Know your people, know your data: Keys to measuring employee engagement

Does your organization offer a total compensation and benefits package that appeals to employees? According to research, over half of employees believe that health insurance is important in terms of their job satisfaction. Read this post for ways to measure employee engagement.


Offering a total compensation and benefits package that fits employee needs drives morale, motivation and performance in the workplace.

Simply put, people who are happy and healthy are more productive. When an organization offers benefits that appeal to employees (and workers know how to use these benefits) employers should see an increase in total productivity.

On the other hand, if a company is off the mark with the total compensation package, or simply hasn’t communicated the benefits to people correctly, it will either see unchanged productivity or a decline. Organizations struggling to find improvement in productivity should look at their employee benefits offerings for answers.

Providing effective group health insurance and well-being programs is a good way to reduce the amount of sick leave worker's take. If employees promptly get healthcare when they’re ill, they’re more likely to be healthier overall. If an organization doesn’t offer appropriate health benefits, the result can be presenteeism.

Additionally, the cost of presenteeism multiplies when sick staff are contagious. One sick person refusing to take a day off can snowball into multiple people arriving ill to work on subsequent days. When illnesses reach critical mass and it’s harder for people to recover from things like the flu or a cold, organizations may find themselves short-staffed when employees finally pay to see a doctor.

Job satisfaction and morale are also linked to employee benefits. Research shows more than half of employees believe that health insurance is important in terms of their job satisfaction — even more crucial if staff live in an area where medical services are expensive.

Strategies to measure benefits engagement. HR staff have multiple ways of measuring how certain workplace functions are performing. Here are some effective methods organizations can use to measure benefits engagement.

Staff surveys. Questionnaires that seek to understand what benefits your staff know they have, and how they’ll use them.

Pulse surveys. Asking staff short, frequent questions about a benefits platform.

Focus groups. Gathering cross-functional groups of staff members together to have a facilitated discussion about benefits.

Exit surveys. Include questions about benefits and satisfaction levels during exit surveys, and then investigate what their next employer might be offering to have lured them away.

If organizations are not regularly questioning how well their benefits plan is performing, they may be missing an opportunity to get key insights into how employees feel about their packages.

Offering employee benefits isn’t just to support an organization’s staff, it should also support an organization’s long-term sustainability. Employee engagement is one key measure. The challenge for organizations is ensuring not only that they include benefits that will be relevant to staff, but also that they properly educate them in what those benefits are.

The less staff are educated on what benefits exist and how they can use them, the less likely they are to engage with them. Not having an appropriate communication strategy can often set benefits plan performance behind.

Working with analytics and claims data can indicate when specific benefits aren’t being used. Knowing what causes the lack of engagement requires a bit of discussion and investigation, but finding sustainable solutions is completely dependent on understanding whether the issue is the benefits themselves, or the communication to staff.

SOURCE: Rider, S. (1 November 2019) "Know your people, know your data: Keys to measuring employee engagement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/using-data-to-measure-employee-engagement


7 Tips for Coaching Employees to Improve Performance

Did you know: Coaching is central to improving team performance. Effective coaching skills, like managers and leaders, are critical to the success of a business. Read on for seven tips to effectively coach employees to improve performance.


Managers and leaders are critical to the success of a business, and so are effective coaching skills. Consistent coaching helps with employee onboarding and retention, performance improvement, skill improvement, and knowledge transfer. On top of these benefits, coaching others is an effective method for reinforcing and transferring learning.

While there are many important leadership skills and competencies, coaching is central to improving the performance of entire teams.

A coaching leadership style is proving to be much more effective with today’s employees than the more authoritarian styles that many business leaders operate under. Leaders who coach employees instead of commanding them are able to build a much more talented and agile workforce, which leads to a healthy and growing business.

Think back to your peewee soccer days (or any team sport, really). I bet you can think of three kinds of teams:

  1. The directionless group of kids running around aimlessly, taking frequent breaks for cookies and juice.
  2. The organized group who focused, but still had fun.
  3. The hyper-focused, aggressive group.

And how do you think these teams got the way they did? The coach, of course! The first group had a coddling coach, the second had a balanced coach, and the third had an intense coach living out his failed soccer dreams vicariously through a group of 6-year-olds.

Which seems like the healthiest group? Hopefully, you said the second one. But how do you coach in such a way that produces a healthy team?

Good coaching can be easy to spot, but hard to emulate.

First, you need to meet your team members where they’re at. Coaching isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Some people will need a lot more handholding than others, depending on where they’re at in their job role and overall career.

So before we get to our seven coaching tips, here’s a quick look at how you can align coaching conversations with individual employees’ needs.

How to Coach Employees at Different Levels

The best coaches don’t use the same coaching style for each individual team member. They’re flexible enough to adapt to the situation at hand.

