Today on the Engaging People Podcast, we talk about proven ways to educate your organization about employee engagement and how to empower managers to create an environment where employees will choose to engage.
The creators of the framework of ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®, Senior Consultant, Charles Rogel, and DecisionWise CEO, Dr. Tracy Maylett, share the origins of the model, the research behind the “MAGIC” acronym, and how to use these keys to lead change and transformation in your organization.
About a year ago I received one of my favorite perks. It was peak season for us – my workload was heavy, and support was limited. This meant late nights in the office with the stress that so commonly follows.
As my supervisor and I were talking about what could be done to address my stress, I brought up exercise. I hadn’t been going to the gym regularly for the past few months. Most nights, by the time I left the office, I was too tired to complete a fulfilling workout, and I’ve never been a 5 AM workout warrior (and don’t want the massive caffeine addiction it takes to become one). So, I asked my supervisor if I could take off late afternoons, get in a workout, and return later to finish my work. That was a little culturally unusual for our team, but he agreed without hesitation.
Within days of switching to a more flexible schedule, my stress levels decreased significantly despite no change to workload and even later nights. It cost my company nothing, only awareness and an open-minded supervisor.
What Survey Data Tells Us About Stress in Your Organization
Many organizations struggle to help their employees manage stress. Our research has found that an individual’s level of stress in their job is one of the top five most frequently reported areas that needs attention from executive teams. Our firm, DecisionWise, has amassed more than 50 million employee survey responses from more than 70 countries throughout the world. Each year, we consistently find that perceptions of stress and workload generally rank within the lowest 10 employee survey items for most organizations.
Surprising? Probably not, when you consider for many, your job may actually be “killing you.” According to Jeffrey Peffer, PhD of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, some workplace conditions may contribute to premature death. The impact of these stressors may actually be “as harmful as secondhand smoke,” according to Pfeffer’s research.
Our DecisionWise survey findings seem to support the fact that workplace stress is out of hand, particularly given the current economic and health concerns inherent in the pandemic situation we are facing today. Even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, only 65% of Employee Experience survey respondents provided favorable ratings to the statement, “The level of stress in my job is manageable.” This closely aligns with responses to “The amount of work I am expected to do is reasonable,” which scores 67%. For context, a typical engagement survey’s overall score is 73% favorable.
Why Do Leaders Struggle to Help Their Teams Manage Stress?
The challenge for most leaders is that stress is subjective – it varies greatly across roles, cultures, and personality types. Many of the factors that contribute to an employee’s stress levels fall out outside of an organization’s influence. But there are several things a manager can do to help minimize employees’ stress levels.
My aim is to help you understand the science behind stress, and arm you with tactics for addressing it in your teams. To accomplish this, I’ve selected four stress theories from the disciplines of physiology and psychology. I have also included specific recommendations related to each theory.
Four Theories to Help You Evaluate Stress
1. Homeostatic/Medical: Stress is a physiological response to ensure safety.
The term “fight-or-flight” was originally coined by Walter B. Cannon as a way of describing the body’s natural response to environmental demands that threaten our safety and homeostasis. Stress is a natural response that helps us quickly address or avoid a threat so that our health and safety remain secure i. These threats can be physical, such as safety hazards or a dangerous work facility. They could also be psychological threats, such as harassment, fear of retribution, or discrimination. Each of these can trigger the fight-or-flight response in the workplace.
Tips for Managers
Ensure worker physical safety through adherence to safety policies.
Be mindful of potential psychological safety issues. Address harassment and discrimination issues quickly and thoroughly.
Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by ensuring employees on your team feel respected, valued, heard, and feel they have equal opportunities for growth regardless of their age, ethnicity, or gender.
Worker safety, discrimination, and diversity are topics that extend beyond the scope of this article. If you’d like to deepen your understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion, here’s a well-researched article to get you started: Are Your Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Only Skin Deep?
