Category Archives: Happy & Unhappy

Book Review: Good Boss, Bad Boss

good-boss-bad-boss-book-cover

In an email exchange, Professor Robert I. Sutton (author of the highly acclaimed book, “The No Asshole Rule”) asked me if I was interested in seeing a “galley” of his upcoming book, “Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst” (due out September 2010). According to Dr. Sutton, “galleys” are “essentially cheap paperback versions of the book that usually have a few typos and may need a little more editing” sent as advanced copies “to the press and other opinion leaders.” I responded that I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of his book and would love to have an advance copy.

I am a fan of Dr. Robert Sutton. I follow his blog, Work Matters regularly and enjoy his writing style. Because I’m fascinated by workplace psychology (I write the WorkplacePsychology.Net blog), I am always interested in articles and books that have a good mixture of research and practical writing and applications. In other words, cut through the bull and tell me what I need to know and make sure that what I need to know is backed by evidence and research. Last year, a book I read (“The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It” by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath) met this practical application + evidence-based criteria.

Here’s a little history for those not familiar with Dr. Sutton’s previous book. “The No Asshole Rule” is about the harm done by jerks or assholes in the workplace and what to do to survive working with or for an asshole and how organizations can get rid of or better yet, screen these individuals out before hiring them in the first place. As he explained, while words like bullies, jerks, creeps, tyrants, etc. could have been used, the word “asshole best captures the fear and loathing I have for these nasty people” (Sutton, 2007, p. 1).

Ok, let’s move on to “Good Boss, Bad Boss.”

Dr. Sutton says that as more people shared with him their asshole stories, about working and dealing with assholes (as a result of reading or hearing about “The No Asshole Rule”), he realized that everything came back to one central figure — the boss. It was from the countless workplace asshole stories and the desire to share how to be a skilled boss or how to work for one that led Dr. Sutton to write “Good Boss, Bad Boss.”

The book cites a University of Florida study that found employees with abusive bosses were much more likely than others to slow down or make errors on purpose (30% vs. 6%) [the technical term for this is “counterproductive work behavior”]. When you purposefully slow down your work, it’s called production deviance. Employees with abusive bosses also hide from their bosses (27% vs. 4%), not put in maximum effort (33% vs. 9%), and feign being sick (29% vs. 4%).

“Good Boss, Bad Boss” is about the best bosses and what they do. It’s not about incompetent or even mediocre bosses. As Dr. Sutton puts it, it doesn’t matter if you’re a boss whose team brought in the highest sales number or a principal of an award-winning school, if you treat people badly, you don’t deserve to be called a great boss.

Good bosses need to have the right mindsets by embracing five beliefs:

(1) Following Lasorda’s Law? Finding the balance between over-managing (or micromanaging) and under-managing. Good bosses understand when to exert more control vs. when to back off, and when to coach vs. when to discipline.

(2) Got Grit? Good bosses think of managing in terms of a marathon, not like a sprint. Effective bosses can communicate a sense of urgency without treating things like one long emergency.

(3) Small Wins? Having long-term goals is important, but good bosses also know that the day-to-day efforts and small accomplishments also matter. The best bosses are those who can break down problems into bite-size, achievable pieces for their employees.

(4) Beware the Toxic Tandem? The Toxic Tandem is made up of the boss’s obliviousness (to what their employees need, say, and do) and self-centered ways and the idea that followers closely watch their boss’s words and actions.

(5) Got Their Backs? Good bosses protect and fight for their employees. These bosses take the heat (from upper management) when their employees screw up.

Good bosses have their fingers (and ears) on the pulse of what their employees are thinking, feeling, and acting. These bosses know that to be successful they have to spend time and energy to reading and responding to employees’ feelings and actions. Good bosses also possess self-awareness, being highly aware of their strengths and weaknesses while striving to overcome pitfalls that may sabotage their performance.