There are five levels of employee performance, and you’ll have to adapt your style for each one to coach them effectively:

  • Novices
  • Doers
  • Performers
  • Masters
  • Experts

Level 1: Novice

Novices are in the “telling” stage of learning. They need to receive a lot of instruction and constructive correction. If you’re confident in the people you’ve hired, then they probably won’t need to stay in this stage very long. Also, watch out for your own micromanaging tendencies – you don’t want to hold an employee back from moving to the next level!

Level 2: Doer

Once Novices begin to understand the task and start to perform, they transition to the Doer stage. They haven’t yet mastered the job, so there’s still a heavy amount of “tell” coaching going on. But they’re doing some productive work and contributing to the team. So, there are now opportunities to encourage new behaviors, and praise Doers for good results.

Level 3: Performer

As Doers start accomplishing a task to standards, they become Performers. Now they’re doing real work and carrying their full share of the load. And they’re doing the task the way it should be done. With Performers, there’s much less “tell” coaching, if any at all. But there’s still feedback, mostly focused on recognizing good results and improving the results that don’t meet expectations.

Level 4: Master

Some Performers may continue to grow on the job and reach the Master stage. At this point, they can not only accomplish tasks to standards, they can do so efficiently and effectively. Plus, they have a deep enough understanding of what should be done that they can teach and coach others on the task. And they know enough to actually help improve standard processes.

Level 5: Expert

Experts are valuable members of the team and may become front-line team leads. Experts don’t need a lot of direction – they’re highly self-sufficient. If anything, they can provide direction to others. Experts don’t necessarily require a lot of recognition and praise to stay motivated, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want any.

7 Coaching Tips for Managers and Leaders

So, now that we’ve gone over the different performance levels your employees can be at, let’s get to what you came for – the tips!

These coaching tips will work with any of those five levels and can help you have more mutually beneficial coaching conversations that will improve overall team performance!

1. Ask guiding questions

Open-ended, guiding questions lead to more detailed and thoughtful answers, which lead to more productive coaching conversations. As a manager or leader, it is critical that you develop strong relationships with your employees. This will help you determine if your employees are curious, have the capacity to perform and improve, and what kind of attitude they have towards their work.

This is where communication skills and emotional intelligence really come into play. Managers must guide conversations both by asking questions and listening, not by giving directives. Employees learn and grow the most when they uncover the answers themselves.

2. Recognize what’s going well

Coaching well requires a balance of criticism and praise. If your coaching conversations are completely focused on what’s not working and what the employee has to do to change, that’s not motivating, it’s demoralizing.

Your recognition of the things your employee is doing well can be a springboard into how they can build from that to improve. We’re not talking about the compliment sandwich here, though, because that coaching technique often devolves into shallow praise that comes off as insincere.

Giving compliments that you don’t actually mean can have a worse effect than not giving any at all, so take the time to think about specific things that are going well, and let your employees know that you see and appreciate them!

Another aspect of this is how the employee likes to be recognized. This is a good question to ask them from the start of your relationship – does frequent recognition help them stay motivated, or is every once in awhile sufficient? Do they prefer recognition to be given publicly or privately? The last thing you want to do is embarrass someone when you’re trying to be a good coach!

3. Listen and empower

Coaching requires both encouragement and empowerment. As a manager and a leader, your job is to build one-on-one relationships with employees that result in improved performance.

Your employees are likely to have a lot of input, questions, and feedback. It’s important for them to know you care enough to listen to what they have to say, so encourage them to share their opinions.

Some employees will have no problem speaking their mind, while others will need a LOT of encouragement before they share an opinion with you openly. Once they do open up, be sure to respect those opinions by discussing them, rather than dismissing them.

4. Understand their perspective

When you’re coaching employees to improve performance and engagement, approaching things from their perspective, rather than your own, will help enormously with seeing the changes and results you want.

Everyone has different motivations, preferences, and personalities, so if you ask questions to help you understand where their “why” comes from and what their preferred “how” looks like, then you can tailor your coaching conversations to align the way they work best with the improvements you’re both aiming for.

For example, maybe you recently moved from an office plan that had lots of individual offices to a much more open-plan, and one of the reps on your sales team has shown a drastic decrease in successful calls. If you start asking questions and find out that this is someone who is excellent in one-on-one conversations, but rarely speaks up in a group setting, then you can see how they’d feel like everyone is listening in on their call, making them less confident than when they had their own space.

With that perspective in mind, you can work with them more effectively on how to get their numbers back up.

5. Talk about next steps

Coaching conversations are meant to yield changes and results, so be sure to clearly define and outline what needs to happen next. This will ensure you and your employees are on the same page with expectations, and provide them with a clear understanding of the practical steps they can take to make changes and improve.

Also, these next steps should be mutually agreed upon – talk about what is reasonable to expect given their workload and the complexity of the changes being made.

6. Coach in the moment

If an employee comes to you with a question about a process or protocol, use this opportunity to teach them something new. If you’re not able to stop what you’re doing right away, schedule time with them as soon as possible to go over it.

Better yet, keep a weekly one-on-one meeting scheduled with each employee so you can go over questions and issues regularly, while maintaining productivity. Coaching employees with a goal of improving performance means making them a priority each week!

