Worker Satisfaction in the Family-Like Work Environment

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

American workers feel less job satisfaction than ever before, just check the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Workers are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and disconnected from what they do. While this may not change soon, it is not a mystery how this happens and how you can prevent it in your organization.

We know that lower job satisfaction translates directly into a reduced bottom line. In fact, the lower job satisfaction scores may be costing an amazing $300 billion annually. Poor job satisfaction results in greater absenteeism, less engagement (and ownership of organizational success), and reduced productivity.

A study by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer at the Harvard Business School found that the inner work life of each employee has an incredible effect on creativity, productivity, commitment, and collegiality. Their real-time data showed that managers could help ensure that people were happily engaged at work. They found that worker’s well-being depended on a manager’s ability and willingness to facilitate accomplishments by removing obstacles, providing help, and acknowledging strong effort. The most important way to engage people at work is to support them making progress in meaningful work.

When workers experienced their labor as meaningful, their progress was followed by increased positive feelings about the work. The experience is a spiral of satisfaction about the work, the self, and usually the organization.

The premise of our book, The People Side of Business, is that people perform better when there is support and structure available to them. Increasingly, there is data that shows the power of knowing how people function, and how to meet their needs. Doing so produces satisfied employees who are happier by virtue of accomplishing their work. Doing so occurs in a family-like environment where there is just as much concern about worker well-being as work productivity. How interesting that one necessarily comes from the other.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Team-Building is Critical to a Family-Like Environment

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Yes, employees bring a family lens to seeing others in the workplace. One of the most important ways to utilize the positive aspect of this human dynamic is to see the critical value in team-building. Team-building is a fulcrum around which you can negate family projections, build mutual support, and develop a positive culture in your organization.

People are naturally comfortable in teams because being in one feels like being in a family. In teams people naturally support one another. They want to make the small group successful because they know all the members, almost as siblings. Helping other team members translates directly back into success in one’s own work.

In teams people give and take feedback much more comfortably. People will hear feedback from team members that they can’t or won’t hear from a parent figure. From parent figures feedback can sound pedantic, insulting, or intimidating. The feedback in a team works both for training and for corrective purposes.

Teams can also be better at self correcting. Because team members tend to own the work product, they are more invested in letting others know when there is a problem. “Your” behavior reflects on me and I won’t stand for you ruining my effort.

Employees tend to build on the strengths of the team members. Team members show each other relative strengths. More than an opportunity to learn from one another, people rely on the most skilled person to lead an area of teamwork. For example, teams usually have a member most technically skilled, a member more interpersonally savvy, and a member more interested in details. Each of these persons finds a niche that has the team function overall on the best talents.

When done right, teams become all for one and one for all. This is the camaraderie that creates togetherness, cohesion, and high production. It also creates better buy-in to the mission of the organization.

Teams are a key to cultural stability and improvement. As people share the knowledge and responsibility to accomplish goals they learn from one another and they embody that knowledge. When members change, the team passes on the tradition of the team in a very effective manner.

You don’t want to miss out on building teams as a way to creating a comfortable and successful work environment for your employees.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Employee Experience in the Family-Like Work Environment

Since people working together tend to replicate family structures and dynamics, employers should be aware that employees will place a family lens on their interactions with others. The most common version of this is how employees will see supervisors as parent figures and colleagues as siblings.

One branch of psychology, Transactional Analysis, captures how people relate to one another, especially when the relationship has a power differential. From the transactional perspective, people can relate from one of three positions: parent, child, or adult. Generally, two equal people interact on an adult to adult basis. And this is what you want in the work environment. But when there is a supervisor-supervisee relationship, which has a power/hierarchical differential, the interaction can turn parent to child.

Parent/child interactions between two adults at work are prone to occur, and they are problematic. The child position is one down, demeaning, and less productive. The parent position puts needless responsibility on the supervision to control and monitor the child-like employee. This kind of relationship does not foster autonomy and mastery of the employee and stifles creativity.

One example of this occurred while I was consulting to several teams in an organization. One team had its leader leave and another promoted from within the group. The team seemed to suddenly freeze up, become less productive, and begin reacting to one another.

