss. Before the pandemic, contingent, contract, and part-time workers already made up a third of the North American workforce (Forbes, 2015). This number has only increased through recent layoffs and remote working.
There are lots of advantages to having a contingent workforce. It helps companies leverage highly skilled technical experts for short projects rather than hire them internally at a high base salary. This can sometimes help increase the speed of which things get done. Contingent workers also help challenge the organization's way of thinking and assumptions made about the best ways of working. All of which, help reduce costs for the organization.
A great example of how a well functioning contingent workforce works is seeing how films are made here in Vancouver. There is no single studio, but leaders (producers) come in and hire the best available people (gaffers, actors, sound crews), shared services (caterers, drivers), and resources (external power, trailers, buildings). The efficiency of how these crews assemble, work, and dissemble is awe-inspiring, especially given that they are working towards a creative output.
So thinking about this changing workforce, how do we adapt our people and culture strategies and policies to accommodate it? We now have to differentiate who is responsible for people or subsets of people - is it HR? Business Leaders? Procurement?
A handy reference table was created by RBL & Agile Talent Collaborative to consider whom to hire for what:
That is, if information needs to stay internal and/or if something is required on an ongoing basis, hire internal people. However, if you need the best or need something for just a short period of time, use a contingent worker. This will help you balance costs and ensure innovative growth.
However, with an increased mix of internal and contingent workers. Issues are bound to arise. To help smooth some of these processes consider the following:
The workforce is only becoming more and more fluid, therefore, it is important for you and your organization to be ready on how to handle the flux.
While some employers believe stress to be a “necessary evil” to remain productive and profitable in today’s global economy, research indicates otherwise (1). In the United States, 26-40% of employees report being extremely stressed or burned out (1), in the European Union, 28% of employees reported feeling stressed at work, and in Japan, 63% of employees reported serious work anxiety or stress (2).
Ongoing stress can also contribute to longer-term issues and it's even been found that stress could contribute up to 90% of health symptoms and disorders (5). Long-term stress can manifest as psychological disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder), emotional disturbances (e.g., dissatisfaction, fatigue, tension), maladaptive behaviours (e.g., aggression, substance abuse, accidents, injury, suicide), physical illnesses (e.g., cardiovascular disease; cancer; ulcers, decreased immune system, neuroendocrine disorders, autonomous nervous systems, blood pressure, blood lipids, uric acid), and cognitive impairments (e.g., sleep disorders; 1; 2; 4; 6; 9; 10; 11).
It's time to re-think overworking yourself or your employees to get greater productivity and realize that in the long-run it will lead to lower productivity as well as many other consequences including hurting profitability. Now it's time to re-focus on engagement, motivation, and purpose.
When we talk about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), we think of corporate sustainability, responsible business practices, environmentalism, and/or community engagement. We discuss annual reports in terms of triple bottom lines of economic, social, and environmental prosperity. However, when we discuss the social piece, we primarily talk in terms of the communities we operate in rather than the employees under our corporate umbrella.
If you are only reading this because CSR initiatives are mandated by your government or your shareholders or you need to build a business case for your executives, researchers have found that there is a stronger impact on organizational commitment by targeting internal people rather than external (1). However, be weary, the minute employees think you are undertaking CSR initiatives to increase your reputation you will be faced with lower worker effort and less consumer interest than if you had done nothing at all (2).
We need to ensure employees are part of our sustainability efforts. We discuss employee engagement and mental health as a way to increase productivity or to reduce costs, but not as a way to ensure people aren't leaving work worse than they arrived. If we are going to continue using the (awful) term Human Resources, then we need to ensure those resources are sustainable just like we would with any other resources.
That is, people need to leave work at the end of the day the same, if not better, than they arrived. This shouldn't be hard. In theory, work should be a place of challenge, achievement, and comradery. However, we see high levels of stress, turnover, absenteeism, low productivity, and so on and so forth.
How do you know where your company stands?
There are two approaches to creating a sustainable employee strategy. You can either just make sure people leave as they come in (baseline). Or you can make work a place where people leave better and thrive (next level). Some questions to ask yourself...
When advocating for better performance management we ask managers to be a "coach" to their employees, borrowing the term from sports. However, it seems that the sports analogy stops there. For example:
Effective coaching can positively change attitudes, knowledge, behaviours, and performance. Organizations that had highly effective coaching were more likely to have:
Gallup outlined the essentials of coaching as: frequent, focused, and future-focused. That is, coaching should be continuous, have a specific purpose, and should be positive and constructive.
Sports provide us with other potential lessons we, in business, need to learn from:
So if we truly want our managers to be like sports coaches, what do we need to do?