“Good Boss, Bad Boss” warns that there is no panacea. There is no magic formula to what makes a good boss, and anyone who “promises you an easy or instant pathway to success is either ignorant or dishonest — or both,” says Dr. Sutton.

“Good Boss, Bad Boss” ends by asking and suggesting the audience think about two questions. These two questions should be something good bosses focus on daily:

(1) Would people want to work for you and would they choose to work for you again if given a choice?

(2) Are you in tune with what it feels like to work for you?

Summary: “Good Boss, Bad Boss” is an insightful and well-researched book. Following in the footsteps set by The No Asshole Rule, “Good Boss, Bad Boss” delivers a knock-out punch to those asshole bosses whose cluelessness continues to harm both their employees and the overall organization. Using the power of storytelling, Robert Sutton masterfully weaves together research and stories about good and bad bosses and behaviors in the workplace that led to their successes and failures. If you want a magic pill or quick solutions on how to be a great boss and avoid being a bad one, this is not the book for you. However, if you value the power of insight and self-awareness as part of an on-going process toward becoming a great boss, then you’ll love “Good Boss, Bad Boss.”

References

Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.

Sutton, R. I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best… and learn from the worst. New York: Business Plus.

Sutton, R. I. (2007). The no asshole rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t. New York: Business Plus.

What Gets You Up in the Morning?

Rule #23

Keep Two Lists: What Gets You Up in the Morning? What Keeps You Up at Night?

As I’m gearing up to teach my next college course, thinking about how to best help my students be successful, I picked up Alan Webber’s “Rules of Thumb” while sorting through stacks of papers in my room. Webber delivers yet another wonderful story, this time about what energizes you about work.

Webber, as you recall in an earlier post I wrote called Failure is Failing to Try, is the co-founder of Fast Company magazine. About 18 months into Fast Company’s young existence as a magazine, the topic of business was cool again. With the new economy featured prominently in the news, the explosion of the Internet and technology, and the emergence of innovation, Webber observes…

“All of a sudden America had a new attitude toward work: work didn’t have to be drudgery. The work you did could make a difference, make you rich, make a dent in the universe” (p. 111).

Webber noticed that people “were genuinely excited about the things going on in their workplaces” (p. 111). “Work” became the subject of many conversations. And it didn’t matter what line of work people were in or when or where, talks about work would come up.

For Webber, the question was more than just “what are you working on,” it should be, “What gave them a jolt of purpose in the morning? What was waiting for them at work that got them excited?”

It was in thinking about this that Webber refined his question to:

“What Gets You Up in the Morning?”

Fast Company took great pride in their interviews with thought leaders and innovative executives and noticed that when they read interviews with top executives in other business magazines, the interviews “almost always were puff pieces; the whole point seemed to be to give the executive a platform for broadcasting the company line” (Webber, 2009, p. 112).

Wanting to set itself apart, Fast Company instead began its interviews by asking executives:

“What Keeps You Up at Night?” (the counterquestion to “What Gets You Up in the Morning?”)

It was a way for Fast Company to stand apart from the rest of the pack, but more importantly it was a way to solicit authentic answers from these executives. This counterquestion “became a Fast Company signature question” (p. 112).

Webber wrote,

“Some people just have jobs. Others have something they really work at. Some people are just occupied. Others have something that preoccupies them” (p. 113).

As I’ve written in the “About this Site,” we spend 8 to 9 hours a day, 5 days a week working. When you add it up, we spend one-third of our day or half of our waking hours at work. If you work 40 hours a week for 47 weeks out of the year (taking 5 weeks off for various vacation, holiday and sick days), that would add up to 1,880 hours a year. And if you work from the age of 23 to 63 or 40 years, you will have spent 75,200 hours of your life working!

The idea is not to quit work, but to honestly answer the question:

“What Gets You Up in the Morning?”

Webber advises that if the answer to this question doesn’t jolt you out of bed in the morning and give you a sense of purpose and direction then the next question to ask yourself is:

“What are you going to do about it?”

