Feeling stressed by your management responsibilities? If so, you're not alone. In our latest norms, we found that just 67% of leaders and managers think the level of stress they experience at work is manageable; the other third was unsure or overwhelmed. A similar percentage said they struggle to maintain work-life balance. Just half of leaders and managers feel they have enough time to do a quality job, and only 48% feel they can detach from work. These results suggest that anywhere from a third to a half of leaders and managers are struggling to cope with the challenges of their job. When confronted with statistics like these, some just shrug and sigh: "Stress is part of the job, isn't it?" Based on a growing body of research, that's a dangerously defeatist perspective. Aside from the health risks associated with stress, there are a number of dysfunctional workplace dynamics that can emerge when leaders feel rundown, exhausted or emotionally drained. Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., for example, has found that negative emotions can trap people in a flight, fight or freeze mindset that limits their ability to think creatively and develop innovative solutions. Janne Skakon and colleagues1 have found that the way leaders cope with their stress trickles down, impacting their employees' own work experience and stress levels. And at Mercer|Sirota, we've found that overwhelmed managers are significantly less likely to recognize and praise their direct reports. If you're chronically stressed at work, it's time to stop buying into the myth that leaders and managers must be selfless martyrs. You're putting your own health and well-being, along with your team's effectiveness and engagement, at risk. Instead of working yourself to exhaustion, start developing a self-care strategy to manage the demands of your job. Here are four steps to consider: 1. Recognize the Warning Signs Burnout — a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion often accompanied by self-doubt and cynicism — is a serious issue. Researchers have found prolonged periods of burnout can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, high cholesterol, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Burnout can manifest itself in a number of ways, including increased irritability, decreased motivation, changes in eating or sleeping habits, or unexplainable aches and pains. 2. Rest and Recover If you find you are experiencing burnout, you need to take immediate steps to get help. Start by telling someone what you are experiencing. Tell your boss, an HR business partner or a colleague. If you don't feel comfortable telling someone at work, then (a) realize you may be working in a toxic organization2 that is not healthy for you and (b) be sure to tell your family, friends or your doctor. If you remain silent, your exhaustion could lead to isolation and compound your problems. After you have shared your concerns, start finding ways to detach from work. Stop checking email the moment you wake up. Skip unnecessary meetings. Lighten your load. Take a mental health day. If you can reduce your hours or take a vacation, do so. Find ways to rest and reset so you can recover. 3. Reflect and Reorient After you've gained some distance from your experience, it's time to start identifying the factors that led to your burnout. Start by reflecting on the timeline of events. When did your stress levels first start to rise? What was going on at work? Outside of work? Have you had this experience before, or is this the first time you've experienced burnout? Next, reflect on the nature of your stress. As you've probably heard, stress is not always bad. Researchers have found that challenge stress — the stress associated with achieving an important goal — is positively related to job satisfaction. Hindrance stress — the stress associated with barriers that prevent us from getting work done — is negatively related with job satisfaction. If you've had a burnout experience, you've probably been dealing with a lot of hindrance stress. With that in mind, think about the way work gets done in your organization. Some experts argue that burnout is the result of working in a dysfunctional organization. Finally, consider your own personality, values and attitudes toward work, your organization and your job. Researchers have found that people with certain personality traits are more prone to burnout.3 Through these reflections, your goal is to learn from your experience and gain insights that will prevent future episodes of burnout. 4. Rebuild a More Resilient You If you have gone through burnout, the good news is this: you can use this experience to become a stronger, wiser and more resilient person. But that will require intentional effort on your part and a commitment to practicing self-care. As you design your own self-care plan, realize that multiple pathways exist. Start by rethinking your approach to your job; you will probably need to change some of your workday habits. Your physical health is critical: researchers have found that leaders and managers are more effective when they are eating right, sleeping well and getting exercise. Your mental perspective is also important: Stanford psychologist Alia Crum has argued that stress can be good for leaders if they know how to manage it. Be sure to consider your emotional response to the vicissitudes of work and life: research suggests that psychological flexibility and emotional agility can make you a more effective leader.4 And as you build your self-care plan, be sure to take a holistic approach, considering all aspects of who you are and what's important to you: research shows that your spiritual life — those aspects of your life that provide a sense of meaning, purpose and coherence — can help increase your resilience. As you consider these four steps, remember this: if you're not taking care of yourself, you're not going to be able to take care of your team — at least not for the long haul. At some point, your patience, your health, your energy, or your effectiveness is going to give. Without some type of self-care strategy, you're doing yourself — and the people who depend on you — a disservice. Sources: 1. Skakon, Janne; Nielsen, Karina; Borg, Vilhelm; Guzman, Jaime. "Are Leaders' Well-being, Behaviours and Style Associated with the Affective Well-being of Their Employees? A Systematic Review of Three Decades of Research." An International Journal of Work, Health & Organisations, Volume 24, Issue 2, 2010,https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02678373.2010.495262. 