Through discussion, some team members could voice their jealousy that a peer had been promoted. Others could feel the resentment that a colleague was “now telling me what to do.” There were other comments, like “why does she suddenly know more than me?” The new supervisor leader at first was dumbfounded; after all, she had done nothing wrong.

With a little work the group identified its envy and fear of control by a (former) sibling. It became an opportunity for the team to reaffirm its adult to adult collegial working preference. The new supervisor was able to reach out, support everyone’s importance to the mission, and defuse the negative family projection.

The tendency for employees to see the work environment through a family lens is not a problem. It just needs to be understood and utilized for employee satisfaction and productivity.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Building Family-Like Work Environments

Where do you spend most of your time outside the home? Obviously it is at work. Well, it is not just a job, and certainly not just an adventure, but it might be a place you would like to enjoy, be comfortable, and maybe even feel like it is your second home. People naturally prefer a family-like atmosphere at work. And it is achievable.

Everyone at work has multiple reasons for being there. While people need the job to provide a living wage, they want more. They want purpose. A purpose can be different things, like personal accomplishment, corporate success, selling better food, or providing critical medical care. People want to accomplish something that matters.

The organization takes care of its employees and they take care of it. This ends up feeling a lot like family, where we are in it together, need to help one another, and have the common good at heart.

There are many ways to build that family-like feeling in your organization. You build it by encouraging it, by the right attitude, and by the little things people interpret as family.

• Set up teams where workers participate in decision-making and responsibility for their outcomes. Workers should be a part of designing the success of the organization.
• Engage employees by soliciting their ideas and feedback.
• Foster a sense of group cohesion and togetherness through identity, shared mission, mutual dependence. Do this conceptually and through little things like company shirts, a logo, and community projects. Provide a shared meal for them once in a while.
• Make sure every supervisor listens to employee concerns. Make sure every supervisor discusses the employees’ needs.
• Provide opportunities for growth and development.
• Link organizational success to personal employee success. Acknowledge contributions to the organization.
• Encourage workers to get to know each other through informal and formal means.
• Communicate, communicate, communicate. Share plans, solicit input, be as open as possible.

Building a family-like atmosphere is not overly complicated. And there are many models and ideas in other organizations about how it can be done successfully. Mostly you have to decide that it is a valuable part of maximizing the satisfaction and productivity of your staff.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

The Creation of a Family-Like Work Environment through Team Building

Family-like environments in the work setting help employees perform at their best. They produce emotionally safe and secure settings for people to work together for the success of the organization.

Some years ago I was asked to consult with a team of nurses on one hospital floor. A year prior to bringing me in the hospital had reorganized and combined two groups of nurses. Unfortunately these nurses still operated as two separate entities: members of the original groups hung out together, complained about each other, and did not appropriately share responsibility for patient care on the floor.

When I met with the group the nurses explained that they had a long history with their respective original groups and that they had not been happy about the combining. There was nothing specific, just us and them. The unit manager was flabbergasted by the behavior of the nurses.

In the process of a larger team meeting the nurses agreed that they were less effective operating as two teams on the unit. In fact they were at a loss to explain the failure to come together. With my help they were able to see the external forces that subtlety kept them apart (three shifts, no deliberate plan to join them, a busy schedule, and other factors). All of them understood that it had taken years to gain the original trust and friendship with one another.

Agreeing that continuing as two teams was not right, the group decided it was time to come together. I expressed my confidence that, with deliberate forethought, they could make a plan that would work. Indeed, the ideas began immediately landing on my flip chart. They arranged for meals together on all three shifts so that team members could talk and share histories. The unit manager suggested and found resources for a video about the unit (“Our Team on 3D”). There were other ideas, and most importantly, there was a commitment.

Over the next several months I heard of their success pulling together. The unit manage reported that the team improved their sharing of responsibilities, reduced arguments, and generally showed much more happiness at work. She felt patient care had improved significantly. I also knew because they gave my name to other nursing units in the hospital and I could literally visit to see their success.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Emotional Safety and the Creation of a Family-Like Work Environment

July 21, 2011 1 comment

You have been hearing me talk about emotional safety and security in the work environment as critical to getting the best performance from your employees. Well, one key element to this process is the building of a family-like work environment. What is this? It is the process of creating a workplace where people feel at home; where they are attached to the organization and want to make it succeed.

