hr

Engaging Employees from Inside Bad HR Processes
Engaging Employees from Inside Bad HR Processes 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

When I speak to people about treating work as a relationship with employees rather than a contract, there’s a question I am commonly asked.

It typically sounds something like this:

“How do you make work feel like a relationship when you are trapped inside a bureacratic organization with archaic processes?”

This question is a great one because it describes the challenge (or more accurately PAIN) of so many managers and HR pros out there. It reflects a more fundamental question, “how do you make an impact when you can’t change the system itself?”

I feel the angst and frustration in the question. This question is so common and important, it seemed like a good idea to address it in a blog post.

To address this challenge, let’s focus on an example that many can probably relate to.  Let’s assume your organization still requires a traditional annual performance appraisal, the kind of process that culminates in a rating that triggers a merit increase amount. Regardless of how much is written about the flaws in this type of process, a majority of organizations are still using it.

If you want to unlock performance in your team by making work feel more like a healthy relationship, you will have to work around bad processes like this. Despite how broken or poorly designed your HR and management processes might be, it doesn’t have to be a barrier if you do the followings things.

1. Always think about the relationship first.

The first thought for any manager or team leader should be about maintaining and building healthy relationships with the people on their teams. Time is the currency of relationships, so if you aren’t spending time with your people in conversation about both life and work, start there. Nothing sends a clearer message to people that you value them than when you invest your time in them. This means regularly scheduled one on one meetings at the minimum.

Regardless of the process, one technique I highly recommend is the relationship test. In short, ask yourself how this process would go if someone you really cared about in your personal life (i.e. best friend, significant other, child, etc.) was on the other end. If it would likely be hard on the relationship, then you should step back and consider a different approach. For example, if you had to communicate some bad news to your significant other, would you do it in an email? Probably not. So, why would you choose that approach for people at work?

2. Invite your employees to help you create a better experience.

At the heart of what relationship means is that we do it WITH others. So, whenever you are asked to do something “to” someone else, it’s probably not a great process to grow relationships. The performance appraisal is a great example of this. The traditional appraisal is something we, as managers, are asked to do to the employee. Sometimes, we offer employees the opportunity to appraise themselves, but generally, it’s a one-way process.

To make these processes more human (and humane), we must find ways to involve the employee in the process. Invite them to help create ideas for how to make the process feel more positive and valuable. For example, invite employees into the goal-setting process to provide input and negotiate their goals on the front end. Another example might be to explore how you could use the one-on-one meetings throughout the year to check-in about progress on the appraisal.  You might even have conversations along the way like, “If we had to agree on a performance rating for you based on your work this year so far, what would it be?” This allows you to align and calibrate throughout the year to ensure no surprises when it comes appraisal time.

The more the employee feels they are able to participate in and shape the process, the less harmful it will be to the relationship.

3. Don’t be confined by the process.

This brings me to my last bit of advice. Just because the process exists doesn’t mean that’s where your work as a manager stops. I think it’s ironic that there’s so much talk lately about replacing the annual appraisal with a process of more regular performance check-ins. The reason it’s ironic is that a good manager doesn’t need permission or a new process to be conducting regular check-ins. The best managers are always doing this, regardless of process.

The bad process you are trapped inside is simply a compliance exercise. It should never represent your intention and practice as a manager or leader. Consider the advice I offer above and then ask, how can I hack or work around the process to actually improve team performance by forming better relationships?

I recently wrote about 5 ways to hack your performance process. That should get you started with some ideas. Treat the process as the “paperwork” you have to do to stay in compliance, but don’t let it dictate your approach with your people.

You are the solution. 

I am going to continue to crusade against bad, inhumane work processes. These processes need to change. If you can change out a bad process, please do it as soon as possible.

But, if you happen to be stuck with some bad processes, don’t let them stop you. Create a great experience for your employees in spite of them.

Soft Skills are Hard. We need to stop calling them soft. #Workhuman
Soft Skills are Hard. We need to stop calling them soft. #Workhuman 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I’m just back from spending four epic days in Nashville at my favorite conference event of the year, Workhuman. As is always the case after this event, I’ve got a lot of ideas swirling in my head from the great content and conversations.