2. Appelbaum, Steven and Roy-Girard, David. "Toxins in the Workplace: Affect on Organizations and Employees." Corporate Governance International Journal of Business in Society, 2007,https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242349375_Toxins_in_the_workplace_Affect_on_organizations_and_employees. 3. Scott, Elizabeth. "Traits and Attitudes That Increase Burnout Risk." Very Well Mind, May 20, 2019,https://www.verywellmind.com/mental-burnout-personality-traits-3144514. 4. Kashdana, Todd B. and Rottenberg, Jonathan. "Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health." Elsevier, Volume 30, Issue 7, November 2010,https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735810000413?via%3Dihub.
In recent years, a growing number of organizations have started implementing pulse surveys to complement or replace their annual employee engagement survey. Intrigued by technological advances, the power of Big Data and the promise of artificial intelligence, many leaders, managers and HR professionals are eager to gather employee feedback on a regular basis, using short assessments to evaluate workforce attitudes and engagement levels on a quarterly, monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Gathering regular feedback from employees in today’s dynamic business environment makes sense for many reasons. When pulse programs are well designed, they can generate valuable real-time insights about employee engagement levels, core concerns, performance barriers and emerging organizational problems. But we have also noticed that many organizations are pulsing without a plan, naively assuming that more data will lead to better insights, better management and better performance. Without a well-designed research strategy, we have found that frequent pulsing can actually overwhelm leaders and managers and decrease employee engagement. If your organization is currently conducting pulses or you are about to embark on a pulse survey campaign, it is critical that you have a robust research strategy in place — one that starts with your business priorities and considers everything from research methods to analytic techniques (See Figure 1). In this paper, we highlight five critical questions to consider before launching your next survey. WHAT ARE YOUR STRATEGIC BUSINESS PRIORITIES? Over the past two decades, the world of work has become increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Based on our research, employees are definitely noticing. 30% of employees do not have a clear sense of where their organization is headed. 32% are not confident in their organization’s ability to adapt to external changes 44% do not have a good understanding of their future career path. Source: Latest Mercer | Sirota global norms These results suggest that in many organizations, a good number of employees are feeling confused, concerned and disoriented, and the future of work looks murky at best. Considering these conditions, getting a regular read on the employee experience makes good sense. The savviest leaders realize that evidence-based decision-making, advanced people analytics, organizational sense making and organizational learning are all critical in today’s business environment. As a result, many leaders and decision makers are eager to gather feedback on an ongoing basis with the hope of gaining a deeper understanding of employee attitudes, concerns and observations. But some organizations make the mistake of rushing into pulsing without having a clear idea of what they really want to learn, assuming that a series of quarterly employee-engagement pulses will suffice. If your organization is having a motivation, commitment or retention problem — and leaders are taking steps to address these issues — quarterly pulses focused on engagement might make sense. But if not, this approach may not generate much insight. When we work with clients to design employee research programs, we start by focusing on the business first. What are the biggest internal and external challenges your organization is facing? What are your main strategic priorities and challenges? How efficiently is your organization operating? How effectively is your organization changing and evolving? What are your main people priorities? By exploring these questions with our clients — before even considering what items to include on a survey — we can help them think carefully about what they need to learn as an organization. We have found this information is the critical foundation for any successful employee research program, providing the basis for more tactical decisions about instrument design, sample selection, administration techniques, and report and action plans. GETTING STARTED For modern organizations, developing an effective employee research program is a strategic imperative. In today’s complex business environment, evidence-based human resources, advanced people analytics and ongoing organizational learning are all critical for organizational performance. Central to these practices is the employee perspective. Without regular feedback from the