Therapy dogs in workplaces: the answer to worker stress?

In our postmodern, technology-driven, socially-isolated world the incidence of stress is on the increase. As we live in this stress-rife environment is it important to note that stress is not always a bad thing. In fact there is a physiological purpose for stress, that is in the situation of perceived threat of danger to either react by fleeing or striking up the resources to defend oneself, the so-called “fight or flight” mechanism. So how is stress useful in the modern world?

How to stay relaxed in a stressful environment

If you are in what we call the productive “stress-zone” your stress motivates you to achieve more than you would if you were completely relaxed. People who say they have no stress, are generally not interested in what they’re doing at all! It is when levels of stress skyrocket that we run into a problem. At this point stress de-motivates and causes us to “freeze”, so that nothing can actually be done. It is this unhealthy level of stress that all the modern techniques attempt to target.

But some techniques are better than others. The latest zeitgeist is the so-called “therapy dog”. This really is a no brainer; who could feel stressed when looking at that positive, happy and energetic face? The evidence also backs up this seemingly obvious strategy, showing that workers are much less stressed when therapy dogs are in the office. So convincing is this evidence, that therapy dogs are becoming increasingly popular additions to many workplaces. Recently, weekly therapy dogs are visiting call centre workers in NSW ambulance triple zero centres to help relieve the stress of the abuse these workers receive. The article even quotes one worker stating that “they’re just lovely to have around and it’s a great distraction from a busy environment”. It makes sense that workers in these extremely stressful environments have access to these weekly visits, but this worker has identified one potential issue with bringing the furry friends into every workplace.

Optimum Stress Relief

The optimum stress-relief technique has two characteristics. Firstly, it must be effective in making the user tranquil and at peace, which therapy dogs certainly fulfil. The second goal pertains to the aforementioned idea that stress prevents us from being productive. Therefore, an effective treatment for stress improves productivity. A dog requires a lot of attention: feeding, petting, exercise. From the words of the worker at NSW Ambulance, therapy dogs are distracting, and don’t lend themselves to productivity.

Unfortunately, there is another reason you may not be able to have a therapy dog in your workplace. Allergies are a common ailment affecting many, and more and more allergies are starting to affect many more people, for unknown reasons. If even one person on your team has allergies, the possibility of therapy dogs is completely off limits. Therefore, more inclusive, more effective strategies are needed to relieve stress in the workplace. The gold standard is mindfulness, a calming, tranquil strategy which clears the mind and allows one to be more focused. Read more about mindfulness on smiling mind here (2).

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

The importance of investing in workplace culture for employee engagement

While the topics of company culture and employee engagement are making strides in terms of popularity, the unfortunate reality is that many employers remain sceptical of programs which seek to implement tools to improve these aspects of the workplace. Too often, these “warm and fuzzy” notions are passed off as unimportant or not worthwhile for investment. Fortunately, the case can be made for investment in workplace culture, not just in terms of anticipated outcome for employee satisfaction. Additionally, it has been demonstrated concretely that employee engagement always  delivers results which impact the company bottom line.

The business case for employee engagement

Utilising company culture to engage employees can result in your employees being driven to go above and beyond the confines of their job description. They tend to be more creative, giving their projects more effort and more hours. Customer service performance also skyrockets when employees are well engaged, in turn leading to more satisfied customers who buy more product, are more loyal to the company brand, subsequently driving product margins and repeat business. In fact, it has been found that for every 10% improvement in commitment by an employee, will lead to an overall 2% increase in employee performance.

Like many things in life, an employer may overestimate their competence in this area. Just as 80% of drivers believe they have above-average driving skills, a fact which statistically can never be true, employees tend to overestimate the current level of engagement of their employees. This can lead an inertia towards change, as it will generally be felt that nothing needs to be done. However, it is unlikely that your company has a majority of well-engaged employees unless you have already made concerted efforts to improve company culture, as it has been found that x% of employees in Australian workplaces are actively disengaged. However, to break this illusion of competence, it is easy to track and measure the health of the culture of your workplace to make the case for investment.