Sidenote: I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. If you believe that we need to make work a more human experience, you need to get to this event next year.  It’s a gathering of our tribe to connect, support one another, and gain the information and inspiration we need to keep doing this righteous work. Go to the event site and sign up for updates so you won’t miss it next year. 

As you’d expect, there was a lot of discussion about what it means to create a work experience where humans can bring and be the best version of themselves.

The topics ranged from courage and vulnerability to mindfulness. There were experts who spoke about happiness, trauma, emotional resilience, and community. We explored the very real issues of equity, sexism, racism, and more that affect the workplace every day–whether we like to admit it or not.

At one point, I was having a conversation with someone and they referenced the importance of developing “soft skills.”

For some reason, when I heard the word “soft” this time, it was like someone slapped me across the face.

The phrase “soft skills” is a short-hand we adopted in HR and management years ago to describe those skills we need to work successfully with other people.  When I Google the phrase, at the top of the page I get this definition:

personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

When I heard the phrase used this time, it seemed so…wrong. So woefully inadequate to describe what we are talking about.

As I reflected on why it hit me as it did, it became clear pretty quickly.

These skills aren’t soft. Not even a little bit.

Soft Skills are Hard 

Learning to be in healthy, positive relationships with other people is HARD. Yes, it may come more naturally for some than for others, but learning to be vulnerable (for example) is never easy. Some people go their whole lives and never figure it out.

Active listening is real work. You have to be committed and dedicated to it for it to happen. And even then, we get distracted and fail sometimes. It’s hard.

Empathy is also not easy to learn. Finding the awareness to see and feel not only outside of yourself but to then climb into another’s shoes to find their perspective is a developed skill. Again, hard work.

But, it’s not just that these skills are hard to learn and master.

Soft Skills make Immense Impact

When someone really listens to you and hears you, you remember that feeling. When someone sees you and recognizes your potential, it lifts you up. When someone shares themselves with you in a way that is risky for them, it draws you to them and changes your relationship.

These “soft skills” that we strive to train and develop in our leaders and employees are anything but soft in their impact on others. We’ve all witnessed or experienced the power of authentic human connection. I doubt that any one of us would choose the word “soft” to describe it.

So, I think we need to remove this from our language. These skills and attributes aren’t soft.

If we need a better word, perhaps we could consider vital or essential or human.

When we call them soft, we diminish their importance. And we give those who fail to recognize their importance the permission to minimize them. No more.

Creating a work experience that’s good for humans is hard. Being a leader or coworker who creates an experience for others that celebrates and welcomes the full splendor of their humanity is hard.

And it’s worth it. It is the work we are called to do.

So here’s my #Workhuman challenge to you:

  1. Remove the phrase “Soft Skills” from your vocabulary. Vow to never utter those words again so as to never unwittingly undermine the importance of these vital, essential, human skills.
  2. When you encounter someone who uses the phrase “soft skills,” engage that person in a conversation about the critical importance of these skills, how hard they are to learn, and why you don’t call them “soft” anymore.

Language is important. We need to choose and use our words wisely.

It’s time for “soft” to be removed from our vocabulary.

 

Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies
Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I love CBS Sunday Morning.

This past Sunday, Faith Salie shared an op-ed monologue about how much she dislikes open offices. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of the post for you to check out. She makes a pretty compelling argument.

Just a few years ago, open offices were THE ANSWER to the future of workplace design promising more communication, more innovation, and more productivity. Not to mention they are less expensive for the organization (more people in smaller spaces).

But, now a backlash has started. Lately, it’s become more en vogue to make the point that open offices are, as Faith argues, THE WORST.

Which is it? Are open offices THE ANSWER or are they THE WORST?

Arguments like these are everywhere when it comes to what’s best in the workplace.

  • Is performance management good or bad?
  • Is the annual engagement survey critical or dead?
  • Are front line supervisors the problem or the victims of a bad system?
  • Are best friends at work vital or ridiculous?

These arguments between binary choices are assinine at best and harmful at worst.

