4 ways to create more civilized workplaces

Every time that I read about mental health at the workplace and the article focuses only in  depression or stress related to the job, I cringe. As a Mexican that has spent 2/3 of her career in the third world, I find that there is an excess of concern regarding depression and stress, and not enough in other malfunctions of teams and people. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada “in any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness….Mental health problems related to the workplace include anxiety, depression and burnout.”

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I find that we (HR and general population) need to differentiate mental problems. Feeling sad or demotivated is not being depressed, perhaps it may be dysthymia, but not depression. I have seen examples of these mental states and I’m puzzled to see that both are easily labeled as depression. Anxiety is common in this world of incertitude and we can (and should) learn to manage it if we are to survive as society.  I cannot talk about the burnout as it doesn’t seem to exist in Latin America and I have never seen it or experienced it.

For sure some jobs are very stressful, but being really busy, having tight deadlines or having conflicts at work not necessarily makes a job stressful.  Perhaps an employee is not skilled to deal with difficulties, but that doesn’t mean that the person (and the team) cannot learn how to do it.

Some companies have changed their paternalistic views to adapt to modern times, but they continue dis-empowering people by acting as if people are not able to deal with complexity, conflicts or even worse, not able to learn how to do it. But what I find more concerning is that, in general, organizations are just focused on the  effects and not on the causes.

I’ve seen so many power struggles, battles of egos, unhealthy competition among teams and people, and meaningless activities in the workplace, that I wonder when we’ll start addressing these issues that cause on the mental health problems.

HOW TO IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE

Different studies mention that stress ( job insecurity, abusive supervision, excessive demands, etc), social isolation, lack of social support, the encroachment of work on family life, and domestic relationship problems contribute to mental health issues

We need to avoid the stigma of mental health issues, but we cannot pretend they don’t exist. We need to give people the tools needed to cope with stress, if we want to have a successful team/organization.  HR has the responsibility of helping people develop new skills, and one of them is how to work in harmony with the rest of the team.  Some of the ways to create more civilized and harmonic workplaces are:

1. Promote collaboration: Creating a culture of collaboration reduces stress and social isolation. People learn to accept collaboration in their work and lives and become more involved in the organization, family and community.  A person who is involved in any of these groups know that s/he is not alone.

2. Promote organizational values: When people (and especially executives) behave in congruence with the organization’s values, the morale of the team increases. The system regulates people’s behaviors reducing stress. There is a sense of unity to achieve goals, instead of internal competition.

3. Respect personal boundaries: Although people in general (at least in Quebec) respect work-life balance, we can forget easily that we need time to restore our energy. Being all the time available for phone calls, expecting people to change personal plans due to lack of organizational planning, and treating people in a disrespectful way,  increases stress.

4. Have fun: Teams that have fun together deal with stress in a better way.  We (HR) can promote team fun by relaxing the atmosphere in the company a little bit. A fun environment doesn’t have to be unproductive or unprofessional. Accept that happiness and performance are key for the organization’s success.

Some other interventions to improve the morale and engagement of the team are:

Lunch&learns and all-hands meetings are a great time to promote a relaxed atmosphere.

-An appreciative inquire conversation will help to change the way we view things.

Rewards and recognition programs, systems, events.

Meaningful activities in each role.

-Follow the No-Asshole rule.

Do you have more ideas? please, add them in the comments.

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Value-based hiring

Several years ago I took some German courses. I remember my teacher saying that a lot of German companies where hiring people with this language skill in Latin America. He said (and after 3 years of German courses, I agree)  that it’s easier to teach people how to perform a job, than to teach them German. This observation comes to my mind often, especially when I meet someone who doesn’t share the company values or doesn’t act in a respectful way. Acquiring skills and knowledge is not that difficult, but finding someone with the right attitude/values is.

The most important function of recruitment is to put the right person in the right role. Finding the right person means taking a look to the whole person, as the predictors of success in a position, the real person-job fit,  include attitude and skills, not only knowledge.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

To create a talent pool we need to hire balancing the needs of the present and the ones of the future. Is the person going to be promoted? (I hope so!) What is the career path she might follow?

