Friday, March 16, 2018

The Power of Guilt: Understanding Employee Absenteeism

Most of us probably believe that a link exists between a person's attendance record at work and his or her job satisfaction.  The employees who show up every day must be more satisfied than those who opt to stay home a fair bit, right?  Not so fast. Interestingly, the data do not support the beliefs most of us hold about absenteeism and job satisfaction.  

An interesting new study helps us understand what's really going on in the workplace.  Rebecca Schaumberg and Francis J. Flynn examined more than 300 customer service associates at various call centers.   The scholars measured job satisfaction, and they tracked the employee's attendance at work over a four month period.   Interestingly, they also administered a survey to evaluate how "guilt prone" each individual was.  What did they discover?  If individuals were not very susceptible to feelings of guilt, then attendance and job satisfaction are positvely corelated.  In other words, the more dissatisfied people are, the more likely they are to miss work.  That's what we would expect.  However, things change when we examine people who are higly "guilt prone."  For these people, no relationship exists between attendance and job satisfaction.  These people sometimes keep right on showing up for work, even if they are very unhappy, because of their feelings of guilt.  

The lesson is clear - be careful how you interpret a strong attendance record on the part of employees.  Low absenteeism may not signal that you have created a terrific work environment where people love to come to work.  It may tell more about the personal attributes of your workers, and what motivates them to act each morning.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Constructive Activity on a Snow Day

Another nor'easter rages today in the northeast.   Weather forecasters predict 15-20 inches of snow in my region.  Many people are not working today.  What can and should you with your time if you have some free time?  Besides shoveling the driveway, catching up on email, or taking a nap, you might consider learning something new.  Researchers have demonstrated that novelty stimulates the brain.   Moreover, innovative solutions often arise when people make connections between seemingly disparate concepts.  Therefore, think about reading a book about something outside of your domain of expertise.  Perhaps find a good documentary that intrigues you.  Play a game that you have never played before with your kids.  You may just ignite a creative spark by exposing yourself to a novel experience.  

Monday, March 12, 2018

Choiceology Podcast with Dan Heath

Check out my appearance on the "Summit Fever" episode of Dan Heath's Choiceology podcast.  You may know Dan as the best-selling co-author of books such as Made to Stick, Switch, Decisive, and The Power of Moments.  His books, written with his brother, Chip Heath of Stanford, are just terrific.  

Thursday, March 08, 2018

I Already Know That...

What's one of the most dangerous phrases that you can hear a leader utter?  "I already know that..." Why is it so worrisome when we hear those words?  It suggests that the individual believes that their state of knowledge on that subject is settled and complete.   Therefore, they might not be open to learning new things, to questioning what their assumptions, and to considering the fact that they just might be wrong.   We want leaders to at least consider the possibility that they are mistaken, or that changing circumstances make old assumptions outdated.  The next time you find yourself thinking, "I already know that," I encourage you to ask instead, "What questions might I ask that could spur additional learning on this subject?  How might I benefit from reconsidering my views and assumptions here? What could I be missing?"     

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

United Airlines Reverses Bonus Policy Decision

Well, that didn't take long.  After a firestorm of criticism, United Airlines has walked back their compensation policy change.   They will not be moving to the lottery system that they had proposed to replace regular quarterly performance bonuses for employees.   United President Scott Kirby issued a new memo to all employees.   Here is an excerpt:

"Since announcing our planned changes to the quarterly operations incentive program, we have listened carefully to the feedback and concerns you've expressed," Kirby wrote. " Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you. So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead. We will be reaching out to work groups across the company, and the changes we make will better reflect your feedback."

I'm certainly glad that Kirby has reconsidered his decision.   Hopefully, Kirby and his team have learned that they would not have "misjudged" the employee reaction if they had simply sought feedback BEFORE issuing this policy announcement.  If senior executives wanted to change the compensation program, why not consult with people on the front lines more extensively PRIOR to making the shift?   The lack of an effort to solicit broad input is rather stunning.   The biggest management failure here is not "misjudging" employee reactions.  The colossal mistake is the highly flawed decision-making process.  The Board of Directors ought to be asking penetrating questions about that process more generally, rather than only focusing on this particular policy.   