We’ve become so enamored by best practices that promise THE ANSWER to our problems, we’ve lost sight of the complexity of this work. Our fixation on finding the right choice between two polar opposite choices is causing us to ignore a harder reality.

THE ANSWER is an illusion. No, it’s a lie.

There are never just two answers. And, there are almost always several different right answers.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about open office space designs. If you’ve ever worked in this type of environment, you probably do too. I like the energy of being in open space around other people working. I like that accessibility that it creates. But, I strongly dislike the lack of privacy and constant distractions.

The organizations using workplace design to drive employee engagement have embraced that different people and different kinds of work require different types of workspaces. They recognize that private offices and open office space can be both good and bad depending on the context.

Those leaders not trapped in binary and best practice thinking are creating innovative spaces for work designed to provide options and flexibility. An example that I wrote about in my book is Hudl, whose new headquarters includes a mix of different spaces designed for different types of preferences and needs. Most employees at Hudl don’t have an assigned desk. Instead, they choose their workspace based on their needs that day.

Thinking in binary terms (i.e. Is this is good or bad?) is crippling our ability to innovate and move forward. It’s hard to resist this thinking since it’s everywhere. In politics, you are either with me or against me. In pop culture, a movie is great or it sucks. When we encounter someone, they either agree with us or they are an idiot.

We must resist this thinking. We need to break free of the “this or that” trap.

The path to growth and innovation lives in the messy grey area in the middle. Because here’s the reality, open offices are both great and terrible at the same time. Performance management can be both good and bad.

The choices are false. THE ANSWER is a lie.

Our mandate is to embrace the complexity of working with humans. Each one of us is different and unique. That means that any group of us is almost infinitely complex. There are many right answers. There are many effective solutions. Never just one.

Do the work to find what’s best for your organization and your people. Ask more questions. See all angles. Push back on arbitrary options and dig in.

Not only will you end up having a much greater impact, but you will learn a lot more along the way.

Not sure what questions you should ask? We should talk.

 

 

Before the Resolutions, Work on your Purpose
Before the Resolutions, Work on your Purpose 300 168 Jason Lauritsen

Yesterday, as I was climbing onto the treadmill to start undoing the damage I’d done to my body over the holiday, I noted how few people were at the gym.

Then I thought, “Next week is going to be different.”

It’s resolution time of year. Next week, the gym will be full of new people and those who haven’t been in a while. All of them full of New Year’s inspired resolve.

For someone who goes to the gym regularly, it’s an inconvenience to have so many people packing the gym. But I know it won’t last.  It never does.

Within a month, things will return to normal. New Year’s resolve gone.

Setting resolutions and goals alone is typically not enough to drive the sustainable behavior change needed to see meaningful results. Getting in shape, for example, is really hard. It means changing your diet and giving up foods you probably love. It means doing workouts that you are not good at that leave you feeling the next day as if you got run over by a truck.

It’s hard. And because it’s hard, you are likely to quit.

Unless.

If you want to keep more of your resolutions and meet more of your goals, start by first getting crystal clear on why they are important.

Why do you want to get in better shape? What consequence will it have in your life when you succeed (or fail)?

Is it to feel better and have more energy to play with your kids or spend time with friends?  Is it to avoid suffering from some serious health conditions that could take everything away?

When you are clear on your “why,” it’s harder to quit.

The workouts might suck, but you aren’t quitting on the workouts, you are quitting on your kids (or your future, etc.). Being clear on the purpose behind your goals is where real resolve comes from.

This the same reason that so many projects and goals fall short at work as well.

Organizations often commit themselves to improve employee engagement in the same way we set resolutions to get in better shape. It seems like the right thing to do and it seems like everyone else is doing it.

So we survey our employees. And despite the fact that our leaders think everything is fine, we discover that it’s not so great for the employees. And, making the needed changes is going to be hard.

You will probably quit. Mainly because you (and everyone else) aren’t sure exactly why any of this really matters.

If you want to make an impact at work towards creating a better work experience for your employees, start with purpose. Before you set any goals or make any plans, get really clear on why it matters.

Is it to improve your employees’ lives? Is it to improve organizational performance? Is it to save your organization from going out of business?

