Category Archives: Attitudes & Emotions

Motivating Your Employees

How do you motivate your employees? Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange offers some nice tips:

  • Make pay fair and competitive. Your incentive system should align your organization’s desired performance with the rewards that employees value.
  • Demonstrate trust in your employees. Remove some controls. For instance, ask employees to create their own plans or schedules. Or put an employee in charge of something you would normally handle. By trusting employees to do their jobs well, you inspire them to meet your expectations.
  • Introduce challenges. People often can handle tasks that are more complex and demanding than their job descriptions require—and than you expect. When presented with tougher assignments, employees usually rise to the challenge.
  • Encourage some people to become experts in subjects that interest them and that provide real value to the organization.
  • Eliminate fear from the workplace. Encourage open communication and information sharing.
  • Preserve employees’ dignity. A little respect and forthright communication go a long way. For instance, handle critiques of employees’ performances with tact; avoid humiliating them at all costs.
  • Reform or remove slackers. Disgruntled or otherwise disengaged people can put a damper on the enthusiasm and creativity that every company and every team needs to improve performance. Give them coaching, move them into more suitable positions, or dismiss them.
  • Empower people and avoid micromanaging. Give employees what they need to succeed and don’t get involved unless necessary.

Reference

Originally posted on HBR Answer Exchange (now defunct); Adapted from the book chapter Motivation: The Not-So-Secret Ingredient of High Performance, Harvard Business Press

Leadership, Southwest Airlines, and Malice in Dallas

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

This is a hilarious video (watch his aerobic workouts) produced by Southwest Airlines for its Employees about “Malice in Dallas,” the legendary charity arm wrestling match between “Smokin'” (he was literally smoking and curling Wild Turkey liquor) Herb Kelleher and Stevens Aviation’s “Kurtsey” or “Killer” Kurt Herwald to settle a dispute over Southwest’s “Just Plane Smart” slogan. The match was held on March 20, 1992 at the now-demolished Dallas Sportatorium. In this video, Herb’s and Herwald’s training regimens are detailed.

This classic video and the “Malice in Dallas” story epitomize leadership that is genuine and personal. The video’s humor mirrors the same zany quality of Herb himself and, in my opinion, is what made him such a magnetic leader. I could not stop laughing watching his workouts.

Below is a short article I wrote two months ago. I wrote it because I was curious about Southwest Airlines and about Herb Kelleher. I also wanted to research and write about Southwest Airlines because its headquarter is in Dallas, Texas and I’m from Dallas. Most of all, it gave me a sense of pride to learn more about a well-respected company in my own hometown.

Overview: Leadership at Southwest Airlines

The co-founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher (now Chairman Emeritus), led Southwest Airlines to success. Beneath his fun-loving persona is a hard-working, empathetic and determined leader.

Significance

Southwest Airlines is remarkable because it is the only airline to maintain a profit every year for 31 years. In “The Southwest Airlines Way,” Jody Gittell says this record is unparalleled in the airline industry.

Leadership Style

Kelleher’s hands-on leadership style earned him the respect and admiration of employees, according to the book “Essentials of Management.” He made people feel important by remembering their names and sending out birthday cards. In “Lasting Leadership,” Peter Cappelli, a management professor, says that Kelleher was great at boosting employee morale, an ability that’s rare in a top executive.

Misconceptions

Although known for his crazy antics, like appearing in public dressed as Elvis and the Easter Bunny, Kelleher is “as regimented and determined as an army general,” one who is competitive and “deadly serious about success,” states “Essentials of Management.”

Fun Fact

The authors of “Entrepreneurs, Managers, and Leaders” tell an amusing story about 63-year-old Kelleher arm-wrestling with 38-year-old Kurt Herwald (in the “Malice in Dallas” arm-wrestling match), the weightlifting CEO of an aircraft maintenance company. They were battling for the rights to use the slogan, “Plane Smart.” After his defeat, Kelleher joked that had it not been for his wrist fracture, cold and athlete’s feet, he would have won.

[“NUTS! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success,” by Drs. Kevin & Jackie Freiberg, has a detailed account of the arm-wrestling match. You can also read the “Malice in Dallas” story on the Freibergs’ website.]

Expert Insight

In “Lasting Leadership,” Mukul Pandya and Robbie Shell attribute Southwest Airlines’ success to Kelleher and his belief that, “employees come first [and] that a company with happy and productive workers will have happy, paying customers.” As Kelleher said, “You can buy an airplane and a terminal, but you can’t buy the spirit of the people.”