“[W]hatever your answers are, you’re spending almost two thousand hours a year of your life doing it. That makes it worthwhile to come up with answers you can not only live with but also live for” (Webber, 2009, p. 115).

Reference

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

How Leaders Can Help Employees Find Meaning at Work

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

In this video Dave Ulrich, co-author of “The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win,” talks about how organizations can be places where people find meaning in their lives.

“Work is one of those places where people can find meaning and purpose.”
“What is it that helps people find meaning in their work setting?”

Ulrich says that when people find their meaning that not only do they feel better about themselves and their own work improves, but the organization is more successful. Employees are more productive, customers get better value, and investors get better results.

[From the WhyofWork website]: Leaders need to attend to shaping meaning at least three levels: 1) for the organization as a whole; 2) for them as individuals; and 3) for each of their employees.

1) At an organization level, leaders need to forge the vision and values that will guide and infuse all aspects of the organization, tying the organization’s broadest sense of meaning directly to customer needs, investor values, and community interests.

2) In addition, leaders need to discover their own “language” of meaning: What types of experiences and perspectives help them find passion for their work, guide their pursuits, and infuse their workday with energy and delight?

3) Leaders also need to become multi-lingual in the languages of meaning, understanding the range of motivators and experiences that create meaning for the variety of employees they interact with each day.

The Ulrichs (2010) share 7 Principles of Abundant Organizations:

1. What am I known for? (Identity)

Principle 1: Abundant organizations build on strengths (capabilities in an organization) that strengthen others.

“Great leaders help individuals align their personal strengths with the organization identity (firm brand) and with customer expectations” (p. 53).

2. Where am I going? (purpose and motivation)

Principle 2: Abundant organizations have purposes that sustain both social and fiscal responsibility and align individual motivation.

“Great leaders recognize what motivates employees, match employee motivators to organization purposes, and help employees prioritize work that matters most” (p. 81).

Leaders need to ask: What are the insights we need to succeed as an organization? What achievements and goals will keep us in business? What types of relationships will help us get our work done? What human problems are we trying to solve? What are the most pressing motivations of this organization? (Ulrich & Ulrich, 2010).

3. Whom do I travel with? (Relationships and Teamwork)

Principle 3: Abundant organizations take work relationships beyond high-performing teams to high-relating teams.

“Great leaders help employees build skills for professional friendships between and among teams” (p. 103).

4. How do I build a positive work environment? (Effective work culture or setting)

Principle 4: Abundant organizations create positive work environments that affirm and connect people throughout the organization.

“Great leaders recognize and establish positive work environments that inspire employees, meet customer expectations, and give investors confidence” (p. 125).

5. What challenges interest me? (personalizing and contributing work)

Principle 5: Abundance occurs when companies can engage not only employees’ skills (competence) and loyalty (commitment), but also their values (contribution).

“Great leaders personalize work conditions so that employees know how their work contributes to outcomes that matter to them” (p. 157).

6. How do I respond to disposability and change? (Growth, learning, and resilience)

Principle 6: Abundant organizations use principles of growth, learning, and resilience, to respond to change.

“Great leaders relish change and help employees grow, learn, and be resilient to bring new life to their organizations” (p. 185).

7. What delights me? (Civility and happiness)

Principle 7: Abundant organizations not only attend to outward demographic diversity but to the diversity of what makes individuals feel happy, cared for, and excited about life.

“Great leaders move away from hostility and intolerance toward multiculturalism through problem solving, listening, curiosity, diversity, and compassion and by bring creativity, pleasure, humor, and delight into their organizations” (p. 219).

References

The Why of Work. Further Reading. Retrieved from http://thewhyofwork.com/index.php/books/why-of-work-further-reading/

The Why of Work. The Method. Retrieved from http://thewhyofwork.com/index.php/books/why-of-work-the-method/

Ulrich, D. & Ulrich, W. (2010). The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win. New York: McGraw-Hill.

