Core Employee Needs: Not All or Nothing!

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It seems as though we are consistently seeing data that show decreasing levels of employee engagement and feelings of fulfillment at work. This data can be, and has been, attributed to many factors, such as a lean post-recession workforce, an increasingly competitive talent landscape, and the uber-connected, uber-informed and uber-on business world in which we operate. I’d agree that all of these can create barriers to an engaged workforce, or challenge an already highly engaged workforce. There’s also data indicating (as I discussed in my post on what Millennials look for in a great workplace) that high amounts of stress, feelings of low-engagement or no work/life balance are not as significant as we may think. There are, on a positive note, data that suggest workplaces are doing much to negate issues of engagement and work/life balance, but much of this research comes from companies classified as “Best Workplaces” and considering the frequency of content reporting low levels of engagement, trust, and happiness, such companies may be few and far between. Ultimately, we can only take data at face value. The real importance of looking at such workplace statistics is to inform ourselves and build our “bigger picture” – know what’s out there, know what’s conflicting, and create solutions and approaches that are right for our own people, culture and strategic goals.

Some data I recently found interesting comes from an article published in The New York Times, “Why You Hate Work” which included research from The Energy Project, an organization that aims to increase employee engagement and sustainable performance for organizations and their leaders. The article, by The Energy Company’s CEO Tony Schwartz and consultant Christine Porath, discusses how “the way we’re working isn’t working” and that it’s increasing common for both middle managers and top executives to feel overwhelmed and disengaged. In an effort to understand what’s impacting people’s engagement and productivity at work, The Energy Project partnered with The Harvard Business Review to survey 12,000 + mostly white-collar employees across a range of industries and organizations. They found that employees are considerably more productive and engaged when they have the opportunity to: regularly renew and recharge at work, feel valued and appreciated for their contributions, focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks, define when and where they get their work done, do more of what they do best and enjoy most, as well as feeling connected to a higher purpose at work. The study attributed these four areas to four core needs: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Energy ProjectIn terms of the core physical need at work, The Energy Project’s study determined that employees who take breaks every 90 minutes find themselves with a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take one or no breaks during the day. These employees also report a 50% greater capacity to think creatively and a 46% higher level of health and well-being. Also interesting, is that when employees feel encouraged by their supervisor to take breaks, their likelihood to stay with any given company increases by nearly 100%.  For the core emotional need, feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has the biggest impact. Employees who noted having more supportive supervisors were 67% more engaged. The core mental need? Respondents that were able to focus on one task at a time reported being 50% more engaged (although only 20% of respondents reported being able to do this). Comparably, just 1/3 of respondents reported being able to effectively prioritize their tasks, but those who did were 1.6 times better able to focus on one thing at a time. In regards to the core spiritual need, the Energy Project’s research found that employees who derive meaning and significance from their work reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and were 1.4 times more engaged at work.  In a nutshell, this data show that how employees feel at work has a huge impact on their engagement and productivity.

One last valuable nugget of data to note from this study is that when employees have even just one of the core needs discussed above met, versus none, all variables of their performance improve (from engagement, to loyalty, job satisfaction, positive energy at work, and lower perceived levels of stress). This is good incentive for organizations to work on things one step at a time. It clearly isn’t an all or nothing proposition. Positive changes in employee engagement don’t necessarily happen from massive culture changes or vast implementation of new programs. Baby steps are okay folks; and the more core needs are met, the more positive the impact!

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Memo to Women in Corporate America: Pick One – Mother or Leader

Data Point Tuesday
SHRM
and the Families and Work Institute have recently released their 2014 National Study of Employers (NSE), which identifies changes in the workplace since 2008. The report sample includes 1,051 employers with 50 or more employees, with 67% of these organizations for-profit employers and 33% are nonprofit organizations. 39% operate at only one location, while 61% percent have operations at more than one location. A pretty big sample. And the trends are interesting. Some make sense. And some, well, not so much.