7. Commit to continuous learning

Make a commitment to improving your own skills and competencies. If you’re not continuously learning, why should your employees? Lead by example and your team will follow.

Show that you are interested in their success (why wouldn’t you be?). Ask questions about where they see their career going, or how they see their role evolving in the company. Even if they don’t have a plan laid out yet, these questions will make them think about their career and what they want to accomplish within the organization.

Show your employees that you don’t just want them to do better so you look better, but that you’re actively interested in their career, accomplishments, and professional success.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a critical aspect of coaching employees in a way that builds relationships, boosts engagement, and improves performance. Managers and leaders can see greatly improved coaching skills by taking steps to improve their EQ – they go hand in hand!

SOURCE: Brubaker, K. (24 September 2019) "7 Tips for Coaching Employees to Improve Performance" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.humanresourcestoday.com/?open-article-id=11617247&article-title=7-tips-for-coaching-employees-to-improve-performance


It’s Time to Stop Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Did you know: By 2024, 25 percent of the workforce will be 55 or older, which is up from 11 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Read the following blog post from UBA to learn more about stopping age discrimination in today's workplace.


The kids are more than all right: they’re the stars of the show.

It seems like developing market research in every business sector is all about millennials and Gen Z. How do we capture and retain their interest? How do we market and remarket to them? What are they interested in to begin with? What do they find attractive in a brand or company?

In the midst of a culture that glorifies youth, we must be particularly careful about how we recruit employees of all ages, and not neglect the benefits of a multi-generational workplace. After all, corporate diversity initiatives should be 360 degrees, and that includes age.

According to research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25% of the workforce will be 55 or older in 2024, up from 11 percent in 2000. People are retiring later and staying in their careers longer. Studies also show that workers older than 50 are more engaged at work than the younger generation, and therefore can provide a unique perspective that may not be present in millennials or Gen Z.

So how do we make sure that these older employees are part of our team? One of the biggest keys to preventing and reversing age discrimination is simply making sure that age is included in your diversity discussion as plainly as possible. Many initiatives center on understanding how gender, racial, and ethnic diversity plays a role in company operations, but little time is spent on age.

"There's substantial evidence that an age-diverse workplace, especially in industries that tend to exhibit ageism, can lead to more effective teams and companies," says Chip Conley, Airbnb's strategic advisor for hospitality and leadership.

A good first step to mitigating age discrimination at work is how you present your company to begin with. If your digital presence and recruiting materials are full of photos of trendy 25-year-olds, you are sending a clear message about who you’re looking for.

Additionally, if you are funneling money into social ads for hiring, you might be missing great talent entirely as older generations are less available to these types of communications. Make sure any job listings are scrubbed of age-related language like “digital native” and “tech-savvy.” These terms immediately deter older talent and narrow your candidate pool. The consequences of non-adherence to age-neutral hiring practices goes beyond just missing out on talent. Failing to keep a multi-generational team in mind could put your company at risk for expensive age discrimination lawsuits.

Another way to grow an age-diverse team is to promote talent from within. Millennials and Gen Z have less loyalty to companies than previous generations, and that reputation may not be due to their own lack of values. If millennials age but do not experience career advancement opportunities or investment from an employer, they will look elsewhere to get the promotion they want. Conversely, if your team has a strong career advancement pipeline, you’ll be able to retain talent that grows with you while diversifying your age group.

SOURCE: Olson, B. (31 October 2019) "It’s Time to Stop Age Discrimination in the Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/its-time-to-stop-age-discrimination-in-the-workplace


4 Steps to a Pet-Friendly Workplace

According to research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, employees who bring their dogs to work experience lower stress levels. Read this blog post from UBA for four steps to creating a pet-friendly workplace.


If your team is waving goodbye to doggy day-care and the days of leaving furry friends at home, congratulations! The trend of bringing dogs to work started soon after what is widely considered the most influential research on dog-friendly offices, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Among the many benefits, research uncovered that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels, as well as facilitated conversation and better socializing during their 9-to-5 schedules. Dogs are a great conversation starter, acting as somewhat of a “social lubricant” that allows natural discussion to flow between colleagues who otherwise wouldn’t interact. Dogs can also help enhance trust and collaboration between coworkers, according to a study from Central Michigan University.

Allowing four-legged friends into your office might have unintended positive consequences for employers as well as employees. Science shows us that dog lovers experience higher levels of oxytocin, the “feel-good” hormone, and that even spending brief periods of time with dogs can increase a sense of well-being for the owners and their pet-loving coworkers. These feel-good hormones can lead to higher levels of neurological productivity, meaning better work for less time spent.

If you haven’t already adopted a dog-friendly office policy, try these steps below and get smiling! Watch your recruiting, retention, and overall office mood skyrocket.