The Power of Praise and Recognition on Organizational Success

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

In this video Chester Elton, co-author of The Carrot Principle, talks about how to use the power of carrots (praise & recognition) to motivate your employees and maximize business results.

In “The Carrot Principle” Gostick and Elton maintain that unlike the latest leadership fads, principles don’t go out of style. A principle is “not a program [or] an activity” (p. 192), but a constant.

Drawing from more than 200,000 interviews, the book highlights the relationship between recognition (carrots) and individual and organizational manager success (Gostick & Elton, 2009).

The authors created a recognition model based on 4 elements: Goal Setting, Communication, Trust, and Accountability. Next, the model introduces recognition as an “accelerator,” increasing supervisor relevance and employee engagement leading to improved business results (Gostick & Elton, 2009).

Gostick & Elton (2009) assert that in order to boost engagement and create organizational results, recognition should have two things:

(1) Alignment (“recognizing what matters most”) – which is what matters most in your organization. This includes the desired objectives, values, and culture.

(2) Impact (“recognizing people the right way”) – which is having inclusive programs that are clearly understood and meaningful to the employees and making sure that it is based on performance.

“Recognition accelerates business results. It amplifies the effect of every action and quickens every process. It also heightens your ability to see employee achievements, sharpens your communication skills, creates cause for celebration, boosts trust between you and your employees, and improves accountability” (Gostick & Elton, 2009, pp. 192-193).

Reference

Gostick, A. & Elton, C. (2009). The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance. New York: Free Press.

Coping With Fear-Lessons for Business and Life

In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan Webber talks about one of the rules in his book: When things get tough.

Rule #1: When the going gets tough, the tough relax.

In crisis management, I teach people that fear is normal and natural. In fact, what matters most is our behaviors in these stressful, frightening situations that strongly determine the difference between a safe or disastrous outcome. If it weren’t for our ability to experience fear, we would not be able to survive for too long in this world. Just think about the number of times your own fears warned you of impending dangers (a car coming dangerously close to yours on the freeway, a stranger who seems a bit creepy, etc.). Most of us are familiar with the “fight-or-flight response,” which experts describe as a physiological arousal response in which the body prepares to fight or escape a real or perceived threat (Donatelle, 2009). Although this instinctual response is designed to help us, if overused, it can actually damage our bodies.

Simply stated, although it’s normal to be afraid, if you live a life based on fear, you will hurt yourself and those around you.

In Webber’s case, his fear was of failure, of being embarrassed, or appearing to ask a stupid question. The person he was scheduled to interview, Helmut Schmidt (a former German chancellor), was “notoriously difficult.” It was completely understandable that Webber was fearful of this guy “dismissing my questions as stupid” (Webber, 2009, p. 3).

However, rather than letting his fear get in the way, Webber decided to jot down some notes to himself on a yellow legal pad. On it he wrote: “Relax! Smile! This is a blessing, a treat, and an honor. It’s not a punishment to be endured.” After all, “[h]ow many people get to sit across from a world leader and ask him questions?”

Webber’s advice, applicable to business and life, is this:

“Anytime you approach a task with fear you are at least a double loser. First, you color the work with fear and increase the chances of failure…Second, you guarantee that you won’t enjoy the experience. Whether you succeed or fail, wouldn’t you like to remember the experience as one you enjoyed, not one you suffered through?” (Webber, 2009, p. 5)

“Don’t let fear undermine your chance to do that one thing you’ve wanted to do.” -Alan M. Webber

References

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

Failure is Failing to Try

I love Half Price Books. You can pick up a $25 book for less than $7.00 and there’s even an educator’s discount. Earlier today, I picked up a book called “Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self” by Alan M. Webber. Webber is the cofounding editor of Fast Company and was the managing editor and editorial director of the Harvard Business Review.

