People Pointers are short tidbits of information
about various topics of interest to managers and supervisors. They
were originally developed as newsletter comments. They cover the
(parts 1, 2, and 3)
Burnout is a problem for many organizations.
Its symptoms include physical fatigue, emotional flatness, a lack of caring
for the job, and a desire to quit. Burnout is not really connected
to work overload (car mechanics have a heavy workload but rarely experience
burnout). Burnout occurs when people take responsibility for outcomes
outside their control (such as nurses taking the death of patients personally).
To prevent burnout, people need to take responsibility for that over which
they have control. Car mechanics can take responsibility for the
outcome of their work -- if they do their job properly, the car functions
correctly. But many professions are not directly accountable for
results. For these people, responsibility needs to be for that over
which they have direct control -- the manner in which they do their job.
Companies can help their employees keep the focus on the job rather than
outcomes by rewarding workers whose work habits are exemplary rather than
rewarding results which occur only indirectly from exemplary work.
For sales people, for instance, rewarding employees who make lots of cold
calls may be more beneficial than rewarding those who score a big sale.
HUMAN RESOURCES COST ACCOUNTING
Cost accounting the human capital investments is less common in
business than cost accounting for the non-human capital investments.
Most companies lose more money from human capital mismanagement than from
non-human capital mismanagement. Few companies have a bottom line
of cost per employee. This is particularly true if these employees
are at the bottom layer of the wage scale. The cost of the turnover-hiring-training
cycle is rarely calculated. These costs include lost productivity
during the waning days of the exiting employee's tenure, lost productivity
during the interim time, cost of advertising the position, cost of screening
applicants, cost of adding and subtracting names from payroll (which includes
preparing and sending large numbers of government forms), lost productivity
during the entry phase, lost productivity of those who provide on-the-job
training to the new employee, as well as the cost of processing benefits.
Keeping track of the actual cost of employees can actually save companies
money in the long run by pointing out where problems may exist that need
to be remedied.
JOB SATISFACTION AND ATTENDANCE
The assumption is that "happy workers are productive workers".
While there is a modest relationship between job satisfaction and productivity,
the real relationship is "happy workers come to work". In most companies,
it is important that employees attend every day. When an employee
calls off work, the entire workplace productivity is reduced, since other
employees have to cover for the missing employee, thus getting less of
their work done. This means that keeping workers "happy" ensures
that the standard work flow will continue. The usual ways of handling
absenteeism (warnings) tend to reduce employees' satisfaction with their
job, leading to increased absenteeism. Rewarding people who have
perfect attendance (by paying a 10-cent an hour bonus or giving these people
choice parking spaces) can help increase attendance in a positive fashion.
Helping employees who are habitually absent learn how to handle the normal
crises of daily living can also help increase attendance and at the same
time increase their job satisfaction. Everybody wins!
LAKE WOBEGON EFFECT
People value that which they do well and tend not to notice that which
they do poorly. This explains the "Lake Wobegon" effect: most
workers think of themselves as above average. A problem often occurs
when managers try to get employees to do their full job, which includes
things that the employee does less well. A way to address this concern
is to use the employee's strengths to solve the problem of that which is
a weakness. Acknowledge that the employee is above average in strengths
and ask his/her input in a problem-solving mode to help devise strategies
to ensure that the job aspects currently getting low priority get a higher
priority. This reduces defensiveness on the part of the employee
and helps her/him realize the value of a task which tends to be done poorly.
It also increases the likelihood that the solution developed will be practiced.
As people practice skills, they get better at them, taking pride in doing
the whole job well.
REDUCING STRESS, Part 1
Too much stress is the primary complaint of most Americans.
There are several tactics that help people cope with all the pressures
of modern-day life. Two powerful tactics are:
Snags are expected, not surprises
Snags are challenges, not threats
Snags happen all the time: there is snow in the winter, there
is road construction the rest of the year, computers crash, machines break
down, tires go flat, people get sick. When any of these things happen,
it is not a surprise – we knew it would happen from time to time.
Treating these snags like surprises doesn’t get us anywhere except angry.
Instead, when they happen, we need to remind ourselves that snags occur
periodically. While it isn’t helpful for us to be constantly on the
lookout for problems, it is helpful to recognize that we expect them and
not waste our time being surprised.