2. Cognitive Appraisal: Stress is a result of our perceptions.
Introduced by Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman in the 1980s, this theory emphasizes people’s perceptions of stressors. How we perceive stressors can alter the amount of stress we feel. This means that stress can be managed by either addressing the stressor or the emotions and perceptions of the stressorii. What’s stressful to some may not be stressful to others. A few items that impact the degree of stress we feel include:
a) Personality: Different personality types might perceive certain tasks to be more stressful than others. For example, employees with high preferences for introversion may find tasks such as client interactions to be more stressful than employees with extroverted preferences. Employees with low levels of neuroticism are less likely to experience stress compared to others. Neuroticism and extroversion are two personality traits assessed by the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (or NEO PI-R).
b) Culture Culture significantly impacts employees’ perceptions of stress. One study found that American employees are more likely to experience stress from a lack of job control and team coordination. In comparison, Chinese employees are more likely to experience stress from job evaluations and work mistakesiii. Either way, an employee’s cultural background has a clear impact on stress.
Tips for Managers
First, listen to your team. Try to understand their stressors.
Identify the major causes of stress for your employees, whether as a group or individually.
Identify when (time of the month, quarter, or year) stress will be worst. Consider such factors as “peak season.”
Write your ideas down and review them in your next team meeting. Ask for further insights.
Talk to your Learning and Development or HR department if you would like to obtain a deeper understanding of the personality profiles of your team.
Second, address the problem.
How can you adjust tasks across your team to minimize stress?
How can you share the load with other teams in the organization? Are there ways to address processes that will improve efficiency and therefore decrease workload and stress? If so, implement them, or talk to your manager about getting the appropriate approval needed for changes.
For predictable periods of increased workload, investigate staffing and outsourcing options. Can you bring on seasonal interns, work with a temp agency, or outsource entire projects?
Third, address emotion.
You may not be able to control the cyclical nature of the demands on your team, but you can lift spirits by grabbing pizza for dinner (on the company’s dime) to occasionally make the burden of staying late lighter. Not only does it provide a much-needed meal and break, the gesture also says, “hey, we get it, and want you to know we are right there with you.”
If circumstances allow, arrange for flexible schedules, or let employees work from home occasionally during periods of extreme workload. This doesn’t address the quantity of their work, but extra autonomy may help them feel more relaxed.
When things are slow, invite employees to go home early. If they feel measured by how long they’re tied to their chairs, they’ll hold you accountable for violating that social contract when they’re forced to put in extra hours.
Be emotionally intelligent in your approach. Don’t prolong employees’ stay at the office through “stress-relieving activities.” Avoid creating the perception that the team is getting pizza in exchange for an extra 10 hours of work this week (unless your workers are all teenage boys, who might just consider the deal a “win.”) Instead, tie this treat to the gratitude you feel toward your team.
Psychologist Robert L. Kahn’s ideas of stress focused on the importance of roles and expectations. When people’s skills and abilities match what’s expected of them, stress is minimized. Ambiguous expectations or expectations that conflict with people’s skills and abilities in social roles lead to stressiv.
Tips for Managers
Work with HR or recruiters to make sure that job listings for your team are accurate and represent the skills needed on your team. Clearly describe which skills can be developed on the job, and which aptitudes are prerequisite to success on your team. Better yet, instead of letting HR try and find the talent you need, become an active participant and lead the charge.
Clearly define job roles and expectations. Provide stories and examples of exemplary performance when possible.
Recognize employees for successful performance in key areas.
Schedule regular time to train employees who are lacking skills in key areas.
Consider what skills your team members have that aren’t being used in their job roles. Are there other opportunities for them to use those skills, e.g. on cross-functional teams or committees?
Consider the clarity of expectations where performance issues exist. If expectations are unclear, redefine them. Avoid holding employees accountable to unclear expectations.
Before extending invitations for new roles, do your best to set employees up for success by helping them understand the inherent challenges that come along with the role.
4. Psychoanalytical: Stress is a result of a gap between who we are and who we want to be.
The psychologist Harry Levinson applied concepts of Freudian psychology to stress, and believed that stress is the result from misalignment between our ego-ideal (who we’d like to be) and our self-image (who we believe we are now)v. Our careers are instrumental in helping us progress toward our ideal self. If employees struggle to see how their job connects to their aspirations and long-term goals, they will likely feel stressed and disengaged.
