Characteristics of a Team and Barriers to Effective Team Functioning

Businesspeople beginning meeting in office | Credit: Thomas Barwick
Businesspeople beginning meeting in office | Credit: Thomas Barwick

Back in 2010, I posted a short list titled, “Eight Common Problems Teams Encounter.” In it, I reposted the contents of what was shared on Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange (it’s now defunct).

I was never happy with that original list and, after looking through the book (Leading Teams: Pocket Mentor [2006]) that was adapted by the HBR Editors and cited in the HBR Answer Exchange post, I struggled for some time with what to do.

Rather than revising that 2010 post, I think it is necessary to write a new and improved article.

First, I believe it’s important to explain just what constitutes a team versus a group:

“The distinction between a group and a team is an important one. All teams are groups, but not all groups are teams. A group consists of people who work together but can do their jobs without one another. A team is a group of people who cannot do their jobs, at least not effectively, without the other members of their team” (Spector, 2012, p. 303).

A team — a type of group — has several important characteristics (Unsworth & West, 2000):

  1. Team members have shared goals in relation to their work.
  2. Team members interact with each other in order to achieve shared objectives.
  3. Team members have well­-defined and interdependent roles.
  4. Team members have an organizational identity as a team with a defined organizational function.

Secondly, the HBR Answer Exchange list of common problems teams face (I’ve uploaded a PDF of the original on my website) included a few problems that I felt should not have been on the list.

In searching for problems that teams face, I discovered professor Michael West’s (2008) list of barriers to effective teamwork that I believe is better and more comprehensive. Dr. West is Professor of Organizational Psychology at Lancaster University Management School. He has spent most of his career conducting research into factors that determine the effectiveness of individuals and teams at work.

Seven Barriers to Effective Team Functioning (West, 2008):

1. A lack of team purpose and tasks. “The only point of having a team is to get a job done, a task completed, a set of objectives met. Moreover, the tasks that teams perform should be tasks that are best performed by a team” (West, 2008, p. 308).

2. A lack of freedom and responsibility. Creating a team and failing to give them the freedom and authority to act is like teaching a person to ride a bicycle, giving them a bike, but then telling them they can ride only in the house (West, 2008).

3. Too many members or the wrong members. “Teams should be as small as possible to get the job done and no larger than about 6 to 8 people” (West, 2008, p. 308). It’s also crucial that “teams have the members with the skills they need to get the job done” (West, 2008, p. 308).

4. An individual-focused organization. “Teams are set up in many places in the organization but all of the systems are geared towards managing individuals. . .Creating team-based organizations means radically altering the structure, the support systems, and the culture” (West, 2008, p. 309).

5. Team processes are neglected rather than developed. Teams need to have clear objectives, meet regularly, participate in constructive debate about how to best serve client needs, share information with one another, coordinate their work, support each other, and review their performance and think about ways to improve it (West, 2008).

6. Directive instead of facilitative leaders. Leading a team is different from supervising one. Supervisors are directive and advice-giving. A leader of a team, instead, is facilitative and seeking. This leader’s role is “to ensure that the team profits optimally from its shared knowledge, experience, and skill” (West, 2008, p. 309).

7. Conflict with other teams. Ironically, the more cohesive and effective a team becomes, the more competitive and partisan they tend to be in their relationships with other teams throughout an organization. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that interteam cooperation is established and reinforced (West, 2008).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant

References

Donnellon, A. (2006). Leading teams: Pocket mentor. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Nguyen, S. (2010, December 17). Eight Common Problems Teams Encounter. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2010/12/17/eight-common-problems-teams-encounter/

Spector, P. E. (2012). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Unsworth, K. L. & West, M. A. (2000). Teams: The challenges of cooperative work. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (pp. 327-346). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

West, M. A. (2008). Effective teams in organizations. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (2nd ed; pp. 305-328). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Job Dissatisfaction and Mental Health

Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly
Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly

I was contacted by a journalist with The Guardian, a popular UK newspaper, for my thoughts about why having too little to do at work is bad for your mental health. I am reposting my responses below.

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated, at work similar to being overworked?

Answer: If we assume that having too little to do or being under-stimulated at work falls under the umbrella of boredom (Mann, 2007) and that there’s a relationship between boredom at work and employee mental well-being (Warr, 2005), and that mental health is comprised of many dimensions (two of which are subjective well-being and positive self-regard), then being bored at work (not enough to do or not stimulated) and being overworked are similar, albeit they occupy different points on the spectrum. With regard to being overworked, researchers have found that changes in job demands predict future burnout (Schaufeli, Bakker, & Van Rhenen, 2009).

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated at work, bad for your mental health? If so, why does this cause stress/poor mental health?

Answer: Related to my previous answer, being bored (having too little to do or being under-stimulated and when associated with poor mental well-being & poor positive self-regard) and being overworked can both be bad for a person’s mental health.

When we talk about an employee’s subjective well-being, it’s important to distinguish between “context-free” well-being and “domain-specific” well-being (Warr, 2005). A person’s well-being with respect to his or her job is a job-related “domain-specific” well-being (i.e., limited to the workplace & job). It’s also possible and we do see this happen, where it’s family-related “domain-specific” well-being. That is, situations in an employee’s family life/environment have a negative impact on his/her subjective well-being and the employee carries this into the workplace.

We can see how just these two streams in the “domain-specific” well-being can be challenging to separate within a person’s mental state of mind. Put it simply, we can take work stress home, but the reverse is also true, we can just as easily take home stress with us to work.

One very important note we need to remember is this: an employee’s job may influence his/her well-being, the employee’s well-being may impact how he/she perceives the job, or characteristics of the employee can determine well-being or perception of the job (Warr, 2005). Also critical to mental health are feelings that we have about ourselves as a person. In addition to subjective well-being is the concept of positive self-regard. We can think of positive self-regard in terms of a person’s self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-worth (Warr, 2005).

Question: What is the optimum level of work for good mental health?

Answer: There is no magic formula for what level of work would contribute to good mental health. As I have shared, the reason is because the factors that lead to good or poor mental health are many and they can be difficult to separate from other related factors (Warr, 2005).

That said, there are still things that organizations can do to help their employees stay engaged in their jobs.

In his book The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman (2014) shared that one key lesson to getting employees engaged in their work is to offer “opportunities for them to experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness on a daily basis.” He explained that employee autonomy is when workers have a sense of choice. Companies can promote employee autonomy by explaining the reason/logic when tasks are presented, by giving employees the flexibility about how and when a task is done, and by giving employees options on where they can do their work (e.g., telecommuting).

Takeaway: If we tie our discussion about boredom at work (i.e., having too little to do or being under-stimulated) as well as being overworked to mean being generally dissatisfied with a job, then there’s a strong connection between job dissatisfaction and mental health. Research suggests that an employee’s level of job satisfaction is an important factor influencing his or her health (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005). In analyzing nearly 500 studies involving over 250,000 employees, researchers have found a very “strong relationship between job satisfaction and both mental and physical health,” and that “dissatisfaction at work can be hazardous to an employee’s mental health and well-being” (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005, p. 108).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant

References

Faragher, E.B., Cass, M., & Cooper, C.L. (2005). The relationship between job satisfaction and health: a meta-analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 62(2), 105-112. doi:10.1136/oem.2002.006734

Friedman, R. (2014). The best place to work: The art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace. New York: Perigee.

Mann, S. (2007, February). Boredom at work. The Psychologist, 20, 90-93. Retrieved from https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-20/edition-2/boredom-work

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(7), 893-917. doi:10.1002/job.595

Warr, P. (2005). Work, well-being and mental health. In J. Barling, E. K. Kelloway, & M. R. Frone (Eds.), Handbook of work stress (pp. 547-574). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Don’t Waste Time Trying To Discredit Others

better-to-know-quote

I love this quote:

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” – James Thurber

In Career Architect Development Planner (4th ed.), in the 19 Career Stallers and Stoppers section is the entry for “Blocked Personal Learner,” Lombardo and Eichinger discussed people who resist learning new behaviors.

Whether in my personal or professional life, when I observe myself and others around me, one of the biggest personal and professional missteps I witness is being a blocked learner. More than blocking learning, I think of it as repelling learning — like repelling it as if it were a mosquito or bug.

My own life lesson has taught me that when you think you know it all, that’s when you know the least. Ironically, the more formal education I receive, the more humble I’ve become. Truth be told, I was not always humble, just ask my wife. My Ph.D. does not (nor should it) signify that I know everything about everything, or everything about many things, or even everything about a few things. Indeed, my Ph.D. really just means that (1) I know a lot about a very specific and small area and (2) I can write fairly well and make an argument for an idea, at least well enough for three other Ph.D. professors to approve my dissertation.

“The funny thing is: The more I know, the more I know how much I really don’t know.” —Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

I once knew a young Asian physician, fresh out of medical school, who was so proud–and made sure others knew–that he was now a medical doctor that I swore he should have had “M.D.” (for medical doctor) tattooed on his forehead!

On professional networking sites, like LinkedIn, I now observe, much to my dismay, individuals going out of their way to put others down and/or intentionally trying to harm other people’s professional reputations. It’s shocking and very sad how “ugly” some people with (and sometimes even those without) advanced degrees treat others! It’s also not surprising that the individuals being targetted are quite successful in their fields.

Lombardo and Eichinger (2006) wrote that three problems for blocked learners are: (1) they are closed (unwilling) to learning new skills and methods, (2) they do not seek input from others (why would they since they think they know everything already), and (3) they are not insightful about themselves.

