Anyone who knows me professionally is aware that I am a strong advocate for creating companies that deliberately address the issue of the work-life interface. I am a huge proponent of interventions like work flexibility because they create a win-win scenario for organizations and employees. I can often be convinced that various work-life practices can produce benefits for the organization and the employee that are truly sustainable and make an impact.
That being said, there is no way I can be convinced that Bring Your Parents to Work Day is anything but silly (and probably a few other descriptors that force the APA editors to redacted this redacted and ensure that I am redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted and never allowed to redacted redacted redacted redacted ever again). And quite frankly, I agree wholeheartedly with almost everything Alison Green argues about this issue. I was disturbed that LinkedIn would think that was a good idea, but I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that Google was doing the same thing (maybe Google is not as close to ruling the world as I thought).
I already knew parents were overinvolved with their children at younger ages, but Bring Your Parents to Work Day is even a bigger problem. I don’t mind when someone’s parents drop by the office and get a brief tour from their child before they head off to lunch together. But the idea that somehow, parents and their adult children cannot discuss what they do in their professional lives without formalized tours and other goofy, time-wasting programs is a bit ridiculous. Alison Green may be right when she says this is just another element of the coddling that has occurred in the lives people who are starting to enter the workforce.
To which, all I can say is…Stop already! Enough with the goofy gimmicks. Stop wasting time coming up with the next silly idea, like Bring Your Parents to Work Day, that is not going to have a significant impact on the work culture. Quite frankly, it takes the focus away from where it should be – creating workplace cultures and processes that actually improve the way work is done. I suppose the powers that be at Google and LinkedIn can rest assured that if they decide to terminate an employee, the efforts to get workers’ parents more involved will also lead to parents challenging those terminations and intervening on their children’s behalf. And, that will just encourage this phenomenon to spread.
Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/a_stepanov
A psychologically healthy workplace promotes employee well-being and organizational performance, but it spills over into employee interactions with customers and clients, creating positive outcomes on that front, as well. Rachel Hahn-Teichberg, head veterinary technician for All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem, MA talks about how a positive work environment affects customer service and the relationships employees have with clients.
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Yahoo is at it once again. In the face of continuing challenges, it has now decreed that it will institute a forced-ranking performance system.
While Jack Welch has been given credit for popularizing this perspective, one could easily make the case that such a system might be considered to be one of the more abhorrent aspects of his legacy at GE. And, of course, let’s not forget that with the right additional push from the culture, such a system can help to produce a truly toxic, criminal environment, as in the case of Enron.
So, while I would never support such a system, I have read some rather interesting arguments against it that I think are also equally flawed. One such article appeared on Forbes’ site. The author mentions that such a system can cause employee morale problems because many employees are put into the “meets expectations” category, which makes them feel like “C” students or “average” employees.
While arbitrarily putting workers into a category because you are forced to have a normal distribution of ratings is a problem, the argument for why workers dislike being labelled as “meets expectations” is the entire reason such systems were created in the first place. They were developed as a way to keep a manager from having such lax standards that everyone was placed into the “exceeds expectations” category even if they didn’t belong there.
While forced rankings are not the solution to that problem, the Forbes article actually highlights a huge culture problem that exists in the U.S. and elsewhere – the idea that “meets expectations” or “average” is akin to labeling someone as a failure.
Well, guess what? The hard truth is that not everyone exceeds expectations. Not everyone is a high performer in everything they do. Just because you believe you are an above-average employee does not make it reality.
The fact is, meeting expectations or being an average employee is not something to be avoided like the plague. Sure, we would all love to be top performers, and in some aspects of our work, many people probably are. But workers are not supposed to be evaluated just on the basis of the one or two areas where they exceed performance standards. They are supposed to be evaluated on the entire package of work they do as a part of their job.
And unless an organization’s culture instills a sense of how to drive workers toward higher performance and encourages a realistic view of the impact each worker is having on the organization, we are going to be left with organizations who utilize problematic performance management systems, such as the forced-ranking system. It is an attempt (though perhaps a maladaptive one) to eliminate the coddling that occurs much too often in today’s work environment.
A recent post on the Forbes website emphasized the impossibility of a dual focus on mission and profit. The author argues that it is impossible to serve two masters and that one is always going to be the driving force.
In the for-profit world, the master has become the bottom line, whereas in the social enterprise world, the master has become the mission.