Steps to becoming a dog-friendly office:

  1. Make sure your building approves. Some office buildings have restrictions that prevent pets from visiting if they aren’t a registered emotional support animal. Building management should be able to answer this question for you, as well as help with any red tape or paperwork for getting a pet-friendly workplace approved.
  2. Take a quick survey of the team. It’s important to make sure everyone on your team is comfortable with dogs in the office. Sending out a quick survey via Google Forms or SurveyMonkey can help you gauge whether there are allergies, fears, or just general apprehensions about pets in the office.
  3. Make sure the guidelines are clear. To ease any stress, make sure the expectation is clear that, in order to bring a furry friend, they must be friendly (to other dogs and humans) and have all their vaccinations. To ensure that all dogs are suited for the work environment, you can get your dog certified with the AKC Canine Good Citizen CertificationIt’s not a bad idea to additionally request dog owners to bring their own baby gate or crate, so that their dog can be contained in one area if needed.
  4. Start small. If you aren’t ready to adopt a dogs-anytime policy, try rolling out just one day a week, maybe on Fridays. If things are going well, you can expand to a greater amount of time and less restrictions.

SOURCE: Olson, B. (24 October 2019) "4 Steps to a Pet-Friendly Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/4-steps-to-a-pet-friendly-workplace


Consider these 4 strategies to boost employee engagement

Strategic compensation and benefits packages are at the foundation of any high-performing culture. HR departments can boost employee engagement is by developing a holistic employee benefits package. Read this article for four strategies to help boost employee engagement.


The foundation of any high-performing culture is always a strategic compensation and benefits package. Employee engagement at any company requires the involvement of the HR department — and one way HR teams can boost engagement is by developing a holistic benefits package.

Creating a benefits plan that suits a diverse multi-generational staff is key to keeping staff engaged at every age and in every department. What were once non-traditional benefits are now becoming mainstream. For example, offering student loan repayment plans instead of 401(k) incentives to motivate younger staff, or voluntary benefit choices for employees with specific health issues.

Even the way an office is ergonomically designed can benefit employees. Adding a walking treadmill or offering a standing desk option helps foster productive work, which directly leads to greater employee satisfaction.

This is a complex equation, and getting it right is challenging. We have hard, candid conversations with employers surrounding what enjoyable, relevant work means. From there, we can establish the purpose behind engagement, creating goals and strategies that offer recognition, growth and the opportunity to voice ideas.

Employees want holistic support for their overall health and wellbeing. Employers are expanding their view of employee benefits to include many more aspects of health and wellbeing — from work environment, convenience services and onsite facilities, to attendance and leave policies, flexible work arrangements and organizational discounts.

What do employers gain from these benefits? A healthy, adaptable and engaged workforce prepared for the future of work and ready to drive business success.

What we know works

The key to engaging employees with benefits is to apply a strategic design thinking methodology, a planning method that starts with an understanding of an organization’s specific needs.

One size fits one, not all. In the past, efforts were made to make one program work for everyone, but every staff member in the workforce now expects answers for their individual needs, concerns and health risks. Offering flexible benefits or voluntary coverage is a powerful tool — and can help employers gain a productivity boost with a healthier, more engaged workforce.

Align benefits with the whole person. Benefits should align with all aspects of employees’ lives in order to truly support health, wellbeing and work-life balance. This includes the social systems they are part of, their passions, their work habits and personal life events. Nutrition advice, health literacy training and support for personal interests are all possibilities for boosting engagement, physical and emotional health and wellbeing.

Look at the data. Organizations have access to more health data than ever before — and technology makes it easier to analyze — but few employers are fully leveraging this information to design benefits that engage their employees. By analyzing and correlating demographic, health and employee-provided data from varied sources employers can identify which benefit programs workers truly value — and which deliver value.

Use both new and traditional channels to communicate. Organizations must actively market benefits to employees using engaging, relevant and timely communications. Companies can also communicate through technology.

When staff have access to benefits that best support their individual health and wellbeing, organizations will benefit.

SOURCE: Rider, S. (30 October 2019) "Consider these 4 strategies to boost employee engagement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/4-strategies-to-boost-employee-engagement-with-benefits


Why 24/7 Work Culture is Causing Workers to Burn Out

Burnout was recently classified by the World Health Organization as an "occupational phenomenon" that is characterized by chronic work stress. Workplace cultures that encourage employees to be available 24/7 may be causing burnout, according to Dr. Michael Klein. Read the following blog post to learn more.


Workplace culture that encourages employees to be available 24/7 may be causing burnout and other mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

That’s according to business psychologist and workplace adviser Dr. Michael Klein, who says companies that encourage employees to work anytime and anywhere is making it more likely that burnout will occur.

“The problem now is when you have the ability to work from wherever you want,” he says. “It’s so important for general wellness to make time to exercise, time for family and to not check work email.”

In May, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” that is characterized by chronic work stress that is not successfully managed. Research shows that continued stress at work can lead to more serious mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

As a result, Klein predicts the next few years will see an increased need for on-site mental healthcare which could be offered through employee assistance programs. Offering EAPs, flexible work options and family-friendly benefits like onsite childcare are just some of the ways employers can reduce stress for workers.