Two remedies Lombardo and Eichinger recommended for blocked learners:

1. Watch other people’s reaction to you. Observe the reactions of other people to the things you’re doing and saying. It’s easier to do this in the real, physical world than when you’re online. For instance, if others on professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, are upset, irked by, or tired of the offenders’ relentless criticisms and put-downs, they may simply ignore or tune the offenders out or unfollow them. Thus, the offenders will never know that their behaviors turned others off.

2. Signal that you’re open to and interested in what other people have to say. Here, the blocked learners are so closed off from learning that they really don’t care how they are perceived by others. In fact, communication really becomes one-way for them. That is, the offenders use professional networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn) as an educational pulpit, where they view themselves as the expert, know-it-all “professors,” and their role is to teach/educate others. And, they go out of their way to point out flaws, mistakes, bogus, and/or unconvincing stories and writings of other professionals (at least according to their own views and biases). For these offenders, their way to improving yourself and the workplace is the only correct path and they are angry, even offended, that other professionals (in other fields) dare to talk about or share different ways to improving yourself and your workplace.

It’s sad to see how much time these offenders waste tracking other people’s conversations on professional networking sites and then spending time to try to jump in and discredit them. As a father to a toddler and someone lucky enough to have a full-time job, I pose this rhetorical question, “Who has time to do that?” I mean really? In my free time, I like to spend time with my wife and daughter and go the park and play on the swings. I don’t have time nor do I want to spend time trying to find people to discredit. That must be so time-consuming, wasteful, and tiresome!

I often share with my wife and friends that if we’re busy living our own lives and doing our best, we will not have time to worry about what other people are doing! When you’re happy with your life, you won’t have time or energy to worry about other people or feel the need to talk bad about them.

Thus, in attempting to discredit other professionals who, in the offenders’ eyes, should not be in the business of writing about or sharing personal and professional improvement tips, they (the offenders) end up discrediting themselves and revealing, for all the world to see, their bitterness and resentment of someone else’s success.

As I wrote in an earlier post titled, “Don’t Have To Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves”: engaging in these types of negative, mean-spirited behaviors (of putting others down) shines a very bright and unflattering light on your character, or lack of one.

Takeaway: Don’t waste your life and your precious time trying to discredit others. Your way to improving yourself and the workplace is not the only path. Be humble and open to learning from others. Focus on being your absolute best at work and at home. When you are busy living your own life and doing your best, you will not have time or energy to worry about what other people are doing.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant

References

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2006). Career Architect Development Planner (4th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Nguyen, S. (2016, January 1). Don’t Have To Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2016/01/01/dont-have-to-put-others-down-to-feel-better-about-ourselves/

Why It’s Necessary To Fight Work Stress And How To Do It

Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak
Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak

A writer asked for my thoughts about why it is necessary to fight work stress and how to do it. Here’s my response:

Why We Must Combat Work Stress

There are many work-related problems that crop up as a result of work stress. These are similar to stress experienced outside of the workplace (i.e., involving physical, psychological, or behavioral reactions). Employees complain about and/or experience sleep disorders, inability to concentrate or focus, feeling exhausted or burned out, feeling irritable, engaging in arguments or conflicts with coworkers or supervisors, or withdrawing and isolating from others. As mentioned in the “Mental Health at Work” series, if work/job stress is prolonged, frequent, or intense, individuals are at higher risk for psychological problems, such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, panic attacks, or even PTSD. Collectively, these problems, if left unchecked, contribute to larger organizational issues, such as increased absenteeism, medical/disability cost, high turnover, reduced productivity, etc. Indeed, work stress is a serious and growing problem that harms employees and organizations (Quillian-Wolever & Wolever, 2003).

How to Combat Work Stress

It is easier to make a case for why we need to combat work stress than it is to go about combating work stress. Simply stated, it’s hard to manage stress effectively.

For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a resource titled, “Coping With Stress at Work” that suggests 7 steps to managing stress in general (e.g., track your stressors, develop health responses, etc.).

However, what that particular resource and many other resources about combating/managing stress fail to point out is that managing work stress is multifaceted and involves individually-targeted as well as organizationally-targeted interventions. Many resources only touch on the individual’s initiative to manage his/her own stress. That is, it’s about how individuals can take steps to manage their own stress in the workplace.

There are different views about what contributes to work stress. Some say it has to do with worker characteristics (or qualities relating to the worker), while others say it has to do with the working conditions (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005).

What we need to do is think about interventions for work stress in terms of levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary [Leka & Houdmont, 2010]). The primary intervention targets the source of the work stress (i.e, the design, management, and organization of work). When we talk about how workers can better respond to and manage stress, that’s the secondary intervention. Secondary prevention intervention (often called stress management) is about changing the ways that individuals respond to risks or job stressors (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005). Finally, there’s the tertiary intervention that provides remedial support for problems that have already manifested (Randall & Nielsen, 2010).

For an excellent reference on the three levels of interventions (primary, secondary, and tertiary) see the article, “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3).” And for a comprehensive understanding, check out all three booklets in the Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (cited in the links below).

But I don’t want to complicate things too much by talking about the different levels of interventions, so I’ll leave you with some tips for how to fight/manage stress at the individual level (targeting the secondary intervention level).

9 TIPS FOR COPING WITH STRESS [secondary intervention level]
(taken directly from Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series – Booklet 1).

  1. Learn to identify the signs your body is giving you (increased heart rate, clammy hands, difficulties in concentrating, etc.) as this will help you do what is necessary to reduce stress.
  2. Learn to identify what increases your stress; by acting on the causes of stress, you can better control it.
  3. Learn to delegate – don’t shoulder all responsibilities on your own.
  4. Establish a list of priorities as this will help you to better manage your time.
  5. Suggest changes at work, talk about irritating situations with your colleagues and supervisor, and try to find solutions that are mutually acceptable.
  6. Develop a good support network and recognize that help is sometimes necessary to get through hard times.
  7. Participate in leisure activities. Apart from helping you relax, such activities will help “recharge your batteries.”
  8. Exercise. In addition to the obvious health benefits, exercise will help you sleep better.
  9. Reduce your consumption of stimulating foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, sugar or alcohol.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant

References

American Psychological Association (APA). Coping With Stress at Work. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx

Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., Frone, M. R. (2005). Handbook of work stress. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (Booklet 1, 2, 3). http://www.cgsst.com/eng/publications-sante-psychologique-travail/trousse-la-sante-psychologique-au-travail.asp

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series. “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3)”. Retrieved from http://hrcouncil.ca/hr-toolkit/documents/doc115-395.pdf

Leka, S., & Houdmont, J. (2010). Occupational health psychology. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Quillian-Wolever, R., & Wolever, M. (2003). Stress management at work. In L. E. Tetrick & J. C. Quick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 355-375). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Randall, R., & Nielsen, K. (2010). Interventions to Promote Well-Being at Work. In D. Leka & J. Houdmont (Eds.), Occupational health psychology (pp. 88-123). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Book Review: Leaders Ready Now

Leaders Ready Now_Book Cover

NOTE: For this book review, I intentionally and excessively quoted the authors throughout the post. I do this for two reasons: (1) I prefer to have the authors words speak for themselves rather than me interpreting, generalizing, or inadvertently misinterpreting their intent, and (2) It helps you, the readers, see the quality of their work/their writing.

Leaders Ready Now is a book about preparing your leaders faster.

“DDI’s global data suggests that when organizations look to their benches to find ready leaders for key assignments or promotions, half the time no one is there” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 279).

From the Introduction: “It’s a book about how to grow great leaders. . . . Those who feel their leaders are growing at a satisfactory pace will not be inspired [by this book]. This book will be useful only if you feel it is time to take bold steps to prepare your leaders for bigger challenges—more quickly, more continuously, and fully enough so that they are ready—ready to lead in the competitive, chaotic world that we have come to know as the new normal” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. ii).

The authors (Matthew J. Paese, Audrey B. Smith, and William C. Byham) all work at Development Dimensions International (DDI). Dr. Paese is the Vice President of DDI’s Succession and C-Suite Services, Dr. Smith is Senior Vice President for DDI’s Talent Diagnostic Solutions, and Dr. Byham is DDI’s founder and chairman.

Development Dimensions International (DDI) says its does one thing really well — identifying and growing leaders. Founded in 1970 by industrial/organizational psychologists William C. Byham and Douglas W. Bray, DDI works with clients from all over the world and “major corporations make crucial promotion and placement decisions for more than 3,000 senior executives each year using [DDI’s] assessment process.”

The main premise to this Leaders Ready Now leadership development book is not that your company needs to have (or have more or better) tools, technology, or processes, but rather that there’s an absence of energy. Paese, Smith, and Byham approach the topic of accelerating leadership growth from a very different angle than other books. They maintain that if we’re not careful, the same tools and processes that we’ve set up to develop our organizations’ leaders may, in fact, rob us of the energy necessary to grow our leaders!

And if that isn’t frustrating enough, consider this: Although corporations have and continue to invest billions into readying its next generation of leaders, by all account and measures, leadership readiness has sharply declined.

Reading and following the recommendations outlined in Leaders Ready Now is almost like hiring DDI to help you with your leadership development process and program, only much less costly. These same three authors co-wrote Grow Your Own Leaders in 2002 to “help you understand and implement systems that will identify talent and develop the high-potential people your organization needs to grow and prosper” (Byham, Smith, & Paese, 2002, p. vii). Leaders Ready Now follows up with how to grow your own leaders more and faster, and prepare them to thrive in a complex world.

