Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Unhappy and Disengaged: What's Happening with American Workers?

Source: The Human Capital Hub

Vanessa Fuhrmans and Lindsay Ellis have penned a Wall Street Journal article titled, "Why Is Everyone So Unhappy at Work Right Now?"   They report:

Despite wage increases, more paid time off and greater control over where they work, the number of U.S. workers who say they are angry, stressed and disengaged is climbing, according to Gallup’s 2023 workplace report. Meanwhile, a BambooHR analysis of data from more than 57,000 workers shows job-satisfaction scores have fallen to their lowest point since early 2020, after a 10% drop this year alone.

Furhmans and Ellis explain that many companies increased wages amidst the tight labor market that emerged after the initial lockdowns eased.  Moreover, a large number of firms enhanced employee benefits.  For instance, many organizations offered improved mental health benefits and increased support for childcare.  The spending doesn't seem to be paying off.  The battle over remote work vs. returning to the office doesn't seem to fully explain the level of disenchantment either.   While some bemoan having to commute into the office again, others seem to have much less connection to their organizations because of remote work arrangements.

For me, the discussion in the article suggests that leaders need to rethink their approach to engaging and retaining employees. Compensation matters, but it simply isn't enough to drive engagement. Purpose matters, but that alone doesn't create highly committed and engaged employees either. I think leaders need to take a systemic approach. In so doing, they should recognize that pulling one or two levers alone will not have a significant positive impact. They need to think about their entire system. It would be helpful if leaders reconsidered the seminal work by Hackman and Oldham on job design. They described five factors that create a high level of intrinsic motivation, productivity, and commitment.
  • Skill variety – People don't enjoy doing the same work day after day.  They want to tap into a variety of their skills and capabilities over time.   Some tasks must be completed each day, but other projects can and should vary.  
  • Whole task  – Yes, it may seem that we can be more productive through division of labor.  However, employees find it more satisfying when they can see a job through from start to finish at times.  They don't want to just do a bit part without seeing the finished product.  I would add that these two first points suggest that it is important to provide interesting challenges to your employees. They will find a great deal of satisfaction from accomplishing a difficult task, provided that they have enough support in that effort.  Strive for what educators describe as desirable difficulty.  In other words, it can't be too easy, but if it's ovewhelmingly challenging, they will get frustrated quickly.  
  • Task significance  – How important is the work being done?  Do employees recognize and understand the importance?  Here, organizations can do much more to show employees the impact that their work is having on people's lives.  I'm reminded of the CEO of a defense contractor explaining to me that she has her team film videos of soldiers thanking factory workers for making vehicles that keep them safe amidst the threat of roadside bombs and IEDs.   
  • Autonomy – Give people some latitude regarding what to do and how to do it.  Sometimes, leaders have to direct people as to what to do.  However, they might still be able to find ways to provide choice regarding how to accomplish those tasks.  Find ways to ask workers often if they have better ideas as to how the work should be done.  
  • Feedback – Make sure you recognize hard work and accomplishment in small ways on a day-to-day basis, not just in terms of pay and promotion increases that might come only once per year.  Provide constructive feedback so that people can course correct if they aren't meeting expectations.  Encourage workers to ask for help when they need it.  
It's not enough to pull one of these levers.  You need to work on ALL of them across the board.  Moreover, employees need to be part of the conversation about how to improve on these five fronts.  

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

How Gratitude Decreases Burnout at Work


As Thanksgiving approaches, we should consider the role that gratitude plays not only for our personal well-being, but for the engagement we create among our employees at work.   Amber Kersten and her colleagues have published a new paper in the Journal of Personnel Psychology titled, "Paying Gratitude Forward at Work."  The scholars studied more than 350 employees from companies in the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Belgium, and Malta.  They found that work-related gratitude is associated with lower levels of exhaustion and disengagement.   In short, those employees who are more thankful and appreciative about elements of their worklife tend to have lower levels of burnout.  Moreover, they found that interpersonal helping behavior (i.e., do people go out of their way to assist others at work?) plays a crucial mediating role in this relationship.  In other words, "gratitude stimulates interpersonal helping behavior, thereby alleviating disengagement."  

Can leaders cultivate a culture of gratitude in their organizations?   Kersten and her co-authors point to a paper by Ryan Fehr and colleagues that recommend certain human resource initiatives that can cultivate employee gratitude.   First, Fehr and his co-authors suggest employee appreciation programs.  Second, they recommend that organizations consider facilitating contact between workers and those customers (internal and external) who benefit from the work that they have done.  In other words, help people see the impact that they are having, even when they don't always see the impact on a day-to-day basis.   Third, offering employees constructive developmental feedback and opportunities to advance their personal development also can enhance gratitude at work.   Together, these three interventions can create a culture of gratitude that goes beyond simply recognizing people for their efforts from time to time on an ad hoc basis.   

Monday, November 20, 2023

Rethinking The Push to Sign Customers Up for Your Loyalty Program

Source: www.technologyinsights.com

Black Friday is almost upon us.  As consumers shop at many retailers, many people will be asked if they are members of the company's loyalty program.  If not, associates will ask customers if they would like to join.  Do loyalty programs add value?  Clearly, most retailers seem to think so.  Yet, I'm always intrigued by the retailers that don't have loyalty programs.  Consider Trader Joe's, one of the most successful grocery retailers in the world.  They have developed a cult-like following without offering customers a rewards program of any kind.  