Tips for Managers
Know your employees on a personal level: their values, interests, and who they aspire to be.
Help employees connect the dots between their work and what they aspire to be. If their current job role doesn’t clearly align with their future aspirations, show them how it will help them achieve success later in life. For example, their current job might fund an education that will allow them to pursue their true passion after graduation.
Help employees understand the vision, goals, and values of the organization. Show them how their work helps accomplish that vision.
Highlight the progress you’ve seen employees make. This might not be apparent to them.
Stress During a Crisis
During the time of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted economies worldwide. Economy-altering crises such as pandemics, stock market crashes, or political unrest can create uncertainty, threaten employees’ sense of job security, and lead to high levels of stress. Work and money are the most mentioned sources of stress for Americans. According to the 2019 Stress in America report by the American Psychological Association:
When asked about their personal stressors, around six in ten adults identify work (64%) and money (60%) as significant sources of stress, making them the most commonly mentioned personal stressors. Adults citing the economy as a significant source of stress declined slightly from 2018 (48%) to 2019 (46%), though the proportions in both years represent a large decrease from the highest level reported, when nearly seven in ten adults (69%) identified the economy as a significant stressor in 2008vi.
Note that stress levels were 23 points higher following the financial crisis of 2008 than during the economic boom of 2019. Here are a few tips on how to mitigate stress as much as possible amid a crisis.
Tips for Managers
Keep your employees informed. This is one case where the adage “no news is good news” couldn’t be more wrong. In the absence of information, employees will spin their own stories. Control the story by proactively sharing pertinent details with employees regarding the steps that are being taken to ensure job security.
If your organization is helping the world through the crisis in any way, emphasize and share that message with your team. Employees will hopefully see themselves as part of the solution to the crisis rather than a victim of it.
Listen to your team. Find out what is going on behind-the-scenes, which you may not be aware of. Ask them how they’re doing. The chance to share your own concerns may help them. Help them understand that you are here to support them.
As mentioned previously, stress is a common factor inherent in most organizations, regardless of size or industry. If this is an issue for you, you’re not alone. However, you as a manager hold the power to shape the experience of your employees.
iCannon, W. B. (1932) The Wisdom of the Body. Norton.
iiLazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984) Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. Springer Pub. Co.
iiiLiu, C., Spector, P.E. and Shi, L. (2007), Cross‐national job stress: a quantitative and qualitative study. J. Organiz. Behav., 28, 209-239.
ivKahn, R. L., Wolfe, D. M., Quinn, R. P., Snoek, J. D., & Rosenthal, R. A. (1964). Organizational stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity. John Wiley & Sons.
vLevinson, H. (1978). A Psychoanalytic View of Occupational Stress. Occupational Mental Health, 2, 2-13.
viAmerican Psychological Association (2019). Stress in America: Stress and Current Events. Stress in America™ Survey.
We gathered our consultants together in this round table to discuss the power supervisors wield on the employee experience. Supervisors can either rally the troops for the cause of an organization or contribute to an all-out mutiny! This may be a touch dramatic, but you get the gravity of the issue. Our experts illustrate seven behaviors of engaging supervisors and some of the more nuanced ways supervisors influence their direct reports.
The Power of Consistency in Supervisor Behavior
Inconsistency among managers seems to be a very common pattern in many organizations that we advise. Some shining stars may foster engagement on their team while others succeed less in this area.
Principal Consultant, Dan Hoopes explains that in addressing the inconsistency of managers, we must address the impact of those inconsistencies. Organizations are starting to pinpoint the negative impact and drain that certain supervisors are having on their entire organization. We help clients visualize their path to maturity with this graphic.
“If an organization wants to move up the maturity curve, managing the disengaged and the disengaging are critical to be able to meet the next threshold of engagement.”