And HR may need to take the lead. Misty Guinn, director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus, says finding HR professionals that can handle difficult conversations around mental health may be key to addressing the problem. But many are not comfortable enough to have those kinds of conversations.

“Most have yet to achieve that level of comfort with conversations around mental health,” she says, noting that younger generations are often more comfortable talking about mental health issues. “We’ve got to enable people, especially within HR, benefits and management to have those conversations and be comfortable with them.”

Guinn also says that EAPs alone may not be enough to address mental health issues for workers because these programs are often scarcely utilized. Subsidizing mental health co-pays, work-life balance and PTO policies are benefit options employers to create a meaningful difference for workers mental health, she adds.

“Too often employers make the mistake of believing that offering an employee assistance program sufficiently checks off the mental health box in a complete benefits package,” she says. “In reality, these programs generally have low utilization because employees don’t have confidence in how confidential they are.”

Klein and Guinn agree that employers should consider more ways to support the total well-being of employees. Companies who prioritize their people will do better in the long term, Guinn adds.

“Employers need to take purposeful actions within their policies and programs to reinforce their support of total well-being for employees and their families,” she says.

SOURCE: Hroncich, Caroline. (June 10th, 2019) "Why 24/7 Work Culture is Causing Workers to Burn Out" (Web Blog Post) https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/24-7-work-culture-is-causing-workers-to-burn-out


What would change if your employees were CEO for a day?

New data from Salesforce shows that employees are 4.6 times more likely to contribute their best work when they feel like their voices are being heard. Read the following blog post from Employee Benefits News to learn more about building a strong workplace culture.


When employees feel like their voices are being heard, they are reportedly 4.6 times more likely to contribute their best work, according to SalesForce data. Ultimately, knowing that the company is interested in what employees have to say builds trust and encourages loyalty among members of the workforce.

Respect is the most important leadership behavior, according to a Georgetown University survey of nearly 20,000 employees. More than merely listening, making employees a part of a two-way conversation shows that the company values their opinions.

With this in mind, we set out to develop a process to help Nearmap increase workplace communication. Along the way, we found that creating opportunities for interaction, encouraging honest participation and involving executive participation were all keys to building a stronger corporate culture.

Invite employee interaction

We recognized that we needed a conversation starter to open the lines of communication and spark a little enthusiasm. We discovered that engagement surveys work the best for our circumstances because they’re quick and easy to take, which results in high completion rates.

We like to include thought-provoking questions like “if you were CEO for a day, what is the one thing you would change?” to keep the employees engaged. At first, that particular question provided some of our most entertaining suggestions, including “free umbrellas for all,” “I would like the CEO’s paycheck,” “change my LinkedIn profile,” and “put margarita slushy machines in the kitchen.” When employees saw that the CEO responded to every answer, they realized that we were taking the feedback seriously, and that changed the tone of their responses.

Anonymity invites honest responses

It was essential to Nearmap that we collect unfiltered, honest feedback from our employees. This meant reassuring participants that their responses were completely anonymous. We believe this confidentiality encouraged authentic and candid submissions from employees that otherwise would have remained silent for fear of reprimand or judgment.

For instance, we’ve received excellent insights about driving the strategy and growth of the business, giving Nearmap valuable concepts that we’ve been able to embed into the business.

In addition, we present the survey results back to the employees so they can see how their thoughts align with those of their co-workers. We believe this commitment to being open is an excellent way to motivate honest dialog.

Executive participation leads by example

When the survey concludes, we group all of the responses under different headings, such as collaboration and communication, marketing, mission, planning, product, compensation, recognition, and general. Then, our CEO, Rob Newman, gets together with other executives to provide answers and comments on many of the submissions. In turn, those responses are shared with the employees via the HR newsletter and on our company collaboration app.

In reply to an inquiry about creating a green initiative for the company, our CEO shared a list of active programs that Nearmap was involved in to reduce not only our carbon footprint but also that of our customers as well.

While we may not know what we would change if we were the CEO for a day, we are convinced that employee interaction, honest responses and executive participation are reliable and important ways to make impactful connections with our employees and build a stronger corporate culture in our company.

SOURCE: Steel, S. (13 September 2019) "What would change if your employees were CEO for a day?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-would-change-if-your-employees-were-ceo-for-a-day


Putting Humanity into HR Compliance: Stop Tolerating Toxicity

Toxic workplace relationships impact not only the employee and their well-being but also organizational success and the well-being of employees' family members. HR departments who have a detox mission and address toxic workplace relationships can prove incredibly valuable to their organizations. Read this blog post to learn more.


In my prior career as an employment attorney and in my current one as an organizational consultant and coach, I have encountered numerous toxic workplace relationships. The cost of these relationships—to organizational success, employee well-being and the well-being of employees' family members—is astronomical.

And the greatest tragedy is this: Almost all of this loss, pain and suffering is preventable.

Why are toxic workplace relationships so common? And why are they tolerated?

