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.

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.

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.

 

The Meme that Boosted the Morale of Bus Drivers, and How a Little Recognition goes a long way

You may have recently come across the memes encouraging thanking the bus driver. There has a recent surge in these surprisingly wholesome meme, but nobody knows where it started. Some reports have pointed to one former light-rail worker on twitter bringing it to our shores by encouraging passengers to engage in the simple common courtesy, with the likes of Russell Crowe backing him up. Since then, the local comedy site “Brown Cardigan” proliferated dozens of the memes, with my personal favourite being the seagull yelling “cheers mate” at the bus driver.

These memes have had a great effect on the morale of bus drivers by causing a recent surge in people actually thanking bus drivers too. Friday’s edition of the Australian featured one very smiley “Charles Everett” from Marrickville being pleasantly surprised by all the additional praise.

bus driver meme
Source: Brown Cardigan

These memes and the resulting positivity being directed to bus drivers is certainly a heartwarming story. As a daughter of a former bus driver myself, I know all too well that the rewards in menial labour are few and far between, and that for anyone trying to get through the hard slog in order to provide for their family this simple acknowledgement can make all the difference.

How does this apply to work?

It is easy to generate a similar effect in your own workplace. The effect of a simple thank you in general has been shown time and time again to boost employee morale, increase engagement and, in turn drive up productivity. This is much more achievable in a team-based setting, and certainly doesn’t require a viral social media following. Make a point of rewarding your employees for the achievements they may make. Even when there is no specific noteworthy mention to make, say thank you genuinely every day for the time your employees contribute to your office. Remuneration isn’t enough, employees need the feel like they matter and their work is valued to be engaged at work.

Some practical ways to thank your “bus drivers”

Encourage your employees to also call out the achievements of their coworkers by holding a weekly “call-out” meeting. You can also import gifts into workplace chats like Slack so that employees can gift each other with small rewards or favours such as cups of coffee or lunches.

For particularly significant achievements, like being named small business of the year in your field for example, hold larger parties to acknowledge the efforts of your employees. And of course at eofys and christmas, hold the traditional celebrations to both thank your employees and give them some time to let their hair down.

So, to increase the good that this meme is doing, take a lesson out of it’s book and remember to thank your employees at regular intervals. And indeed, in the immortal words of Principal Skinner, “Hail to the Bus Driver, Bus Driver Man”.

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 Salary Self-Reporting: Blessing or Curse

A spreadsheet compiled by Google employees has recently caused quite a stir,  as it recorded the salaries of a wide variety of employees across all levels of the company,  specifically comparing the salaries of men and women.

It has been used in an ongoing class action claiming that Google discriminates on the basis of gender,  and lead to Google being ordered by the court to provide more documents for evidence of pay records. Meanwhile, Google continues to insist this is a storm in a teacup, and suggests that the spreadsheet does not take into account other factors such as performance, and that it is not a representative sample.

Gender politics aside though, the current events do make an interesting commentary on the state of pay transparency in some of these major corporations. If employees feel the need to compile this sort of evidence, this suggests that toxicity has crept into the culture. This can only lead to resentment amongst employees, both towards each other, and directed towards management.

Why is pay transparency so discouraged?

The right of a worker to be transparent about their salary and wages is actually protected under American law, under the National Labour Relations Act. If it takes an anonymous spreadsheet to have pay transparency in this company, it sends a pretty strong message, that this kind of disclosure is not widely accepted within Google.

It’s a fairly widespread attitude, it’s seen as impolite to actually discuss what you earn in most of western culture, which big corporations couldn’t be more pleased about. This culture of silence is really not doing any favours for employees in the long run, however. For companies who prefer to keep employees underpaid on the lower rungs of their ladder, in favour of keeping more money in the budget for other employees or other resources, employees without pay transparency are left to fend for themselves without any ground to stand on. Obviously, for companies with this culture, pay transparency is not in their best interests.

