September 2015 Archives
“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” --- Abraham Maslow (1966)
This expression seems to be quite apropos to what has taken place in a lot – and I mean a lot – of modern organizations. Wellness programs have become the one-stop-shop for fixing all of your employees’ ills, with companies spending a record $693 per worker. Yet, many companies have found that they have put all their eggs into one not-so-beneficial basket, so companies began “incentivizing” participation, which is often met with mixed results.
But if incentives don’t work well for you, you might try another hammer that employees seem to be getting beaten with: gamification. If we gamify everything, from wellness programs to training to sales, employees will become more focused and engaged in their work, choosing to spend more effort and energy on these initiatives.
And if that doesn’t suit your fancy, one of the newest hammers is mindfulness, a favorite of companies like Aetna and Google. While there’s nothing wrong with the practice of meditation and mindfulness, companies are starting to treat it as a panacea for stress reduction, and in some cases, is creating a “cult of mindfulness.”
Yet, these three popular hammers all have two things in common in how they are implemented:
- They assume there is one best way to accomplish a desired goal.
- They put the onus squarely on the employee and remove any responsibility for employee ills on the work environment itself.
Instead, these solutions are often touted within organizations in which employees regularly work long hours and encounter a myriad of stressors that exist within the work environment. Hence, the goal seems to be to find ways to make people healthier, more motivated or more relaxed so they can navigate better the stressors that exist within the work environment, without having to put forth the effort to address issues that exist within the work environment.
Many organizations fail to take a systemic organizational development approach to assessing and truly solving underlying problems. When an annual employee survey suggests employees are stressed, the organization offers a mindfulness program or a stress management program and hopes it will address the problem. Yet, issues like stress, health and well-being are multifaceted and require multifaceted solutions.
When companies rely on initiatives like wellness programs or mindfulness to solve multifaceted problems, they are committing what is called the fundamental attribution error, in which they tend to assume the problem lies with an employee rather than looking at the environment and situational demands that produce the undesired outcomes. While it is true that employee health and well-being is influenced by characteristics of the person (e.g., their personality, competencies, resources and behaviors), the situation (i.e., work environment) has a profound impact as well. A failure to address one without addressing the other will, at best, result in decreased effectiveness for what we are trying to accomplish.
Instead, what we typically see is a new hammer that becomes popular, sometimes taking hold, sometimes becoming nothing but a fad – just like we see when it comes to the latest and greatest diet. Regardless of established effectiveness or return on investment, companies tend to adopt the approach until something new comes along and take hold, even if only for a short time.
And for employees, well, I’m reminded of the attempt at ironic humor found on t-shirts, hats and other trinkets: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
When young women come to me for career advice, they are generally just starting out in the professional world, or almost finished with school and want to discuss career paths in psychology. I talk about what it’s like to work in the field of industrial-organizational psychology and how to carve out research projects on healthy workplace topics. We also discuss the benefits of postgraduate education, leadership opportunities and long-term earning potential.
Two questions I wish more women would ask as they contemplate life after graduate school are, “How will my spouse or partner affect my career?” and “What type of workplace environment is going to be most supportive of my professional and personal goals?”
The reality for most women entering the workforce is that they will be launching their careers around the same time in their lives they’ll also be navigating marriage, balancing their partner’s professional ambitions and starting a family. A spouse who shares similar views on work and childcare responsibilities can make a big difference for women who want to flourish in a demanding career and have a fulfilling personal life.
Supportive workplace policies and leaders who understand the value of a healthy workplace help both men and women perform well in their jobs, which in turn benefits their families and organizations. This makes sense, because sure, it would be nice to have both a supportive partner in life as well as a supportive employer, but it’s not always simple to find either, let alone both.
Research has shown that the majority of us prefer egalitarian relationships, and this is what I find with most of the millennial women I mentor as well. In a study of the effect of workplace policies on the relationship preferences of young men and women, Pedulla and Thébaud (2015) found that while men and women have egalitarian attitudes about gender roles, if their companies do not offer supportive, family-friendly policies, men and women choose more traditional roles, as described in this recent New York Times article.
Many of us want partners who forge their own careers, who understand the realities women face in the workplace, and also share the household and childcare responsibilities equally. As professional millennial women, we want the best of both worlds, and we want the companies we work for to work with us so we can all succeed. In doing so, we perform better at work and everyone is happy. It’s a win-win.
More American women with advanced degrees are choosing to have both children and a career (Pew Research Center, 2015). The decision is no longer “either/or” as it was for some in previous generations, yet our workplace flexibility options and parental leave policies still lag behind both the times and other countries.
Are workplace norms and policies really limiting us from achieving gender equality in the workplace and the more equal relationships we want at home?
“Our choices are profoundly influenced by the cultural and institutional forces around us. We need to understand the real problem – that we lack the social and systemic supports that we need in order to realize our potential and share our talents with the world,” suggests Katrina Alcorn, author of the book Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink.
Something has to give in order for working parents to thrive at work and at home.
According to APA’s newly released Work-Life Survey, 51 percent of working Americans say their employer offers flexibility for when they work, and less than half report having flexible options in terms of the number of hours they work (43 percent), how many days per week they work (40 percent) and the location where they work (34 percent). Surprisingly, even fewer U.S. workers are tapping into work-life benefits, with just a quarter or fewer using work-life benefits once a month or more (APA, 2015).
APA’s Work-Life Survey also found that men are more likely than women to report frequent use of some work-life benefits, including child care resources, personal time off, flex schedules, paid leave, unpaid leave, life management support and phased transitions. Men were also more likely than women to say their employer offers many work-life benefits.
In some ways it’s easier to juggle work and family now than in earlier generations because there are more options. Yet not enough has changed – societal and workplace culture norms still set up an expectation that women should be responsible for the bulk of childcare and housework, leaving women feeling overwhelmed, burning out or opting out of the workforce all together.
Not only does the expectation persist, but, on average, women still do more of the childcare and housework, in addition to working. Mothers spend about 32 hours on childcare and housework a week, whereas fathers spend about 17, in addition to paid work (mothers spend about 21 hours a week on paid work, fathers spend an average of 37), according to the Pew Research Center.
Benefits for women to achieving greater equality at home include everything from better health and wellness to more fulfilling relationships. Yet men who strive for gender equality, those who take paternity leave or stay home with their children when they are sick, can also encounter a less receptive work environment and, in some cases, are stigmatized and “daddy tracked.”
In order for women to be successful in their careers, we don’t just need paid maternity leave and flexible workplace policies. We also need partners who have the same options and flexibility and are encouraged by organizational leaders to use them for everyone’s advantage.