Workplace flexibility is top of mind for many business leaders, and the 2014 National Study of Employers notes two major trends between 2008 and 2014 related to this. First, employers have continued to increase the amount of options that allow at least some employees to better manage the times and places in which they work, including occasional flex place (from 50% to 67%); control over breaks (84% to 92%); control over overtime hours (27% to 45%) and time off during the workday when important needs arise (73% to 82%). Second, employers have reduced the amount of programs that give employees the opportunity to spend significant amounts of time away from full-time work. These include sharing jobs (29% to 18%), working part year on an annual basis (27% to 18%), and flex career options like sabbaticals (38% to 28%) and career breaks for personal or family responsibilities (from 64% to 52%). So, yes to more control over place and time while working and no to opportunities to not work.
SHRM Flexibility Chart
A continuing trend from 2008 to 2014 is “12 weeks of leave.” No doubt based on the FMLA, this is usually given for the birth of a child, adoption of a child, or serious family illness. 12 weeks has become the norm, with more employers offering this amount of time since 2008. Currently, 93% of employers offer women 12 weeks of leave after giving birth (85% in 2008), 89% of employers offer employees 12 weeks after the adoption of a child (81% in 2008), and 90% of employers offer employees 12 weeks leave to care for seriously ill family (84% in 2008). Despite these increases, it’s disappointing to note that the maximum length of caregiving leaves offered to new fathers, new adoptive parents, and employees caring for seriously ill family members, as well as disability pay, has declined since 2008. Additionally, support from employers in areas like diversity and inclusion is declining, with fewer employers training supervisors in managing employees of different ages (59% in 2008 and 52% in 2014) and fewer employers providing career counseling programs or management/leadership programs for women (12% in 2014 vs. 16% in 2008). Also along this line, fewer employers report that supervisors are encouraged to assess employee performance by what they accomplish vs. by just “face-time” (71% in 2008 and 64% in 2014). So yes to new birth mothers and no to just about everything else. Hmmm…

What support programs then, are workplaces increasing for employees? Employers are increasingly helping employees with elder care, with employers in 2014 12% more likely to report that they offer Elder Care Resource and Referral than employers in 2008. Employers are also 18% more likely in 2014 than 2008 to offer DCAPs (Dependent Care Assistance Programs) for elder care and 4% more likely to offer access to respite care. Wellness programs are also increasing, with 60% of workplaces providing wellness programs today (compared to 51% in 2008). SHRM and the Families and Work Institute’s report also noted an increase in the amount of workplaces providing Employee Assistance Programs to help with personal/family problems and pressures (78% now, compared with 58% in 2008). When it comes to healthcare, 98% of employers provide personal health insurance for full-time employees, a 3% increase from 2008. Additionally, there has been a 6% increase in employers providing more health care coverage for family members of full-time employees from 2008 to 2014 (91% to 97%), and a huge increase between 2008 and 2014 in the amount of employers providing health insurance for domestic partners (29% to 43%). Lastly, almost all employers (96% of those with 50+ employees) provide 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plans, and 80% of employers make contributions to employees’ individual retirement plans.

While it’s easy to provide reasoning for many of these trend changes (more elder care due to an aging workforce, more domestic partner coverage due to changes in legal and societal perceptions of the LGBT community, more employee assistance programs due to increasingly stressful work environments, etc.) it’s harder to pinpoint the cause of others, like the decrease in leadership programs for women. Could one conclude that that the rising incidences of providing new birth mothers time off has influenced the decrease of leadership development programs for women? Probably not, but it’s interesting to think about, isn’t? This data could support the view that corporate America may be telling women that they’ll support their role as mothers but not their roles as leaders…

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“CEO” or “Female CEO”: Bringing Awareness to “Otherness”

Data Point Tuesday

The Catalyst Research Center recently released the report “Feeling Different: Being the “Other” in U.S. Workplaces” providing interesting data and insight into perceptions of diversity and inclusion in U.S organizations. The study points out the error of common association, which can often cause individuals feelings of “otherness.” This feeling often results from our categorization of groups by their dominant group, i.e. referring to nurses who are male as “male nurses” as opposed to “nurse”, which is commonly associated with the female gender, the position’s majority group. Likewise, male CEO’s are commonly referenced as simply “a CEO” where female CEO’s experience their gender being pointed out: she is “a female CEO.”

Consistently referencing positions based on their dominant group can reinforce the belief that those people holding the position should be from that group, causing those in the minority to feel excluded, divided from the team, and set apart from power structures at the top of their organization. Catalyst’s study points out that gender and race/ethnicity are two of the common bases for feeling like “the other,” but that people of all groups – regardless of whether their racial/ethnic identity reflects that of the majority in society as a whole – can feel different from their workgroup based on race/ethnicity, and that feelings of otherness can really stem from any area of self-identification. For example, besides gender/race/ethnicity, Catalyst’s research also looks at data from LGBT and Expatriate individuals, who often reported experiencing feelings of “otherness.” The study’s findings come from a sample of 2,463 MBA graduates (33% women and 67% men) working in corporate and non-corporate firms in the United States at the time of the survey.