Monday, March 05, 2018

United Airlines Eliminates Bonuses, Angers Employees

News reports this morning indicate that United Airlines has announced a significant change to its employee compensation policies.  The company has eliminated quarterly employee bonuses amounting to roughly $1,200 per year.   Instead, employees will be entered into a lottery in which a few lucky winners will receive cash payouts.  Others will not receive anything.  Only those with perfect attendance will be eligible for the lottery-type payouts.  United  Airlines President Scott Kirby issued a memo to employees explaining the change. Inc. magazine reports on several quotes from the memo:

“As we look to continue improving, we took a step back and decided to replace the quarterly operational bonus and perfect attendance programs with an exciting new rewards program called ‘core4 Score Rewards.'" 

"The reason for this change goes to the heart of our strategy: offering meaningful rewards will build excitement and a sense of accomplishment with more bang for the buck." 

"We want every United team member to picture themselves walking home with a grand prize, or driving home in a beautiful car that announces for all to see that you are committed to your success and ours."

Multiple reports indicate that employees are not pleased, to say the least. "The Points Guy" online travel site obtained a number of employee comments posted over the weekend on tthe airline’s “Flying Together” internal forum (in total, the Points Guy reports that more than 1,700 comments were posted on this forum). Here's one comment:

I find it unbelievable that management is so out of touch with their work force. To tout this announcement as something that workers would be excited about and appreciate just shows how elitist they are. This program is totally contradictory to the CORE4 “we are listening, we are one” philosophy!

Bill Murphy at also reported on some of these employee comments.   According to his article, employees offered comments such as:

"It occurred to me and my wife that this is terribly unfair to single parents. ... Imagine your child coming home sick from school, no fault of your own. You are faced with calling in sick thus losing your 'chance' at a bonus or leaving your child/children home alone to care for themselves. What a terrible situation United has put that person in." --First Officer - B-767/B-757

"I can't imagine driving the Mercedes into the employee lot while everyone around me that worked just as hard, or harder got nothing. I would feel like such a jerk. It's quite telling about the people who thought this up. I bet they would be gloating happily if they won." --Flight Attendant - Domestic

I'm fascinated to see how United responds to this furor that has emerged in news reports, social media, their internal forum, and in the form of a petition.  It certainly sounds as though they did not seek widespread input from front-line employees before making this change, and they did not test the messaging sufficiently before sending out this memo.   What a mess they have created!  As the old adage goes, it takes years to build trust within your organization, and it only takes one big mistake to destroy that trust.  

Friday, March 02, 2018

The Downside of Preaching What You Practice

You are an expert and high performer in your organization, and senior leaders have asked you to share your best practices, your secrets to success. How should you approach the fulfillment of this request. With caution! Why? It turns out that preaching what you practice can backfire. At Stanford, researchers BenoĆ®t Monin and Lauren Howe have studied physician and patient behavior.   What happens, for instance, when a doctor shares information regarding his or her own healthy lifestyle with a patient who may be living in an unhealthy manner?   Here's what they found:

Doctors who emphasize their fitness seem like they may be more critical of patients who don’t live up to the same high standards. And it’s not that doctors actually devalue patients; it’s something overweight patients fear might happen to them when seeking out a new doctor, especially a doctor who touts his or her own exemplary health habits in their literature or online. This is called anticipated devaluation, and it can make overweight patients shy away from doctors who emphasize that they practice what they preach. Moreover, the researchers note, when patients feel devalued, they may seek care elsewhere or delay seeking it altogether to the detriment of their long-term health.

We should not be surprised by these results.   For me, the takeaway is that we must demonstrate empathy when we preach what we practice.  We have to step into the other person's shoes.  Moreover, we have to acknowledge our own fallibility.  Talking about our mistakes, and the hurdles we have had to surmount, can help others listen to our ideas and recommendations.