This, of course, begs the question: Is it possible to value both profit and mission equally? While I would like to say the answer is definitely yes, the reality is that organizational values, just like human values, operate within a hierarchy. When a situation is compatible with both values, it’s easy to espouse the notion that we value things like mission and profit equally.
But that is not where we truly learn about our values. We learn about our values when they come into conflict with each other. When serving the mission to its fullest puts the bottom line at risk, or vice versa, we are left with a choice: Do we choose to serve the mission or do we choose to serve the bottom line?
The answer, though, is not so cut and dry. If we choose to pursue the mission at the expense of the bottom line, that could put the organization in an untenable situation financially, which could result in organizational decline. On the other hand, if we choose to put the bottom line first, then that could put the workers or customers at risk, which could cause our workers to disengage and result in organizational decline.
Either choice, then, could put the organization at a disadvantage. Of course, typically one forced-choice response will not result in long-term organizational decline. The problem surfaces when the same choice is made over and over again, creating either a culture of financial irresponsibility or a culture that is destructive to worker well-being (leading to increased turnover, healthcare costs, and the like).
That is why it is important to find the right mixture of mission and profit. Seeing the world through the narrow lens of one or the other is self-defeating in the long run. Understanding that there are times to choose one over the other – and more importantly, choosing the right one at the right time – is critical to long-term success. Learning to optimize stakeholder returns rather than focusing on maximizing shareholder returns or maximizing mission fulfillment is key to long-term success.
The trick is to develop a leadership team that possesses the knowledge, skills and values needed to create this balanced focus within the organization. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet or magic cure to the problem. But using tools, such as a balanced scorecard, one that has champions for each area within the scorecard, may be a place to start.
I’m a work-life balance researcher, so as you can imagine, I get a lot of articles like this from friends, colleagues and family. There are various iterations, but the point is the same: work-life balance is a hoax or myth.
I usually have mixed feelings about these articles. I want to be clear that I think they are well-intentioned, with the goal of keeping people from setting themselves up for failure due to unrealistic goals and expectations. Ultimately, these messages are not truly beneficial or empowering and often have more of a fatalistic theme. For example, Ms. Bronstein notes, “don’t worry about balance or leaning one way or another….work-life balance is about learning to enjoy imbalance and seeing the long view of your life.” This kind of “acceptance” message is damaging because it goes against everything we know from research about how to improve balance (for example, active control rather than passive reactions).
My central issue with these types of articles is that they are based a logical fallacy called the straw man argument—a tactic of disagreeing with a broad assertion that someone else never actually made. If we were to define work-life balance as leading a perfect life and getting everything you ever wanted, then of course it’s going to be a mythical unicorn. On top of that, if you argue that having work-life balance means that you have this perfect scenario at all times, then that moves you away from just finding the mythical unicorn to riding it to work every day. Seems like a pretty ambitious goal, wouldn’t you agree?
But my question is…who exactly is defining work-life balance that way? For one, it is not researchers. It’s true that we have trouble defining it ourselves or even using consistent terminology, but I assure you that having it all has never been even close to the definition. Moreover, when someone scores high on a work-life balance measure, that’s also a snapshot of how they feel at that moment about their recent experiences. To be fair, we do see that some people generally report better work-life balance than others, but we are also asking their perceptions over a longer time frame. Here are various ways that researchers conceptualize work-life balance (with ‘domains’ meaning work and family or personal life):
- Satisfaction across domains according to one’s priorities
- Feeling control over how one manages the domains
- Reduced conflict between domains and increased facilitation across domains
- Feelings of personal growth and progress in achieving goals across domains
Work-life balance isn’t an achievement; it’s not a trophy you get to place on your mantel, or a medal you get to wear around your neck that says, “Look at me, I have it all figured out.” You don’t get to quit working on it once you think you have things under control. It is a constant management process of shifting and restructuring your time and energy in a way that meets your personal priorities at that time.
Maybe we should think of it more like work-life management. This is analogous to financial management, relationship management and performance management. Nobody really expects you to manage your finances perfectly every day or every week. We don’t expect our marriages and other relationships to be perfect all the time, and we know we have to continuously make compromises and readjustments to keep them healthy. When we say, “That person is a great employee,” we certainly aren’t implying that a particular individual does top notch work every day or on every assignment. The same thing applies whether we are talking about parenting, or managing our health habits like eating right, exercising and having a good sleep schedule. All of these things are components of our work-life balancing process. We intuitively know that it’s impossible to achieve perfection (and keep it), even WITHIN domains. So why would anyone jump to the conclusion that we can do this ACROSS domains, as well?
