It’s a new workspace now. Communicating effectively and working together respectfully might even be more difficult and important, when the cues and consequences happen virtually. Here’s a must-read for the emerging work world.
Category Archives: Organizational Effectiveness
There is probably no plaque hanging in the headquarters of Uber Technologies Inc. with P.T. Barnum’s adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” The upstart ride sharing service has come into its own share of disruption following allegations of law avoidance software, a culture of sexual harassment, wage-related lawsuits, and regulatory scrutiny of its core business model. Recent allegations about its frat-house culture resulted in its Board of Directors hiring former Attorney-General Eric Holder to engage in a sweeping review of its workplace culture and complaint-handling systems.
The Uber Report
Holder’s full report is not publicly available as of this writing, but Uber has released a twelve page set of recommendations. Although they derive from interviews and focus groups with the company’s employees, the recommendations follow best practices for organizational effectiveness, respectful workplaces, and a diverse workforce.
Some of the recommendations refer to particular circumstances within Uber, but most of them are nevertheless applicable to all other organizations. Even those portions of the recommendations that are most specific to Uber, such as recommended changes to its senior leadership, include core principles that should be considered by other organizations, such as holding senior leaders accountable with “metrics that are tied to improving diversity, responsiveness to employee complaints, employee satisfaction, and compliance.”
In addition to the section on senior leadership, there are multipart sections on Board oversight, internal controls, review of cultural values, training, improvements to the HR and complaint-handling process, diversity and inclusivity enhancements, changes in employee policies and practices, review of employee retention factors, and review of compensation practices.
Using Their Recommendations as Your Checklist
These areas should be viewed as a checklist by other organizations: areas to review in a deliberative way to ensure regulatory compliance, market relevance, and employee engagement. Organizations, whether public or private, large or small, can achieve sharper focus and manage their employment-related risks by having organizational values that are consistent and modeled by leadership; holding persons accountable for achieving, or failing to achieve, value-based objectives; designing effective systems for reaching organizational goals, and supporting them with sufficient skills and resources; and developing practices that promote and fulfill a sense of fairness.
The Holder-Uber recommendations provide a window into some of the granular steps necessary to accomplish those goals. We recommend that executive leadership review the report and assess their organization’s related strengths and deficiencies.
We are here to assist the effort. We have engaged in workplace climate assessments and strategic discussions around the same issues addressed in the report. If you would like to discuss your options, please call or contact us.
UnumProvident has published an interesting paper, “Reducing Lost Time: The Correlation Between Family-Medical Leave and Short-Term Disability.” The paper describes the insurer’s 2005 study of “the various connections between lost time and the benefits that are paid to an individual during an absence.” The study included lost time data over a two year period from more than 144,000 employees and six companies.
From the paper:
The significant relationship between FMLA leaves and disability claims comes as no surprise to those who have administered FMLA, as they have intuitively observed the “co-morbid” nature of FMLA leaves running concurrent with extended medical lost time. An interesting discovery, however, was the close relationship between a family leave event in which the employee is in a caregiving role for a family member’s serious health condition and the employee’s subsequent filing of a short-term disability claim. This illustrates a relationship between FMLA and short-term disability that seemingly supports the impact of caregiver stress.
The paper goes on to describe various policy factors and workplace planning opportunities. In general, the study concludes that an integrated leave management approach–as compared to only a disability leave approach–results in lower corporate claim costs and more congruence between the benefits of the employer and the needs of the employees.
A pattern became apparent recently as I was listening to clients in a mediation session. Over the past several years, many of my clients—mostly organizations but occasionally individuals—have described their working environments as “like family.” That feeling, of course, predated the sudden turn of events that caused these “family” members to become estranged and to start litigating against each other.
However, as anyone deeply involved in workplace consulting or litigation knows, there are few sudden turns of events. More often, there is a long arc of linked events which lead to intractable conflict. A family workplace atmosphere has several problems, including making that road to conflict more difficult to perceive and difficult to remedy.