Snags are not threats, they are challenges. When we treat
snags as threats, we get angry and defensive and we waste our time venting
our rage. If we treat snags like challenges, we are focused on solving
a problem, not letting it destroy us. Snags become a type of game,
a puzzle, an adventure. When we figure out how to undo the damage
done by the snag, or to determine a way around the problem, then we are
proud of our accomplishment.
These two tactics take practice. But after intentionally
thinking this way every time something goes wrong, we eventually begin
to think this way out of habit. Once that happens, our stress level
goes way down and we discover we are enjoying life a lot more. Try
it – you’ll like it!
REDUCING STRESS, Part 2
Stress is a normal part of life. But it makes life difficult for
us when we experience too much stress. When we are faced with
difficult situations, we engage in a two-part process in which we appraise
the situation and our ability to respond.
The first thing we unconsciously do when faced with a difficult
situation is to decide whether the situation is personally threatening
to us (primary appraisal). If we decide it is personally threatening,
then we have to move into secondary appraisal, where we determine
what coping resources we can use to handle the threat.
The problem for most Americans is that we immediately assume most
situations are personally threatening, which then means we have to figure
out how to cope. We all have an adequate supply of coping resources.
However, we use up too many of our coping resources handling situations
that are not really personally threatening. Then, when we have something
really difficult to handle, we are out of coping resources. And at
that point, we tend to get stress-related illnesses.
So a trick to handle stress is to not get stressed in the first
When faced with a possibly difficult situation, we need to consciously
ask ourselves whether it is personally threatening to us. In other
words, take the primary appraisal out of our unconscious and make it conscious.
With each situation we experience, we need to intentionally ask ourselves,
“Is this really personally threatening?”
Usually the answer is no. For instance, our family’s problems
are not personally threatening to us, only to those we care about.
We are less able to help them cope with their problems if we are trying
to cope with our own stress about their problems. So a good response
to someone else’s problem is to acknowledge that it is not my problem.
Then we can be supportive and helpful because we aren’t stressed ourselves.
Another example: things at work get really hectic. That
is often not a personally threatening situation. If we can remind
ourselves that the situation is not really personally threatening, we can
stop the stress process before it starts.
iIn Part 3, we’ll look at coping tactics (secondary appraisal)
for those few situation that are personally threatening. In the meantime,
practice saying “that is not a personally threatening situation” whenever
you start to feel stressed.
REDUCING STRESS, part 3
In part two of Reucing Stress (above), the two-part parocess that we
use when faced with a potentially threatening situation was described.
Our first reaction, called primary appraisal, raises the question
of whether the situation is actually personally threatening. As discussed
in part two, a good way to reduce stress is to answer "no, the situation
is not personally threatening." If we an realize that the situation
is not personally threatening, then we don't even start the stress process.
But sometimes the situation is personally threatening. We had
to answer "yes" to primary appraisal. When we answer "yes", we then
move to secondary appraisal, which is "what coping resources do
I use to address this situation?"
Many of us only have one coping resource, so we overuse it, and use
it in inappropriate situatins. In addition to leaning to say "no"
to primary appraisal, we may need to expand our repertoire of coping resources
so that we have more options from which to choose.
There are three basic types of coping resources: thought-focused,
problem-focused, and emotional focused.
Thought-focused tactics involve changing the way we look at the
situation. Many times a situation is personally threatening, but
it is not catastrophic in consequences. If we can recognize that
the worst that can happen in not earth-shaing, we are often more able to
cope. Another though-focused tactic concerns looking at the situation
from a different angle. A third tactic involves seeing thesituation
as a learning opportunity, a chance to grow and develop. As an example,
when faced with a lay-off which is going to reduce the family income for
a while, a thought-focused tactic would see this as a chance to spend time
doing some major chores around the house that have been put off, or a chance
to spend time on leisure pelasures that often get put aside during the
hectic pace of ordinary work weeks. Another thought focus-ed tacitc
is to remind oneself that the layoff is temporary and won't result inlosing
the house or car, just giving up some movies and restaurant meals.
Problem-focused tactics address the situation head-on and find
ways of changing it. To use problem-focused tactics, one has to first
describe the problem accurately. For instance, in a lay-off situation,
the problem is not having lost one's job with no money available, the problem
is having to make-do for a short period of time on a reduced income.