Data from the study highlight some surprising and troubling effects of perceiving oneself as an “other.” Women respondents who identified as feeling racially/ethnically different were the least likely to be at the senior executive/CEO level (10%) compared to men who felt different (19%) and those who did not feel different (16% women; 25% men). It’s important to note, too, that the women who identified as feeling racially/ethnically different had no less experience or qualifications than those in the position. Additionally, Catalyst’s survey identified that women who perceived themselves as “others” experienced fewer promotions: 48.2% had received two or more promotions versus 55.6% of women who did not feel racially/ethically different. 51.4% of men who felt racially/ethnically reported receiving two or more promotions versus 58.4% of men who did not feel racially/ethnically different.

Catalyst’s research also found that people who feel different from the majority in their workgroup are less likely to be mentored by C-suite or senior executives at their organizations. This is troubling considering that previous research by Catalyst found that the level of one’s mentor often predicts advancement (the more senior a mentor the more able they are to recommend for high-level/visibility positions). Of those surveyed, only 58% of women who felt racially/ ethnically different had mentors who were CEOs or Senior Executives. This is compared to 71% of women who did not feel different, 72% of men who did feel different, and 77% of men who did not feel different.

Workplace exclusion or feelings of otherness based on racial/ethnic differences can also affect individuals beyond their organizations. Women who felt racially/ethnically different (46%) were more likely to downsize their dreams and aspirations than women who did not feel different (33%) and of those who felt racially/ethnically different, women were nearly twice as likely as men (25%) to downsize their aspirations. Women who identified as feeling racially/ethnically different and had children and spouses had an even a higher likelihood of downsizing aspirations.

This data provides some serious food for thought for organizations. What is the impact to your organization if talented employees are experiencing feelings of “otherness” and exclusion? Organizations with employees experiencing this are likely missing out on enormous amounts of talent and innovation, not to mention losing important values and aspects of a great workplace culture. Use this research to keep in mind the message we send by identifying roles by the dominant group, and take a look at what policies and programs (both formal and informal) your company has in place to ensure that those with backgrounds that differ from the majority in the workgroup feel that their workplace is an inclusive environment and have equal access to mentorship at the top, fair evaluation, and promotions.

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I want fair pay, a voice in decision-making and a competent boss. Is that too much to ask?

Data Point Tuesday
In previous posts I’ve discussed data about Millenials’ perceptions and expectations in the workplace, a hugely popular topic, which makes sense considering that this demographic cohort accounts for 77 million workers between the ages of 18 and 35 (according to FORTUNE). Here at Great Place To Work, we’ve recently released a “10 Great Work Places For Millennials List,” accessible on our employer review site Great Rated!, which identifies companies offering the best benefits and perks for this group. When it comes to Millennials, what companies snagged the top spots? Intuitive Research and Technology came in at number one on the list, followed by David Weekly Homes and Allied Wallet. You can check out the full list here for the full 10 company rankings and culture reviews.

The research conducted for this list of workplaces that stand out as exceptional for Millennial employees is highlighted, but also identified are the sorts of practices and programs that move the needle for these employees. When looking at workplace culture features that differed most between the top 10 Great Workplaces for Millennials and the 10 least-great Workplaces for Millennials, a few areas stood out. Survey data revealed “fair pay” as a very important feature of great workplaces for Millennials. There was a 37 percentage point difference between the top 10 companies for Millennials and bottom 10 companies based on responses to the statement, “I feel I receive a fair share of the profits made by this organization.” Millennials also place a high value on having a say in decisions at their organization. Our study recorded a 28 percentage point difference between the top 10 and bottom 10 companies on “Management involves people in decisions that affect their jobs or work environment.” Additionally, competent management is a highly valued feature for Millennials, with a 26-percentage point difference on “Management does a good job of assigning and coordinating people.”

The analysis also highlighted some surprising workplace features that don’t move the needle much for Millennials. One such feature is interesting considering it’s been such a hot-topic: work-life balance. There was just a 10-percentage point difference between the top 10 workplaces for Millennials and the bottom 10 on the question: “I am able to take time off from work when I think it’s necessary.” This statement was one of the 10 with the least amount of difference among all 58 survey statements. The response calls into question the attention that has been placed on Millennials’ desire for work-life balance. Has this dynamic been overblown? It’s possible, but perhaps it’s more likely that many employers have considerably improved programs and policies that promote work-life balance, making it a mute point for Millennial respondents.