Dan Hoopes, Principal Consultant
Behavior 1: Provide Consistent Feedback
Principal Consultant, Beth Wilkins points out that many managers have a hard time giving performance feedback. We like to recognize people or give them positive feedback, but corrective feedback presents quite the challenge. We may fear this kind of interaction because we fear the possibility of discomfort or tension. And so, some supervisors may feel equipped to handle these crucial conversations while others avoid them altogether. It makes it very difficult to embed engagement across the board when one of those groups may be having a different quality of experience than others. Simply holding a bi-yearly workshop on how to give constructive feedback will help you make sure your managers are equally equipped for these conversations. Don’t let budget stand in your way – you’ve hired good people. Let your internal experts lead these sessions.
Pay Attention to Feedback Among Demographics
“BYU Professor, Taeya Howell has analyzed various kinds of manager feedback and uncovered that feedback to females is less direct. Dr. Howell has also learned that women receive feedback less frequently. The implications are that women lack a clear picture of how to improve and be more successful. Due to these descrepancies, I always try to highlight the responses of different demographics when debriefing survey results.”
Beth Wilkins, Principal Consultant
Behavior 2: Discuss Development with Direct Reports
Supervisors play an integral role in the development of their teams. Consultant, Stephen Mickelson illustrates this point with a story from his recent experience with a client.
“Earlier this year, we conducted focus groups for an organization that was interested in looking deeper into its employees’ perceptions of growth opportunities. We asked employees in those feedback sessions to tell us about one of their most pivotal career growth opportunities. It was really surprising to see how many employees related pivotal growth experiences connected to their supervisors. A lot of employees appreciated autonomy but also the knowledge that supervisors were also available to support them and show them how to do things that they didn’t understand.”
Behavior 3: Engage Your People
Our research shows that fully engaged managers are 213% more likely to have an engaged team. So, we strongly recommend companies engage managers and teach them how to engage others. Beth’s dissertation research focused on engaging leaders who successfully facilitated change. She found that these leaders all cared enough about their people to help them asses their current self and who they wanted to become.
“I call this process of helping people discover their potential and making the picture of it so palpable that they want to move toward it, identity coaching. In these sessions, managers create an environment of trust, ask their employees deep questions that help them reflect on who they’re becoming, and reinforce their strengths and potential. ”
Beth Wilkins, Principal Consultant
Behavior 4: Make Expectations Clear
On our employee engagement surveys, we ask the question, “Do I understand what my supervisor expects of me?” In other words, am I getting ongoing feedback about my performance? Are my supervisor and I in alignment with the work that I do so that I can quickly get more effective outcomes?
Dan Hoopes shares a moment where he found out too late, that he and his supervisor weren’t on the same page.
“My boss came to me and told me he was pulling the budget on one of my projects. Well, we got toward the end of the year and he said, “Hey, in preparation for your performance review, would you write down all of the things you’ve been working on and I’ll do the same?” When I compared his list to mine, there was one glaring difference – the project where funding was pulled. At the performance review I said, “I noticed this is on your list.” And he said, “Yes, I expected you to still complete the project.”
So, shame on me for never checking in with my manager, but shame on him for going eight months and never checking in with me either. This experience taught me I’m obligated to go and solicit feedback and to do everything that I can, to avoid being blindsided. It also taught me that if I give employees consistent feedback, this allows them to perform at their best.
Behavior 5: Foster Fairness, Respect, and Trust
Another way we measure supervisor favorability on our survey is to gauge how fair and respectful managers are. When respect and fairness don’t exist within a team, productivity lags. When we start to talk about diversity and inclusion, we consider this aspect carefully. Did everyone on the team feel trusted by their supervisor, especially people that looked different from the supervisor or came from a different background? In the survey data, we sometimes see that the answer is no. Sometimes trust is limited to a select few.
Stephen shares how his supervisor’s regular and specific feedback fostered a trusting relationship.
“Because I received positive feedback from my supervisor, when she redirected me or told me where I could do things differently, I trusted everything she had to say. I knew that she had my best interests and the organization’s best interests at heart.”
Behavior 6: Show Your Team You’re Willing to Learn
Consultant, Thomas Olsen shares how his supervisor earned his respect with his excellent example.
“I had a supervisor who would do a feedback session after client calls with me. We would each go over three positives and a negative. It was hard to come up with a negative for him, but it helped me realize that he thought he could still learn. I really respected his opinions and feedback, because he was still working on his own skillsets. This motivated me to become better and develop and grow in my role.”