The person-job fit is not only responsibility of the recruiters, different people are involved in ensuring this match once that the person is promoted.  A person might be promoted at least 3 times, not considering lateral moves.  7 if she doesn’t change companies in her lifetime, which is very unlikely (considering the average tenure in a job as 4 years, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor).

If your company has an HR planning process, you know that the potential a person has is as important as the fit with the job that was hired to do. This first job may not last even six months, but if we want to guarantee that the investment in time, money and effort the company made is not wasted, we need to make sure that the person has a good fit with the company culture, and that means values. Behaviors can be influenced with the right incentive, but values are very difficult to change.  A group of employees with the right attitude will make any job feasible.  The right attitude in the company will increase morale, improve performance and reduce turnover.

COMPANY VALUES

We need to clarify first the company values, as you know, the strategic plans of the company will have a direct impact on the HR plans. The values are one of the most important topics in HR and strategy ever. It’s a foundation of the company that impacts everyone everyday. For sure, they are something more than a poster in the hallway. Doing some research, I found values mentioned just 3 times -yes, you read it right-  in the book: Relever les défis de la gestion des ressources humaines. Not by coincidence, I found 8 references to violence in the same book.

When the employees are not aligned with the company values, the entire company resent it. In order to have a value-based hiring process, that allows us to ensure that the person with the right attitude is coming on board, we need to consider that both the employee and the company might have espoused values and enacted values. Espoused values are the ones that we consciously say we live by, that we’re committed to them, while enacted values are the ones that we really live by and show in our behavior.

Companies, for example, tend to say that they are committed to innovation, teamwork and social responsibility. If we take a closer look, we often notice that they want everyone to invest time and resources only in the most profitable projects, reach their department or individual targets relentlessly and well, just make profits. As for employees, everyone says (and probably believes) that they are really dedicated,  are committed to the company’s goals, and they love to work in teams, and anyone who has more than a year of experience working in a company, knows that it is not always true.

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INCORPORATING VALUES TO THE HIRING PROCESS

1. Ask relevant questions: Incorporating values, as we said at the beginning, means to understand that the person is whole. This means, that being realistic, you will expect that the future employee will come to the interview with fears, hopes, dreams and ideals. We want to know what the candidate’s enacted values are. Some months ago, I went to an interview where I was asked “How would you describe yourself?”.  A more concrete questions would have been: “How would you describe yourself and WHY?”, or even better,  if we already have a clear idea of the values we’re looking for, using the Behavioral interview would be more useful as it gives concrete examples of behavior that we may see repeated over time.

2. Set priorities. What is the importance of values over skills and knowledge?  That depend of your company and your strategic plan. There are companies that follow the “No Asshole rule”, and if this is your company case, it’s pretty obvious that values/attitude will play a more important role in the hiring process. Hiring based on values doesn’t mean that you will hire weak or “nice” people, but it means that you are aware of the discrepancy of the enacted and espoused values of your company, and you’re betting on developing the talent pool to reach the ideal.  If you’re hiring someone who has jumped from job to job, or seems to be difficult to motivate, well, what you see is what you get.

3. Be congruent: Honesty and openness from the interviewer to acknowledge the struggles or the status of the company is important, too. A motivated candidate that is really interested in the company will probably love the challenge. Of course, there is a need to protect the company regarding sensitive issues, but we cannot pretend that things are not wrong when it’s clear they are. I’ve asked in interviews why they’re looking for an OD specialist (we know that it’s not because everything is going great) and recruiters often deny the reality.

4. Create a value-based process: The recruitment process shows the candidates the values of your company. Recruiters shouldn’t just ignore candidates. Timely responses and follow-ups are a way to show respect.  Application processes should be logical, user-friendly and work well. Messages should be respectful. A couple of months ago I applied to a job that was perfect for me. I never received an answer from the recruiter. Then I saw the job coming through my network and the message from the recruiter said something like: ” We’re not concerned if people are looking or not for a job, the great majority of the people we end up considering are actually not looking”. Ah, there are so many things that we can deduce from this message. Clearly, this was not the right company for me.

Hiring based on values is only the beginning of the process. Values should be present in the day-to-day life of the company. HR, in particular, needs to make sure that the policies, procedures, and systems reflect the company values and help to cultivate talent in the company. There is no other way to build a great company.