But readying leaders now doesn’t mean cramming more into our already frenzied organizations and lives or bombarding the minds of potential leaders. Instead, it’s about infusing energy into your efforts. “The most fundamental barrier to growing leaders quickly is a lack of energy, and that energy can be generated by boldness—your boldness” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. vi).

5 Reasons Why Leadership Acceleration Programs Fail:

1. Your processes are draining/sapping energy. “It is not the process itself that is failing—it is the absence of energy to fuel it. Without energy, any processes you put in place will be unsustainable” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. viii).

2. There’s no “why.” “For management, the why is the business case for acceleration. In the absence of a strong one, it is difficult to convince senior executives to take any risks (much less big ones) with development” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. ix).

3. You’re doing things to leaders rather than with them. “If you aim to prepare more leaders—and do it more quickly—you must put them in the game, and much sooner than what might feel comfortable. You must play with them, learning and growing together, faster than you otherwise would” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. x).

4. You are keeping your own growth to yourself. “Growth is an effect that cascades from leaders to teams, from the CEO down. . . . For the energy of growth to become infectious, people at the top must model it. . . . Modeling growth is displaying experimentation with new approaches and hungrily gathering feedback so that the experimentation can iterate with a positive arc” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xi).

5. Your company has an unhealthy relationship with failure. “Your senior leadership team’s orientation and response to failure will either catapult or kill your acceleration efforts. . . . Leaders in rapid-growth mode will, by design, face situations that test their mettle. But if the expectation is that they need to succeed in each instance, risk taking will soon be strangled, and growth along with it. To learn and grow quickly, they will need to struggle through the ambiguity, discomfort, and loss of failed attempts, and come back again to try different, hopefully better ways. With the right support before, during, and after their experiences, your leaders will gain the insight and capability needed to be ready for larger assignments” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xii).

I really like what Paese, Smith, and Byham (2016) wrote: “Don’t worry—we won’t be promising a silver-bullet solution or warning that you can avoid disaster only by adopting our unique and perfect formula. You don’t need us—not really. Everything you need to accelerate the growth of leadership is already inside your organization” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. iv).

“Tools and technology do not grow leaders. Leaders grow leaders. . . . While the talent-management industry has poured incalculable resources into the advancement of tools and technology, the muscles of human effort for growing leaders have atrophied. It seems the more we invest in things, the less adept we are at investing in each other” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. v).

The Six Acceleration Imperatives

DDI Acceleration Imperatives

The key to remember about the Six Acceleration Imperatives is that you don’t need to be great in all six areas in order to make significant gains. You can still be “good” in several while concentrating on one or two areas. Paese, Smith, and Byham (2016) stated that many of DDI’s most successful clients actually select only one or two Acceleration Imperatives to focus on.

1. Commit: Adopt acceleration as a business priority. Senior management must sanction and actively own and participate in leadership acceleration efforts.

“The most successful business strategies identify the few most-critical priorities and relentlessly pursue them. But somehow, leadership strategies don’t seem to receive the same rigor” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 23).

2. Aim: Define leadership success for your business context. Successful organizations transform their competency model into a tool that management and individual leaders use to direct their efforts to where the business is heading, how the context is changing, and what they have to do to be prepared for it.

Make sure your success profile measures and contains four components: business and organizational knowledge, experience, competencies, and personal attributes required for success (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016).

3. Identify: Make efficient, accurate decisions about whom to accelerate. Turn talent reviews into a talent investment by ensuring that it is done routinely, as part of business discussions. Use accurate data to isolate the most critical talent gaps, identify the individuals who have what it takes to grow as leaders, and have the resources to ensure that it happens quickly so leaders can be deployed where the need is greatest.

“One of the most consequential actions you can take as you work to accelerate leadership growth is to integrate your conversations about leadership talent into your senior management team’s business discussions” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 84).

“In a talent review senior leaders must understand that the identification of potential is a decision to invest in growth, not a determination of readiness for promotion” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 91).

4. Assess: Accurately evaluate readiness gaps and give great feedback. Successful companies are able to leverage talent data to allow top executives “to see how big bets (e.g., placing a young leader into a major leadership role) will play out and precisely how they can craft accelerated development plans that will make them pay off” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xvii).

“Your goal is not simply to accurately describe each individual, but to do so in a way that enables specific, objective conversation among your senior leaders” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 115).

5. Grow: Make the right development happen. It is crucial that practice and experimentation become routine and are applied. Help emerging leaders ignite the application of leadership approaches that are necessary to business success.

“[L]earning is not the same as growth. Learning becomes growth only when it is sustained and applied. And to convert leaders from not ready to ready now, growth must happen consistently” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 161).

“As you take action to cultivate your leaders’ skills, make sure they are specific skills your business needs, now and in the near future” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 165).

“The first lever to pull in making competency development happen faster is to ensure that the learner understands the Key Actions in the target competency and that he or she focuses on the highest-payoff Key Actions. This makes feedback, training, coaching, practice, and ongoing measurement much more precise and meaningful” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, pp. 166-167).

6. Sustain: Aggressively manufacture the energy for growth. Your acceleration efforts must last and this only occurs when you build passion, common purpose, and devotion to ensure that growth happens.

“Make acceleration a discipline—a continual process that evolves and grows with each business cycle” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 280).

Each organization is unique so you’ll want to select a starting point (i.e., pick one or two Acceleration Imperatives) and make progress by “leveraging strengths and building in the areas that will create the greatest return within [your] unique business context” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xviii).

“The ready now mind-set means continually looking forward, scanning the environment to anticipate the next challenge, and working with discipline to prepare for it” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 283).

At first glance, Leaders Ready Now seems deceptively simple and easy to read, thanks to its clean layout and many colorful tables, figures, and graphics to illustrate and reinforce the crucial concepts and processes. But make no mistake. This is a handbook that requires you to take your time and really study it. Indeed, readying your leaders means making an investment in doing it right.

I wish I had the Leaders Ready Now book when I was working on designing the succession planning and high-potential development process for my organization. It would have saved me so much time, and spared me the stress and anxiety of gathering and organizing disparate and often unreliable information scattered online and in an assortment of research articles and books.

Leaders Ready Now is an incredible book written by three industrial/organizational psychologists at Development Dimensions International (one of the most respected leadership development consultancies in the world). The book is packed with clear, useful, and (perhaps most importantly) practical suggestions for growing better leaders, and growing them faster. Highly recommended!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Byham, W. C., Smith, A. B., & Paese, M. J. (2002). Grow your own leaders: How to identify, develop, and retain your leadership talent. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Paese, M. J., Smith, A. B., & Byham, W. C. (2016). Leaders ready now: Accelerating growth in a faster world. Pittsburg, PA: DDI Press.

Disclosure: I received Leaders Ready Now as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Social Media And Its Impact On Working Professionals

Woman and social network concept | Credit: Petar Chernaev
Woman and social network concept | Credit: Petar Chernaev

I was contacted by a freelance journalist with the BBC for my thoughts about what social media has taken away from working professionals. I am reposting my response below (in a “Question and Answer” or “Q & A” format).

Reporter Question: What do you think social media has taken away from us? In terms of taken away from working professionals.

My Answer: One key thing I believe social media takes away (or we allow it to take away) from us is the ability to self-filter. It is too easy to post a quick one-word or one-sentence thought or vent to express our beliefs, our joys, our anger or frustrations at anything and at any given moment. The ramifications, especially as they apply to working professionals, (whether you’re an executive or a clerk) is that posting unfiltered contents online for the world to see, read, and/or hear about means that our social lives are now dangerously intertwined with our professional/business lives. And make no mistake, just because you’re “off the clock” from your paid job does not lessen the risks of getting yourself into trouble by posting things on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media sites.

Reporter Question: Are people vilified for their views? Are they held in check for their political opinions? Does this stop people really expressing themselves? Has social media muted our opinions rather than giving us a platform to express ourselves?

My Answer: I would argue that, rather than social media muting our opinions and our ability to express those opinions, it has, in fact, AMPLIFIED it to the nth degree. We have so many avenues through which we can record our views/opinions and there really are not many checkpoints to prevent us from writing/posting contents that might later prove to be extremely detrimental (personally and professionally) to ourselves and/or others.

Reporter Question: What’s the cost of all the self promotion that goes on in social media?

My Answer: The cost of not self-censoring/self-filtering is that anyone can get themselves in hot water. The other thing I see is that too much self-promotion means that sometimes, attention is paid to whoever is the loudest, flashiest self-promoter. For example, there are many brilliant industrial/organizational psychologist who are academics and who spend significant portions of their lives and careers in research and writing for academic journals. Because these professionals, by and large, are not big self-promoters, their works tend to not be recognized by the public and the news outlets. It is only when business professors, like Adam Grant or Bob Sutton, write great books that translate research into applicable business principles and practices and then have book publishers promote their works on social media that they become “known.”

Reporter Question: Are we scared to over-share? Where has this fear come from?

My Answer: I think we should all be very scared to overshare and those who aren’t scared should be very afraid. We share way too much of ourselves and our families online. People post pictures of their families and small children and talk about where their kids go to school, what their teachers’ and classmates names are, where the school is located, or that they’re on vacation hundreds or thousands of miles away, or they’ll overshare about their medical problems or surgeries. What these people have done is to freely give away important information about themselves and their loved ones to complete strangers online. This is how identity thieves and other perpetrators get your information or find out where you live and where your children attend school. I have heard about a person who posted on Facebook that she was away enjoying her vacation. Thieves broke into her home because one of the men saw her social media posting and knew that she wasn’t home.

Reporter Question: Has social media actually taken away our freedom of expression? Because we want to be liked by everyone so we self censor?