workforce, you will find that leaders, managers and decision makers are flying blind. If you are about to launch a pulse program, you are in a unique position to help your organization explore its most pressing people problems, performance challenges and strategic priorities. But pulses are not a panacea. Without a clear plan in place, they can backfire — producing more noise than signal. The best employee research programs are carefully designed from start to finish. By clarifying your business priorities, developing a clear research agenda and thinking deeply about instrument design, survey administration, results reporting and post-study actioning, you can ensure that your research efforts are relevant, rigorous and have a real impact on the way your organization operates. The best way to do that, we’ve found, is to think through each step of the process. The five questions presented in this paper can help you get started. Before conducting your next pulse, we recommend giving careful consideration to each. If you don’t have clear answers, you may not be ready to conduct a successful study. Download POV
Employees are most committed to their organization when they believe in the business and operate in a high-commitment work environment—one where employees are not only engaged in their work, but also committed to making the organization better. For decades, organizational leaders, HR professionals and industrial-organizational psychologists have searched for ways to create high-commitment work environments. Considering the expense and disruption associated with turnover, this makes good sense. One recent study found that turnover costs (e.g., separation costs, replacement costs) range from 90 to 200 percent of the exiting employee’s salary. When turnover increases, the social fabric of an organization weakens, intangible knowledge and skills are lost, operational effectiveness decreases, accidents rates rise, customer service and quality suffer, and customer satisfaction declines7. All of which can negatively impact a company’s financial performance. To increase commitment, many organizations are now trying to build employee-centric work environments. These organizations are spending considerable amount of time, energy and resources identifying employee motivators, assessing employee engagement and enhancing the employee experience. For example, some organizations are using “stay interviews” to help managers ensure they are meeting the critical needs of their direct reports. Others are conducting job-crafting exercises to help employees make their jobs more personally meaningful and satisfying. Based on our experience, these types of interventions can be effective and increase commitment levels. But we’ve found their impact tends to be short-lived, often leading to temporary fixes and local improvements rather than broad organizational change. In fact, engagement building activities can backfire if employees have foundational questions and concerns about the business. When strategies are unclear, work processes are inefficient, performance goals are unclear, and products and services no longer meet the needs of clients and customers, employees become frustrated. As one employee recently stated: “I love this company, but I don’t like the direction we’re headed in. We spend too much time on nonsense. We’re getting away from what we are supposed to do, which is meeting clients and selling.” When faced with organizational frustrations, some engaged employees leave to seek better opportunities elsewhere. In the recent Mercer-Sirota Engagement study, we found that over a quarter of employees who quit were in fact engaged. So if engagement does not guarantee retention, what’s the best way to build a high-commitment organization? New research indicates that individual commitment may be more related to business performance than employee experience. In recent years, researchers have started exploring the relationship between organizational efficacy—the extent to which organizational members feel confident about their collective capabilities, mission and business resilience—and employee commitment and performance. The concept of organizational efficacy can be traced back to the seminal work of Albert Bandura, who argued that the strength of families, communities and social institutions depends, in part, on members’ sense of their collective efficacy—their ability to solve problems and manage challenges together. Building on this initial theory, other researchers have focused on efficacy in organizational settings and found that it is related to a number of important work outcomes. For example, Capone and colleaguesi (2013) found that organizational efficacy has a positive impact on employee job satisfaction, well-being and performance. And Zellars and colleagues (2001)ii found that healthcare workers with a high degree of collective efficacy were more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to quit. Informed by this research, we recently explored the relationship between an employee’s level of confidence in their organization with their commitment and engagement. After gathering data from a cross-company sample of more than 1,700 employees working in small, medium and large organizations, we conducted a series of analyses. Three key findings emerged: 1. Organizational confidence is related to employee commitment. Across a number of diagnostic items, we found significant positive correlations between employee confidence and employee commitment. Employees were more likely to want to stay at their organizations when they felt they were working in a well-run organization with the right products and services for their market. But when employees did not feel confident in the future of their organization, commitment levels dropped precipitously. In fact, over 40 percent of