If researchers aren’t defining it this way, who is? When CEOs say there’s no work-life balance and that you either have to work or take the “easy life,” who are they arguing with exactly? My perspective is that the “straw man” definition of work-life balance provides an easy excuse for defending lack of organizational change. First, it creates a false justification for doing things a certain way, even if they are dysfunctional. It lets people disregard work-life balance initiatives as a waste of time and ignore what science has taught us about the beneficial effects of these practices. This immediately sets up work-life initiatives to fail due to lack of support, much like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Second, it creates a false dichotomy between someone’s “work” and “home” self, as if we just turn one thing off or on depending on the domain. This is completely disconnected from what we know about human behavior and psychology. An employee’s experiences outside of work are intricately tied to their well-being and performance at work. When you make employees give up healthy habits and relationships outside of work, they are less effective over time and less satisfied (even at work).
Thus, I think we should frame discussions of work-life balance similar to the way we talk about any other kind of “therapy” for improving ourselves. We don’t go to a therapist to be perfect, but we also don’t ignore the therapist’s suggestions for improving dysfunctional behavior because we think “things will work out over time” and “that’s just the way it is.” The same is true for work-life balance. We need to stop making it synonymous with “work-life perfection” and seeing it as a stable achievement rather than an ongoing, active management process.
There are no trophies for work-life balance, but there are indeed fleeting bits of satisfaction for feeling that you are getting it right sometimes and feeling in control. We can take an active role in this process by not just setting priorities, but taking active steps every day to manage them. There is good work-life balancing and poor work-life balancing, but never the feeling of having it all figured out—that last part is a side effect of being human. Good work-life balance is real though, and we get a chance to choose our strategies that define that process every day.
Learning fm our Northern neighbors. Dr. Merv Glbert talking abt new psychological health & safety standard for Canadian workplaces. #wwb2013— Dr. David Ballard (@DrDavidBallard) September 13, 2013
Dr. Merv Gilbert said in Canada employers provide psych support to employees who've been harassed, bullied on the job. #wwb2013— Jenee Darden (@CocoaFly) September 13, 2013
#wwb2013 Dr. Merv Gilbert: Too many orgs put an intervention into place and fail to have a good process for evaluating it.— Matt Grawitch (@DocGrawitch) September 13, 2013
About 45% of people with mental health conditions have more than one said condition. #wwb2013 ~ 33% have issues with substance abuse.— Eric Peterson, MSOD (@DiversityEric) September 13, 2013
Some employers & insurers now screen ALL disability cases for possible mental health issues -Mark Attridge, PhD #wwb2013— Healthy Workplace (@APA_excellence) September 13, 2013
Mental Health treatment works ~ but few people in need receive it. #wwb2013 ~ social stigma, not enough providers, misdiagnosis, etc.— Eric Peterson, MSOD (@DiversityEric) September 13, 2013
87% of large companies (500+) offer EAPs, compared to 27% of small companies, says Dr Mark Attridge, citing Mercer 2012 study #wwb2013— Healthy Workplace (@APA_excellence) September 13, 2013
EAPs create value by increasing productivity, saving money, and creating cross-referrals with other programs. #wwb2013— Eric Peterson, MSOD (@DiversityEric) September 13, 2013
For every $1 spent on EAPs, orgs get $4 back #wwb2013 ~ and that's just measuring employee productivity. BLAM. (Yeah, it's worth it.)— Eric Peterson, MSOD (@DiversityEric) September 13, 2013
#wwb2013 strategic pr begins with doing appropriate research. This, of course, includes doing a SWOT analysis— Matt Grawitch (@DocGrawitch) September 13, 2013
Couldn’t make it to our 2013 Work & Well-Being Conference in San Francisco last month? Never fear, we’ve aggregated the Twitter postings from the event, below. Work-Life Fit, diversity, engagement and more -- here's what people were chirping about on day one.