My Answer: I believe there’s actually less self-censoring because of the ubiquitous nature of social media. With our insatiable demand for short/witty/shocking infotainment-type of news bites and short video clips, there tends to be more weight/value placed on (1) being first to post anything, and (2) posting something that shocks and/or entertains. Because of this first-to-publish mentality, we can see why we’re less inclined to self-censor because we’re in such a hurry to produce something (anything) that’s funny or shocking.

Reporter Question: And if you do over-share? How are we treated? Can posting something “inappropriate” get you fired? Or worse?

My Answer: This has absolutely happened — that is, individuals posting something “inappropriate” which resulted in them getting fired from their jobs. Just Google, “posting something inappropriate and getting fired” or “employee fired over Facebook post” and see how many hits you’ll get!

I’ll end with this —

Many young adults do not support the use of social media in the hiring and firing decisions, and instead endorse a “very liberal view of the types of material that people should be able to post online without the threat of job termination” (Drouin, O’Connor, Schmidt, & Miller, 2015, p. 127).

But, regardless of how one may feel about it, the consequences are real and can negatively affect an individual’s professional life and career. In fact, it has even acquired a not-so-friendly name — “Facebook Fired” — whereby employees are terminated from their jobs because of posts by them or even of them on social media (Drouin, O’Connor, Schmidt, & Miller, 2015).

“[T]his generation of upcoming workers (young adults) must be informed that regardless of their opinions of the fairness of these policies [i.e., using social media in hiring and firing decisions], as it currently stands, their short-term social media use could have a long-term effect on their future careers” (Drouin, O’Connor, Schmidt, & Miller, 2015, p. 128).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Reference

Drouin, M., O’Connor, K. W., Schmidt, G. B., & Miller, D. A. (2015). Facebook fired: Legal perspectives and young adults’ opinions on the use of social media in hiring and firing decisions. Computers in Human Behavior, 46, 123-128.

Cost of Stress on the U.S. Economy Is $300 Billion? Says Who?

Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey
Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey

In 2011, I wrote an article about the true cost of job stress. In that article, I cited Dr. Rebecca Goldin (a Professor at George Mason University and Director of STATS.org) throughout and shared Dr. Goldin’s observations about the American Institute of Stress’ baseless claim of the $300 billion price tag of stress on the U.S. economy.

Today’s 2016 article is a supplement to the 2011 article, and includes additional information and supporting references.

First, the original URL link to Dr. Goldin’s “Counting the Costs of Stress” article on the stats.org website is no longer valid. I’ve reached out to Dr. Goldin to see if her article is posted elsewhere but did not hear back from her. Luckily, I had saved a PDF copy of the article and have posted it to my own website. Citations to Dr. Goldin’s 2004 article will now to point to a PDF of the article [hosted on my own website] rather than to an invalid URL on the stats.org website.

Second, I’ve located a copy of Dr. Paul Rosch’s 2001 newsletter in which he explained his rationale for how he arrived at the $300 billion price tag. According to Dr. Rosch (2001), via the American Institute of Stress, job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs.

Rosch also wrote in the International Stress Management Association newsletter (2001): “Job stress is estimated to cost American industry $300 billion a year from absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, workers compensation awards and other legal expenses, direct medical and insurance costs, etc.”

In his 2001 Health and Stress newsletter, Dr. Rosch wrote [emphasis added for readability]:

Job stress is estimated to cost American industry in excess of $300 billion a year. When [Dr. Rosch] started writing about this subject over twenty years ago the price tag for job stress was pegged at $150 billion annually and ten years ago it was claimed to be $200 billion. The $300 billion figure posted on our [American Institute of Stress] website has attracted a large number of inquiries over the past several years, particularly from reporters. Most people want to know if this is based on a formula or series of calculations with scientific underpinnings that have statistical significance as opposed to a personal estimate that was picked out of thin air. The answer is as follows: In 1979, Albrecht postulated an annual 4 percent rate of absenteeism and a 5 percent turnover rate in a company with 1000 employees. He assumed that 2 percent of all absences and turnovers were due to stress and that it would cost $1000 for recruitment and training for each turnover. In addition, there would be a 5 percent need for overstaffing to compensate for associated problems. Based on these figures, which were considered to be quite conservative at the time, he estimated that the hidden costs of stress to U.S.companies were $150 billion annually. That was over two decades ago and absenteeism and turnover rates have now almost doubled as have their expenses.”

Rosch added that Albrecht’s calculations did not include the cost of accidents, diminished productivity, direct health insurance, medical, legal and workers compensation costs.

It’s important to point out that Rosch incorrectly explained in his newsletter that Albrecht used a company with 1,000 employees. It was actually 2,000 people (1986, p. 128).

Third, let’s take a deeper dive into how Dr. Karl Albrecht came up with the $150 billion price tag for stress. This passage from Albrecht’s book (1986 [paperback edition]) is especially worth noting:

“Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation. That’s what I [Albrecht] have done (brazenly) in this section. As an intellectual challenge . . . let’s make some crude assumptions about stress effects in a hypothetical business organization and see what the bottom line impact might be” (p. 128).

Albrecht’s hypothetical organization in 1979:

Size: 2,000 people
Sales: $60 million/year
Profit: 5% = $3 million/year
Avg. salary (gross avg. for all employees): $6.00/hour
Personnel cost (salary + overhead costs): $100/person-day
Absentee rate (excluding vacation): 4% = 10 days/person-year
Turnover rate (assume stable workforce size): 5% = 100 people/year
Turnover cost (advertising, hiring, processing, etc.) $1,000/person

Albrecht explained that he took a conservative estimate in determining absenteeism (4%), turnover (5%), and personnel costs ($100/person-day).

For the 4% absenteeism rate, Albrecht speculated that 2% came from unavoidable disabilities and 2% came from stress. “In this 2% figure we include any genuine illness that is stress-induced as well as effects of life stress that may originate outside the job [emphasis added]” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

For the 5% turnover rate, Albrecht speculated that 3% was the result of retirement and voluntary (i.e. quitting) and involuntary turnover (i.e. fired). The other 2% turnover is assumed to arise from stress-related causes which includes “life stress originating outside the job [emphasis added] that interferes with the person’s ability or inclination to remain on the job” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

Albrecht also added an overstaffing ratio (5%). “5% of the work force (sic), or 100 people, are on the payroll because of the reduced performance of the others” 1986, p. 131). He justified this overstaffing ratio in this manner: “if a large proportion of people experience stress levels that degrade their performance capabilities, then we will need more people to get a given amount of work done — and to achieve a given level of sales and profits in our hypothetical company — than we otherwise would” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 131).

And if that weren’t enough, Albrecht tacked on the cost of antisocial acts (“theft, sabotage, deliberate waste or breakage, ‘invisible’ slow downs, and the like”) [Albrecht, 1986, p. 131]. For these antisocial acts (e.g., theft of a machine and “temper tantrum that results in a broken window or a damaged typewriter” (p. 131), Albrecht admitted that “we have no way of knowing which of these costs are stress-linked and which are simply isolated events [emphasis added]” (1986, p. 131).

The result looks like this for stress-linked personnel costs according to Albrecht:

Stress-linked absenteeism: $1 million/year
Stress-linked turnover: $40,000/year
Performance degradation (overstaffing cost): $2.5 million/year
Antisocial acts: $20,000/year
TOTAL $3,560,000/year

Even though Rosch might not have come up with the $300 billion price tag “out of thin air,” the source (Albrecht’s book) from which he based his calculations is quite unconvincing. In fact, Albrecht even admitted as much. Despite his own initial warning to not guess or speculate a dollar amount on the cost of stress, Albrecht marched right into speculation and guesswork.

Albrecht’s original estimate/guesstimate of cost of stress on organizations (1979) was derived from taking a hypothetical firm and extrapolating the cost of stress per person for that firm to 80 million U.S. workers: $1,780 (total stress cost divided by number of employees) x 80 million = $142.4 billion (“a national cost figure for stress-induced loss of effectiveness and efficiency approaching $150 billion no longer seems unbelievable” [Albrecht, 1986, pp. 132-133]).

So Rosch cited Albrecht’s $150 billion price tag from 1979, then modified that original amount (sometime around 2001) by doubling the $150 billion to $300 billion, and (almost) everyone (the general public, the media, writers/authors, professors, and researchers) jumped onboard and accepted it as a certainty.

The undeniable truth is this: Two men made up those numbers ($150 billion & $300 billion) in an attempt to guesstimate the cost of stress. Albrecht, the first man in 1979, “brazenly” made lots of “crude assumptions” and came up with an arbitrary number as an “intellectual challenge.” Roughly two decades later, Rosch, the second man, then based his calculations off the “crude assumptions” of the first (Albrecht). Thus, whatever number Rosch arrived at is pointless because it does not have anything to stand on. Albrecht offered sage advice in his book: “Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation.” Unfortunately, no one, including Albrecht himself, followed that nugget of wisdom.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

The American Institute of Stress. Workplace Stress. Retrieved from http://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/

Albrecht, K. (1979). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Albrecht, K. (1986). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. STATS.org.

International Stress Management Association (ISMA-USA). (2001) Newsletter. Vol. 3. Issue 1. [PDF]

Rosch, P. J. (2001, March). The quandary of job stress compensation. Health and Stress, 1-8.

Book Review – Psychology and Work: Perspectives on Industrial and Organizational Psychology

psychology and work textbook cover

NOTE: I am reviewing this I/O psychology textbook from a reader’s perspective (i.e., the student’s/learner’s point of view) and not from an instructor’s perspective.

