Most organizations struggle to find the right balance between stability and change | Marla Gottschalk
Quote of the Moment
The United States has allowed traditional channels of worker voice to atrophy without fostering new institutions or buttressing existing ones.
David Autor, David Mindell, and Elisabeth Reynolds, The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines. The authors don’t believe markets will solve this problem.
Marla Gottschalk unscrambles the mumbo-jumbo about employee engagement with an obvious conclusion:
Most organizations struggle to find the right balance between stability and change, which in turn affects individual contributors. But in the race for innovation and digital transformation, the idea of stability has been somewhat lost.
Stability has been lost in the financialization of business, and the rise of shareholder capitalism. As Autor and his co-authors put it, workers are ‘scrapped if their value to the firm falls below their cost to the firm’.
Gottschalk believes management needs to explicitly discuss the psychological contract between the employee and the business:
The psychological contract is an often unstated exchange agreement, or set of promises about what we bring to our work and what we expect to gain from our employers in return. Sadly, once stressed or broken, this contract is very difficult to repair. Reviewing the health of these contracts is a unique opportunity to increase stability, and in turn, to retain valuable employees, as the psychological contract has been shown to correlate with outcomes such as job satisfaction, commitment, performance, and trust. Managers can address psychological contracts more openly by having regular discussions about what is being exchanged in the employee/employer relationship. This can help clarify goals, drive performance, encourage developmental conversations, and help employees begin to explore career planning. Also, as things inevitably shift within the organization, there should be ongoing discussions about how the changes might affect the work and the individual. During times of major change, psychological contracts should be revisited often. For example, goals and performance metrics should be recalibrated from time to time, and certainly after any organizational changes take place.
Psychological safety. William Kahn, professor of Organizational Behavior at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, defined psychological safety as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career.” While the concept has been studied for decades, we are only just now truly acknowledging the importance of its role in our work lives.
A must read.
In The Unintended Consequences of Asking for Employee Input, researchers Hyunsun Park, Subra Tangirala, and Insiya Hussain debunk conventional wisdom about asking workers for input [emphasis mine]:
Most managers try to create an environment in which their employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions. Unfortunately, new research suggests that actively soliciting input can have unintended negative consequences: The more managers solicit input from their employees, the less likely they are to reward employees for speaking up. This can be very demoralizing for employees, who have likely invested time and effort into developing and sharing their thoughts.
So the mistake is not in asking for input, but undervaluing the time and effort that workers invested:
To address this tension, the authors suggest that managers acknowledge the common tendency to discount the effort employees put into coming up with and expressing ideas just because they were shared in response to a direct request for input, and instead recognize that the best ideas are often co-created by managers and their teams. This means not only rewarding employee proactivity, but also demonstrating that all input is valued — regardless of whether it was solicited or offered without prompting.
In Do You Know Who That Worker You Just Hired Really Is?, Emma Goldberg relates stories about applicants falsely claiming skills they do not have, including getting others to take online tests.
Steve Lohr, in Wary of Economic Neoliberalism, Groups Fund Research on Alternatives, writes about a new initiative by the Hewlett and Omidyar foundations. I've been tracking David Autor's Work of the Future initiative at MIT for several years (also, see the quote of the moment, at the top).
PS I’ve written a bit more about this for paid subscribers in a separate post, as well.
The Partnership for New York City published its Return to Office Survey Results:
Only 16% of employers say that average daily attendance at their Manhattan offices currently exceeds 50%; an additional 7% say office attendance will exceed that threshold by the end of January 2022.