Behavior 7: Share Your Energy with Your Team
Good leaders aren’t only energetic, they direct that positive energy toward other people. They energize other people positively and help them feel like they can reach goals they haven’t even considered. Beth tells us that when her supervisor gave her compliments, she didn’t really believe them. But, her supervisor said them enough that they changed the way she showed up. After a time, she started to feel more deserving of the praise. Effective supervisors also share energy by expressing gratitude and helping their direct reports see where they’re succeeding. They forgive mistakes and treat them as learning opportunities. They do everything they can to make their people more effective, with genuine care for their success and the success of the organization.
When I was at Oracle, I worked with a professor named Rob Cross, and he taught me a lot about organizational network analysis. There are lots of different kinds of influencers, but both he and Wayne Baker have found that energizers are the most important kind of influencer. In fact, their research shows that energizers are the most impactful influencers by a factor of four and that they influence people up to three degrees of separation. When I read that research, it motivated me to figure out how I could become an energizer, and how I could help other leaders do the same.
Beth Wilkins, Principal Consultant
We hope that lining up these seven behaviors helped you see that you don’t have to completely change who you are to lead others. Take the strengths you have and sprinkle in these behaviors to better engage employees. Your team will stick around longer, they’ll be more productive, and together you’ll be able to help each other reach the goals you’ve set.
(Article originally published on SwitchandShift.com) Starting a job is an exciting and scary moment for new hires. The first 90 days of employment are a critical time when they develop lasting opinions about their workplace that will affect their future performance. When handled well, the onboarding experience sets up an employee for success that will pay strong dividends to the company.
The Good News
Our employee engagement survey benchmark shows new employees are more engaged in their work and committed to the company than other employees. When we looked at engagement levels of first-year employees in our employee engagement survey database for 2015, we found 82% of employees with less than one year of tenure are engaged, compared to 75% of longer-tenured employees. Looking at the same data, we also found their commitment to stay (retention) is higher than other tenure groups: 74% compared to 70%.
But the employee experience for a new hire can be shaky during the first year. New employees are learning their job, understanding how the company works, and building relationships with coworkers, all while trying to establish a reputation as a top contributor. An employee’s direct manager has a huge influence over these factors.
As part of a successful onboarding experience, here are six ways managers can boost retention and engagement with new hires.
1. Have Career Development Conversations
During the first week, talk with new hires about their career aspirations. Find out where they want to be in five years, and help them see how they can achieve their goals in the new company. Identify learning opportunities and map out a rough timeline to hit certain milestones. Review these plans every quarter during a one-on-one.
2. Involve Them in Social Activities
Integrating socially can be one of the most stressful parts of starting a new job. Making new friends is difficult for some people, so take an active role in including new hires in company activities and group lunches. Introduce them to people they will need to work with to be successful in their role.
3. Ensure They Have the Training They Need
Many new hires are provided “on-the-job training”, which essentially means, “start doing the work and figure it out on your own.” This type of experience can quickly lead to frustration and burn-out for new employees. Make sure they receive the formal training they need to feel confident in their ability to be successful.
4. Provide the Necessary Tools and Resources
Are your new hires given the “hand-me-down” computer to do their job? If so, they may struggle to get it to work and may be reluctant to say anything about it. As a manager, use your influence to get them the tools they need to be successful.
5. Help Align New Hires with the Company Culture and Mission
New employees are excited to make an impression and contribute in their new roles. Show them how their work makes a difference and drives organizational success. As they see meaning and impact in their work, they will be more committed to stay and deliver results. New employees are excited to make an impression and contribute in their new roles.
6. Solicit Their Feedback
Use a confidential new-hire survey to gather feedback from employees during their first year. When speaking with their managers, new hires may not be completely honest about all aspects of their job. A new hire survey administered at 30, 60, and 90 days will provide a comprehensive look at their employee experience. Because the survey is confidential, results will be summarized for all new hires, but the data will give you important insights into problems that may not come up in your one-on-one conversations.