When we first put our new book, The People Side of Business, out for comment we had a colleague and good friend, Skip, complain about this notion. “I keep telling people in business that the workplace is NOT a family. It is about performance and the mission of the organization.” Well, we actually agreed. The workplace IS about performance and mission. But the best performance comes from people who feel secure in their jobs and where there is a family-like system of caring for employees.

People feel most comfortable in a work culture where they are in concert with the prevailing values. When they “believe” in what their organization stands for, they will contribute fully. When employees believe that the company wants the best for them (as well as the organization), they push themselves to meet goals.

There is just no escaping the fact that humans bring a family lens to groups in which they participate. They see peers as siblings and supervisors as parent figures. Employees want exacting sibling fairness (with rules, pay scales, and overall treatment), and complete support and encouragement from their supervisors (with fair evaluations, individual attention, and personal recognition).

One of the reasons that leaders can have such power is that we humans are wired to look for someone to give us direction. Leadership is not just about visionary acumen, but about people connection such that others will follow. It is our natural instinct to want, respect and appreciate parent figures.

Now, while there are great advantages to understanding family phenomena in the work environment, there are also easy mines to step on. In my coming posts I’ll discuss the implications of the family lens, ways to achieve the family-like atmosphere, and the great value in teaming.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Common Problems that Ruin Emotional Safety and Security at Work

There are common managerial problems that ruin emotional safety and security in the workplace. Here are some examples of things I have seen and heard from employees.

1)Bad attitudes: “My boss is chronically annoyed.” This is how one employee described his boss. He assumed it was because work production was not up to par and he was worried that the blame would eventually be pinned on his tail.

2)Dangers in the physical environment: “They didn’t bother to contain the dust from the construction down the hall; they don’t care about our health.” A worker explained that despite her expressed concerns there was an unwillingness to make sure her area was safe. The episode left her assuming no one cared about her as a person.

3)Judgmental management: “My manager reminds me regularly that I am their difficult employee.” Struggling to improve and succeed, this person kept hearing judgments that effectively told her she would never succeed.

4)Dishonest or disingenuous behaviors: “These people asked for my feedback, but I saw Sally get in trouble when she complained.” All too often management says that things are open and that feedback is desired. Well, not always.

5)Lack of commitment to employee success. “They’ve let me know I am replaceable.” An employee complained about an unnecessary process. The answer she heard was that they could find someone who didn’t mind their processes. She’ll never contribute again.

6)Negativity about employees or others: “I heard my manager talking to another about how she disliked Sally.” From this employee’s point of view it could just as well be her next time the managers chose to be negative about someone. It left her uncomfortable. She even wondered if she should inform her friend Sally.

7)Preoccupation with rules or ways of acting unrelated to outcomes: “There are a bunch of stupid rules here about lunch times, dress, and behavior that have nothing to do with doing my job.” Sometimes management wants to control, thinking that the controls matter. Usually there is too much control.

8)Not appreciating success, because it is expected. “We’ve been pushing and pushing to get things done by the deadline. Will this ever end?” Especially when there is growth, too often more and more is expected. When it is not acknowledged people lose the willingness to continue pushing hard.

There are many ways to ruin the environment that makes it safe and secure for workers to operate at their best. Most of the time the problematic behavior is inadvertent. This can only be prevented by having a clear commitment and vision to creating a healthy, emotionally safe work environment.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Keys to Creating Emotional Safety and Security

June 22, 2011 1 comment

Maximizing the capabilities of your employees requires the creation of an emotionally safe and secure environment. Here are some tips to building that kind of environment.

1) Be personally warm and accepting of your staff. You need to accept them even if you don’t always like them. You care because they are there and they will make your organization successful (or not!).

2) Assure physical safety and a relative degree of comfort. They don’t need a posh environment to feel secure, but they do need bathrooms, heat, and water to work comfortably.

3) Drive out fear of rejection (my take on Deming). Personal judgments are poison to security. No one is a jerk, asshole, or idiot, and no one is stupid, insecure, or ridiculous. People may have problems and quirks, but you are not their judge. Besides, you have them too.