There’s a lot of reasons why you can and should care about employees’ experience at work. The important step is to uncover and articulate why it matters for your organization.

Because doing this work, like getting in better shape, is hard work.  And when you (or your leaders) want to quit, you need to remember that you aren’t quitting on a survey or an HR project. You are quitting on the organization or your employees’ future.

Before you start writing out resolutions or making plans for next year, invest some time in thinking about why any of it matters. Goals and intentions built on a solid foundation of purpose are far more powerful and effective.

Make 2019 your best ever by starting with clarity about what really matters.

Happy New Year!

8 Future of Work Trends to Prepare for NOW
8 Future of Work Trends to Prepare for NOW 600 300 Jason Lauritsen

It’s gotten pretty popular to write about the future of work recently. It’s fun to think about the future and what might happen.

Usually, much of what’s written is speculation based on hunches and educated guesses. Because the future is yet to be written, writing about it encourages you to be creative in your predictions.

The problem, of course, is that when we are creating strategic plans and making investments in our organizations, our decisions about the future have real consequences. We need something better than a creative writing exercise to guide our thinking

Fortunately, there are better ways to inform our thinking about the future.

As my Futurist mentor, Rebecca Ryan, has taught me, thinking about the future can and should be grounded in the information we already know from the present. Particularly when thinking about the near future that impacts your organization over the next several years, there’s a lot of data available that paints a picture of what’s most likely to happen.

Over the past two months, I’ve been writing a series of posts for PeopleDoc outlining eight trends that are heavily influencing the (near) future of work and how you can be preparing your organization for them.

I’m also doing a webinar with PeopleDoc tomorrow, Tuesday, December 11, to discuss the eight trends. Register here.

Here are the eight trends and links to each post.

  1. Declining Trust
  2. Growth of the “Gig” Economy
  3. The increasing demand for instant gratification
  4. The increase in mobile technology
  5. Career experiences are replacing career paths
  6. Increasing life expectancies
  7. Automation through artificial intelligence
  8. Increasingly Diverse Workforce

Each post is based on real trends that don’t show any signs of changing. If you employ people, these trends are and will continue to affect you in small and, possibly, large ways over the next several years. Ignore them at your own peril.

As you plan for 2019 and beyond, take some time to step back and look at the story that these (and other) trends are telling you. The future of work is revealing itself to you if you know where to look.

Words of Gratitude (#7) to Tim Sackett
Words of Gratitude (#7) to Tim Sackett 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


Anyone who knows me very well knows how much I love my work. I love to talk about work and the workplace and engagement, etc. Probably too much.

I’m also a pretty relentless relationship builder, always looking to connect to new and interesting people.

This combination of things has led to having a network of friends all over the world who share a common passion for the work. These are people who, when we get together to have a few beers, end up in long conversations about what else…how to make work better for people.

My professional journey has led me to connect with some really amazing people who I now consider friends.  One of those people is Tim Sackett.

Tim is a prolific blogger, speaker and crusader for better HR and recruiting practices. If your work involves recruiting and you don’t know about Tim, you need to fix that. He published a book this year called The Talent Fix: A Leader’s Guide to Recruiting Great Talent that you should probably buy.

Tim and I first connected through social media and then in person at a variety of HR and Talent Conferences over the years. One of the things that immediately drew me to Tim beyond his passion for his work, was his willingness to take a stand and occasionally espouse an unpopular opinion. While I may not always agree with Tim’s opinions, I always respect his authenticity and courage.

As I have been ramping up my business, Tim has been among the most supportive people in my network. Tim has been generous in his advice and support. He’s even helped me find business. One of my awesome clients, PeopleDoc, would not be doing work with me today if Tim had not introduced us.

Friends are those who come through for you when you need them. And Tim has done that a number of times for me.

Earlier this fall, one of my longtime friends and I had decided we wanted to go to a football game at a stadium neither of us had visited before. One of the options on our list was to go see a Michigan State football game in East Lansing.

Tim happens to live in that area, so I reached out and asked if he could help us find tickets. He did far better than that. We had the opportunity to have dinner with Tim and his wife the night before the game and then he invited us to tailgate with his friends. It was an awesome experience that would not have happened without Tim’s generosity.