As a manager, don’t compromise the high level of engagement new hires experience during their first year by being careless about the onboarding experience. When onboarding is done well, new hires will get up-to-speed faster and deliver stronger results.
Watch this video on 6 ways managers can improve team creativity and decision making.
In effective group decision making, there needs to be a balancing between what the group leader does and what group members do. This is an important focus in group decision-making strategies that promote positive company culture and outcomes. The key is balancing the leader’s creativity with the group’s creativity to reach the optimal zone.
If you are looking to expand the zone of decision-making creativity in your workplace, here are six suggestions to consider.
1. Be mindful. What is the desired outcome?
Transparency and collaboration mean more than giving employees a say or a vote on what the group is going to do. They mean group members have a voice that is listened to and they actively participate in company decision making. Effective leaders are mindful of employees’ voices and actively seek their input.
2. Don’t act bureaucratically. Avoid “My way or the highway.”
A bureaucratic top-down leader makes a decision and requires the group to implement it, without input or feedback. This may increase group efficiency in the short term, but it diminishes team buy-in and creativity in the long term.
3. Don’t drag decision making out too long. Avoid “analysis paralysis.”
When decision making is drawn out too long and too many options are evaluated in too much detail, group creativity may be high initially but quickly decreases as the process takes too much time.
4. Trust yourself. Trust your team.
Good decision making requires leaders to trust in his or her own decision-making ability, and also to trust in the group’s ability to generate ideas and solutions that are beneficial.
5. Add resources. Remove obstacles.
An effective leader must be aware of needed resources and unnecessary obstacles in the decision making process, then use the hiring process and skills training to add those needed resources.
6. Read the Group. Develop each member.
Sometimes the leader’s mere recognition and encouragement of an individual member’s skills, attitude, or efforts may be that one thing which “grows” that person into a strong collaborative member of the team. Conclusion: Achieving the zone of proximal creativity in group decision making.
Balancing the leader’s creativity with the group’s creativity is a necessary in decision making. This balancing act creates more than just satisfied employees. It optimizes the process. This is how, where, and when good group decisions are made.
Let’s talk about our research on the Influence of Managers on Employee Engagement.
We recently conducted the largest study of its kind to compare the level of employee engagement of managers to that of their direct reports. This study included data from 22 companies, almost 19,000 employees, and 2,300 managers.
We first measured the overall level of engagement for each individual using a set of research-based anchor questions from their annual employee survey. We then grouped managers and employees according to their level of engagement into four categories: Fully Engaged, Key Contributors, Opportunity Group, and Fully Disengaged. Then we compared the level of engagement of managers to the employees they lead.
For the 808 managers that were Fully Engaged, we found that 36% of their employees were also Fully Engaged, 48% were Key Contributors, 12% were in the Opportunity Group, and only 3% were Fully Disengaged.
For the 1154 managers who were Key Contributors, the level of fully engaged employees drops to 24%. So the percentage of fully engaged employees increases 50% from a Key Contributor manager to a Fully Engaged manager.
For managers in the Opportunity Group and Fully Disengaged categories, only 14% of their employees were fully engaged.
So you can see that fully engaged managers lead more engaged employees. That finding, in of itself, is not very surprising, but what is important, is that the percentage of fully engaged employees increases 163% from Opportunity Group managers and Fully Disengaged managers to Fully Engaged managers. That’s a huge difference.
So how do you engage managers? Here are 3 best-practice recommendations:
“Engaged managers till the soil for their direct reports, creating the same conditions that lead to the manager’s full engagement in work and workplace culture. They then encourage employees to find engagement in ways that are unique to them, based on what the manager knows about their passions, interests and needs. Disengaged managers, on the other hand, either don’t know what motivates their people, or simply don’t care. It’s about management by authority, threat and coercion,”
As a regular contributor to Entrepreneur.com, DecisionWise CEO, Dr. Tracy Maylett provides valuable insight into how managers can keep employees engaged. A key take-away is to invest in your managers. They will ultimately have influence over the teams that effect the organization’s bottom line. So, managers, if your team is disengaged (or engaged!), take a look in the mirror. The correlation isn’t likely due to chance.