Another two surprising work-place dynamics that were not greatly distinguishable between the top 10 workplaces for Millennials and bottom 10 workplaces were self-expression (with just a 10 percentage point difference on the statement: “I can be myself around here”) and friendly, welcoming workplaces (with an 8 percentage point difference on the statement “When you join the company, you are made to feel welcome”). Again, these percentages beg the question of whether the importance Millennials place on such dynamics has been hyped up, and are not necessarily an accurate reflection of Millennial expectations. Considering the top features that Millennials did identify as highly important though (fair pay, say in decisions, and competent management) it seems more likely that these aren’t necessarily features that Millennials don’t value, but features that companies have greatly improved versus features that are often problematic for companies.

Do these trends accurately reflect the workplace programs that are important to your Millennial employees?

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Trust Is In Short Supply – All Over the World!

Data Point Tuesday

The recently released 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer, highlights a degradation of trust between people and the institution of government, recording the biggest gap in trust since the study began in 2001. Edelman attributes this gap to “a continued destruction of trust in government that began in 2011, and a steady rise in belief in business since its nadir in 2008.” In almost half of the 27 countries surveyed, Edelman recorded a gap of 20+ points, with some countries reporting a divide of nearly 40 points. This means that people trust business more than they trust their government. The study is the firm’s 14th annual trust and credibility survey; it sampled 27,000 general population respondents with an over- sample of 6,000 informed publics ages 25-64 across 27 countries.

Globally, and overall, trust declined over the last year. Edelman cites the reason for this decline due largely in part to falling trust of government in many countries. Poland, the United States, and Mexico experienced the most major trust declines (-13, -10, and -9 points), while the biggest increases in trust occurred in UAE, Indonesia, Australia and Argentina (+13, +10, +8, +8 points). General public populations reported substantially lower trust levels than informed publics, with a global trust difference of 9 points. Government saw the largest decline in trust of any institution in 2014, with the largest drops in trust in government seen in the U.S., France and Hong Kong (16, 17 and 18 points). Media also saw a decline in 2014, with nearly 80 percent of countries reporting trusting media less over the last year.

Edelmam Graphic 1Edelman’s Trust Barometer reports that trust in business has achieved an amount of stability since the implosion of trust in 2008 and 2009. With trust in business leveling out, and trust in government declining, comes the historic gap of 14 points globally between trust in business and trust in government. Despite this decline in trust of government though, the survey reports a strong demand for government regulation of business to protect consumers, with over 50% of respondents viewing government protection of consumers from business as important. The majority of respondents did not, however, see government as capable of delivering the necessary regulations on its own. 79% of respondents agreed: “when policymakers are developing new regulations on businesses and industries, they should consult with multiple stakeholders (i.e. NGOs, academics, the affected businesses/industries, etc.) before making final decisions.” As the survey states, this indicates “a significant level of permission for business to play a role in the debate and design of regulation”.

Edelman Graphic 2When it comes to trust in specific industries, technology leads the front with a trust level of 79% among informed publics. Media companies and banks trail when it comes to trust, seeing little improvement since 2009. The top five countries with the highest levels of trust in markets were (in order): Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and the U.K.. BRIC countries recorded the lowest levels of market trust. When Edelman asked respondents to rank levels of trust based on business ownership structure, family-owned and small- & medium-sized business outperformed big business in all regions but Asia, where publicly-traded and big business companies received higher trust levels. A major concern however, is the plateauing and distrust in leadership that the Trust Barometer records. Academics and experts (67 percent), technical experts (66 percent) and “a person like yourself” (62 percent) are the most trusted sources of information about companies (trust in “a person like yourself” increased significantly since 2009). CEOs and government leaders however, remain at the bottom of the list for both informed and general publics, with extremely low levels of trust.

Edelman Graphic 3Though concerning and perhaps daunting, this speaks clearly to an opportunity that leadership has to engage and communicate transparently – an opportunity to begin to regain a credible voice and change perceptions. For leaders of companies, trust in them is explicably linked with the trust in the company, and the influence they wield because of that cannot be ignored. The Edelman Trust Barometer identified specific actions CEOs can take to build trust, and each actions level of importance to the general public. The highest-ranking actions included: communicating clearly and transparently (82%), telling the truth regardless of how complex or unpopular it is (81%) and engaging with employees regularly (80%). Other high-ranking actions include being visible during challenging times, and having an active media presence. Though the low levels of trust in business leadership seem to indicate it’s a complex thing to build, respondents indicate it’s simply about going back to basics. Engage, support, and don’t forget that important rule folks, honesty is the best policy!