Tim, I am grateful for your friendship, support, and time. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunities we’ve had this year to hang out talking about work and life. Your help and encouragement as I grow my business has been incredibly important. You have come through for me every time. That’s rare and amazing. Thank you. 

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Why Performance Management Still Sucks
Why Performance Management Still Sucks 395 120 Jason Lauritsen

I’ve spent a large part of the last year writing a book about performance management.  

One of the big questions I wrestled with was “how did we get this so wrong?” That question isn’t all that hard to answer when you look at the history of management and discover that it was based on a contractual, compliance-based model.

This helps explain how we ended up with compliance-based processes like the annual performance appraisal and performance improvement plans. They make sense in the historical context in which they were created. 

But times have changed. And work has changed. A lot. 

Performance management hasn’t. 

A majority of organizations are still running these same compliance-based processes today. Taken in the context of our climate of work, they make little or no sense.

Employees hate it. Managers cringe at the mention of performance management. And HR keeps running the system despite knowing that it doesn’t really work.  

It’s glaringly obvious that it’s a broken system. It’s been obvious for decades. Why is it taking so long to fix?  

This might be the more important question. 

Performance is the lifeblood of any organization. Without it, the organization withers and dies.  What could be more important than the management of performance?

And yet.

No one owns it.  

Everyone participates. Everyone is impacted.

No one owns it. 

Managers are charged with the day to day responsibility of ensuring employee performance. Leaders are broadly responsible for organizational performance.  And HR is where the formal, compliance-based processes for the appraisal of performance.  

But who is responsible for designing and deploying and maintaining a system for managing performance across the organization? 

Certainly, HR is the assumed answer. 

But, I think I’ve only met a handful of HR professionals in my life who’s primary job role and function was performance management. 

This fall, I facilitated a panel of HR leaders at the HR Tech Conference to discuss the evolution of performance management. I asked each of them how performance management fit into their overall HR structure. Each of the four companies was different. 

In one case it was part of total rewards (i.e. benefit and comp). In another, it was viewed as part of employee engagement. In another, it was under the banner of employee relations (i.e. compliance). 

In two of the four cases, the main reason HR undertook the process of changing performance management was that executive leadership demanded it.  

It’s crazy. 

A well-designed performance management system should be the operating system for your organization. It ensures a sustainable and consistent employee experience that unlocks individual and team performance. Most organizations today are still running a performance management operating system written in the 1920’s.

It’s way past time for an upgrade. But, that upgrade will never happen unless you make it a priority.  

Every organization should have a role or team dedicated to performance management systems. If you don’t like the phrase “performance management,” then call it performance enablement or performance processes.  

It can be in HR or it can be elsewhere. It will depend on your organization. 

We would never let something like sales or financials or technology go without an owner who has the responsibility to ensuring process effectiveness.

Why do we allow it with something as vital as the management of performance?

Let’s change that. 

Technology’s Evolving Role in HR #HRTechConf
Technology’s Evolving Role in HR #HRTechConf Jason Lauritsen

The HR Technology Conference has become one of my favorite events of the year. It’s a great opportunity to get a feel for the broader trends in HR and work.  

Each year, I try to take in a few sessions and spend some time walking the Exhibit Hall. My goal is to try to understand what the technology vendors think is important to the HR community. This comes through loud and clear through their marketing messages and positioning at the event.

Based on my observations, this year’s overarching theme seemed the same as last year. Everything is about AI (artificial intelligence). Apparently, we are all so fascinated by the potential of AI that nearly every vendor is feeling the pressure to show how they are in the AI game.

I personally think that most of the talk about AI is distracting us from what really matters in making work better. That is an argument for another day. The bottom line is that for the second year in a row, AI was the dominant buzzword of the conference.

Another thing I love about this event is the conversation and presentations about the future of work. Technology companies are rightfully interested in understanding how work is evolving and what the future might look like so they can enable that future through their products.

Based on what I heard from Josh Bersin and others, it seems to me that there are some real shifts coming (and needed) in terms of what HR technology looks like and how it works.  There were three big things that I took away from this year’s event.