You can't MAKE employees happy in their work, but you can optimize the environment to encourage engagement@DocGrawitch #wwb2013— Healthy Workplace (@APA_excellence) September 12, 2013
Inclusion at work: equal access to opportunities & resources. @SHRMEric at #wwb2013— Dr. David Ballard (@DrDavidBallard) September 12, 2013
Stay tuned for more tweets from day two of the conference.
According to the 2013 State of the American Workforce published by Gallup, 70 percent of American workers are either unengaged in their work or actively disengaged. Of course, this seems to occur each and every year, as the supposed alarm bell is rung about employee engagement.
However, in 2012, a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 67 percent of U.S. workers reported staying at their jobs because they enjoy the work they do and the job fits well with other areas of their lives. Furthermore, 56 percent reported that they stay because they feel connected to the organization, and 51 percent reported that they stay because their job gives them the opportunity to make a difference. Only 39 percent reported that they stay because of a lack of job opportunities elsewhere.
Now, let’s flash forward to 2013. Another APA poll, and other less alarmist results. This time, 56 percent of U.S. workers reported that they are energized by their work, and 70 percent reported that the work they do is meaningful.
According to Wilhelm Schaufeli, a researcher who worked to develop a psychometrically sound, construct-valid measure of work engagement, engagement can be defined as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor (i.e., high levels of energy and mental resilience), dedication (i.e., exceptionally strong involvement in one’s work) and absorption (i.e., being totally engrossed in one’s work).”
A review of the Gallup Q12, on which much of the alarmist calls are based, defines engaged employees as those who “work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.” Though that sounds like a consistent definition of engagement, a closer look at the actual items on the Q12 reveals that one item, at best (i.e., Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?) is actually a direct assessment of actual engagement. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how having a best friend at work, opportunities to learn and grow and positive attitudes regarding co-worker commitment to their work is an actual assessment of work engagement.
The answer, of course, is that Gallup’s Q12 does not actually assess engagement, any more than APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace framework is a work engagement framework. Sure, Gallup’s items may be tapping into some elements that can influence engagement, but it is certainly not a measure of engagement itself.
In reviewing the State of the Workforce 2013 Report, I couldn’t locate a single breakdown by item, so I was unable to see how Gallup’s actual engagement item compares to the APA poll results. What I do know is this: Organizations, in general, can always do a better job of improving their work environments, their management practices, and the way employees interface with their jobs. However, to ring an alarmist bell about work engagement as the primary issue seems more than a bit overblown.
Guest post by Misty Christensen, MA
Dr. Rebecca Kelly, PhD, RD, CDE, director of Health Promotion and Wellness at the University of Alabama delivered a presentation at the Work and Well-Being conference in Chicago this spring in which she addressed three main topics related to promoting health and wellness in the workplace.
In her presentation, Dr. Kelly demonstrated how employer health related programs can be managed to enhance business objectives. Dr. Kelly identified key factors of employee engagement that create positive impact and health outcomes, and she also characterized the importance of incentives as part of an effective health management program.
According to Dr. Kelly, only 3 percent of the American population meets the recommended four criteria for healthy living: being non-smokers, maintaining a healthy weight, eating at least five fruits or vegetables daily and exercising for 30 minutes a day for five days a week. This alarming statistic further emphasizes the importance of promoting health and wellness in the workplace, where people spend the majority of their time.
Enhancing Business Objectives
Workers health and safety in the workplace impacts their productivity, and productivity impacts the organization’s performance and competitiveness. Employers have increasingly started investing in health and turning to wellness programs to address unhealthy behaviors. Dr. Kelly stated that many employers have also come to believe wellness programs benefit health and productivity in the workplace.
According to the Mercer’s 2012 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, there has been an 80 percent increase in healthcare costs from 1999 to 2012, due largely to treating diseases such as diabetes, pulmonary disease and cancer. Employers are faced with the challenge of increasing healthcare costs against shrinking profit margins and increasing overseas competition. Dr. Kelly offered a new way of thinking about costs that incorporates four areas of opportunities: focusing on quality of healthcare, utilizing integrated practices, providing prevention and screening and offering centers of excellence.
Key Factors for Engagement
Dr. Kelly presented on the WellBAMA program, which she directs at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. WellBAMA is a wellness program that includes awareness and an educational outreach that provides recognition by status level. The program connects employees to resources, encourages goal setting and allows for personal growth in health and wellness. Motivation to continue with the program is maintained by providing financial incentives and documented success.
