Breaking the Mould - Dr. Nick Keca

The developing demographic shift that’s brought Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z into the workplace poses some extraordinary challenges for organisational people practices requiring breaking the mould.

So, here’s a question for CEOs, CHROs, COOs, HR Strategists, Organisational Development functions and, actually, pretty much everybody else involved in developing Organisational Culture, Operating Models, and implementing People Strategy.

If your organisation wants its people to be more Authentic, more Empathetic, and have more highly developed Soft Skills; and…

…a large number of studies show that the majority of people want to…

  • Develop their personalities and related behaviours [1-5]; and…
  • Behave in ways that make them more socially attractive and likeable [6-9], since studies show that, given the opportunity of an appropriate situational context, people will authentically behave at the higher end of each personality trait, i.e. more extraverted, agreeable, conscientious, etc; and feel happier and more satisfied as a result [7, 10-13]; and…
  • Be their Authentic, True-Selves, because feelings of authenticity are crucial to avoiding depression [14] and other forms of mental ill-health [15-19]; to promoting wellbeing [20-26]; to enabling perceptions of morality, ethics [27, 28], building trust [23, 29-37]; and to promoting prosocial behaviours [27].

Why aren’t we seeing the associated positive benefits in contrast to…

Employee Engagement in the UK and US only ~15%?

That’s right, Gallop reported that 85% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work resulting in approximately $7 Trillion in lost productivity (18% are actively disengaged, 67% making up the majority of the workforce are simply “not engaged” and are so indifferent to the organisation that all they do is turn up and do the minimum).

Doesn’t everybody start a new job in a state of high motivation and engagement? Don’t we all want to make a difference at work and have our achievements recognised? Surely nobody wants to work in a job just to draw a monthly salary?

What happened to the disengaged ambivalent masses to make them lose the enthusiasm and motivational energy they had on their first day at work? Is it possible that the dissonance caused through their experience of organisational processes and practice destroys their motivation [38-41]?

Employee Retention costing US companies $20 billion per year 

US companies spend $20 billion a year hiring 66 million people, 95% of which fills vacancies caused by voluntary turnover.

Taking employee-attrition of front-line customer service staff as an example. Studies have found that when customer service agents regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, they create emotional dissonance. Unchecked, this contributes directly and indirectly to a number of negative consequences, including increased turnover intention and actual turnover. As it’s not unusual for outsourced contact centres to have annual attrition ranging from 50% to 200%, and with turnover replacement costs generally ranging from 50% to 200% of annual salary (depending on job type/industry sector, i.e. recruitment, training, productivity and revenue loss), the financial impact associated with dissonance alone is eye-watering. Worse still, there is significant evidence that these issues are far more pervasive. Employee Engagement in the UK and US is only about 15% (and 1 in 5 of the highly engaged suffer from burnout); Trust in organisations and public institutions is barely 50%; and, work related stress accounts for 49% of all sickness absence in the UK, where 1 in 5 people taking days off work for stress cite other reasons for their absence.

Is it possible that the motivational loss associated with employee engagement is also driving turnover, i.e. the organisational policies, processes and practices create feelings of inauthenticity and dissonance leading to increased turnover and other negative work outcomes [22, 24, 42-46]?

Work related stress in UK accounts for 40% of all work-related ill health…

Where 49% of all working days lost (i.e. ~72 million working days) costs businesses between £35 billion to £100 billion each year depending on how costs are measured.

About 20% of all employees take days off due to stress but 90% of these cite reasons other than stress for their absence because 15% of employees that disclosed stress related issues were either disciplined, dismissed or demoted (that’s 300,000 people). Meanwhile, Presenteeism (avoiding stress related absence) is increasing – which results in 2Xs more productivity loss than sickness absence.

Is it possible that organisational policies, processes and practices create such strong feelings of inauthenticity and dissonance that they create a stress response, burnout, and declining mental health and wellbeing [20-26]?

Trust in Organisations and other institutions is barely 50%…

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer (ETB) reports that Trust/Distrust in business is about 50% (even higher in public institutions). Further, the Gallup ‘Confidence in Institutions’ survey shows that barely 25% of people have any meaningful degree of confidence in business – see Gallup at work. These are important findings given the wide array of research studies reporting that Trust as a pillar of organisational performance [32-37].

Organisational Leaders tend to be Disagreeable

Various studies have found that organisational leaders are not typically high in trait Agreeableness or its under-lying facets, which means they don’t naturally tend to behave empathetically. This is a paradox, since most people can behave empathetically in the appropriate circumstances, AND most people actually want to be more agreeable/extraverted/ conscientious [6-9] because it makes them more socially likeable. In contrast various studies – here’s an example – show that highly agreeable people don’t tend to be successful in a large number of work situations, likely because their tendency to help others can get in the way of goal achievement. These studies have consistently shown that nice people don’t tend to enjoy the same level of success that less-nice people do [47-51].

Is it possible that organisations reward disagreeable behaviour more than agreeable behaviour, and create the situational context such that disagreeableness behaviour is more likely?

This is exactly what happens when organisations create and implement models of organisational culture along with the associated business processes and practices that are in some way incompatible with the organisation’s wider psychological context – it has a significant negative impact on individuals and organisational outcomes [14, 21-28, 38, 42, 43, 46, 52-61]. This creates a dilemma for organisations. The majority of people want to change their personality related behaviours [1-5] in ways that would make them more socially attractive and successful [6-9], but organisational culture, processes and practices have unintended consequences in creating environmental situations that are contrary to those required to enable people to behave more flexibly, even when they actually want to and would if they could.

Doing Things Differently

These are complex issues and there are too many examples of organisational policies, processes and practices to deal with more specifically so I’ve merely offered a few suggestions that address the high-risk themes that typically contribute to negative outcomes related to inauthenticity and dissonance. If you want a longer read on the subject SEE THIS LINKEDIN ARTICLE.

1.    Any job that requires employees to regulate their emotions intensively when interacting with people that are important to their role, such as customers or bosses, should be viewed as a high-risk activity attracting management consideration or interventions. These might include interventions that entrain [22] emotional behaviour appropriate to reducing emotional dissonance, or feelings of inauthenticity; or it could involve job design or training to reduce the frequency and extent of shallow acting [17, 22, 52], or by allowing individuals to de-compress, perhaps with appropriate support from other team members.

2.    Cognitive and emotional dissonance lie at the heart of these issues and organisations can do a great deal to alleviate the need for shallow acting by generating genuine buy-in. When people are emotionally engaged in the need to behave in a particular way, they replace shallow acting with deep acting, which results in positive rather than negative outcomes for individuals and organisations alike.

3.    While personality assessment isn’t effective for recruitment decisions, it is a powerful means of increasing awareness, of self and others – providing psychometric data is used compliantly, sensitively and effectively. The nature of Personality States is such that individual’s behaviours are entirely flexible depending upon the interactions between Personality Traits and the situational cues in their work environment. As a rule of thumb, personality related behaviours are a response to the environment so, if behaviours are undesirable or fall short of expectations, change the environment, not the people. There are many studies that show that, given the opportunity of an appropriate situational context, people will authentically behave at the higher end of each personality trait, i.e. they will behave more extraverted, more agreeable, more conscientious, etc; and they’ll feel happier and more satisfied as a result [7, 10-13].

Read the article on LinkedIn.


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