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Dr. Matt Grawitch: October 2009 Archives

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A few days ago, I came across an interesting article focusing on the dumbest practices used by U.S. companies. That got me thinking about some of the faulty assumptions that sometimes drive workplace initiatives that focus on employee health and well-being. So, I reflected on some of the postings on this blog and others, some of the summaries in the psychologically healthy workplace database, and some of my general experience working with organizations.

Through all of that, I generated a list of my top five faulty assumptions that can drive certain initiatives in organizations. Drum roll please!

  1. Assuming that what works in one organization will work in our organization: A whole lot is made of “best practices” within an industry. Organizations can receive recognition for their family-friendliness, work environment, or even for innovative practices that promote a psychologically healthy workplace. An organization that receives this type of recognition typically has made a strategic decision to invest in something meaningful to that organization and its employees. As a part of that strategic decision, the organization has created a structure and a culture that supports that investment. Other, less recognized, organizations may try to imitate the specific policies or practices of these recognized organizations, but unless those policies and practices are aligned with the structure and culture of the organization, those practices will not be nearly as successful. So, rather than trying to be as good as the next competitor, by offering the same types of workplace programs and initiatives, try to be different than your competitor by offering programs and initiatives that only your organization could offer.
  2. Assuming that the results of national studies apply to our employees: This is a common misconception that is easily propagated as more and more of these national studies are conducted. What are employees truly craving? Is it compensation? Is it work-life balance? Is it recognition? Is it job security? The answer, of course, all depends on who is doing the survey, when it is conducted, and who was surveyed, among other factors. If your organization’s initiatives are based on surveys that do not even assess your employees, you may want to re-think your approach to workplace initiatives. Instead of basing any initiative on the results of a national survey, try using national surveys as input into your own employee surveys.
  3. Assuming that one type of initiative will solve all of our problems: When all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. I have written about this issue recently with relation to employee engagement. But the same could be said for any type of initiative: work flexibility initiatives, wellness programs, training and development programs, and many, many others. The hallmark of a psychologically healthy workplace is that it offers a system activities and initiatives that promote a positive relationship between organizational effectiveness and employee well-being.
  4. Assuming that technology will make us more efficient: This is becoming more and more problematic as more and more workers have access to technology, especially mobile technology. The problem is that many employees don’t know how to effectively utilize that technology, which can actually be creating inefficiency within the system. You can’t just make the technology available to make workers’ lives more flexible or efficient, you also have to train them on how to effectively manage that technology (so the technology doesn’t end up managing them).
  5. Assuming that people want what we have to offer: This is a typical problem that results when the people at the top make decisions based primarily on their view from the top. Sometimes, senior leadership can come up with a great idea for improving an organization that would be very effective - if only the workers really bought into the initiative, if only the workers felt the initiative was worthwhile, and if only the initiative worked as well in practice as in theory. This is where effective communication and employee involvement mechanisms can be extremely useful tools. Vet your ideas before you spend the money implementing them. You’ll be glad you did.

So, these were my top five faulty assumptions that can lead to initiatives that produce less return on investment than expected. What are your thoughts? What others would you add to this list?

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