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Archive for October, 2011

Work/Life Balance and Achieving Mastery

October 28, 2011 1 comment

Employees seek to achieve mastery at work. They want to master their jobs and feel a sense of accomplishment. It makes for happy, satisfied, and successful employees. Similarly, people want mastery in their personal and family lives. When people are not able to manage their personal lives they get funky: they are anxious, unhappy, and distracted from work.

Organizations are smart to pay attention to work/life balance issues. They need to be careful about taking advantage of their employees and pushing them to their limits, especially in a very lean economy. Far too often people will just go along with trying to meet the demands of their jobs…until they break. They break by getting tired, unhappy, and disgruntled. You may not know it until they leave for another job.

Some of the best employees are the ones who will surprise you and suddenly be gone. I recently consulted with one who wanted help conveying to her employer that she was struggling. As a parent with a young child, she was upset about the required travel, about the tasks piling up on her desk, and about the pushy atmosphere at the job.

We made a plan for her to tell the boss about her issues with travel. She was not refusing the travel, just hoping it would be slightly reduced. She explained that the erratic hours and workload were difficult for planning child care and family schedules. Her boss heard her, expressed his regrets and made comments about the pressures facing a company that had recently been sold.

Hearing that there was no concrete plan to help her manage, she began looking for another job. With her competence she found a new job that actually paid better and where the company expressed a commitment to employee time protection. When she submitted her resignation, her current employer acted surprised and offered to nearly match the new salary. Without hesitation she turned them down.

It is a common tale, part of the reason that employee satisfaction rates run about 45% in America. Work/life balance isn’t just a good thing to do, it is critical to maintaining employees in your organization. Encourage your employees to tell you how they are fairing with their work/life balance, or suffer a higher turnover rate. It is not really a choice.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

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Employee Growth and Development is Not Just about Training

Sometimes you hear an organization boast about how it fosters employee growth and development, “after all, we provide many training opportunities for our staff.” But is staff growth really about training? Let me suggest that it is much more about encouraging employees to take on new tasks, have autonomy, and succeed at the work before them.

You see, training is a about gaining new knowledge or skill. This is important and useful. But acquiring new learning requires application. People have to use this information on new tasks that are engaging and matter to the organization. Without an opportunity for application, the new learning is useless, or worse, a sham.

Employers that want their employees to grow try to give them tasks that are manageable steps toward the completion of a major goal. People want and need to succeed. This is what Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer focus on in The Progress Principle. “Even when progress happens in small steps, a person’s sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.”

Employee growth and development is about helping people achieve mastery. People want to feel like they are mastering something that is challenging and valuable. It leads to confidence, satisfaction, and a desire to do more. So when training applies to the task of the employee there is excitement and drive about its application.

Any parent knows this experience firsthand. Toddlers especially, but certainly all kids, want to solve problems. The phrases are “me do it,” or “I want to figure it out.” As a parent you realize that you have to take the time to let the child succeed (even if it takes much longer than just doing it yourself). The kids are elated when they succeed and usually want to do the task over and over. “Look, I did it,” is the proud end result. Our response is “yes, you can do it and you are competent.”

Our employees want the same thing. Give them something worthwhile to accomplish, then support them in feeling successful and competent. That’s growth and development.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Employee Growth is Enhanced by Team-Building

A recurring problem I run into as a business management consultant is the organization’s management structure. Too many organizations still rely on an old hierarchical model; you know, where six to ten people report to a supervisor. Each person works under a manager/supervisor who monitors their work, coaches their efforts, and evaluates the results.

A few years ago I was asked to consult with a service organization which had three supervisors each overseeing the work of eight workers, all with very similar jobs. Each group had its strengths and weaknesses. One group was superb at the service provision, and one was great with their paperwork. Another was reacting to its supervisor. The director of the organization was feverishly supervising the supervisors in the hopes that they would all work effectively.

What could be wrong with this model? It was painfully obvious that each group operated as a function of its leader. Because hierarchical management structures are top-down, they transmit the strengths and weaknesses of their leader directly to the supervisees. There is no buffer, very little cross pollination, and the situation is ripe for personality conflicts.

In hierarchical organizations each person becomes narrowly focused on their job. Their goal is to succeed at the job as defined by their boss. They don’t feel a part of a larger mission, they are not connected to one another, and they are less likely to contribute to improving the overall service provision by the organization.

My consultation goal became turning the management group into a team. As the management group began working together, they rediscovered their respect for one another by virtue of their unique strengths. Previously seen as an obsessive, one supervisor took on the task of leading the others in strategies for getting the necessary paper work done. One supervisor led discussions about the nature of supervision and the quality of service provision. They all worked to support their weaker colleague.

When people aren’t in teams, there is very little shared learning. The learning is limited to the skills of the leader/manager. Any diversity that is present in the group is left unused and unappreciated. There is too little safety and mutual support.

My consultation with this group tied the strengths of each team member into a unified whole. By doing so they began to grow and learn from one another in ways they had not previously experienced. In doing so they agreed to turn their respective groups of supervisees into teams. When those teams began to function the organization moved to a whole new level of growth and development.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com