The answer to the first question is that good people make bad decisions. Typically, employee relationships start out fine. Employees cooperate and collaborate in their relationships with their bosses and peers.

But then something goes awry. A trust gap opens. The employee does not address the problem promptly, directly and constructively, but the employees' avoidance instinct kicks in. Nothing constructive is done to close the trust gap. As a result, the problem festers and grows. Eventually, any remaining trust evaporates, and the relationship degenerates into aggression, passive aggression or both.

Note that I'm not talking about the incorrigible "work jerk," whose behavior should never be tolerated. Rather, I'm talking about people stuck in toxic work relationships producing jerkish and other negative behavior.

Managers and HR practitioners succumb to the avoidance instinct, too. Although aware of the toxicity, they don't intervene and are wary of wading into others' dysfunctional relationships.

What are the costs of tolerating toxicity?

  • Personal suffering. The immediate parties may think they have nothing in common, but they do: They're equally disengaged and miserable.
  • Work loss. Toxic relationships do nothing to improve the quantity or quality of work, customer service or on-the-job innovation. There is increased absenteeism and what Colleen McManus, SHRM-SCP, an HR executive with the state of Arizona, calls "presenteeism," in which people are at work but not focused on work, dwelling on negativity instead of doing their jobs properly.
  • Secondhand anxiety. Co-workers who witness the toxic behavior suffer, as does their contribution to the organization. They are the truly innocent victims.
  • Collateral damage. Employees affected by workplace toxicity typically bring their stress home. This doesn't reduce their stress; rather, it elevates their loved ones' stress. "So true! In the most serious situations," McManus said, "I have seen greater instances of alcoholism and domestic violence due to problems at work."

How HR Can Help

HR departments with a detox mission can prove incredibly valuable to their organizations and the people in them. It's not hard to identify toxic relationships. The challenge is taking action.

I can say with confidence that intervention is always better than tolerating toxicity. You'd be surprised how easily many toxic relationships can be reset when a skilled third party steps in. HR professionals are ideally positioned to help employees stuck in toxic relationships get back on track. Or, if there's too much baggage, HR professionals can facilitate a respectful relocation of the parties to different positions in the organization. This method is a good way to start.

Many times, a toxic relationship is rooted in an unwitting and unaddressed offense one employee gave the other. As a result, the offended party started behaving differently toward the offender, which produced more offensive behavior, and so on. "I'm always surprised," McManus said, "when I ask the parties to the conflict what a resolution looks like. Often, it's simply an opportunity to be heard."

She adds that a sincere apology goes a long way toward rebuilding trust. "They feel validated, which is important to them."

Sometimes there's a structural misfit in the workers' roles that needs to be clarified, or how the jobs interact needs to be modified. HR can help figure out how the jobs can function without recurrent friction. "This is our profession's bread and butter!" McManus said.

There may be a personality conflict, in which case the parties need better understanding of how to interact with people whose styles differ from theirs. If that can't be achieved, though, there can be an agreement to disagree and respectfully move on—whether to a different position inside or outside the organization.

An HR team that makes a commitment to identify and resolve toxic relationships is empowered by the CEO, and is supported by the leadership team will prove to be incredibly valuable to its organization and the people in it. HR team members can directly coach others to resolve conflicts and show managers how to coach their employees who are stuck in toxic relationships.

There's also a risk management, compliance and claim-prevention component. In my employment lawyer days, most of my billable hours arose from conflict caused by toxic workplace relationships. An HR profession with a detox mission will become painfully costly to my former profession.

SOURCE: Janove, J. (Sept 06, 2019) "Putting Humanity into HR Compliance: Stop Tolerating Toxicity" (Web Blog Post) Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/putting-humanity-into-hr-compliance-stop-tolerating-toxicity-.aspx

The answer to the first question is that good people make bad decisions. Typically, employee relationships start out fine. Employees cooperate and collaborate in their relationships with their bosses and peers.

But then something goes awry. A trust gap opens. The employee does not address the problem promptly, directly and constructively, but the employees' avoidance instinct kicks in. Nothing constructive is done to close the trust gap. As a result, the problem festers and grows. Eventually, any remaining trust evaporates, and the relationship degenerates into aggression, passive aggression or both.

Note that I'm not talking about the incorrigible "work jerk," whose behavior should never be tolerated. Rather, I'm talking about people stuck in toxic work relationships producing jerkish and other negative behavior.

Managers and HR practitioners succumb to the avoidance instinct, too. Although aware of the toxicity, they don't intervene and are wary of wading into others' dysfunctional relationships.

What are the costs of tolerating toxicity?