  1. HR technology tools need to be where the work happens. Almost all of today’s HR technology tools are part of a stand-alone platform or product. This means that the employee has to leave the technology that they primarily use to do their work (email, calendar, CRM, etc.) to find and log into another application before being able to take their desired action. It’s no wonder that we struggle to get employees to consistently engage with these tools. It feels like a hassle. The next generation of HR tech tools will be built into where you do work to make the employee’s experience much more fluid and intuitive. Keep an eye on companies like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, and Slack as they are already starting to build some of their own integrated tools. It seems like there’s about to be a lot of innovation in this area. 
  2. We need technology to support wellbeing. Earlier this year, Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer published a new book titled, “Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It.” He argues that work is literally killing us. Much of that boils down to the immense stress that people are feeling today from both work and life. I’m convinced that tending to the wellbeing of employees will emerge as a business imperative over the next five or more years. Technology has contributed significantly to this problem in the past by enabling 24/7 connectivity. Now we need new technology to help us begin to fix it.  
  3. The future of work is teams. Bersin stood in front of a room full of HR technology marketers and declared that while more companies are organizing work in teams, today’s HR technology tools are almost exclusively designed around individual work performance. For those who work in a project team or agile environment, you can probably relate to how different it is to manage the performance and engagement of teams compared to individuals. As the way we work and our management approaches shift more and more towards teams and collaboration, we will need new tech tools to support that. And, it doesn’t seem that there are many tools here yet. I expect that to change quickly. 

Those are my takeaways from this year’s HR Tech Conference. If you are interested in technology and the future of work, I highly encourage you to give this conference a look next year. If you decide to go, look me up. I’ll be there. 

Does your company discourage vacations?
Does your company discourage vacations? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting chat with my Lyft driver on the way to the airport in San Francisco.

He was a career business development professional who uses Lyft to supplement his income. Our conversation turned to company culture and work experience (shocking, I know).

He told me about how he had changed jobs and moved his family to Sacramento because he worked for a company that consumed every moment of his life.

When he wasn’t traveling, he was expected to attend client events in the evenings. His wife and family hardly ever saw him.

Then there was the whole issue of vacation. He shared a story with me about a time early in his career when he’d qualified for a company-paid sales incentive trip to Hawaii.

He invited his girlfriend to go along. She agreed based on one condition–that he leaves his laptop at home. She knew that if he brought it, he’d work much of the time. He knew it too but didn’t feel like he had a choice. He chose the laptop and ended up making the trip alone.

At this same company, he described the ritual guilt trip that would be applied by management every time he tried to request vacation days. They’d always say the same thing, “We’ve got so much going on right now, can’t you find another time to go?”

He felt so tied to his work that he couldn’t disconnect, ever.  And, it had an impact on him and his family. Thus, he finally left.

I wish his experience was a unique one and that he just happened to work for a company that was getting it wrong. But, I know too many people who have had the same experience to think that’s true.

And, the data seems to suggest the same.

According to the 2018 Work and Well-being Survey recently published by the American Psychological Association, despite 76% of respondents saying that taking vacation time is important to them, only 41% reported that their organization’s culture encouraged taking time off.

That’s 6 out of 10 organizations where the employees feel like they are discouraged from taking a vacation. Let that sink in.

So, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that 65% of respondents reported that the positive benefits they feel as a result of taking a vacation (when they do take it) either disappear immediately or within a few days.

This is crazy.

And it’s symptomatic of much deeper cultural and performance issues. If you feel like you cannot be gone from work for fear of lost opportunity or what might happen while you are out, that suggests a teamwork or trust deficiency.

If you don’t want to take vacation time because you feel penalized by a backlog of work that occurs while you are out, that’s a process and work design problem.

If you don’t want to request vacation because of how guilty your manager makes you feel about it, that’s a leadership failure.

The pace and intensity of work have increased steadily over the past couple decades thanks largely to technology. We spend more time connected to work than ever before.

That makes vacation time more important than ever before. People need time away from work to rest and connect to the things that are important in their life (family, friends, travel, etc.).

