By Lynda Gratton
The topic of emotional vitality has recently become increasingly popular in HR circles – and the general consensus is that if you are an employee, your emotional vitality is suffering at the hands of your employers.
This might be important news to individuals, but why are so many companies interested? Why do they care if people are stressed or tired?
The reason is that as work becomes more complex, balance and creativity are becoming increasingly vital to competitive advantage – and it’s a well-established research finding that while tired, stressed people are perfectly able to do their normal everyday tasks, they are also less able to be creative.
Stress is your biggest risk
So, what exactly are organisations doing to destroy their employees’ emotional vitality? The #1 answer everywhere is stress – and there are three reasons why.
- Demands and obligations – Stressed people often cite the number demands and obligations placed upon them at work as a key cause of stress. What this tells us is that stress often originates from the design of work, with many employees finding themselves faced with ridiculous demands as a result of poor management and duplication of effort. To combat this, companies need to design work to manage the demands the demands placed on people and to reduce the amount of unimportant tasks people are required to perform.
- Discretionary time – My research shows that when it comes to stress, the issue is not the hours people work but whether they have the capacity to take time out to rejuvenate themselves. We could all work for 12 hours a day. In fact, many of us have been selected for our jobs because we have the ability to do so. The important thing is that we can’t do it all the time. What matters is not simply taking time off, but when we do it and whether we feel we can do so. There’s nothing wrong with expecting employees to be always-on as long as they know that is the nature of the job and they have ample time to recuperate.
- Constraint – If you ask what drives Gen Y workers what drives them mad at work, presenteeism is often the answer. Younger employees resent the need to stay in the office until 10pm and the constraint of having to be “seen”. In fact they find it upsetting, since working additional hours affords them little advantage. Crucially, this is not about flexible working but about job design and recuperation.
These issues matter because stress is a huge problem – one so big, it’s actually business risk. In fact next time you conduct a risk analysis, you should probably include stress on your risk list. And as you can see, job design is key when it comes to mitigating this risk.
The importance of the work-home cycle
As research by academics such as Hans-Joachim Wolfram shows, the work-home cycle also has a huge role to play when it comes to managing and combating stress. This cycle can be either caustic and draining, or positive. Work doesn’t have the monopoly on stress – a person’s home life can be stressful too – but for the most part, people leave home feeling authentic and resilient at home because it is a place where they can feel authentic and have the opportunity to recuperate in a supportive environment. However, if people leave home feeling guilty or anxious, it can affect their stress levels at work. By the same token, if an individual leaves work feeling networked, inspired by things they have learnt, this has a positive spillover into their home life: in this context, work is good and the knowledge and connections gained there can be a source of support for the family.
To get the balance of the work-home cycle right, organisations need to stop thinking about work and home as two unconnected spheres, because they are incredibly connected. Companies must think about how they support families and about whether employees have enough scope to ensure a cycle of positive spillover.
by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
We had a busy start to the week as we hosted our Engagement 2.0 masterclass in London. It was a diverse event offering a wide range of perspectives on the topic, so towards the end of the day, we asked our delegates to think about – and then share – the key insights they were going to take away. Here are the top five…
The link between engagement and performance
In her keynote, Lynda pointed out that the popularity of engagement surveys is based on the belief that measuring engagement is a way of measuring performance. But some recent research suggests that low performers can be highly engaged and high performers disenfranchised. If this is true, and engagement isn’t as reliable an indicator of performance as previously thought, what does that mean for the future of the engagement survey? And, what are the implications of tying managers’ bonuses to engagement scores?
Is HR ready for Big Data?
There’s no doubt that Big Data holds a lot of promise. Guest speaker Guy Halfteck gave us his perspective on the potential of Big Data has to help companies identify the best talent for each role. Guy’s company, Knack, uses gaming to generate real-time data about people’s skills that can predict an individual’s performance in a role. But, as one of the videos we commissioned with Central Saint Martin’s highlighted, there is still a lot of work for companies to do when it comes to ensuring they are extracting the most relevant data and interpreting it correctly.
One thing our delegates were concerned about was how to customise engagement approaches to reflect diversity. While organisations have traditionally focused on adapting their offerings based on gender, race, disability and other visible indicators, our members felt that diversity ran deeper and that truly customised approaches must now reflect life stages and aspirations.
Renegotiating the employee/employer relationship
The workers of the future won’t be looking for a “permanent” role – they’ll be looking to organisations to add to their career portfolio by providing them with opportunities that will help build their own personal brand. In light of this, how can organisations prepare themselves to renegotiate the deal? How can they create portable credentials that employees can transfer into their next role?
Managing intangible assets
As our recent newsletter highlighted, health and wellbeing is at the forefront of many workers’ minds. At the masterclass, it was pointed out that in the days when jobs were for life, employers took care of employee health and wellbeing – a priority that fell by the wayside as careers models shifted. The big question is how organisations can re-integrate health and wellbeing into their outlook given that in future employees will be on the scene for a few years at most.
And finally…We all need more sleep!
One of Lynda’s key take-aways from Davos was the need for a solid eight hours’ sleep. Lack of sleep causes poor decision-making, poor health, and can even trigger conditions such as Alzheimer’s. But does anyone but the most eccentric of senior executives have the opportunity to take a nap in the middle of the day? One of our delegates said their company encourages naps – and perhaps in future this practice should become more widespread.