I think I decided to get the book because on the book jacket flap Webber said that one of the high points of his life was being told he looked like Bruce Willis when he visited Japan. For the record, I don’t think he does and I’m Asian. Hey, I like an author with a sense of humor.

Webber’s Rule #45 caught my eye. It says: Failure isn’t failing. Failure is failing to try. Webber recounts the time, while working at the Harvard Business Review (HBR), that he felt that needed to “take shot at starting my own magazine (Fast Company)” (p. 225). He had been mulling over the idea of leaving HBR and starting Fast Company.

The decision wasn’t easy because the advice from his colleagues was to stay and use his position to further his career or stick with the job and he would be rewarded with a better one later on. It was hard to ignore the obvious advantages of the Harvard Business Review (prestige, security, and money). But Webber was determined to answer his inner calling of starting his own magazine.

As he said: “The question wasn’t whether it was a good idea. The question wasn’t even whether it would work. The question was, would I have the courage to try?

What was the worst thing that he could tell himself, that he tried to start a magazine and failed or that he failed to try at all?

This story of yearning to follow your heart resonates with me because in 2004, I left my life and home in Dallas, Texas to live and work on a tiny island in the North Pacific Ocean called Saipan.

That life-changing decision was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. I had been living my life vicariously, dreaming about great things but not having the courage to try them. In the end, the heart won out and I could no longer ignore the yearning of living abroad.

It’s hard to describe how fulfilled I felt when I came to Saipan. Within the first week or so, I knew that I had made the right decision. No one told me that I had made the right choice. No self-help or personal development book answered my deep longings. Rather, it was simply a feeling I felt in my heart. It just felt right.

I think Alan Webber felt the same thing when he left what was comfortable to start his own magazine.

“Ten years from now, what will you regret never having tried?” -Alan Webber

Reference

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

The 4 Character Strengths of a Leader

My wife often tells me about her late father. Because he passed away long before I ever met her, I never had the honor to meet or know him. The stories she shares about her memories of him are priceless and each one of her stories has left an indelible mark on my heart and mind.

The other evening, she told me of an employee who came to work for her dad. My wife’s father was both an electronic engineering professor in Japan and president of his own electrical systems design company. He hired a young man who came to Tokyo right after junior high. Without much education under this young man’s belt, the professor took the boy under his wings and began teaching and mentoring him about the electrical systems design business.

Far from the perfect employee, the young lad accidentally burned a customer’s house and an entire floor of a new building in the same year! While the young man was panic-stricken, the professor was a patient teacher who modeled self-control in crisis situations. He took the employee aside and calmly talked to him. He then, as president of the company [formally called “daihyo-torishimariyaku” or 代表取締役 or informally called “shacyou” or 社長], would apologize to the customer and pay for the cost of the repairs. If this had happened today, the employee would have been fired or sued or both.

He knew that even though this young boy didn’t have the highest level of education, he was a hard worker and because the company president valued hard work, he paid this young man (who had no high school or college education) a salary higher than that of someone with a college degree! The company president went above and beyond his role as boss and even helped pay for a portion of this young man’s new house. Some might think this foolish to be so generous and place such trust in someone so inexperienced and uneducated. But, I believe the professor and shacyou had the character strengths that allowed him to nurture this boy’s growth and development, as an employee and a human being.

When my wife’s father died, the employee shared that his heart was broken. Many loyal students and employees attended the funeral. To this day, many years after the professor’s death and about 40 years from when he was hired as a 15 year old boy, this employee still works for the family business. Now that’s loyalty.

In “Leading with Character,” John J. Sosik talks about the character strengths that leaders must develop in themselves and others to create and sustain organizational growth and performance. Sosik mentions the 23 character strengths (grouped under six virtues) that are foundational to good character: wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence.