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Promoting from Within: Not as Easy as it Seems

Data Point Tuesday
A recent survey by the College for America, “The 2014 Workplace Strategies Survey”, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, reveals that employers prefer developing employees to hiring new ones by a 2:1 margin. A smart and cost-effective talent management strategy to be sure. But preferring to promote and being able to promote are two quite different things – as this study points out.

73% of survey respondents stated that for low-level team leader positions and middle management roles, developing current employees’ skills (vs. hiring new) best reflected their company’s talent strategies. For senior management and executive roles, 67% of respondents reported that developing the skills of current employees (vs. hiring new) best reflected their company’s talent strategies. The results are clear, companies want to promote from within! The College of America’s survey sourced information from 400 senior business leaders responsible for HR and/or administration at companies of 500+ employees, between December 6th and 16th 2013.

College for America
Though these employers prefer promotion to new hiring, the data show that developing leadership skills and addressing skill gaps remain significant issues to overcome. When asked about the challenges faced when developing employees, 94% of respondents reported that the need to build talent and leadership was a very or somewhat important challenge; 87% reported that employees missing skills for promotion was a very or somewhat important challenge; and 85% reported that finding well qualified candidates was a very or somewhat important challenge. The survey also shows that companies with 50% or more full time employees were hit harder by the skills gap than companies with 50% of more part time employees. “Heavily full-time” organizations reported that the three biggest challenges their organizations faced were: talent and leadership, qualified applicants, and employees having the right skills for promotion. Companies with 50% or more part time employees reported their top three challenges as: talent and leadership, retaining workers, and having sufficiently engaged employees.

The good news though, is that many organizations are instituting employee development programs, and a high percentage of organizations are offering tuition reimbursement. The College for America’s survey reports that 76% of organizations offer tuition reimbursement to employees to help them pursue a college degree. With this, 79% of organizations report that tuition reimbursement is available to the majority of employees (executives, senior level managers, supervisors and middle managers, and workers without a college degree). So the beginning step of making degree programs affordable for workers of all levels is being offered by a majority of employers. The next steps of supporting degree completion and further supporting internal mobility are next if employers will truly be able to meet their strategic plan to promote from within rather than buying new talent in the open market.

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Where’s the Trust?

Data Point Tuesday
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2014 Work and Well-Being Survey released last Wednesday, only half of U.S employees believe their employer is open and upfront with them, indicating that despite the mending U.S economy and the return of many organizations’ profitability employees are still struggling to trust their organizational leaders. This distrust comes with serious negative consequences. The APA reports that trust and engagement play important roles in the workplace, accounting for 50.8% of the variance in employee well-being. In predicting trust, the dimensions of employee involvement, recognition, and communication predicted 54% of the variance. Employees reported having greater trust in companies when the organization endeavored to recognize them for their contributions, provide opportunities for involvement, and communicate effectively. In predicting work engagement, employees’ positive perceptions of their employer’s involvement, growth and development opportunities, and health and safety efforts accounted for 27.1% of the variance.

An interesting and positive finding from the APA survey, is in strong contrast to the recent reports that have suggested upwards of 70% of employees in the U.S. are not engaged or are actively disengaged. APA’s Work and Well-Being Survey finds approximately 50% of working Americans reporting average levels of engagement, with around a quarter reporting low or very low levels and just under a quarter reporting high or very high levels. The mean engagement score for working Americans was 3.62 on a six-point scale (zero representing never being engaged and six representing always being engaged). Additionally, the survey finds that 70% of U.S workers report that they are satisfied with their jobs, however, just 47% continue to be satisfied with employee recognition practices and 49% with growth and development opportunities offered by their organizations.

Taking a closer look at the statistics on trust, about one third of respondents say their employers are not always honest and truthful, and nearly a quarter say they don’t trust their employers. Interestingly though, this lack of trust does not necessarily correlate to feelings of unfair or bad working environments. The survey found that 64% of employed adults feel that their organization treats them fairly, despite that only 52% believe their employer is open and upfront with them. Does this mean as an organization you can cultivate fair and honest practices without any transparency? Does this mean that leaders get a pass on being trustworthy as long as they provide safe working environments? These are interesting data to be sure. But perhaps the bigger question is how productive are employees who don’t trust their leaders? What levels of discretionary effort and personal development will employees expend who feel physically safe but don’t trust their leaders? As a leader, the question I would ask is “how long can I rely on an employee population that doesn’t me?”

APA Center for Organizational Excellence April 2014
The APA’s findings come after surveying 1,562 adults aged 18+ who reside in the U.S. and who are employed full time, part time, or self-employed.

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