References

  • “Entrepreneurs, Managers, and Leaders: What the Airline Industry Can Teach Us about Leadership”; Anthony J. Mayo, Nitin Nohria and Mark Rennella; 2009
  • “Essentials of Management: An International Perspective”; Harold Koontz and Heinz Weihrich; 2008
  • “Lasting Leadership: What You Can Learn from the 25 Most Influential Business People of Our Times”; Mukul Pandya and Robbie Shell; 2005
  • “Fortune” magazine: “Is Herb Kelleher America’s Best CEO? Behind his Clowning is a People-wise Manager Who Wins Where Others Can’t”; Kenneth Labich and Ani Hadjian; May 2, 1994
  • “The Southwest Airlines Way: Using the Power of Relationships to Achieve High Performance”; Jody H. Gittell; 2003
  • “NUTS! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success”; Drs. Kevin & Jackie Freiberg; 1996

Leadership and Life Lessons from John Wooden

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.” -John Wooden (Wooden & Jamison, 2007, p. 33)

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

John R. Wooden, a well-respected, much beloved basketball coach, died June 4, 2010. He was 99 years old. His record ten NCAA national championships in 12 years while at UCLA is unparalleled by any other college basketball coach. Perhaps more than being remembered as one of the greatest coaches of all time (not only just in basketball) he was remembered as a great person. One thing he says he wanted to be remembered for is someone who is considerate of others.

This post showcases two great videos featuring coach John Wooden. The first video (at top), highlights Wooden and his life as a devoted husband and man of strong convictions.

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

In this second video (above) with Dr. Mick Ukleja of LeadershipTraQ.com, coach John Wooden shares his views on life and leadership. Recounting the lessons from his dad, he shares the important life and leadership lessons he’s learned over the years.

Referring to coaching as “teaching,” he says a coach is a teacher. “You’re teaching more things than just the subject matter.”

Coach Wooden says one of the most important things he learned at a young age was to never try to be better than someone else, but always try to be the best you can be.

  • Focus on those things you have control.
  • Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal.
  • No whining, no complaining, don’t make excuses.


A Few of Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

  • Self-Control – keeping your emotions under control so you can execute whatever it is that you’re doing.
  • Poise – being yourself
  • Adaptability – realizing that situations change and you must change accordingly
  • Intentness – keeping focus on your objectives
  • Cooperation – being considerate of others and know you’re not alone in anything and that there are others with you
  • Skill – Being able to execute properly and quickly
  • Alertness – observing the things around you and knowing the things to do and not do.

“The greatest responsibility is to teach those under me the value of an education. Sport is meaningful for only a short part of your life.”

Coach John R. Wooden was a humbled man and a consummate coach and teacher of life.

“[M]y success comes not from championships, but from the knowledge that I did everything possible to be the best teacher, coach, and leader I was capable of being. The quality of that effort is where I found—and continue to find—success. Those championships were a ‘by-product.’” – John Wooden (Wooden & Jamison, 2005, p. 57)

Reference

Wooden, J. & Jamison, S. (2005). Wooden on leadership. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Wooden, J. & Jamison, S. (2007). The essential Wooden: A lifetime of lessons on leaders and leadership. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

I want to thank WorkplacePsychology.Net reader Chris Webb for sending me a link to this video about Dan Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

What’s so impressive are the visual illustrations done by the artist (also called a “graphic facilitator”) at Cognitive Media to visually capture what the author is trying to verbally communicate about motivation.

The video is a great complement to two earlier posts, 3 Primary Goals of People at Work and What Really Motivates Employees.

If you are like me, someone who loves to “think visually,” you’ll love this video. Thanks again Chris!

Do All Employees Want a Challenging Job?

In their classic text, Organizational Behavior, Robbins & Judge (2009) posed and answered an interesting question about employee motivation. The professors asked in a blurb titled, “Myth or Science: ‘Everyone Wants a Challenging Job?’”

In response to this question, Robbins & Judge (2009) say the answer is FALSE! While many employees do seek and desire challenging, engaging work, some employees do not. It might surprise some to read this because it certainly sounds contrary to what we often hear from the media and even some academics. Instead, Robbins & Judge (2009) contend that “some people prosper in simple, routinized work” (p. 219).

But what exactly is it that explains those who prefer challenging work and those who prefer simple, routinized work? Robbins & Judge (2009) maintain that the “strength of an individual’s higher-order needs” is the key. They assert that “[i]ndividuals with high growth needs are more responsive to challenging work” (p. 219).