This weekend, I’m leaving for a week of summer vacation with my family. I didn’t realize how much I needed the time away until it started to draw near. It’s been a pretty intense year so far and I have not unplugged in a long time.

Time away from work is necessary to recharge.

Organizations should encourage employees to use their time off, even require it if necessary.  And, when people leave for vacation, expect them to disconnect and give their full attention to whatever they do while they are out.

Your organization’s posture towards vacation is a good indicator of how well you are tending to an employee’s overall well-being and engagement.

If you aren’t sure how you are doing, take a peek at how much vacation time is being used. Or even more simply, go ask some employees if using vacation time is encouraged.

Relationships and Accountability
Relationships and Accountability 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

If you’ve been following my work over the past couple of years, you know that I’ve been evangelizing the message that “work is a relationship, not a contract.” Because employees experience work this way, work and the workplace should be designed around the same principles that make a relationship healthy–things like appreciation, acceptance, and commitment.

As I speak and write more about what this means, I’ve been encountering an interesting objection.

 

“What about accountability?”

The assumption is that if we treat work like a relationship, it’s all about feel-good emotions without any regard to performance and getting things done. The fear, it seems, is that if we treat work like a relationship, accountability and performance management go out the window.

I was caught a little off guard by the question at first. But as I’ve thought about it, I think I understand where it comes from.

There are many kinds of relationships. Friendships, acquaintances, family, neighbors, and many more. If you imagine the work relationship as a friendship or a neighborly acquaintance, then it’s hard to connect the dots for how it translates into performance.  

The work relationship between employee and employer is a formal, mutually-committed relationship in the way that a marriage is in our personal lives. Both parties have made the choice to enter into this relationship. And while there are some laws in place that outline certain parameters of the relationship, what sustains the relationship and makes it work is an ongoing shared commitment to one another, reinforced by the experience of the relationship itself.

There is nowhere in my life that I feel more accountability than in my relationship with my wife, Angie. I often say that one of my life philosophies is “Happy wife, happy life.” And while that usually gets a chuckle from whoever I’ve just said it to, it’s true. To me, it means that I’m committed to doing what is in my control to keep her happy.   

I can’t control how Angie (or anyone else) feels. But, I recognize that how I show up every day, the way I behave, and what I give to the relationship can have a profound impact on her and how she feels.

I know when I don’t contribute around the house adequately, it will have consequences on our relationship. As a result, I try to do what I can every day to pull my weight and check in from time to time to see how it feels to her.  

If we don’t make time for one-on-one time together to talk, it causes us to fall out of balance. So, I make time when we need it. These are but two examples of many of how being accountable to the relationship is what makes it work.  

 

Accountability is core to any healthy relationship.

In the employee-employer or employee-manager relationship, the problem is that the accountability goes mainly in one direction.  Employees are held accountable and expected to be accountable to the organization, but they aren’t often rewarded with the same commitment from the organization.  

For example, if you do something that makes your boss feel insulted, there will be some backlash for you as an employee in one way or another. But, if a boss does something that makes you feel insulted, it can feel like there’s no way to even address that in a safe and constructive way. One way accountability.

Healthy relationships are reciprocal and balanced. Each party actively invests in and is committed to the other. When it’s one way, the relationship starts to deteriorate.  If you’ve ever been in a relationship where one person was far more committed than the other, you know how that usually ends. It’s not good.

Accountability in a relationship of any type requires these basic things:

  • Clear expectations. You can’t live up to expectations you aren’t aware of or that you don’t understand.
  • Communication. Being in an ongoing conversation about how things are going and what is changing is critical. These conversations produce feedback about how things are going and provide the opportunity to learn and adapt.  
  • Commitment. Being accountable in the relationship means that you will sometimes need to do things that you don’t want to do or could get away without doing. You do these things willingly for one another.  

That last bullet is a big one, particularly in the work relationship. Decades of layoffs and downsizing have created an expectation for employees that commitment from employers is conditional and often fleeting. That means that employers and leaders must go above and beyond to both articulate and demonstrate their commitment to employees.  

As you prepare for the weekend, I’d challenge you to think about how you could demonstrate and reinforce greater commitment to your employees as a way to strengthen the relationship.