From the very first few pages, I could tell that Psychology and Work is a refreshingly different I/O psychology textbook. I was immediately drawn to the highly readable and clear writing styles of the three authors. The book reads as though I were sitting and listening to them present in a classroom. In the preface, the authors wrote that they “set out to create a book that would reflect [their] enthusiasm for the field as well as [their] love of both teaching and researching the many important issues involved in I/O psychology” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016). I believe they succeeded in doing just that and more.

For starters, let’s take the introduction to and history of I/O psychology — which is typically quite boring and dry when presented in other I/O psychology textbooks. In the Psychology and Work text, the authors walked the readers through the two major areas of I/O psychology (namely, industrial psychology and organizational psychology). Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2016) explained that “Industrial psychology and organizational psychology merged many decades ago, such that there is no longer a separate ‘industrial’ or ‘organizational’ psychology. This is because a dichotomy between the two areas is neither accurate nor useful. Both are concerned with the psychology of work, and any separation of the two is a bit artificial. But more importantly, concepts from both industrial and organizational psychology inform one another” (p. 5).

I love that! What an explanation to ensure that students don’t confuse or continue to wonder about the distinction between the two areas of I/O psychology.

Among the things I found engaging about this I/O psychology textbook is a mention of how change management connects to and falls under Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology:

“Change management is a specialization within I/O psychology that is referred to as Organization Development (OD)” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 526).

Although I applaud the authors for connecting change management to I/O psychology, I disagree with them that change management is referred to as organization development (OD). Organization development (OD) is sometimes incorrectly used to also mean change management (Cummings & Worley, 2009). However, organization development is a subspecialty in industrial and organizational (I/O) psychology (Muchinsky, 2006; SIOP, 2016). Change management actually belongs under the domain of organization development (Cummings & Worley, 2009). Thus, it would have been more accurate to say that organization development (OD) is a specialization within I/O psychology and within OD is an area called change management.

For more, read my article on the link between Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology, Organization Development (OD), and Change Management.

The authors of Psychology and Work nicely linked change management to I/O psychology:

“Planning, implementing, and monitoring change is a place where I/O psychologists can add value to organizations” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 526).

“In the news media, organizational change is often portrayed as revolutionary (as opposed to incremental) and as directly attributable to the actions of specific individuals, most notably a new CEO, or a few heroic individuals. . .In contrast, the I/O psychology literature…has generated a large body of literature describing the ingredients of successful change. What this literature suggests is that the success of a change effort is ultimately the result of how change recipients — those employees who are affected by the change — receive it. . .Given the importance of the human element in successful planning and implementation of change, I/O psychology has a lot to contribute to organizational change management” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, pp. 545-546).

Another area I appreciated was Psychology and Work’s chapter (Ch. 12) on stress and occupational health psychology. Many I/O psychology textbooks either ignore or fail to cover the field of occupational health psychology, opting instead to talk about stress & worker well-being, worker stress, or stress management (the exception is Spector’s Industrial and Organizational Psychology which devotes an entire chapter to occupational health psychology). Occupational health psychology (OHP), an interdisciplinary field within I/O psychology, concerns the application of psychology to improving the quality of work life and to protecting and promoting the safety, health, and well-being of workers (Journal of Occupational Health Psychology – Description). Thus, for I/O psychology textbooks to talk only about work stress or stress management, while ignoring workplace safety, does not adequately inform students/learners about the broader field of OHP.

The Psychology and Work textbook covers occupational health psychology directly and this is much appreciated. Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2016) wrote that OHP is such an important and integral part of I/O psychology (the focus in I/O psychology is, after all, on individuals at work) that no introductory textbook on I/O psychology would be complete without a chapter dedicated to occupational health psychology.

I really enjoyed the chapter on Training and Development (Ch. 8) and the fantastic reference to the article by Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch (2012). Salas and colleagues (2012) stated, “decisions about what to train, how to train, and how to implement and evaluate training should be informed by the best information science has to offer” (p. 74). The article is packed full of clear principles (informed by science) as to what matters most in the design and delivery of training.

Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan’s Psychology and Work makes it a joy for learners to not only digest a lot of information, but to also retain, and later retrieve that information (from memory or by referring back to the book). The Training and Development chapter provides a good illustration of this. In the introduction to the chapter they wrote:

“[W]e will provide an overview of the training process, beginning with the training needs assessment, followed by a discussion of factors within the trainee and in the work context that can help — or hinder — the effectiveness of a training program. We will follow this with a discussion of specific training methods and when to use each of them, and how to evaluate whether or not a training program is working. We conclude by discussing current training issues and offering advice for how to take charge of your own training and development” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 273).

Psychology and Work features a huge section/header font size, as well as key terms, highlighted in a separate color, that are easily distinguishable and in bold in the body of the page and definitions of those key terms displayed on the side of the page. There are learning goal statements at the start of each chapter to help students know what to expect. There are workplace application boxes which offer examples to illustrate key concepts. There are also case studies that highlight how the theories and concepts in I/O psychology matter to workers and the organizations that employ them. I also like the “What does this mean to you?” sections at the end of each chapter showing how the material can be applied to students — those already in the workplace or about to enter the workplace.

In order to truly evaluate (“size up”) the Psychology and Work textbook, I compared it to two popular I/O psychology textbooks [textbook #1 is my old I/O psychology book and textbook #2 is my “go-to” I/O psychology text]. The Psychology and Work textbook was matched against these two I/O psychology textbooks on three topics: (1) training and development; (2) adverse impact determination in employee selection; and (3) use of cognitive ability tests in personnel selection.

For the topic of training and development, I/O psychology textbook #1 (my old I/O psychology textbook) was difficult and painful to read and absorb, while the Psychology and Work textbook was just effortless. Both textbooks contained the same or very similar information about training and development but the manner in which the material was presented made the choice to go with the Psychology and Work textbook an easy, obvious one.

Next, I decided to compare a topic that’s one of the most well-covered in I/O psychology textbooks — adverse impact determination in employee selection. I/O psychology textbook #2 was less verbose, used less legalese, and was less confusing than I/O psychology textbook #1. Unlike I/O psychology textbook #1, which explained adverse impact determination using only text, I/O psychology textbook #2 provided a table to explain the 80 percent or 4/5 rule in determining adverse impact. This was helpful, but still not as clear as it could be.

The Psychology and Work textbook, on the other hand, offered text as well as a simple equation and two examples to explain the 80 percent or 4/5 rule — one in which the employer was not in violation of the 4/5 rule, and the other in which the employer was in violation of the 4/5 rule. What’s more, to help readers understand this concept, Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2016) walked us through a 3-step adverse impact case. Simply brilliant!

Step 1: The person bringing the lawsuit (plaintiff) must show/demonstrate adverse impact. The plaintiff has to establish that a selection procedure used by the organization has adverse impact against the group to which they belong (e.g., using the 4/5 rule).

Step 2: Employer demonstrates test validity. If the person bringing the lawsuit (plaintiff) is able to show that adverse impact exists, the employer will now need to defend themselves. One of the most important defenses is to show the validity of the selection procedure.

Step 3: The person bringing the lawsuit (plaintiff) demonstrates other predictors were available. If the employer can show that their selection procedures are valid, the plaintiff can show that other, equally valid selection procedures with lower adverse impact were available for the employer ti use. “This is a fairly high bar for most plaintiffs to reach, and thus most adverse impact cases end if the employer can show that its selection procedures are valid” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 244-245).

For the final comparison, I decided to look up cognitive ability tests in personnel selection. Here’s what I found:

Psychology and Work textbook – Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2016) clearly explained at the outset that tests of cognitive abilities have a long history in I/O psychology and that “general cognitive ability [also known as g] (which psychologists consider to include reasoning, symbolic representation, and problem solving) is one of the best predictors of performance across jobs” (p. 184).

“The main reason that g [general cognitive ability] is such a good predictor of job performance: It allows workers to learn their job more quickly” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 184).

Equally important, however, is that tests of general cognitive ability have been shown to have adverse impact on minority groups. Thus, due to legal reasons as well as fairness and diversity, employers are reluctant to use cognitive ability tests to make hiring decisions (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016).

I/O psychology textbook #1 (my old I/O psychology text) – I actually had quite a bit of trouble locating this piece of information using the table of contents and had to resort to the subject index. It was hidden deep inside an obscurely worded chapter, with cognitive abilities and cognitive ability tests more than 25 pages apart! What’s interesting is that there was no mention, in the section on cognitive ability tests, of general cognitive ability tests and their adverse impact on minority groups (which the other two I/O textbooks mentioned).

I/O psychology textbook #2 (my “go-to” I/O psychology text) – Although the same information was covered, reading it made me feel as if I were being lectured to, rather than a professor talking with me and the class. The writing style is mechanical and dry.

I can’t say enough how clear and easy-to-understand the writing is throughout Psychology and Work! I selected three topics (training and development; adverse impact determination in employee selection; use of cognitive ability tests in personnel selection), intentionally choosing a boring, but important, legal topic (adverse impact determination in employee selection) to see if the writings and clarity remained consistent all through the Psychology and Work textbook. It is and that’s an incredible achievement.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite my quibble about the authors’ assertion that change management is referred to as organization development. It is truly a rare treat to find a book, written by college professors, that’s this much fun and easy to read! I only wish more I/O psychology textbooks were as well designed and written as Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan’s Psychology and Work. It is absolutely one of the finest and most carefully crafted textbooks I have seen! Bravo!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Aguirre, D., Brown, A., & Harshak, A. (2010, October 5). Making change happen, and making it stick: Delivering sustainable organizational change. Strategy&. Retrieved from http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/reports/making-change-happen-making-stick-2

American Psychological Association. (2016). Recognized Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/recognized.aspx

Cummings, T. G., & Worley, C. G. (2009). Organization development and change (9th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western.

Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Description. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/ocp/

Muchinsky, P. M. (2006). Psychology applied to work (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Prosci. (2015, November 24). Exploring the Relationship between OD and Change Management: Interview. Retrieved from http://blog.prosci.com/exploring-od-and-change-management-authors-interview

Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2012). The science of training and development in organizations: What matters in practice. Psychological Science In The Public Interest, 13(2), 74-101.

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). (2016). Approved CRSPPP (Committee on the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology) petition for the recognition of Industrial and Organizational Psychology as a specialty in professional psychology (Abr. ed.). Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/history/crsppp.aspx

Truxillo, D. M., Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2016). Psychology and work: Perspectives on industrial and organizational psychology. New York: Routledge.

Disclosure: I received Psychology and Work: Perspectives on Industrial and Organizational Psychology as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Giving Feedback Is Easy, Much Harder to Accept, Learn From, and Apply It

Business meeting in a modern office | Credit: Hinterhaus Productions
Business meeting in a modern office | Credit: Hinterhaus Productions

About 15 years ago, I was enrolled in a counseling psychology Master’s program. It was quite good and I learned a lot back then and continue to use many of the counseling/coaching skills today in the corporate world.

As part of the program, we were required to conduct counseling sessions with real clients and film these sessions (after securing the client’s permission) so that our classmates and professors could review these sessions and offer their feedback.

One day, during a feedback session about my counseling skills (again, where my peers and professor watched a video of my counseling session with a client and provided their feedback), I listened to them go on and on about what I was not doing right, what I had missed, or that my timing to talk was off, etc.

It is always hard to hear others criticize your work/performance but, by this time in the program, we had done this many times already so I was fine with receiving feedback, even tough feedback.

This went on for some time (at least it felt that way) and I tried to be patient, thinking and hoping that my professor would cut them off because, after a while, it started to sound the same (that is, they started repeating what someone else had shared). Unfortunately, my professor did not jump in and the “feedback” turned personal and became attacks on my character. It was very surreal because I could not believe that this was actually happening to me (a counselor-in-training) and the sources of the attacks were my peers (other counselors-in-training) and then having a professor (who was also a practicing psychologist) just sit there and do nothing made the entire experience feel like a bad dream.

I finally stopped them and told everyone that while I love and appreciate their feedback, because that’s how I learn, and although I try to always be open to feedback about my performance, when it turns into personal jabs, then that crosses the line and that’s where I have a problem. I told the professor that I was disappointed that she just sat there and did nothing while my classmates were attacking me (as a person) and not redirect them to focus on my actions (as a counselor).

Next, I offered my own feedback to my peers and professor about how they completely missed the cultural perspective in evaluating my performance and that their perspectives and opinions about when to interrupt a client while the client was talking (in order to offer the suggested counseling response) and how to come across as “professional” failed to account for a cultural dimension (both the client’s and the counselor’s), one in which age and experience (or lack of one) both play an important role in how and how often one offers feedback.

You would have thought that that might have been the end of it, but the attacks began again, with the professor sitting idly by not knowing what to do or not wanting to intervene. Again, I told the group that it felt like this was a character attack because they were criticizing my personality/character (or what they believed they “knew” about me) and not my actions in providing the talk therapy.

My counseling classmates and professor were very fast to give out all sorts of feedback (ideas, tips, suggestions), but when it was given back to them, they weren’t just slow to accept it, they dismissed it entirely.

In his book, “The Complete New Manager,” John Zenger shared that inside our minds is a picture of how we view ourselves. This mental self-portrait consists of our behaviors, values, and self-image.

“In most cases, leaders with a fatal flaw are totally unaware of that flaw. For example, people who immediately reject others’ ideas would probably describe themselves as having such extensive experience that they know what ideas will succeed and fail. These individuals don’t know they are perceived as rejecting everyone else’s ideas” (Zenger, 2010, p. 167).

Zenger explained that feedback that these leaders receive (from team discussions, 360-degree appraisals, or coaching sessions) convey messages which are contrary to how they view themselves.

When faced with this situation, these leaders have three choices:

(1) Deny the information – It’s very easy to dismiss feedback from one or two sources, but when you receive feedback from multiple, reliable sources then it can be much harder to ignore.

(2) Change their self-concept – Leaders admit to themselves that they do not know everything and that their own ideas are not the only good ones.

(3) Change their behavior – Feedback is most powerful when it is actually applied to altering behavior. 

According to Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) the single best predictor of who will advance up the corporate ladder and do well once there is — learning agility. Eichinger et al. said we demonstrate learning agility when we’re able to reflect on our experiences and be disciplined enough to change our behaviors.

Ideally, the best way to predict leadership is to use a combination of cognitive ability (i.e., IQ), personality, simulation, role play, learning agility, and multi-rater assessment (i.e., 360-degree assessment). But if you only had one choice, use learning agility (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

“Learning agility is the ability to reflect on experience and then engage in new behaviors based on those reflections. Learning agility requires self-confidence to honestly examine oneself, self-awareness to seek feedback and suggestions, and self-discipline to engage in new behaviors” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 495).

Takeaways: (1) It is essential that you take an honest look inside yourself. Be self-aware and brave enough to ask for feedback. And most of all, learn from and apply the feedback to improving yourself and your behaviors. (2) It can be very easy, especially for extroverts and people who love to talk, to give feedback to others, but those who tend to be quick to give feedback are sometimes slow to accept and apply feedback themselves.

“Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.” —African proverb

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

Zenger, J. H. (2010). The complete new manager: Essential tips and techniques for managers. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Are You Depressed Because of Your Job or Are You Depressed Regardless?

Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images
Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images

A Careers Reporter for Business Insider contacted me about signs that a person’s job is making him/her depressed. I’ve been wanting to write about mental illness and the workplace but just never got around to doing it and was happy that this gave me a chance to do so.

Here is what I wrote back:

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.) defines depression as follows:

“Depression: a negative affective state, ranging from unhappiness and discontent to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency, that interferes with daily life.”

According to “Mental Illness in the Workplace” (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014), depression is the most prevalent type of mental illness both inside the workplace and outside of it.

Signs of depression (and I’m referring to clinical depression) include significant sadness lasting most of the day and occurring most days of the week. What’s more, many depressed people also have trouble sleeping and/or eating. They’re tired or are chronically fatigued, can’t concentrate, feel worthless, have thoughts about suicide, or have lost experiencing joy from activities that they once enjoyed (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

Other signs to look for, particularly in the workplace, are employees who look sad, angry, unmotivated, withdrawn, or who are tired with frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or decrease in performance or performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable. They may also have interpersonal relationships that are stormy or diminished (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

So how would you know if your job is making you depressed? We would want to look at workplace factors that include the following:

  • High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  • High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  • Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?

If we were to take what I just shared and put them into a list, it might look like this:

Is Your Job Making You Depressed?

  1. High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  2. High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  3. Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?
  4. Being or feeling sad, angry, unmotivated, or withdrawn.
  5. Feeling tired and making frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or being less productive or demonstrating performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable.

But, and I believe this is very important, we should also phrase it this way . . .

Are You Depressed Regardless of The Job You Have? In other words, it might just be that an individual is depressed no matter what type of job he/she has. And if that’s the case (that it’s really about a person who is or might be depressed), then we would want to look for a combination of symptoms below:

  1. Significant sadness lasting most of the day, and occurring most days of the week.
  2. Difficulty sleeping and/or eating.
  3. Feeling tired or is chronically fatigued.
  4. Unable or trouble concentrating.
  5. Feeling worthless.
  6. Have thoughts about suicide.
  7. Does not enjoy activities that you once enjoyed.
  8. Rocky or reduced interpersonal relationships.
  9. These problems are significantly interfering with your daily life.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Harder, H. G., Wagner, S., & Rash, J. (2014). Mental illness in the workplace: Psychological disability management. Burlington, VT: Gower.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Why Philanthropy Is Important to Me

Hands holding letters spelling words | Credit: John Rensten
Hands holding letters spelling words | Credit: John Rensten

Many long-time readers of WorkplacePsychology.Net know that I have a special place in my heart for philanthropy. I give because I know what it feels like to struggle. My life’s journey has been marked by challenges. These hardships have served as important life lessons. They keep me humble and remind me daily to give thanks, help others, not complain, and be mindful that no matter how big and successful I might become one day I’m never too big to help others.

People typically use the words philanthropy and charity interchangeably. Although both terms describe helping others and also giving money to help, there is an important difference.

“Charity is often thought to be helping someone or something right now by giving directly to solve the problem, not necessarily through financial contributions. It could be direct aid and is generally aimed toward the needy or suffering. Philanthropy, on the other hand, is love of humankind, the act of improving the situation of others through charitable aid or donations. Individuals also state that philanthropy in their opinion is long term, whereas charity is immediate and often short term in focus. . . . [A]ll of us have heard the adage that if you give a person a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach him to fish, he will eat for his entire life. Charity at its basic sense is giving the person a fish, whereas philanthropy is teaching the person to fish” (Dietlin, 2010, p. 5).

I am very thankful to be able to support three incredible non-profits:

charity: water brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. They raise awareness about the 1 billion people living without life’s most basic need, water. 100% of public donations go directly to fund clean water projects in developing countries. Here are two sobering facts:

▪ Diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. 43% of those deaths are children under five years old.

▪ Kids in developing countries spend 3+ hours each day collecting water instead of going to school.