No current data exist but an older study from the 1970s estimate roughly 15% of employees seek higher-order need satisfaction (i.e. challenging, engaging work). “Even after adjusting for technological and economic changes in the nature of work, it seems unlikely that the number today exceeds 40 percent” (p. 219).

“Many employees relish challenging work. But this desire has been overgeneralized to all workers. Organizations increasingly have pushed extra responsibilities onto workers, often without knowing whether this is desired or how an employee will handle the increased responsibilities” (Robbins & Judge, 2009, p. 219).

Reference

Robbins, S.P. & Judge, T.A. (2009). Organizational Behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

3 Primary Goals of People at Work

In “The Enthusiastic Employee” authors Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer (2005), working under Sirota Consulting, surveyed 2.5 million employees in 237 organizations in 89 countries about what they want from their jobs.

Contrary to wide and unsubstantiated claims made about worker attitudes, the authors found through their research that the overall satisfaction of workers with their work is strong and consistent across a wide variety of industries, occupations, and cultures. Furthermore, these researchers maintain that there is no evidence that younger workers are any more or less disenchanted than older workers.

The majority of the responses fall into three factors. The authors call this the Three Factor Theory of Human Motivation in the Workplace. They are: equity, achievement and camaraderie.

  1. Equity: To be treated justly in relation to the basic conditions of employment. These basic conditions include physiological (e.g., safe work environment), economic (e.g., job security, fair pay), and psychological (e.g., treated respectfully & fairly).
  2. Achievement: Employees are enthusiastic working for organizations that provide them with a clear, credible and inspiring organizational purpose – “reason for being here.” There are four sources of employee pride. In essence they reflect the idea of excellence:
    • Excellence in the organization’s financial performance.
    • Excellence in the efficiency with which the work of the organization gets done.
    • Excellence in the characteristics of the organization’s products such as their usefulness, distinctness and quality.
    • Excellence in the organization’s moral character.
  3. Camaraderie: Employees want to work collaboratively. They get the greatest satisfaction from being a member of and working on a team to achieve a common goal. In fact, the authors assert that cooperation, and not job descriptions or organizational charts, is the unifying force holding the various parts of an organization together.

Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer (2005) say that one key to overcome conflict and encourage cooperation is to build partnerships. The parties involved do this by collaborating to work toward common goals.

However, they caution that in order to build partnerships within and throughout the organization,

“[A]ction must begin with, and be sustained by, senior management” (p. 283).

It is only when senior leadership has the foresight to see what can be, not just what is, along with the perseverance and hard work to translate philosophy into concrete daily policies will partnership organizations emerge. Above all, it requires “seeing and treating employees as genuine allies in achieving change” (Sirota, Mischkind, & Meltzer, 2005, p. 301).

Reference

Sirota, D., Mischkind, L.A., & Meltzer, M.I. (2005). The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

5 Reasons Why Employees Stay

Earlier in 2010, the Conference Board surveyed 5,000 U.S. households and found that only 45 percent of those surveyed say they’re satisfied with their jobs. It notes that this number is down from 61.1 percent in 1987.

According to Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board, “[w]hile one in 10 Americans is now unemployed, their working compatriots of all ages and incomes continue to grow increasingly unhappy.”

John Gibbons, program director of employee engagement research and services at The Conference Board, believes that challenging and meaningful work is important to engaging workers and that “[w]idespread job dissatisfaction negatively affects employee behavior and retention, which can impact enterprise-level success.”

These findings offer valid concerns and serve as a wake-up call to organizations of employee discontent and why they ultimately leave.

Ok, so we know why employees leave. But, why do they stay?

I’m sure there are lots of good reasons, but I like what the editors of Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange (a forum to ask questions, get answers, and engage with other business professionals) say about why employees stay.

5 REASONS WHY EMPLOYEES STAY:

  1. Pride in the organization. People want to work for well-managed companies.
  2. Compatible supervisor. People may stay just to work for a particular individual who is supportive of them.
  3. Compensation. People want to work for companies that offer fair compensation, including competitive wages and benefits as well as opportunities to learn and achieve.
  4. Affiliation. People want to continue working with colleagues they respect and like.
  5. Meaningful work. People want to work for companies that let them do work that appeals to their deepest, most passionate interests.

References

Originally posted on HBR Answer Exchange (now defunct); Adapted from the book Harvard Business Essentials: Guide to Hiring and Keeping the Best People, Harvard Business Press

I Can’t Get No…Job Satisfaction, That Is: America’s Unhappy Workers. Research Report #1459-09-RR. The Conference Board.