Recent research suggests that companies might want to rethink the standard approach to loyalty programs.  Scholars Wayne Taylor and Brett Hollenbeck conducted a fascinating study of a major home improvement retailer's loyalty program. Thye examined transaction data for more than 10,000 customers at five store locations over two years.  15% of these customers were members of the retailer's loyalty program, which only offered customers rewards for purchases in a particular product category.  The scholars found that customers do spend more when they join the program, but the cause-effect relationship is unclear.  Did customers spend more because they became members, or did they become members in advance of making some planned major purchases?  Overall, the scholars don't see a substantial positive impact on profits from signing new people up for the program.

Interestingly, however, the scholars do find that a certain subset of customers do deliver additional profits when they become new members of the retailer's loyalty program.  The customers that reside a considerable distance from the retailer's store locations, but in close proximity to a rival's store locations, tend to be quite valuable as new members of the loyalty program.  In other words, loyalty programs work best when they induce customers to switch.   Otherwise, the rewards simply eat into your margins on purchases that would otherwise occur at your stores anyway.  For marketers, the results imply that one could and should focus direct marketing efforts on specific customers in particular locations when trying to increase membership in a loyalty program. 

Monday, November 06, 2023

Customer Experience: Does it End with a Bang?

HBS Working Knowledge reports on interesting new research from Professor Julian De Freitas. He has studied customer journeys, and he finds that a strong memorable moment at the end of a customer journey can help shape a very positive longlasting impression.   As I read about the research, I was reminded about an article I read some years ago regarding Ritz Carlton's legendary customer service.  At the hotel firm, employees are allowed, and even encouraged, to spend up to $2,000 to address a customer's problem.  That holds even when the issue is not the hotel chain's fault, but instead involves  a customer error.   Now, not every firm can empower its employees to spend that much money.  Most firms don't have the margins that Ritz Carlton has, nor do they have the customer lifetime value that the luxury hotel chain generates.  Thus, firms might have a much lower limit.  Still, the concept is fascinating, because it often means that a customer's experience can end with a very memorable positive moment, rather than a frustrating memory.  

Consider a family that enjoyed a terrific stay at the hotel, but then managed to lose their son's favorite toy.   No matter how great the customer service was during the visit, the family will have a negative memory associated with that vacation.  It's not the Ritz Carlton's fault, but it still is a disappointing memory that tarnishes the entire experience.  Interestingly, the $2,000 rule enabled employees to transform that disappointment into a "big bang" positive moment which left a longlasting impression.  Micah Solomon explains in this Forbes article

The Rescue Of Thomas The Tank Engine (And Creation Of A Customer For Life)

This summer, a family with a two year old son spent a weekend at the Ritz-Carlton’s Dove Mountain Resort outside of Tucson. As the guests were packing up to leave for the airport the mom realized her son had lost his favorite Thomas The Tank Engine toy.

She found two Ritz employees, Jessy Long and Nathan Cliff, and explained what was at stake: that this Thomas toy was her little boy’s favorite and the loss would be heartbreaking for him. Jessy and Nathan couldn’t locate the lost Thomas train anywhere, but realizing how much this mattered to the guests agreed together that something must be done. After the guests left the property for their flight home, Jessy and Nathan drove to a toy store and purchased an absolute dead ringer of the original train for the little boy.

Then, they composed a note in longhand to the boy–in the voice of Thomas The Tank Engine himself –telling a sweet tale about the extended vacation Thomas had taken after being accidentally left behind. The account included adorable pictures (see above) of Thomas exploring the property, cooking in the Ritz-Carlton kitchen, and more. Four days after the disappearance of Thomas, he arrived by mail to a family that was, understandably, blown away, and that has shared the story at every chance they can find on Facebook and elsewhere, proclaiming that “The Ritz has earned our business for years to come!

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Your Brain on Zoom: Not Good?

Fortune's Orianna Rosa Royle reported this week on a new study by Nan Zhao, Xian Zhang, J. Adam Noah, Mark Tiede, and Joy Hirsch, published in Imaging Neuroscience.  The research examined the brain activity of people engaged in Zoom meetings vs. in-person meetings.  The scholars discovered that face-to-face interactions led to enhanced brain activity.    They wrote that,  "the exchange of social cues is greater for the in-person condition."  Specifically, the scholars reported:

Findings from this investigation suggest that differences occur at the visual sensing level (mean and standard variation of eye contact duration); the behavioral level (coherence and diameters of pupils); the electrocortical level (theta oscillations); the neuroimaging level (contrast between in-person and on-line faces); and the dyadic neural coupling level (coherence between neural signals in the dorsal parietal regions).   

Co-author Joy Hirsch told Fortune, “Zoom appears to be an impoverished social communication system relative to in-person conditions. Overall, the dynamic and natural social interactions that occur spontaneously during in-person interactions appear to be less apparent or absent during Zoom encounters.”  She concluded, "“Online representations of faces, at least with current technology, do not have the same ‘privileged access’ to social neural circuitry in the brain that is typical of the real thing."

What does it mean for those of us who do engage in hybrid work?  We have to think carefully about the type of work being done virtually vs. in-person, and we have to focus on the intensity of the collaboration required during meetings.  Some types of collaboration may be more suited to in-person interaction.  Moreover, we must consider how virtual engagement with others may affect our ability to read social cues and ultimately how the ability to read those cues impacts our ability to build effective working relationships.