respondents who felt unconfident in the future of their organization intended to leave within the year. 2. Organizational confidence soars in the right work environment Based on statistical analysis, we found four foundational drivers of organizational confidence. First is clear communication. Employees were more likely to feel confident when they understood their company’s goals and felt their organization communicated effectively. Second is a sense of collaboration. When employees experienced a high degree of cross functional teamwork, they were more likely to feel positive about the future. Third is organizational agility. Employees who felt they were working in nimble organizations that encouraged innovation and responded quickly to customer needs were more likely to be optimistic about the future. And finally, effective leadership is paramount. When employees trusted their senior leaders were making sound decisions, they were more likely to feel a sense of organizational efficacy. 3. The most committed employees are both confident and engaged. In addition to finding that confident employees were less likely to want to leave their organizations, we also found that engagement is a strong predictor of employee commitment. In fact, we found that employees were least likely to want to leave when they felt both confident in their organization and engaged with their work. We also found a strong positive correlation between engagement and confidence, suggesting that these two attitudes build on each other in a virtuous cycle, creating a strong sense of energy, effort and loyalty. Statistical analysis showed employees were more likely to feel both confident and engaged when they thought their organizations were efficient, their senior leaders were effective, and their future career paths were promising. Considered together, our analyses show that organizational confidence is a critical factor that impacts employee commitment. For leaders and managers seeking to create a high-commitment work environment, this raises an important question: What’s the best way to increase organizational confidence? Based on our research, we recommend four steps. 1. Forecast the future. These are volatile times in many companies. Amidst competing commitments and shifting priorities, we’re finding that a number of employees feel lost in the shuffle. According to our latest Mercer-Sirota Normative database, just 69 percent of employees report feeling that their senior leaders provide a clear sense of direction. As we found in our recent field study, a lack of strategic clarity undermines confidence. It’s hard for employees to feel optimistic about the future when they don’t know where their organization is headed. If your organization has been going through a lot of changes in recent years, now could be a good time to evaluate the extent to which your workforce understands and supports your strategic direction. 2. Create a culture of curiosity, creativity and collaboration. Culture is the invisible infrastructure of an organization, shaping the way people think, feel and behave on a daily basis. Based on our research, we’ve found that employees thrive when they work in a “partnership culture” in which people work together in highly collaborative relationships. Confidence flourishes in an environment where employees feel safe to take smart risks, pursue novel ideas and question the status quo. But here’s the problem: Partnership cultures require the right kind of leadership. We’ve seen leaders and managers kill creativity and collaboration by building silos, fixating on short-term financials and micromanaging their staff. So if you want to build a collaborative culture, start at the top. 3. Remove performance barriers. Based on our research, we’ve found that most employees are highly motivated when they first join a new organization. But that initial energy often dissipates when employees have to work in environments with excessive rules and regulations, unnecessary bureaucracy and outdated tools and technology. The more hindrances employees encounter at work, the more likely they are to become frustrated, disengaged and even burned out. If you want to build a high-commitment work environment, identify and remove the performance barriers that prevent your employees from doing their best work on a regular basis. 4. Clarify career paths. Our study found that the most committed employees felt optimistic about both the future of their organization and the future of their career. Across clients and research projects, we’ve found that employees who feel they can grow and develop at work are more likely to work hard, stay longer and perform better. But based on our norms, only 57 percent of employees have a clear understanding of the possible career paths within their organization; the rest feel confused or pessimistic. One of the best ways to counter this confusion is to create compelling career frameworks that help employees see how they can develop within your company. We’ve found that well-designed career frameworks can dramatically impact the way employees think about the future of their jobs and their organizations. At the core of these recommendations is a simple premise: You can increase employee confidence by ensuring your leaders, managers and HR professionals are articulating a compelling vision of the future, fostering the right culture, driving performance and creating compelling career paths. That, in turn, will help your organization increase commitment, decrease turnover and improve collective performance. 1 Allen, Bryant, & Vardaman, 2010 2 e.g., Batt & Colvin, 2011 3 Nyberg & Ployhart, 2013 4 e.g., Ton & Huckman, 2008 5 e.g., Shaw, Gupta, & Delery, 2005 6 e.g., Hancock, Allen, Bosco, McDaniel, & Pierce, 2013 7 Heavey, Holwerda, & Hausknecht, 2013 8 e.g., Park & Shaw, 2013; Shaw et al., 2005