April 30 The Fall of Saigon

Photo: 
A North Vietnamese tank crashes through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, Vietnam on April 30, 1975. The taking of the palace marked the fall of the U.S.-backed south during the Vietnam War and the end to two decades of fighting.

[NOTE: This post was updated October 2017]

To many in the U.S., April 30th isn’t a day of significance. It’s not a holiday nor is it the birth or death of anyone famous. But to me, my family, and millions of Vietnamese around the world, April 30th will forever hold a special place in our hearts and minds. Today, April 30th marks the anniversary of the ending of the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) to Communism. It is a day that dramatically changed the course of my life, and which ultimately brought me to America.

Photo: An American punches a Vietnamese man in the face as he tries to close the doorway of an airplane overloaded with refugees seeking to flee Nha Trang, which was being taken over by Communist troops in April 1975.

On April 30, 1975, the South Vietnamese government surrendered to the North Vietnamese Communist forces ending a two-decade long civil war (1954-1975) known as the Vietnam War. Besides the political consequences, there were the emotional, social, and cultural effects that resulted from the fall of Saigon.

Had it not been for that fateful day of April 30, 1975, my family and I along with millions of other Vietnamese “boat people” refugees might have never left our country.

“In the spring of 1975, 130,000 refugees escaped Vietnam. Tiny boats full of South Vietnamese soldiers and their families set off down the Mekong River in the hopes of surviving the 600-mile journey to the Malaysian coast. They were the first wave of Vietnamese boat people. But they were not the last.”

All totaled, roughly 1.5 million “boat people” left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon to Communism between the mid-1970’s through the 1990’s.

Photo: 
Vietnamese boat people.

I am in awe of how my life has turned out because of April 30th. If the fall of Saigon to Communism on April 30, 1975 had never occurred, I would most likely still be living in Vietnam with my family. I would be fluent in Vietnamese, unlike my current state of stumbling over words. I would be thinking and composing this blog entry in Vietnamese.

Instead, as fortune would have it, my family and I survived a perilous escape in the dead of night…

In the early morning hours of spring 1979, with borrowed money and falsified documents to ensure our escape, my family and I (then 8 years old) joined countless other “boat people” 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 helpless and stranded at sea with little food and water remaining. In fact, my mom told me that many of us did not eat because we were so exhausted.

Thanks to the sheer mercy of God, we were rescued by an oil tanker and brought into a refugee camp on a tiny island called Galang (in Indonesia). After spending 11 months there, we were sponsored by my uncle to come to America.

On April 1, 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.

No one ever has to impress upon me the value of freedom because I still remember vividly what it was like to not have it. So while many people simply see April 30th as just another day, for me it holds great meaning. On April 30th of this year as in years past, I pause to give thanks and wonder,

“What if April 30, 1975 had never happened?”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

7 Reasons Why Employees Leave

In “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (2005),” Leigh Branham outlined seven reasons why workers quit or leave their jobs:

  • Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected
  • Reason #2: The Mismatch Between Job and Person
  • Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback
  • Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities
  • Reason #5: Feeling Devalued And Unrecognized
  • Reason #6: Stress From Overwork and Work-Life Imbalance
  • Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders

Branham asserts that there are two distinct periods when an employee thinks about leaving. The first period is the time between his or her first thoughts of leaving and the subsequent decision to leave. The second period in which the employee considers leaving is the time between his/her decision to leave and actually leaving.

Branham shares three tips that leaders can do to avoid losing employees:

  1. Inspire confidence in a clear vision, a workable plan and the competence to achieve it.
  2. Back up words with actions.
  3. Place the leader’s trust and confidence in the work force.

Reference

Branham, L. (2005). The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. Broadway, NY: AMACOM.

Divisive Leadership and Uncivil Followership

Here at WorkplacePsychology.Net, I don’t take political sides. What I am interested in is examining effective leadership. The Center for Creative Leadership’s Bill Adams recently wrote a piece called “Crisis in Leadership: The Healthcare Bill.” It’s a well-written and balanced perspective on leadership in Washington.

The Center for Creative Leadership describes leadership using the acronym DAC, direction, alignment and commitment. Effective leaders are able to set the direction, create alignment, and secure commitment from their followers.

Back in February, I wrote about “Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance” (it is one of the most visited posts on WorkplacePsychology.Net). In that post, I shared professor John Kotter’s 8-Stage Process to Creating Major Change. I also cited Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn’s (2005) tips for overcoming resistance to change.