  • Personal suffering. The immediate parties may think they have nothing in common, but they do: They're equally disengaged and miserable.
  • Work loss. Toxic relationships do nothing to improve the quantity or quality of work, customer service or on-the-job innovation. There is increased absenteeism and what Colleen McManus, SHRM-SCP, an HR executive with the state of Arizona, calls "presenteeism," in which people are at work but not focused on work, dwelling on negativity instead of doing their jobs properly.
  • Secondhand anxiety. Co-workers who witness the toxic behavior suffer, as does their contribution to the organization. They are the truly innocent victims.
  • Collateral damage. Employees affected by workplace toxicity typically bring their stress home. This doesn't reduce their stress; rather, it elevates their loved ones' stress. "So true! In the most serious situations," McManus said, "I have seen greater instances of alcoholism and domestic violence due to problems at work."

How HR Can Help

HR departments with a detox mission can prove incredibly valuable to their organizations and the people in them. It's not hard to identify toxic relationships. The challenge is taking action.

I can say with confidence that intervention is always better than tolerating toxicity. You'd be surprised how easily many toxic relationships can be reset when a skilled third party steps in. HR professionals are ideally positioned to help employees stuck in toxic relationships get back on track. Or, if there's too much baggage, HR professionals can facilitate a respectful relocation of the parties to different positions in the organization. This method is a good way to start.

Many times, a toxic relationship is rooted in an unwitting and unaddressed offense one employee gave the other. As a result, the offended party started behaving differently toward the offender, which produced more offensive behavior, and so on. "I'm always surprised," McManus said, "when I ask the parties to the conflict what a resolution looks like. Often, it's simply an opportunity to be heard."

She adds that a sincere apology goes a long way toward rebuilding trust. "They feel validated, which is important to them."

Sometimes there's a structural misfit in the workers' roles that needs to be clarified, or how the jobs interact needs to be modified. HR can help figure out how the jobs can function without recurrent friction. "This is our profession's bread and butter!" McManus said.

There may be a personality conflict, in which case the parties need better understanding of how to interact with people whose styles differ from theirs. If that can't be achieved, though, there can be an agreement to disagree and respectfully move on—whether to a different position inside or outside the organization.

An HR team that makes a commitment to identify and resolve toxic relationships is empowered by the CEO, and is supported by the leadership team will prove to be incredibly valuable to its organization and the people in it. HR team members can directly coach others to resolve conflicts and show managers how to coach their employees who are stuck in toxic relationships.

There's also a risk management, compliance and claim-prevention component. In my employment lawyer days, most of my billable hours arose from conflict caused by toxic workplace relationships. An HR profession with a detox mission will become painfully costly to my former profession.

SOURCE: Janove, J. (Sept 06, 2019) "Putting Humanity into HR Compliance: Stop Tolerating Toxicity" (Web Blog Post) Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/putting-humanity-into-hr-compliance-stop-tolerating-toxicity-.aspx


Turnover Contagion: Are Your Employees Vulnerable?

Being positive in the workplace is more important than you may realize. With employee retention top-of-mind for organizations wanting to stay competitive in today's market, employers need to find ways to ensure employees are engaged. One way employers can decrease turnover rates is by using the infectious qualities of emotions to spread feelings of happiness. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employee retention is top-of-mind for any organization looking to stay competitive in today’s market. Despite swaths of technological advances, in our knowledge-based, global economy an organization’s key assets are still its employees. Considering this, substantial amounts of research have been published about potential predictors and causes of employee turnover. Most of this research can be classified into two categories: individual-level explanations (e.g., job satisfaction, person-job fit, etc.) or external and organizational-level explanations (e.g., unemployment rates, job demand, etc.). However, only having these two types of explanations ignores team-level and the inherent social aspects of turnover. Specifically, do the behaviors and attitudes of coworker's influence employee’s intentions to quit their jobs?

Quitting is infectious.

People regularly “catch” the feelings of those they work with, particularly in group settings. We’ve all been around someone at work whose sour mood set the tone for the day; their negative emotions dampened the mood of everyone else around them. Employee mood isn’t all that is affected. Surprisingly, the emotions of others influence judgment and business decisions – and this all typically happens without anyone realizing.

In a study on the spread of emotions, groups were created to judge how to best allocate funds in hiring decisions. A confederate (actor) was planted in each group and instructed to display one of four emotions: cheerful enthusiasm, serene warmth, hostile irritability, or depressed sluggishness. Not only did the emotions of the confederates spread to each member of the group but each group’s resulting judgments and behaviors were affected. In groups with a pleasant confederate, members displayed more cooperation, less conflict, and allocated funds more equitably than in groups with unpleasant confederate emotions.

In a related study, researchers looked into the contagion of social contexts on job behaviors. As it turns out, evidence suggests an employee’s decisions to voluntarily leave an organization is influenced by the attitudes and behaviors of their coworkers. They found evidence suggesting job embeddedness (how well employees feel they fit in with their job and the community) and job search behaviors of coworkers predict individual voluntary turnover. An employee’s job embeddedness is the relative strength of their organizational network; weaker bonds or links are easier to break. That is, if a coworker is low on organizational connection (e.g., fewer and weaker relationships with other organizational members) or engages in noticeable job-seeking behaviors (e.g., talking about an application or interview, expressing a desire to leave, quitting, etc.) their colleagues are more likely to choose to exit the organization. As can be imagined, this relationship is amplified when a coworker has both low job embeddedness and visible job-searching behaviors.

