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Dr. Matt Grawitch: May 2008 Archives

How many of us work for an organization that offers gifts for employees that hit important milestones? Five years? Ten years? If you don’t, then you are in the minority. According to a recent World-At-Work report, 86% of all organizations use length-of-service awards, by far the most popular type of recognition program.

And it doesn’t stop there. Organizations offer employees incentives to participate in wellness programs, they offer employee-of-the-month programs, and on and on. These are all designed to motivate employees to perform or to stay with the company. But do they really work?

According to Bob Nelson, who recently appeared in an episode of the Good Company Podcast, the answer is a resounding “NO!” Organizations waste countless amounts of money each year on recognition programs that have almost no effect on employees. If these programs really don’t work, then why do they waste their money? Answer: because they think that’s what employees want.

Though it may sound logical, the problem is that they never asked. Instead of finding out what employees actually value, and what is likely to motivate them, organizations spend an inordinate amount of money on these programs without considering that there might be more unique and innovative ways to get the desired effects. One recent example of an innovative program appeared in Employee Benefit News. Some organizations have begun to recognize that a small bonus or increase in the 401k plan or chintzy coffee mug is not likely to produce the desired effects. So, instead, they are beginning to offer…concierge services. Employees can have the oil changed in their car, have their dry cleaning picked up, and have other errands run, with little or no cost to either them or the organization.
Best of all, concierge services offer benefits that employees can use regularly. They don’t just get some coffee mug they’ll never use or a free lunch, but instead they have access to needed services without having to take time off. They provide employees with an increased sense of work-life balance along with the feeling that the organization values them. And, because such a program comes at a lesser cost than expensive bonuses, plaques, and lunches, it is a win-win all the way around. In this age of cutting costs and improving the bottom line, more small- and medium-sized organizations would do well to identify more innovative ways of showing employees that they value their contributions. This can easily be done with the most innovative strategy of all: just ask them!

I recently read an article on New Scientist. A new study found that parents who experience negative stress outcomes in the form of anxiety and depression also tend to have children that get sick more often. My first reaction was: Not surprising! In October 2007, the American Psychological Association conducted a poll and found that 48% of respondents reported that their stress level had increased over the past 5 years. Work was cited more than any other stressor, with 74% of respondents indicating that work was a source of stress for them. Money was #2 (73%). As more and more people are being asked to do more with less, demands increase, which subsequently increases stress levels. This can cause the negative consequences of stress (anxiety, depression, worry, irritability) to not only affect their work lives, but to spill over into their home life as well. Since children tend to model the behavior of their parents, “stressed out” parents can lead to “stresssed out” kids. This is problematic because research has consistently shown that high levels of stress have a negative impact on the immune system, which can then lead to increased experiences of illness.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because most households are dual-earner or single-parent households, parents are responsible for work demands and for getting their kids to where they need to be. Having one child may mean playing chauffeur, but it adds even more demands on parents’ time when they have two, three, or four children’s schedules to juggle. Subsequently, the more after-school and weekend activities that children participate in, the more demands on parents’ time outside of work. Though the culture has shifted from one of single-earner households to one of dual-earner households, the way we structure our family life, in terms of extra-curricular activities, hasn’t changed much. Parents are trying to be everything to everybody. The stress associated with this can increase if parents work non-traditional schedules, which has become more common. No longer is the typical schedule 9-5; down-time may only arise in the form of sleep, and sometimes there’s not even time for that.

So, parents are “stressed out” at work and “stressed out” with non-work demands as well. Because of all of these demands on their time, they tend to cut corners. They eat poorly, fail to get sufficient exercise and sleep, and engage in other unhealthy behaviors (which they model to their children).  Is it any wonder that parents are so stressed out, and that they have modeled this behavior for their children?