Like many Americans, I have been following the healthcare debate and (unfortunately) all the uncivil debates and actions (from both sides and from angry politicians and passionate Americans). Though there was much talk about gathering support, the healthcare vote became very one-sided as its passage included not one Republican vote in Congress.

From a leadership perspective, I wish leaders in Washington had followed Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn’s (2005) advice in gaining alignment and overcoming resistance. To overcome resistance to change, make sure that the following criteria are met (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  1. Benefit: Whatever it is that is changing, that change should have a clear relative advantage for those being asked to change; it should be seen as “a better way.”
  2. Compatibility: The change should be as compatible as possible with the existing values and experiences of the people being asked to change.
  3. Complexity: The change should be no more complex than necessary; it must be as easy as possible for people to understand and use.
  4. Triability: The change should be something that people can try on a step-by-step basis and make adjustments as things progress.

I believe the two biggest obstacles which contributed to and exacerbated the strong disagreements and hostilities are compatibility and complexity. Somehow, I think the leaders in Washington forgot these little gems of leadership.

By strong-arming the healthcare bill through Congress using solely Democratic votes, the leaders have failed to see that this was not an effective solution in getting buy-in from the general followership. With the healthcare debate still ongoing (albeit very heated, discourteous, and even violent), the leaders decided to bypass the compatibility step in overcoming resistance.

The other piece that certainly did not help was the complexity of the healthcare bill, which totaled nearly 2000 pages. I highly doubt that anyone sat through and read it cover to cover. By the time a 2000-pages document gets translated and explained, something is bound to get lost in the translation. Politicians talk politics and sugarcoat or conveniently skip important facts and details. Special interest groups have their agendas, and so on. Throughout this maze of complexity, few have been able to (1) clearly explain what the healthcare bill is and (2) how the average American can use it (due to the many caveats).

What is equally alarming is that people upset over the healthcare bill’s passage have taken such extreme and sometimes violent displays of dissatisfaction, while those responsible for its passage turn a blind eye.

My hope for all Americans (those for, against, and indifferent to the healthcare bill) is to honor one another even as we disagree. When members in Congress yell out “you lie” to a sitting American President and another shouting “baby killer” while a fellow Congressman is talking, we have sadly forgotten the civility & decorum that is required and expected of all adults. It is sad (at least to me) that adults need to be reminded to practice polite & courteous behaviors.

When I worked as a behavior specialist in the school system, I certainly expected discourteous and rude behaviors from children. But, when I see adults (leaders and role models) behave worse than children, it makes me ashamed to call myself a “grown-up.”

Reference

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Career Well-Being

In their upcoming book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements (Available May 4, 2010), Rath and Harter (2010) offer this interesting piece of information about career and its impact on our well-being.

It’s quite astonishing that people recover faster from the death of a spouse than from prolonged unemployment.

Although career well-being is discussed, it is just one of five elements covered.

The Five Essential Elements

  • Career Wellbeing
  • Social Wellbeing
  • Financial Wellbeing
  • Physical Wellbeing
  • Community Wellbeing

This is one book I’m really looking forward to reading.

Adopting a Child’s Perspective Helps Adults Regain our Inborn Talents

My niece is so adorable and creative. She can turn something as simple as a blank sheet of paper and transform it into a game of checking into a plush hotel with concierge service. Kids are amazing because they see the world not as it is but what it can be. Unlike adults, children have a natural gift of creativity and imagination.

The 1988 movie “Big” (starring Tom Hanks) is a story of a 12-year old boy named Josh who got his wish to be “big.” He wakes up the next day to find that while his physical body had grown and aged to that of a man, he was still the same 12-year old kid on the inside.

The heart-warming story follows Josh as he finds work at a toy company. Unlike the other executives and managers who conduct market research into what kids like about toys, Josh actually plays with them. In a meeting on bringing a toy robot to market, a manager stated that research with children of a certain demographic indicated that the toy robot would be successful. As the manager is showing how the robot works (it’s a robot that transforms into a house), Josh raised his hand to ask,

“What’s so fun about that?”

Imagine if we could bring the candid outlook of kids into the workplace as Tom Hanks’ character did in the movie! Instead, we conduct research and analyze things so much (e.g., SWOT analysis) that we sometimes miss the golden opportunity to act.

Arnold Lazarus, a psychologist who founded multimodal therapy, shared a story of a friend who (by profession, a dentist) was “an absolute natural when it came to understanding people and showing genuine warmth, wisdom, and empathy” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352). The dentist friend was so good that many people confided in him with their troubles.