The president of the company [“daihyo-torishimariyaku” or 代表取締役 or “shacyou” or 社長] exemplified FOUR character strengths that modeled leadership and created employee loyalty at its finest:

Humility: Most people never knew about all of the professor’s awards and recognitions until they visited his home, only to be pleasantly surprised by the numerous accolades under his name.

Forgiveness & Self-Control: He possessed forgiveness and self-control by not going ballistic when the employee destroyed an entire floor of a brand new building (the second incident within a year).

Kindness: The professor and company president demonstrated, through his kindness, that his employees matter much more than the tasks that he asked of them. This was evident in the respectful way he treated the employee who burned down a customer’s house.

We often read or hear about leaders who are mavericks, with personalities and egos to match. But how many business owners or leaders do you know who display the character strengths of humility, forgiveness, self-control, and kindness?

“Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence.” -Democritus, 460-370 BC, Greek philosopher

Reference

Sosik, J.J. (2006). Leading with character: Stories of valor and virtue and the principles they teach. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

There Are Simple Answers

Ronald Reagan was known for his communication skills. In fact, his nickname was the “Great Communicator.” I came across part of the quote below in Weiss’ (2006) book and really like what former President Reagan said about simple answers.

“They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers.” -Ronald Reagan

As a consultant and trainer with experience in education, mental health, crisis management, and training & development, I have encountered difficult and complex situations. But, no matter how confusing or overwhelming the problems may sometimes seem, I have always believed that the answers were not. NASA astronauts and brain surgeons have jobs that are complex. Most jobs, however, are not. You either do it or you don’t. You move ahead or stand still. You make a decision or don’t. And yet, people tend to add an unnecessary layer of complications to sometimes uncomplicated problems or issues.

From my experience, I think many of us already know what we need to do (at home and in the workplace). It is the FEAR that keeps us from following through with actions. For instance, I have talked to people who were unhappy about certain aspects of their lives. Some, for example, lament how unhappy they were to be where they’re at in life. They complained that they hate this or that, and yet as much as they complained they never actually did anything to change their circumstances.

In our microwave mentality, we sometimes want it and want it now. We turn to self-help or leadership books and read blogs (like this one) for answers. The bottom line is that the “answers” are sometimes quite simple. The toughest part is not figuring out the “answers,” but rather, mustering up the courage to act.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” -Confucius

Reference

Weiss, J. (2006). The quotable manager: Inspiration for business and life. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith.

Video: Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team

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

In this video, Patrick Lencioni author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” talks about behaviors that derail teams.

Summary of the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team (from PDF on Lencioni’s website):

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust
This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict
Teams that are lacking on trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment
Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees, particularly star employees, disgruntled

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability
When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results
Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers.

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!

How Face-to-face Conversations Help Us Deal with Technostress

As I was sitting patiently waiting for my car to be repaired at the car shop the other day, I came across a great story in AARP Magazine titled, “Is Conversation Gone for Good?” It confirmed to me something I have been thinking about a lot lately — the missing element of face-to-face conversations and the level of stress we experience living in a high-tech world.

The article raises two important points I want to mention here:

  • Today, our talks are more results-oriented and less people-oriented. In person, we ask closed questions that can be answered by yes or no and we share brief exchanges. The author of the article remarked how his recent “conversations” were, in fact, Facebook postings.
  • The paradox of contemporary life—simultaneous connection and isolation. Think about it for a minute. We reach out to connect to others (many times strangers) through social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and yet, when we are in the same room with other people, we don’t have much to say to them.

We are bombarded by and bombard others with so much information that there is actually a term to describe this — technostress.

Technostress is stress resulting from our over-reliance on technology. According to Rebecca J. Donatelle, Ph.D., technostress is “a dependence on technology, the constant state of being “plugged in,” and the fear of technology failure” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 74).

She says that when technostress takes a hold of you, it sometimes interact with other forms of stress “to create a never-ending form of stimulation that keeps your stress response reverberating all day” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 74).