People leave organizations all the time. There are several reasons why employees decide to leave organizations - whether it be for personal (relocation of family member), professional (more pay, promotion, career change), or organizational (job or organization redesign). In fact, healthy businesses want some amount of turnover. However, in the case of turnover contagion, your employees are leaving simply because their colleagues are leaving. When a group of employees leave an organization in rapid cycle, it may be due to the influence of their immediate peer group and this should be cause for concern as turnover contagion is likely occurring.

The interplay of social contexts within an organization along with individual and organizational-level predictors adds more to our understanding of the complexity of employee turnover decisions. This is just one piece of the pie – and an important one. Understandably, more research needs to be conducted until just how this phenomenon works is understood, however, based on the evidence, organizations and leaders shouldn’t wait to act.

For one, it’s a tight labor market and has been for some time now. Overall, many employees are looking and leaving. There has been a cultural shift among workers where they feel increasingly less loyalty than before and are even more likely to job hop. To add to this, unemployment is at an all-time low and job growth is climbing. Meaning there are more open jobs than there are workers to fill them. It’s an applicant’s market. These factors, coupled with the sheer cost of replacing skilled employees – speculated to be a whopping 1.5 to 2 times an employee’s salary – should give pause to leaders when they suspect employees have caught the turnover bug.

On the bright side, turnover contagion can be minimized, and companies stand to reap plenty of rewards through emotional contagion. Just like negative emotions create a spiral of negativity, so too can emotions with a more positive valence. For example, leaders can use the infectious qualities of emotions to spread feelings of happiness by expressing gratitude or complimenting someone. In addition, increasing job embeddedness and strengthen the bonds your employees have by building more connection with their team, leaders, and other departments can go a long way to reducing turnover.

SOURCE: Ford, A. (13 August 2019)"Turnover Contagion: Are Your Employees Vulnerable?"(Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/turnover-contagion-are-your-employees-vulnerable

 


Creating High-Performance Teams

Having a high-performance team is essential in creating strong work environments. Can having a plan for more than the hiring process help both future employees and current? Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more about creating high-performance teams at your organization.


Every organization needs its teams to deliver a high level of performance to succeed in today’s business environment. Author Omar L. Harris offers clear guidance on how to hire for, support, and guide high-performance teams.

What are some tips to hiring employees to fit into high-performing teams? 

My top tip for hiring employees to fit into high-performing teams is to understand the key mix of attributes that the high-performing team members possess. Look beyond IQ and pedigree and focus on more attitudinal attributes such as work ethic, passion, solution-orientation, and the maturity to productively manage disappointment and conflict.

What are the stages of forming a high-performance team? 

The stages are:

  • hiring the right W.H.O.M. (work ethic, heart, optimism, maturity),
  • effectively onboarding each team member by getting to know them on a deeper level,
  • helping them accelerate their learning curve,
  • setting clear expectations of their roles,
  • building trust between the team members by encouraging vulnerability and open dialogue, and
  • crafting a clear mission with superordinate goals that bring the team together to achieve something that no one could achieve on their own.

What are the hallmarks of a high-performing team? 

One hallmark of a high-performing team is a level of professional intimacy among the team members, meaning they know each other well both as professionals and as people and enjoy working together. A level of transparency and passion for the work being done that leads to productive conflicts resulting in better decision-making. An adherence to norms that define how every member works together. And an absolute focus on delivering results. The characteristics that make this happen are simply people who work hard, have shared passion, search for solutions with a sense of urgency, and have the maturity to overcome inevitable conflicts and disappointments.

How can senior leadership create a culture of strong teams? 

Focus on creating a team of managers who love achieving results by putting their people in their strengths zones and developing their capacity and talents.

Do high-performance teams vary across companies, industries, or geographies? 

I've had the opportunity to lead teams across the world in the U.S., Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, and people are the same all around the world. People want to be valued. They want to believe in the mission of their organization. They want to have opportunities to develop. So leaders who want to create high-performance teams anywhere in the world need to be able to tap into these commonalities and work tirelessly to create the condition for the success of their people.

How can leaders help struggling teams? 

First understand the source of the struggle. Most issues occur during the team formation and team storming stages. And then level-up their own leadership skills to respond to the challenges of the moment. The best advice I can give is to look to deepen the understanding and connection with each member of the team and by improving each members focus and alignment, you improve the team dynamic by default. Lastly, recognize if the ingredients are off and make the necessary decisions to move poisonous people out of the environment.

What are other things to remember about managing high-performance teams? 

Performance is relative and the goal posts must be continually stretched to keep everyone engaged. Also, plan for succession so as people on the team achieve results and receive greater opportunities, the next generation of team members are ready to step up and continue on the mission.

SOURCE: Harris, O. (15 August, 2019) "Creating High-Performance Teams"(Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/creating-high-performance-teams