Due to his natural talents, this dentist friend decided to pursue training in psychology and eventually obtained a Ph.D. in social and clinical psychology. Ironically, Lazarus observed that “as my friend learned more and more psychology, as he took more and more readings and courses in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, it seemed to me that his natural skills eroded” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

Shortly after Lazarus’ mother died, Lazarus opened his heart to this friend, someone who Lazarus had previously considered a “naturally great therapist” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352). But, instead of the natural warmth, support, and understanding that the—former dentist now psychologist—friend once exhibited, this now trained psychologist responded to Lazarus’ sorrows with psychological clichés and labels (Lazarus, 1990).

“The formal psychology and psychotherapy courses he had received were tantamount to taking a can of spray-paint to an artistic masterpiece” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

What happened to the dentist-turned-psychologist friend made Lazarus question, “whether formal training causes most of us to undergo a similar truncation of our helpful inborn capacities” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

Now don’t get me wrong, education, training, and experience are great, but…

Has “growing up” and being indoctrinated with formal knowledge and training hindered our natural-born skills of creativity, curiosity, and common sense to be a better worker or leader?

Reference

Lazarus, A. (1990). Can psychotherapists transcend the shackles of their training and superstitions? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 46(3), 351-358. doi: 10.1002/1097-4679(199005)46:3<351::AID-JCLP2270460316>3.0.CO;2-V

Consumerism & Affluenza – How Society Shapes Our Thinking about Happiness

Within the past several decades, an alarming trend has developed, one that goes far beyond just “keeping up with the Joneses.” You see, no longer is it enough to simply “keep up.” It seems that in today’s microwave mentality, we have to have things, and we have to have them right now. Everything becomes a necessity. We no longer eat to live. We live to eat. We no longer shop to survive. We survive to shop. Or as I heard it on the radio – shop til you drop, then crawl!

We have, in fact, become a society of conspicuous consumption [spending lavishly on goods and services for the sole purpose of showing off] and consumerism [equating happiness with buying and consuming goods].

There is a name/description/label to this madness. It’s called AFFLUENZA, formed from the words affluence (wealth) and influenza (also known as the flu).

Affluenza is defined as (1) The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses; (2) An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream (Affluenza, n.d.). Affluenza is the term used to explain the problems that occur “when individuals are in pursuit of money, wealth, and material possession at the expense of other sources of self-esteem and contentment” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

Although I originally wrote about this topic of affluenza (several years ago while working in the school system) to address the madness that parents go through to feed into their children’s demands to have the latest and greatest material things, I am presenting it here now to shed light on this epidemic and its impact on adults.

Affluenza affects people across all age groups and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. “Contemporary affluenza researchers contend that if we do not begin to reject our culture’s incessant demands to work harder, spend more, and buy more, our society will begin to pay later with significant effects thrust upon our offspring” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

The incessant pressure to acquire material goods can result in the following (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006): As you go through the list below, notice that it easily applies to both children and adults.

  • Inability to delay gratification or tolerate frustration
  • Difficulty maintaining interest in anything requiring effort
  • False sense of entitlement
  • Expectation of material goods without responsibility
  • Loss of future motivation
  • Life activities don’t seem very real and nothing matters much
  • Low self esteem, self worth, and loss of self confidence
  • Approval dependent on possessions and status rather than on personal values
  • Preoccupation with externals and habituation for more material goods
  • Difficulty believing people like them for themselves rather than for possessions and status
  • Inability to trust prevents true friendships
  • Emotional energy becomes invested in material gains and sensitivity toward others declines

Here are some interesting tidbits (Affluenza…Diagnosis, n.d.):

  • Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.
  • Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than everyone who ever lived before them. Each American individual uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually. Americans throw away 7 million cars a year, 2 million plastic bottles an hour and enough aluminum cans annually to make six thousand DC-10 airplanes.
  • Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world’s population, in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India.
  • Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day.

Back in December 2009, I wrote about the hyperactive workplace. I believe what lies at the root of the hyperactive workplace is affluenza – the “epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream” (Affluenza, n.d.). We work long hours and remain in a state of frenzy to pursue that elusive dollar to buy the things we and our families desire. And we do this day in and day out like the hamster running in circles in a cage.