The power of technology allows us to be productive and encourages people to multitask, juggling many different things at once. We see this actually advertised and prized as a desired quality in an employee or person. However, research indicates that “people who multitask…are less efficient than those who focus on one project at a time” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 74).

A recent Harvard Business Review post says that multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in IQ (Bergman, 2010).

Signs of technology overload (Donatelle, 2009):

  • Increasing heart rate and blood pressure
  • Irritability and memory disturbances
  • Inability to relax
  • Feeling nervous and anxious during times when you are supposed to be having fun
  • Headaches
  • Stomach, digestive problems, ulcers
  • Skin irritations
  • Frequent colds
  • Difficulty in wound healing
  • Difficulty sleeping or lack of sleep
  • Gaps in attentiveness and changes in ability to concentrate

TIPS FOR FIGHTING TECHNOSTRESS (Donatelle, 2009):

1. Become aware of what you are doing.
Log the time you spend online, on social networking sites, e-mail, voicemail, etc. Set up a schedule to limit your use of technology. For example, spend no more than a half-hour per day answering e-mails.

2. Give yourself more time.
If you are surfing the Web for resources for a paper or project, begin early rather than the night before it is due.

3. Manage the telephone—don’t let it manage you.
Rather than interrupting what you’re doing to answer the call, screen phone calls with an answering machine or caller ID. Eliminate call waiting because it forces you to juggle multiple calls, and instead, subscribe to a voicemail service that takes messages when you’re on the phone.

4. Take regular breaks.
Even when you’re working, every hour get up, walk around, stretch, do deep breathing, or get a drink of water.

5. If you are working on the computer, look away from the screen and focus on something far away every 30 minutes.
Stretch your shoulders and neck periodically as you work. Play relaxing background music.

6. Resist the urge to buy the newest and fastest technology.
Such purchases causes financial stress and adds to your stress levels, especially when dealing with the glitches that occur from installing and adjusting to new technology.

7. Do not take laptops, PDAs, or other technological gadgets on vacation.
If you must take a cell phone for emergencies, turn it and your voice messaging system off, and use the phone only in true emergencies.

8. Back up materials on your computer at regular intervals.
There’s nothing more frustrating and stressful than losing work because of a power outage. In college, I heard about a girl crying hysterically because she lost a paper she had spent hours writing. The culprit was a squirrel who sacrificed his life running into a power line. Poor girl and poor squirrel.

9. Expect technological change.
The only constant is change. Nowhere is this more true than with technology. We blink and what we purchased or become accustomed to will become yesterday’s news. No matter how comfortable you are with your current computer, cell phone, PDA, and so on, at some point you will need to move on to a new one.

10. Unplug or Disconnect, Step Away, and “Talk.” – this last tip is my own.
When I was in my teens and early twenties, I was quite impatient as I suppose some people are growing up. But the older I become, the more I slow down to soak life in. It was this epiphany that led me back home, from working overseas, to be with my aging parents.

Just like the author of the AARP article, I too am enjoying conversations (face-to-face ones that is) with others. In the past few years, those precious conversations have been with my mother. And, like the author, I am finding wonderment in the “transformative power of human contact,” one that offers glimpses into the lives of those with whom I hold face-to-face conversations.

When I talk and listen to my mom, it’s almost as if time stops. When I am truly engrossed in conversation with her, I feel as though I’m traveling back in time to years past, learning about her, about myself, and about life. With our manic society, hyperactive workplaces, and a 24-7 mindset about being plugged in, it is comforting to know that, sometimes, the most profound and yet easiest solution on “unplugging” is to simply “talk.”

References

Bergman, P. (May 2010). How (and why) to stop multitasking. Harvard Business Review, May 20, 2010. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2010/05/how-and-why-to-stop-multitaski.html

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Dudley, D. (Mar/Apr 2010). Is conversation gone for good? AARP Magazine, Mar/Apr 2010, 62-67.

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.

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.