Room to Read combats global poverty by improving educational opportunities for children and helping primary school children become lifelong readers. It does this by establishing libraries, improving school infrastructure, publishing local language children’s books and supporting reading and writing instruction through teacher training and material development.

Room to Read’s model focuses on transformation within schools in low-income countries during two time periods which are most critical in a child’s schooling: early primary school for literacy acquisition and secondary school for girls’ education. They work in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children and ensure girls can complete secondary school with the skills necessary to negotiate key life decisions (Room to Read, Press Kit).

Here’s a somber fact: 781 MILLION PEOPLE in the world are illiterate, about 16% of the world’s adults. Of the illiterate, 2/3 are women and girls!

The Navy SEAL Foundation offers support and assistance to the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Community and its families. The United States Navy’s Sea, Air and Land Teams, better known as the Navy SEALs, are the U.S. Navy’s principal special operations force and a part of the Naval Special Warfare Command and United States Special Operations Command.

Did you know that Navy SEALs can spend up to 270 days away from their home each year in the most unforgiving environments and training at an unrelenting pace in order to maintain their ability to execute our nation’s toughest military missions?

“A SEAL’s state of readiness is directly linked to the health and resiliency of their family. Their overall well-being and ability to cope with uncertainty and lack of predictability have a huge impact on the warrior’s ability to remain focused in combat and in training. In their line of work, a SEAL’s ability to focus means the difference between life and death. Their family’s ability to draw from the strength of their support networks, and become resilient themselves, is essential for the preservation of family cohesion while their SEAL warrior is defending freedom across the globe” (Your Commitment Makes an Impact).

The Foundation helps “preserve the force and family by providing a comprehensive set of programs specifically designed to improve health and welfare, build and enhance resiliency, empower and educate their families, and provide critical support during times of illness, injury or loss. The challenges faced by SEALs and their families aren’t short lived – they are perpetual, ever-changing and unrelenting” (Your Commitment Makes an Impact).

One area I especially like and applaud is the educational programs and assistance the Navy SEAL Foundation provides to NSW service members in transition, and NSW dependent children. For instance, the Foundation helps pay for college and graduate school test preparation. They also offer tuition assistance to enlisted active-duty NSW service members. Finally, the Navy SEAL Foundation has scholarship opportunities available to NSW active duty service members, their spouses and dependent children, as well children of qualifying former NSW service members (Educational Programs: Education and Motivation).

Every time I give, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be alive, healthy, and living in America (giving evokes gratitude). For those of you who do not know my story, here’s the short version: In 1979, when I was about 8 years old, my family and I escaped from Vietnam. We joined countless others and got onto a small vessel in search of a better life. Three days and four nights later, after outrunning Thai pirates and discarding a dead body, we found ourselves stranded at sea with little food and water remaining. By the grace of God, we were rescued and brought into a refugee camp on a tiny island called Galang (in Indonesia). After almost a year there, we were sponsored by my uncle to come to America. In the spring of 1980, more than one year after we left our homeland in Southeast Asia, my family and I set foot on American soil for the very first time.

My hope is that, by sharing about why I give, it will leave an impression on people reading this piece and inspire them to give too. As Suttie and Marsh’s article notes, “Giving is contagious. When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our community.”

I urge you to make a small, recurring monetary donation to one of the reputable charities listed on Charity Navigator. It does not need to be a large amount and the frequency does not need to be often. Start small and pick two months this year to donate. For example, you might donate $10 to charity X twice a year (June and December). Simple.

Read this page first, Charity Navigator — Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors.

Need more reasons to give? How about 5 ways giving is good for you?

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Charity Navigator — Overview. http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=628

Charity Navigator — Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors. http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=419#.VsAsQJMrKQU

charity: water — The 100% Model. https://www.charitywater.org/100percent/

charity: water — Why Water. http://www.charitywater.org/whywater/

Dietlin, L. M. (2010). Transformational Philanthropy: Entrepreneurs and Nonprofits. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Greater Good – 5 Ways Giving Is Good for You. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you

Navy SEAL Foundation. http://www.navysealfoundation.org/

Room to Read — Press Kit. Quick Fact Sheet. http://www.roomtoread.org/document.doc?id=180

Room to Read — Press Kit. http://www.roomtoread.org/PressKit

Don’t Have to Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves

Woman And Man Hiking In Mountains
Woman And Man Hiking In Mountains | Credit: vm

Throughout 2015, one consistent and recurring theme kept appearing over and over again for me. Whether in the workplace or in a social gathering, I observed that there are people who need to put others down so they can feel better about themselves.

I’m not sure what’s the root cause or causes of this behavior. It might have to do with low self-esteem, being afraid (of failing, of what others might say, etc.), the desire to self-promote, the need to one-up someone else, or a combination of all these (or none of the above). I’m not certain. What I am certain is that engaging in these types of negative, mean-spirited behaviors (of putting others down) shines a very bright and unflattering light on your character, or lack of one.

One reason, I believe, some individuals feel the need to criticize, belittle, disparage, or denigrate another person is because of envy — of the target’s career and financial success.

Very few people get to where they are by accident or mistake. Regardless of how they were back in high school or college, they took active steps toward correcting their path and ensuring that their future states would be markedly different from their current states. Change does not happen overnight (unless you win the lottery). Therefore, from the time that these targets were viewed as “losers” (10/20/30 years ago, back in high school or college) to their current state of career & financial success today, they must have done many things right and worked hard (graduate from school, pass board exams, secure jobs and demonstrate their value to their organizations) to “earn their keep” (i.e., proved they’re worthy of the money, time, and effort their company has invested in them).

Many people today want to skip the hard work part and go straight to the success stage (whatever that might be for them). I attribute this to youth, inexperience, not enough life lessons or scars, not learning from mistakes, no insight into own weaknesses, impatience, arrogance, feeling entitled, feeling envious, and/or bad advice from their friends or confidants.

In my 20s I was hungry for success. I felt that I deserved a piece of the success pie that others seemed to enjoy. In my 30s I thought I had matured enough to earn the respect of others and therefore be given more important responsibilities and a higher place on the organization chart. I was wrong.

Through the ups and downs, the doubts and fears, and getting kicked in the teeth by painful life lessons and experiences, and with the help of good, sound advice from my wife, and my relationship with God, I finally realized that I can be successful but only if I stop feeling sorry for myself, stop playing the victim, stop blaming others or put them down, and start “owning” my situation and life, and come up with a game plan for how to go about getting the job or attaining the education or certifications I had always desired for myself.

It was only when I stopped letting others dictate the story of my life and instead started writing my own life story that I began to enjoy the “success” (for me) that I had once envied of others. The irony is that, as Shawn Achor (2010) shared in his book The Happiness Advantage, when we’re happy first (e.g., not feeling the urge to put others down), then we’re in a better position to start enjoying the success—both at work and in our personal lives—we’re hoping for and dreaming about.

Takeaway: Forget about what other people are doing with their lives. Try focusing on being happy and improving your own life by creating and mastering small, achievable goals instead. When you’re happy with your life, you won’t have time or energy to worry about other people or feel the need to talk bad about them. Remember, you do not need to put others down to lift yourself up.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Reference

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Listening To Music While Working Can Be Distracting

Young man working at computer with headphones on
Young man working at computer with headphones on | Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez

I’ve heard college students and even business professionals claim that listening to music while working made them more productive. While it’s true that music can lift your mood and give you a relaxed focus, it can also decrease your performance on cognitively demanding tasks.

So when can music improve performance? Annie Murphy Paul, in an article in Time.com, wrote “Music can improve performance when a well-practiced expert needs to achieve the relaxed focus necessary to execute a job he’s done many times before.” For example, surgeons often listen to music while they’re performing surgeries and they’re more effective.

The irony, however, is that while the surgeons’ preferred music helped them, the music was distracting to others who work alongside them, such as the anesthetists.

When you are doing repetitive or routine tasks (e.g., folding laundry or filing papers), listening to music can make it less boring. But when you need to perform cognitively demanding tasks, music can actually be distracting. What’s more, singing along to the music may further increase the distraction.

The message is this:

“When you need to give learning and remembering your full attention, silence is golden.” -Annie Murphy Paul

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Link

TIME.com – Listening to Music While Working: Does It Hamper Productivity?
http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/12/does-listening-to-music-while-working-make-you-less-productive/

Talking Too Much and Not Listening

Businessmen discussing in office
Businessmen discussing in office | Credit: Morsa Images

In a previous life and time, I worked as a mental health counselor. I was trained in the art of listening and would periodically have my listening skills evaluated by professors, supervisors, and even peers (on videos and in live sessions). It was stressful and sometimes I felt more like the patient/client than the therapist.

After pivoting from the mental health field to the corporate world, I was naïve enough to think that I would no longer need to tap into my counseling skills.

Today, more than a decade after leaving my counseling life behind and much to my surprise and delight, I continue to find my counseling skills useful when interacting with people. In particular, I’m seeing many areas in the business arena that are in desperate need of the skills of a counselor.

Talk First, Ramble On Second, and (Maybe) Listen Third

It is incredible to me how quick business people are to talk before hearing what the other person has to say. Let me share one example: I had scheduled a meeting about a project and prior to the meeting, had sent out an email outlining the purpose of the meeting as well as the limited parameters within which we had to work. Once the meeting started, a woman began suggesting ideas on how to improve things. They were fantastic ideas. The only problem was that these great ideas were not applicable to the project nor were they aligned with the reason for the meeting.

Had she listened to what I was explaining at the start of the meeting — the presentation is limited to one hour so we are limited by what we can do — then she would not have wasted her time talking and everyone else’s time listening to her go on and on.