In “Success Intelligence,” (2005) Robert Holden wrote, “The rise of consumerism has certainly influenced our thinking about happiness and success…We are making every effort to ‘buy, buy, buy!’ our way to happiness and success” (pp. 110, 111). While buying things can temporarily bring short-term pleasure, our prior levels of happiness soon return. In other words, we can’t buy our way to happiness.

“[W]e place all our faith in external things to make us happy. The danger here is that we lose sight of inner happiness…We forget how to be happy” (Holden, 2005, p. 112).

Imagine what your own work and workplaces would be like if you changed your views about overconsumption and what it means to be happy.

References

Affluenza. (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/

Affluenza…Diagnosis (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/diag/what.html

Holden, R. (2005). Success intelligence: Essential lessons and practices from the world’s leading coaching program on authentic success. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

Koplewicz, H.S. & Williams, K. (2006). Affluence-Benefit or Handicap? New York University Child Study Center Letter, 11(2), 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.aboutourkids.org/files/articles/dec.pdf

Workplace Violence, Organizational Justice, and Wounded Pride

Recently, a Harvard-educated Ph.D. professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville was accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others during a faculty meeting because she was denied tenure. But why is this topic getting attention here on WorkplacePsychology.Net? We normally don’t think of college and universities as organizations, but they are.

In industrial-organizational psychology, the topic of organizational justice is important because it plays a critical role in workplace violence. The manner in which employees see themselves being treated (fairly or unfairly) by their companies affects how these employees will behave (emotionally and behaviorally) in the work environment. In the case of the accused professor, being denied tenure might have caused her to feel that she was unfairly treated by the university.

There are three types of organizational justice: distributive (perceived fairness in allocation of rewards to employees); procedural (perceived fairness of the process/procedure by which rewards are distributed); and interactional (sensitivity with which employees are treated & degree to which employees feel respected) (Landy & Conte, 2007, citing Colquitt, Colon, Wesson, Porter, & Ng).

Cohen-Charash and Spector (2001) found that regardless of age, gender, race, and education, all people view justice similarly. In their examination of 190 studies totaling 64,757 participants, these researchers discovered that job performance and counterproductive work behaviors were mainly related to procedural justice (the perceived fairness of the process or procedure by which ratings are assigned or rewards are distributed) and that perceived injustice causes negative emotional reactions in the forms of mood and anger. Cohen-Charash and Spector (2001) further predicted that procedural justice will be more important than distributive justice (perceived fairness in allocation of rewards to employees) under certain contexts, especially in situation involving difficult decisions that might hurt or be of great significance to the person affected by them (e.g., layoffs).

Another factor related to workplace violence is a wounded pride (ego threat). Challenging the myth that low self-esteem is an important cause of violence, Baumeister, Smart, & Boden (1996) discovered that violence usually results from egos that felt threatened.

People whose favorable self-conceptions are inflated, uncertain, or unstable may become quite sensitive to unflattering feedback and may react with hostility…[H]ighly sensitive individuals may react with considerable hostility to seemingly minor ego threats (Baumeister et al., 1996, p. 11).

In this context, the college professor might have felt that those individuals who denied her tenure threatened her ego (how dare they deny someone with my intelligence and educational background) and violated procedural justice (it’s unfair how they treated me).

Research says that it takes an individual’s personality, a threatened ego, and a view of injustice to contribute to workplace aggression (Baumeister et al., 1996; Hershcovis et al., 2007). Tragically, the mixture of the professor’s personality, her wounded pride, and her perception that others had treated her unjustly resulted in workplace violence that left three people dead, three others injured, and a community in shock and mourning.

References

Baumeister, R., Smart, L., & Boden, J. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103(1), 5-33. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.103.1.5

Cohen-Charash, Y. & Spector, P.E. (2001). The role of justice in organizations: A meta-analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86(2), 278–321.

Hershcovis, M. S., Turner, N., Barling, J., Inness, M., LeBlanc, M. M., Arnold, K. A., Dupre, K. E., & Sivanathan, N. (2007). Predicting workplace aggression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(1), 228-238.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (2nd Ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance

[NOTE: This post was updated November 2016]

In “Leading Change” (1996), Kotter outlined an 8-Stage Process to Creating Major Change:

  1. Establish a Sense of Urgency: Examine market and competitive realities; identify and discuss crises, potential crises, or major opportunities
  2. Create the Guiding Coalition: Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change; get group to work together as a team
  3. Develop a Vision & Strategy: Create a vision to help direct the change effort; Develop strategies for achieving that vision
  4. Communicate the Vision: Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies; have Guiding Coalition role model the behavior expected of employees
  5. Empowering Action: Get rid of obstacles to change; change systems or structures that undermine the vision; encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions
  6. Generating Short-Term Wins: Plan for visible performance improvements or “wins”; create those “wins”; recognize and reward employees who made “wins” possible
  7. Consolidate Gains and Produce More Change: Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision; hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the change vision; reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents
  8. Anchor New Approaches in the Corporate Culture: Create better performance via customer- and productivity-oriented behavior, more and better leadership, and more effective management; articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success; develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

Professor Kotter (1996) shared about a time he consulted with an intelligent and competent executive who struggled trying to implement a reorganization. Problem was many of his managers were against it. Kotter went through the 8-stage process. He asked the executive whether there was a sense of urgency (Stage #1) among the employees to change. The executive said, “Some do. But many probably do not.” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22). When asked about a compelling vision and strategy to implement (Stage #3), the executive replied, I think so [about the vision]…although I’m not sure how clear it [the strategy] is” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22). Finally, when Kotter inquired whether the managers understood and believed in the vision, the executive responded, “I wouldn’t be surprised if many [people] either don’t understand the concept or don’t entirely believe in it [the vision]” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22).

Kotter (1996) states that when Stages #1-4 of the Kotter model are skipped it’s inevitable that one will face resistance. The executive ran into resistance because he went directly to Stage #5. Kotter states that in attempting to implement change, many will rush through the process “without ever finishing the job” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22) or they’ll skip stages and either jump to or only do Stages 5, 6, and 7.

Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) maintain that when employees resist change they are protecting/defending something they value and which seems threatened by the attempt at change.

Eight Reasons for Resisting Change (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  1. Fear of the unknown
  2. Lack of good information
  3. Fear of loss of security
  4. No reasons to change
  5. Fear of loss of power
  6. Lack of resources
  7. Bad timing
  8. Habit

To overcome resistance to change, make sure that the following criteria are met (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  • Benefit: Whatever it is that is changing, that change should have a clear relative advantage for those being asked to change; it should be seen as “a better way.”
  • Compatibility: The change should be as compatible as possible with the existing values and experiences of the people being asked to change.
  • Complexity: The change should be no more complex than necessary; it must be as easy as possible for people to understand and use.
  • Triability: The change should be something that people can try on a step-by-step basis and make adjustments as things progress.

There are 6 methods for dealing with resistance to change (and their advantages & drawbacks)*** (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005; Kotter & Schlesinger, 1979 & 2008):

Methods for dealing with resistance to change | Source: Kotter and Schlesinger's 2008 article "Choosing Strategies for Change"
Methods for dealing with resistance to change | Source: Kotter and Schlesinger’s 2008 article “Choosing Strategies for Change”

  1. Education & Communication: educate people about a change before it is implemented; help them understand the logic behind the change.
  2. Participation & Involvement: allow people to help design and implement the changes (e.g., ideas, task forces, committees).
  3. Facilitation & Support: provide help (emotional & material resources) for people having trouble adjusting to the change.
  4. Negotiation & Agreement: offers incentives to those who resist change.
  5. Manipulation & Cooptation: attempts to influence others.
  6. Explicit & Implicit Coercion: use of authority to get people to accept change.

***For additional (and quite valuable) information related to the six methods for dealing with resistance to change outlined by Schermerhorn and colleagues, there is a Harvard Business Review article by Kotter and Schlesinger (1979 & 2008). The 2008 article, “Choosing Strategies for Change” is a reprint of the same 1979 article. For better layout and graphics, I’ve referred to the 2008 article. I believe the six methods for dealing with resistance to change outlined by Schermerhorn and colleagues (2005) is based on or came directly from Kotter and Schlesinger’s 1979 article.

***In Kotter and Schlesinger’s 1979 HBR article (and in the 2008 HBR reprint) the six methods for dealing with resistance to change included the six approaches (e.g., education + communication, negotiation + agreement, etc.) as well as three more columns (commonly used in situations; advantages; and drawbacks). I found this to be especially useful and have posted a screenshot (above) of the graphic used in Kotter and Schlesinger’s 2008 HBR article. I would encourage readers to read Kotter and Schlesinger’s HBR article.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Kotter, J. P. & Schlesinger, L. A. (1979). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, 57(2), 106-114.

Kotter, J. P. & Schlesinger, L. A. (2008). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, 86(7/8), 130-139. Also retrieved from https://hbr.org/2008/07/choosing-strategies-for-change

Kotter, J.P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.