 

Measuring company culture

Start to track data in the following areas to get a picture of the current baseline health of your company’s culture:

         Employee retention metrics

         Employee performance and productivity metrics

         Participation in events and optional company activities

         Participation in training and development programs (if applicable)

         Feedback

         Glassdoor reviews

         HR incident reports – specifically looking for patterns of discrimination and harassment

Utilising these data points can help point to both problem areas to focus on, but also highlight strengths. After all, it is one thing to find the negatives, but a key aspect of a healthy company culture is that positivity permeates, and thus you should make an effort to set an example of positivity in presenting the data in the first instance. These data also serve the purpose of a guide to indicate how well current measures to improve company culture are translating across into actual employee engagement. Finally, don’t let your efforts slip to fall victim to the tyranny of time. Ensure that you review the data at regular intervals to ensure that employee engagement is still on track, or hold seminars to discuss new challenges as they arise.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

Employee acknowledgement: the most important component of engagement

Engagement: it’s an important component of any human relationship. Before marriage, hopeful lovers commit to “engagement” before exchanging vows. The engagement is a promise to see out the outcome of marriage, and just as in romantic relationships, engagement is a commitment employees make to see out the outcome of workplace productivity. Furthermore, acknowledgement is an essential factor to ensure effective engagement, in romantic and employer-employee relationships alike. When done right, recognition of your employees can be the single most important driver of engagement, and will lead to tangible motivation and reinforcement of company values. This is more important now than ever before, as employee engagement is extraordinarily low, and it continues to downtrend .

Creating a socially cohesive workplace culture

The best way to utilise the engaging power of acknowledgement is to encourage your team to recognise the accomplishments of their colleagues. It has been shown that 77% of employees actually tie work engagement to the relationships they have with their co-workers. Investing in company culture to encourage effective co-worker relationships becomes necessary, rather than a nice bonus. With the rise of websites such as Glassdoor, it is very important to improve the workplace culture of your company, to ensure attraction and retention of good workers.

Employee recognition for retention

In the rise of the digital age, the job market is incredibly expansive. Anyone with access to the internet can deliver their resume worldwide to be considered for roles. With the rates of employee engagement being so low, it can be readily assumed that most workers are either considering leaving their current work or actively looking for roles. Therefore, it pays to ensure your workers are engaged to ensure retention. A readily effective strategy to improve engagement is through acknowledgment. If you make this highly visible, it contributes to the company culture, showing you to be a leader to give congratulations where they are warranted. Public affirmations also set you up to be a role model to encourage others to do the same, thus creating that workplace culture of employees acknowledging their colleagues.

Acknowledgement drives productivity

Engaged employees are 21% more productive, and they inspire the co-workers around them to also be more engaged, and subsequently, more productive (3). Similarly, disengaged, unmotivated and unproductive employees can provide a toxic, distracting work environment which de-motivates those around them. Unfortunately, a disgruntled employee is unlikely to reach the notice of a manager until is perhaps too late. For this reason, it is important to ensure that gratitude is a regular part of the work space, a frequently given gift which lifts the spirits of each individual employee. Provide this often enough, and it will be infectious, bleeding out into employees congratulating their co-workers as well. A useful technique is a weekly callout for managers and employees to participate in, and acknowledges the good work around. This public announcement of gratitude is the most effective way to improve engagement in the workplace.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

5 common mistakes made by management which result in unengaged employees

Engagement of employees is currently a highly discussed topic in human resource management, and yet repeated studies find that employee engagement is chronically low in modern workplaces.

Gallup reports that the number of engaged employees in Australian workplaces is as low as 24%. The benefits of employee engagement are well-known, so how is it that we are getting it wrong so much of the time. One answer could be found in management at a local level, which can be due to a variety of factors, as explained below. If you’ve pulled out all the stops in terms of organisational change to influence employee engagement and you’re still not seeing results, typically you’ll find that management is the key to rectifying the issue and ensuring success.

  1.       Lack of consistency

Clarity and consistency in terms of goals to be achieved is one of the key aspects of employee engagement. It is not fair to be ambiguous or inconsistent in your directions and wonder why your employees disappoint with what they produce, or are ineffective in their teamwork. Provide clear, consistent instructions for what you want to be achieved, and all will be on the same page and productivity will be much improved.

  1.       Favouritism

Nobody likes a brown-noser. Realistically, this doesn’t work for engagement of anyone in the workforce. The favourite employee will be comfortable with their current level of work and will not strive to improve, because why would they? They have all the perks without having to strive. Additionally, the other employees will resent the favourite, and will be disengaged by the idea that they can’t improve their standing, so they won’t bother to work hard either. The subsequent toxic culture will be bad for both company productivity and employee wellbeing. Of course, you’re going to like some people more than others, this is just human nature. Ensure that you don’t let it affect how you treat your employees, however. Reward incentives based on merit, and remain impartial in your language and feedback.