The business environment demands that a person speaks up in order to be noticed and, sadly, many are too quick to talk rather than listen to another person talk. It’s as if talking first and fast is somehow a sport and the first one to speak wins.

Given this context, we can see that listening achieves the exact opposite effect (i.e., listening means not talking much and not drawing attention to yourself because you’re not talking).

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) observe that people who are unskilled in listening tend to cut others off or try to finish other people’s sentences. They’ll interrupt as someone is talking to try to force their point across. Because they’re too busy trying to think about their own responses, it’s easy to see that they’re actually not listening. As a result, others form opinions about the person not listening, such as he’s arrogant, or doesn’t care, or does not value others. Perhaps they might think this person is too busy, has selective hearing, or is just impatient or insensitive.

One of the dangers of talking too much and not listening is that you’ll completely miss the point that the other person is trying to make, and even worse, when you restate or relate the conversation (if you can even call it that), you’ll restate it incorrectly because, not surprisingly, you weren’t listening and got the facts and important points all wrong!

Active Listening

In The First-Time Manager, Belker, McCormick, and Topchik (2012) said the ability to actively listen is one of the best-kept secrets of successful management.

Active listeners “encourage the other person to talk” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 25) and “continue the other person’s line of communication” (p. 26). We know when a person is truly engaged in conversation with us – they’ll look at us when we talk, they will occasionally nod their heads and smile, and they’ll use statements or comments to let us know they’re interested (e.g., that’s interesting; tell me more; why do you think he said that, etc.) and, finally, they’ll restate or rephrase what we just said (e.g., “So let me see if I understand what you just said [then add the rephrase version]. Is that right?” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012)

Here’s a great piece of advice:

“[Y]ou don’t want to dominate the conversation . . . Rather, you want to create a dialogue in which you speak only about one-fifth of the time” (Stone, 2007, p. 77).

One important caution about active listening is that if your only goal is to check off the list of active listening how-tos (i.e., maintain eye contact, nod your head, paraphrase) then even active listening can become mechanical. You MUST concentrate on listening, not just demonstrate that you are (Nichols, 2009).

Takeaway (from The First-Time Manager): “Active listening is one of the most valuable traits [you] can demonstrate for two important reasons: First, if you do a great deal of active listening, you will not be thought of as a know-it-all, which is how most people perceive someone who talks too much. Second, by doing a lot of active listening and less talking, you’ll learn what is going on and gain insights and information you would miss if you were doing all the talking” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 24).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Belker, L. B., McCormick, J., & Topchik, G. S. (2012). The first-time manager (6th ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For your improvement: A development and coaching guide (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Nichols, M. P. (2009). The lost art of listening: How learning to listen can improve relationships (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Stone, F. M. (2007). Coaching, counseling & mentoring: How to choose & use the right technique to boost employee performance (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

The Pitfalls of Telecommuting

Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet
Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet | Credit: Thomas Barwick

I was contacted by a TV Producer at BBC News regarding my thoughts about the pitfalls of working at home. I am reposting my response to her as well as add some additional information which, due to a tight schedule, I was not able to include in my original answers.

Question: People often tout home working as being the future – but it isn’t really happening – at least in the UK. Why Not?

I wrote about telecommuting (working from home or remotely for an employer) back in 2011 on my Workplace Psychology blog. The idea of a flexible work schedule, one that allows us the ability to work from our homes or another remote location is very attractive. We have these grand illusions about working in our pajamas and wearing house slippers while we work.

The reality, however, is that it requires a great deal of structure, time management and commitment, as well as an understanding of telecommuting’s disadvantages on the part of the person telecommuting so that s/he can get work done. Those who telecommute, especially the ones who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Perhaps it’s not such a huge surprise then that, in the United States, “the proportion of workers who telecommute has been essentially flat over the mid-1990s to mid-2000s and is no larger among younger cohorts of workers than older cohorts” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 44).

Researchers have discovered that telecommuting “relocates” long hours at the office to remote work, but it does not eliminate or reduce these hours (Noonan & Glass, 2012). Another perspective related to this is that by working remotely, employees are expected (by their employers) to do more work and be available nights and weekends compared to what would be expected of an employee working in the office.

Question: Is it because working at home isn’t actually much fun? People miss the social aspect and the moral support of the office?

There’s a nice article back in 2008 about the disadvantages of telecommuting. The author listed 17 disadvantages. She grouped the 17 disadvantages into tow groups: minor problems or trivial annoyances and serious issues or major problems.

To answer your questions, I would say that telecommuting is not as fun as the idea of it, and people do miss the social aspect and moral (and also technical/IT troubleshooting) support. Indeed, one disadvantage of telecommuting is that you have no “tech support,” at least not in the sense of physically running down the hall to the IT department and asking the IT folks for help or calling them on the phone and have them come to your cubicle 30 minutes later to correct a problem with your laptop.

Another disadvantage is creating or having a working structure or routine so you can get going in the morning. When you go to the office, the ritual in the morning is to greet your boss and colleagues and ask them how they’re doing. Some of us grab a cup of coffee and we engage in small talks about the family and kids and then we get started (e.g., check email, make a phone call to a client, attend a meeting, etc.). But when you work from home (unless you purposely create/establish one), you will not engage in this type of daily morning ritual.

You mentioned the social part of physically being in the office. Working remotely is, as the terms describe, a very lonesome activity. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing and hearing more about coworking space and how those who cowork seem to to be thriving, in part because it gives remote employees a feeling that they’re a part of a community.

Forbes.com lists the pitfalls of working remotely in 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. Among these are (1) feeling isolated, (2) being distracted by family members of doing household chores, (3) missing out on office camaraderie.

Finally, remote workers may get lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions (even if they work just as long and hard) due to what is called, “passive face time” or the notion of just being “seen” in the workplace even if we don’t interact with anyone in the office (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“To be credited with passive face time you need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are doing or how well you are doing it” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research suggests their supervisors might evaluate them differently because of differences in their passive face time” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

As they also wrote in their journal article (Elsbach, Cable, & Sherman, 2010), “anecdotal and case study evidence suggests that the display of passive face time by professional workers (e.g. salaried workers in corporate business environments) is interpreted positively by co-workers, supervisors, and subordinates who may observe it” (p. 738). “In fact, it appears that managers in corporate settings use passive face time to judge employees’ work contributions, creating a disadvantage for employees who are seen less often or are not seen as putting in adequate overtime” (p. 738).

Out of sight, out of mind is a real danger for remote workers,” writes J. Maureen Henderson (2015).

Question: It seems to me often to be the companies who push the home working for cost reasons rather than employees – is that your experience?

In the research article by Noonan and Glass (2012), they did bring up that by allowing employees to work remotely, employers increase their expectations of these remote workers by demanding that they (the remote workers) be available more (e.g., nights and weekends). In essence, when telecommuting parameters are unclear and telecommuting policies not firmly established, employees are expected to work more and be more readily available (via phone, email, text, chat, and so on).

This also brings up this view of an always-connected employee. Today’s employees, even ones who do not participate in remote work, actually may do so without even realizing it. Take our smart phones, for example. If you have access to your work email on your own mobile device, then it’s very easy to check it but it can also be stressful at the same time, especially if you check and/or respond to emails after work hours.

Companies are starting to see the connection between an always-connect worker and employee stress and burnout. In 2011, Volkswagen agreed to stop sending emails to its workers when they were off the clock.

Question: How have offices changed over the past 20 years and how will they change in the future?

When we think about how our electronic/mobile devices work and how they help us stay connected or keep us constantly connected (always “on”) to our companies/organizations, we can see that our “workplace” is now mobile. For those who use some type of collaborative tool or cloud storage, they can interact with colleagues and clients across the globe and retrieve information and materials in an instant regardless of where they are in the world, so long as they have access to the Internet and their mobile devices.

Our work is becoming much more dynamic and fluid, thanks to instant or near instant access to information, and in real time. There is a whole new level of collaboration with one another and access to information that 30 years ago would be unheard of. For instance, scientists and researchers today can collaborate on projects and research articles even though they are located physically very far from each other.

That said, I do not see the physical workplace going away any time soon despite the advances in technology. And, I also see and believe in the great value of the face-to-face interaction and collaboration. While I’ve been able to be very productive when working remotely, when I’ve done so for an extended amount of time, I really miss the human connection and my mind and my whole being craves the interaction with (or at least be in or around) a physical community. Even if I don’t interact with anyone, just being in a coffee shop or a coworking space helps inspire me to do great work and for me to see my work as meaningful and also that I have more control over my job.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

Links

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Forbes. 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehjf45edikj/11-tips-for-being-part-o/

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. Latest Telecommuting Statistics. http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. The Shifting Nature of Work In The UK (May 2011). http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/03/Telework-in-the-UK_4-3-11.1-Final-Rev.pdf

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London Business School. (2012, August). Want to get promoted stay at your desk. Retrieved from http://www.london.edu/news-and-events/news/want-to-get-promoted-stay-at-your-desk#.Vdk9PNNVikp

Nguyen, S. (2011). Virtual workplaces and telework. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2011/12/21/virtual-workplaces-and-telework/

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Schindler, E. (2008, December). 17 Telecommuting Pet Peeves. CIO.com. Retrieved from http://www.cio.com/article/2431521/collaboration/17-telecommuting-pet-peeves.html

Spreitzer, G., Bacevice, P., & Garrett, L. (2015, May). Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-spaces

Tsukayama, H. (2011, December). Volkswagen silences work e-mail after hours. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/volkswagen-silences-work-e-mail-after-hours/2011/12/23/gIQAz4HRDP_story.html

The Science of People at Work