By a “family” workplace atmosphere, I do not mean a place where family members work; although places where family members work together have the same issues as discussed here, plus some others. And I do not mean a place where workers collaborate freely or where traditional hierarchies are absent; if done well, there can be great creativity and energy in such places.
By a “family” workplace atmosphere, I mean a place where topics that are not related to work become appropriate and customary to discuss during working hours; where supervisors and subordinates feel they can slide comfortably from working professionally with external vendors or customers, to talking with coworkers about the sweet and the sour of their personal lives, to palling around with supervisors and subordinates; where they are able to laugh a little loud or drink a little much or be sarcastic with the boss; a place where managers know more about the private lives of employees than they let on, and sometimes are a little extra accommodating because of it.
A family is ultimately defined by its members’ roles in it. In contrast, a family atmosphere in a workplace occurs despite its members’ roles in it. A workplace might seem like a family sometimes, but only during the good times. When there is a serious problem, a workplace does not function like a family, and the appearance—or community mythology—of a family atmosphere keeps a workplace from resolving problems on its own terms.
Unlike most workplaces, families provide extensive opportunities to see their members in different lights as time goes by and circumstances change. Roles and expectations have more room to change—and there are more factors bearing on those changes—in families than in workplaces. And, whether one family member accepts another unconditionally or conditionally, there are not layers of laws enforcing behavior as there are in the workplace.
A workplace has fewer opportunities to remedy bad behavior, with graver downside consequences. In both workplaces and families, offenses add up until they reach a threshold. Both provide some opportunities over time to remedy the adversely felt consequences of bad behavior. And, if the individual who is offended by the bad behavior does not accept or forgive it, both the workplace and the family offer alternatives. Only the workplace, however, includes among the alternatives a range of legal actions that could target not only the employer but also the individuals engaging in the bad behavior.
Promoting or allowing a family atmosphere in the workplace invariably interferes with a clear evaluation of employees by their supervisors. In part that is because the focus of the supervisors becomes diffuse, distracted. From the perspective of the organization’s mission and effectiveness, that means that the subordinates’ role in the organization—good or bad—cannot be adequately assessed. It also means that the manager’s own performance as a supervisor is less productive.
From the perspective of the employees, it means that individual expectations of what a person should contribute and how the organization will respond are not clear. In the best of times, organizations risk having the expectations of an employee not aligned with the expectations of that employee’s manager, but the risk increases dramatically when other factors intervene, such as confusion over the supervisor’s focus, or concerns about what is private and what is appropriate to discuss at work.
- Recognize this fundamental truth about employees:
Generally, employees do not care about whether a workplace is lax or strict as much as they care about whether a workplace is fair and predictable.
- Draw a line between your employees’ private lives and their work lives.
You can send the message that you are receptive to discussing the situation when an employee’s personal life affects work. You can offer an employee assistance plan, available from your benefits broker, that provides counseling for a range of issues, including those pertaining to family, finances, dependency, and violence. You can convert sick leave and vacation plans to paid time off plans, which is a win-win for employers and employees alike. Note, however, that discussions of privacy should be carefully tailored and reviewed to ensure that you are not engendering unintended employee expectations of privacy in organizational assets such as computer and communication systems, common areas, personal work spaces, etc.
- Reassess what your employees should be accomplishing.
Their job descriptions and performance appraisals should be linked. Not only the subordinates themselves but also their supervisors should be held accountable for how well the subordinates are performing. Supervisors should be held accountable for incidents of employee complaints, and they should be given tools and training to help them minimize the conditions for such complaints. It may or may not be appropriate in each particular case to factor in personal issues when responding to an employee’s performance problems, but, if it is appropriate, a plan should be developed which addresses the work issues and not the personal issues.
- Align the expectations of your employees with your new approach.
Announce that you want to be sure your employees feel secure in the privacy of their personal lives; that there are channels to raise those issues if they affect the workplace; that there are confidential resources to provide assistance with personal issues; but that, in the workplace, you are all there to work.