  1.       Micromanagement

Again, nobody likes a micromanager. Step back and realise that if you have set clear and consistent company values and goals, your employees will make good decisions, as if you made them yourself. Autonomy in the workplace is another key feature of employee engagement, as employees feel rewarded by the ability to take initiative and make their own decisions. What’s more is that they own their work, turning up every day, knowing they have something to contribute.

  1.       Lack of open communication

Following on from the last point, effective trust can’t be established without effective communication. Have an open-door policy, and ensure that employees know that they will be listened to. If they come to you with complaints, this is best achieved by actioning their solutions. You must also give regular, unbiased and constructive feedback.

  1.       Burnout

Finally, it is easy to understand why some employees might be burnout if their managers are also disengaged. Managers who don’t use vacation days, workplace perks or send weekend emails, are likely to be setting an example for their employees to do the same. The solution is in offering more training and support. Teach that more hours do not equal more productivity, and incentivise more efficient work, rather than spending more time at work.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

Job crafting: tailoring roles to meet an individual’s strengths

It cannot be understated; how important employee autonomy is for engagement.  Providing employees with autonomy means not micromanaging, and setting clear goals to allow employees to dictate exactly how they reach those goals. It seems counterintuitive, as a leader, to let go of the reigns and allow your employees to make their own decisions. However, the benefits of this strategy are well proven, and greatly improve the engagement of your employees, along with their productivity.

So, what is job crafting?

Going one step further is the notion of “job-crafting”. This where employees reimagine the roles of their job, to align more strongly with their strengths and values. For example, a janitor who works within a hospital can voluntarily take on roles to improve patient care, such as shifting artwork for a change of scene, or developing patient rapport by giving a kind smile whilst going about their business. Or in the case of a lawyer, who meets with the product team of their company to be proactive and avoid legal challenges before they arise, rather than just responding to them. This is based on the work of Google, who piloted the strategy, and have now encouraged others to implement it. Studies show it can increase satisfaction and engagement dramatically, and in turn will also improve employee performance.

So why not follow Google’s successful footsteps and implement this strategy? You may find your employees are already crafting their roles, in some small way. Bringing it out into the open can help you to make job-crafting have a great impact on your workplace. Use the following steps to implement job-crafting in your company:

         Encourage autonomy

An easy way to start the job crafting process is to allow your employees to work out how exactly to achieve the goals you’ve set. There is no need to dictate exactly how you want each goal achieved, and by which steps. The added initiative that your employees will be able to take will give them drive and will improve their engagement overall.

         Plan job-crafting in performance reviews

The evidence is out for performance reviews. Instead of boosting employee’s performance, they tend to focus on the negative, and create resentment and further underachievement. A more useful strategy is to give regular, short bursts of feedback, for good and for bad work, so that feedback and constant improvement is a part of everyday work. Additionally, by creating an open line of communication with your employees on a regular basis, the overall rapport will be improved in the employer-worker relationship, improving trust and therefore improving engagement. Therefore, choose to spend the time taken in performance review to discuss the direction of each employee’s role to suit their individual strengths and needs.

         Job crafting “swap meets”

One quick way of developing roles to suit employees whilst ensuring all tasks are assigned for someone to complete is to hold a “swap meet”. The idea is that everyone swaps they assigned tasks to make their job-lists more favourable. One worker’s trash is another’s treasure.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

Maintaining the lines of open communication: the neural network of an effective company

The brain and its neural system are the subjects of much human curiosity and interest. While countless resources are spent on technology investigating the neural system, the processes of cognition, emotion and reasoning are the subjects of children’s films such as “Inside Out”. The brain and the nervous system behaves like a colony of individual organisms, each neuron providing its own reality to contribute to higher consciousness. In a similar way, each individual member of your team is like an individual nerve cell, and your company is made up of each of these inputs. When communication is smooth between each level of the company, like an effectively functioning neural network, the overall processes of the company will be efficient and the output will be productive. Follow these steps to ensure the effective functioning of your “neural network”:

  • The Brain (cerebrum + cerebellum)

The cerebrum (structures of the brain under voluntary control) represents management in this analogy. This is the place where all inputs are processed and a decision is made about which action to take, which is then communicated down to the peripheral nerves. However, just as the nervous system needs a centre called the cerebellum to adjust for slight deviations in the environment producing balance and smooth movement, it is not wise for management to act in isolation from the rest of the company. Management should endeavour to give some autonomy to your employees to ensure processes run smoothly according to changing conditions.