According to Dr. Kelly, there are key points that can be addressed to promote employee health management. Employers must measure what they plan to manage and assess health risks that are related to health costs. Exploring new strategies and developing a strategic framework is a way employers can save money. Employers should take the time to get to know their population, as well as their specific needs and risks. By following these guidelines, an environment can be created that allows movement toward a healthy workplace.
Importance of Incentives
According to the 2013 Towers Watson/National Business Group on Health Employer Survey on Purchasing Value in Health Care, financial incentives for wellness are on the rise. More than two-thirds of companies offer financial incentives to encourage participation in company wellness activities, which is up from just over half in 2010. More companies are also extending these incentives to spouses, 52 percent among the respondents surveyed offer incentives to employees. What’s more is that incentives are increasing each year: the maximum employees can earn today at companies offering incentives is $400, and in companies that include spouses, a family can earn over $900 by taking advantage of every incentive.
Dr. Kelly concluded her presentation by offering some key points on ways employers can provide incentives. Employers should be open to generating new ideas and looking at other examples that can be connected with their organization. Think “green” when considering incentives: money, gift cards and premium reductions are effective incentives. Since biometric screening is gaining popularity, provide measures of body weight and blood work for health screening. Employers must explore their options, considering incentives for providers as well as employees. Finally, evaluate what is effective for the organization so health promotion and wellness in the workplace can continue to grow.
Guest post by By K. Koprowski
Customized online wellness programming offers exciting, cost-effective ways to engage employees in your organization. Briana Boehmer, Director of 411Fit and a co-founder of Salus Corporate Wellness, presented a session titled “Blending Technology and Customization for Successful Well-Being Outcomes” at the 2013 Work and Well-Being Conference in Chicago.
Ms. Boehmer, with the input of her clients, has developed customized wellness programming that blends together onsite and online services to help employees accomplish both individual and team-based health objectives.
The 411Fit online portal offers fitness tracking, personal coaching, social networking, individual and team-based challenges, exercise and nutrition education, processes for designing programs and a robust feedback system. The technology provided by 411Fit.com can be customized for an organization’s unique culture and set of employees. As an experienced athlete herself, Ms. Boehmer explained, “I asked myself what made me successful,” drawing on her personal experience when she began to design her company’s technology.
Organizations frequently face the dilemma of finding the best way to engage every employee within the organization’s budget, resources and culture. Ms. Boehmer observed that personalized, web-based wellness software and services, such as journaling sites, digital measurement devices and exercise apps are “definitely cost-effective” and are gaining popularity. They provide benefits such as portability, automated data collection and predictive analytics and 24/7 interaction between coaches, clients and peers.
Technology’s predictive potential may even be one of its most powerful features, Ms. Boehmer suggested. It can analyze and predict which wellness tools will be most successful for a specific gender, age, region or industry. Organizations could use that data to plan effective, needs-targeted programs.
The available technology can also be integrated with more traditional onsite amenities and services such as personal trainers and classes to help employees achieve even greater success with their health goals. However, Ms. Boehmer noted that technology is not necessarily a “one-stop shop,” nor appropriate for every population; for example, older generations are less likely to use computers at home.
Combining 411Fit’s web-based technology with their clients’ onsite wellness initiatives has created high levels of employee engagement, goal achievement and program completion rates. Voluntary program participation rates can be raised by offering multiple engagement outlets, Ms. Boehmer told conference attendees. “There’s power in peer support online.” She described examples of successful, customized programs and explained how they provided creative solutions for a variety of organization types and user groups. The programs utilized a wide range of combinations of onsite and online services, including personal coaching, friendly competitions and games.
Blending online and onsite services can “reach employees where they’re at,” providing options for a range of personalities and ability levels. Organizations with multiple locations can also scale blended services for different groups of employees, as well as enhance accountability, improve analysis of wellness measures and offer users immediate, 24-hour interaction and feedback.
To determine whether blended programming may be right for an organization, Ms. Boehmer suggests organizations first examine their budgets and consider the needs of their members when deciding which wellness services should be offered. Organizations can then decide whether using a vendor for blended services would be appropriate.
Read more about Briana Boehmer and 411Fit here.
The content provided above is for informational purposes only. The inclusion of any product, service, vendor or organization does not imply endorsement, recommendation or approval by the American Psychological Association, the APA Center for Organizational Excellence or the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program.