A culture of trust

However, this culture of keeping employees in the dark about their colleagues’ pay doesn’t allow for trust in the relationship between employer and employee. Trust is vital in the workplace environment to encourage open lines of communication and maintain employee motivation and engagement.
An employee is likely to find out if they are being severely underpaid compared to their colleagues eventually,  and when they do, a great deal of resentment will be the result. While it is true to say that more money will not help employees be more engaged with their work, pay inequality is likely to lead to dissatisfaction and can lead to lots of good employees to turnover. This is much more expensive than a pay rise or bonus when you consider the costs of re-hiring and training to fill that role.

Ultimately this spreadsheet which has enabled employees to self-report their salaries has been a curse for Google, and may possibly lead to them being ordered to pay millions in compensation of unequal salaries. However, hopefully I have demonstrated that pay transparency in the first place would have been a lot less costly.  Perhaps, this has been a blessing in disguise, if it leads other companies to be more transparent in order to avoid this happening to them.

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 engagement everyday: how to encourage daily self-motivation

There is increasing evidence that employee engagement is vitally important in ensuring the productivity of the workplace.

Yet surveys repeatedly find that the vast majority of workers are either somewhat or actively disengaged, therefore, it is critical to invest in employee engagement. While investments in long term strategies for employee engagement are extraordinarily useful, there are simple techniques that can be employed in the day-to-day which can help employees to self-regulate their own engagement in their daily tasks.

Through taking a “bottom-up” approach, influencing the individual employee in terms of what resources they have available to self-engage on a daily basis, employee engagement can be readily achieved in a cost-effective manner.  

Self-management behaviours

A body of research identifies self-management behaviours as those that help an employee to self-facilitate motivation and structure the workplace environment. (1) The following are recognised forms of self-management behaviours:

  • Self- observation: awareness of work behaviours which may lead to reflection and improvement
  • Self- goal setting: effective when goals are specific, achievable, and measurable.
  • Self-cueing:  writing down list of tasks which need to be achieved, helping employees to reorient to the task at hand
  • Self reward: Reinforcing achievements with desirable traits
  • and self-punishment:  tough self-talk when performance is less than desired.

Together these self-management behaviours will help to reinforce positive work traits, whilst  discouraging lack of drive and commitment, ensuring an overall balance of successful performance.

Workplace autonomy

However, employees are not able to engage in self-management behaviours if they’re not provided with the autonomy to do so. Therefore stepping back, providing less  external control, can enable an employees to engage new self-management behaviours in order to feel more competent at work.

Job resources

Additionally, evidence shows that effective job resources are needed for employees to engage in this self regulation. (1) These include decision latitude (the ability to decide when and how to do tasks that contribute to the workplace),  social support, performance feedback and regular opportunities to use their skills. For example, it has been shown that flight attendants were more engaged on days when they received more social support, and that fast food operators at a restaurant performed better on days when they received more opportunities to act autonomously and coaching to develop their skills. (2) Furthermore, it has been shown that self-management techniques improve not only in the short term during the days in which  actions to improve resources were utilised, self regulation behaviours were also increased in the weeks following. (1)

Finally, to promote self-management behaviours, as aforementioned, a manager should enable employees to have the autonomy in the workplace in order to put these strategies into place. To make the message super clear, hold a self-management workshop to inform and role-play these behaviours in a simulated environment. Then, ensure that you provide the resources your employees need to practice these behaviours, including regular constructive feedback, and opportunities to use their varied skills. Finally, keep it fun, and make sure that employees do not perceive these behaviours as a chore or a withdrawal of support by management. Ensure an open-door policy with all employees, so that they can feel free to discuss any issues at any time to keep the sense of support well-established.

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.

  1. Breevaart K, Bakker AB, Demerouti E. Daily self-management and employee work engagement. J Vocat Behav. 2014;84:31-8.
  2. Xanthopolou D, Bakker AB, Demerouti E, Schaufeli WB. Reciprocal relationships between job resources, personal resources and work engagement. J Vocat Behav. 2009;74:235-44.