  • Hormones (the neuroendocrine system)

Another aspect which helps the nervous system to function effectively is the input from hormones such as serotonin, dopamine and adrenalin. Anyone who has ever been on antidepressants will know about the common side effects of nausea and diarrhoea. This is because, just as the wiring of the brain needs the right concentration of hormones to work well, even the nervous system which helps the gut to work (the enteric nervous system) is affected by these hormones. Similarly, if your workers are not provided with the correct conditions to work in (for example: recognition, incentive, social collaboration), they will be dissatisfied and not engaged with their work. This will lead to overall lack of efficiency and productivity. By providing the right culture for your workplace, you are providing the “hormones” for your workers to effectively perform their job.

 

  • Greasing the communication network: the “myelin sheath”

You may have heard of a condition called “Multiple Sclerosis” (MS). Understanding this condition requires a little knowledge of the anatomy of a nerve cell. The nerve cell has a few to many “axons” of varying lengths which carry electrical signal along them to connect to other neurons to pass along a message. Encasing these axons, is a substance called “myelin” which insulates the electrical signal, enabling it to conduct more efficiently along the axonal fibre. In MS, this myelin is eroded by the body’s immune system, producing faults in the connections between neurons and failure to effectively transmit messages. The communication within a company can eroded by lack of trust between employees and management, producing flaws in message transmission. Avoid this situation by maintaining an open-door policy to encourage effective communication, and maintain clarity and transparency in decision making to prevent gossiping and fear-mongering.

 

Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift: the increasing need for employee engagement

You may recall the basic image of a duck which transforms into a rabbit and vice versa. Depending on the structure of your brain, and whether you exhibit left- or right-hemisphere dominance, you will interpret this picture differently, as a duck, or a rabbit. Regardless or your predisposition, you will likely even notice a “shift” in your interpretation of the image, and depending on how effectively you have trained your brain to switch between left- and right-hemisphere processing, you may experience the shift occurring multiple times in your consideration of the image.

This picture, was first introduced by Thomas Kuhn in 1962, who used it to describe the “paradigm shift”. It even appeared in an episode of “How I Met Your Mother”, when the gang tries to convince Robyn she will begin to see her new co-worker in a new light of romantic potential (whether the duck or the rabbit represents the potential becomes completely confused, and I cannot now recall exactly which is which). Classically, Kuhn referred to a “paradigm” as a shared entity between a group of a scientists, to the exclusion of others. The “shift” was a deviation from the assumption which underpinned this paradigm, challenging the basic understanding of a theory. It goes to the heart of what Einstein said, that it would only take one thinker to demonstrate his work wrong.

The “paradigm shift” represents a difficult but necessary lesson for managers to learn in today’s evolving workplace. With a greater reliance on technology, a more distributed workforce and less motivation by money, management must adapt by focusing more on its people. The following are three ways to effectively engage employees in the modern dynamic work environment:

Provide more autonomy

Employees demand more autonomy in the workplace: to be able to influence the processes they work with so that they can achieve the tasks they require. You may feel that this is an untenable position, that the job that you provide demands to be done in the way you have requested. But this attitude will not get you far. If you want return on investment, if you want quality of performance, you must pay attention to employee needs, as unengaged employees simply do not perform well.  Furthermore, a bottom-up approach works. If you have many engaged, intelligent, creative thinkers working for you, designing the systems you have in place for maximum effectiveness and efficiency, this is always superior to management calling all the shots. You are much less likely to get it right by yourself.

 Create a culture of trust

This step goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. If you give your employees trust and autonomy, they feel respected, their self-esteem increases and the general engagement and productively also improves. You can further establish this culture of trust by keeping the lines of communication open always, letting employees know they can contact you anytime with difficulties.

Acknowledge accomplishments

Finally, acknowledge the hard work of your employees. It is not enough to remunerate your employees and think this is enough thanks. As aforementioned, today’s employees are less motivated by money. Provide your employees with a public acknowledgement of their success, and encourage a culture of employees congratulating each other for their accomplishments as well.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.