Once the problem is accurately defined, the next step is to create as many
fanciful solutions as possible. Too often, we shut down the solution
process because we say "that is ridiculous" or "that is impossible".
Instead, we need to think of as many silly solutions as possible.
At some point, a new, but reasaonable, solution will come to mind, one
which would not have occurred without the faniciful thinking first.
Once a solution has surfaced, the person is not longer stressed because
he/she is working on making the solution happen.
Emotion-focused tactics are useful when no amount of rethining
can change the stressful situation's impact and the problem cannot be solved.
Then emotion-focused tactics help us cope with the inevitable. These
tactics include crying and physically punching something like a pillow
(not a person). Another emotion-focused tactic is physical excercise,
which helps reduce the strain of stress. Often, telling someone else
who listens and accepts the frustrations makes the situation bearable.
Many times, just being held or touched by a caring friend or loved one
makes it easier to handle a situation. Another really helpful emotion-focused
tactic is to find something funny in the situation and laugh. When
we can laugh at something which is awful, it feels less awful.
If you find yourself feeling stressed a lot, and your really do having
something to be stressed about, pick a couple of different tactics than
the ones you have been using. Working at learning to use another
tactic in and of itself will reduce the stress because your mind will be
on the learning instead of the problem.
FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR
When we observe the behavior of other people, we attempt to make sense
by explaining it to ourselves -- this is called the attribution process.
most of us make the Fundamental Attribution Error by assuming that
the person is the reason for the behavior, rather than also considering
the possibility that
it was something in the situation that caused or contributed to the
When we think that someone is lazy, for example, we need to ask ourselves
what other possible reasons might create that behavior that we interpreted
as lazy. Much employee-boss tension could be reduced if bosses checked
out other possibilities for poor work behavior besides the assumption that
the employee lacks some characteristic of value.
Many times, the reason for the apparent poor work behavior is machine-
organization-related. Managers who think of other possible explanations
can then check out these possibilities with the mis-performing employee,
thereby preventing conflict and proactively addressing a problem.
Committed employees tend to stay with a company, thus reducing the cost
of turnover. There are two types of commitment: Continuance
and Affective. Continuance Commitment is created when people are
so heavily invested financially in staying with the company that it would
be a financial hardship for them to quit. Affective Commitment is
occurs when employees value the company and want to be part of it.
Both types of commitment reduce turnover. But Affective Commitment
is also positively related to productivity/performance and the willingness
to do extra-work behavior to help the company and co-workers. Affective
Commitment is developed when companies help employees see their valued
part in the total mission of the company.
PERCEPTION OF MISTREATMENT
People tend to quit their jobs because of the treatment they receive
at work, not to get a better paying job. Most people make lateral
job moves. People routinely complain about their work. But
when these complaints reach a particular point, people tend to exit their
jobs. If exit interviews are done, management is usually amazed to
hear complaints because bosses perceive themselves as going out of their
way to be fair to employees. A way to reduce the perception of ill-treatment
is to explain management decisions to employees, describing how all possible
options were considered. Another way to reduce the perception of
ill-treatment is for bosses to remember the employee is probably a person
who takes pride in doing a job well; when there are problems, the employee
is probably as disturbed by poor performance as is the boss. Money
is less of a motivator than is recognition. In the hectic workday,
bosses may forget to recognize a job well done, which employees tend to
interpret as the boss taking good performance for granted. Effective
managers/supervisors mention specific things the employees do well on a
Stress-related illnesses costs business billions in lost productivity.
There are three types of stress: individual, individual-job misfit,
and organizational. Many companies offer individuals stress-management
helps, such as learning to think in less stressful ways or developing meditation
habits. Sometimes companies will notice that the person is in the
wrong job and move that person to a less stressful job. But many
companies forget to look at the possibilities of organizational stress.
If a large number of people in a particular job category suffer from stress,
it may be helpful to assess the organizational stressors. Organizational
stressors could be in the layout of the office or factory; they could be
the noise or lighting levels; they could be supervisory tactics; they could
be communication patterns. Helping individuals cope with stress won't
really help if the stress is organizational in nature. Addressing
the organizational stress can often cost less than providing individual
stress-management programs and may reduce the overall stress-level in the