4) Be honest and straightforward. Your staff doesn’t need to waste brain energy figuring out if you mean something different than you say.

5) Have a commitment to your employees and their success. After all, their success is yours. So you are in it together with them.

6) Have a positive attitude. It helps people feel like there is something good ahead. Negative attitudes cause people to worry about the impending doom. It also creates a positive atmosphere which invites creativity and commitment.

7) Be oriented to outcomes. You want your employees and the company to succeed. Consequently the most important goal is to get the business work done right and done well. An outcome orientation also allows corrections to be focused on what is needed for the business, not what is wrong with the employee. And, when things do go wrong, or errors are made, you can review with a mind to the proper outcome.

8 ) Measure success and celebrate it. People need to know that they are mastering their work and that it matters. Be clear about the benefits of worker efforts and reward it. The reward may be monetary, but it must always be personal. This means you tell your employee that they did a great job, and that you/the company appreciates it.
You can do this. It’s actually a pleasure. And it matters a lot.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Emotional Safety and Security in the Workplace

People work at their best when they feel emotionally safe and secure. They focus their energy on solving problems, and not on their worries that they could be rejected. Secure employees are also happier and more satisfied employees.

Emotional safety can only occur after physical safety is assured. Physical safety is more than just protection from job hazards; it is also about workplace intolerance for interpersonal intimidation or violence.

People report feeling secure when they know what they are doing, and when they believe their supervisor also views them as competent in their job. The emotional safety comes from the sense that they will not be in trouble because they are unlikely to screw up.

So, people who have been around and have had good reviews tend to feel safe. Additionally, when employees have been handed opportunities to lead and operate independently, there is evidence that the system appreciates and accepts them. Longer term employees tend to feel safer and more secure.

So, how do you get newer employees to that place of safety? First, you welcome them. The process indicates that they are valued. Second, you define their job role and expectations. And third, you review regularly how their performance matches with expectations. Fourth, when they do well, you reward them, perhaps monetarily, but certainly personally.

The real trick comes when there are mistakes or failures. Employees (usually) worry about mistakes and their consequences. The sooner one actually occurs, the better. An episode of an error becomes the opportunity to clarify how you will deal with the person when things go wrong. Most people hate making mistakes and anticipate a rejecting response. When you review with the employee what happened and how it happened, in a nonjudgmental manner, they are relieved.

This is the process that sets up the proper risk-taking approach by the employee. It establishes the tone for the employee’s future effort to come up with new ideas and creatively solve problems. The employee says to himself, “Okay, now I know how creative I can be and what the consequences will be if I screw up.”

Creating emotional safety and security is not difficult if the culture of the organization cares to do it. The process is not about spending money, but about a commitment to the well-being of staff. Oh yes, and it is also about improving the bottom line.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Safety and Security in the Workplace

When I wrote about safety and security in the workplace last September 10, I didn’t realize it would be the subject most searched to find our blog. Clearly leaders and managers want to know how to create safety and security for themselves and their employees in the workplace.

Creating a safe workplace is definitely not about having police officers roaming the shop floor. Safety and security happens fundamentally because someone running the show actually cares enough to make it that way. The most important aspect of leadership in this regard is that they care.

When leadership cares they make sure that dangerous or threatening people are not working in the organization. Threats to safety and security are simply not to be tolerated; not from coworkers and not from management. This is established through workplace rules and policies.

Workers generally don’t feel threatened by rules, especially those established for their safety. The policies and procedures, what we call structure, are there to provide a framework for achieving. With a framework in place, leadership and management can focus on care and support.

This care and support has people feel like they are important and integral to the success of the organization. Nurturance creates a feeling of security which allows people to work at their best. Without the fear of rejection (of losing their job) people can settle in and bring their best problem-solving to their job.

The essential fuel to power employees is the nurturance provided by the organization. The nurturance is provided through interactions that indicate that the company values its people; that they are listened to, encouraged, and offered guidance. No one talks down to them or criticizes them personally.

There are two people that workers look to for the sense of caring and security. They look to their immediate supervisor and to the overall leader of the organization. The immediate supervisor is the translator, or messenger, of the company. The CEO is the company.

When workers see that these people care, they feel safe and secure. More about this in my coming posts.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com