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Organizational Dynamics

Dear Employee,

As the leader of this team, I want to empower you to really take charge. I want to empower you to create initiatives and run with the ball. I want to empower you to seek out new revenue sources for us. Lastly, I want to empower you take your position and this company to the next level.

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Dear Boss,

A simple “I want you to do a lot more than you’re already doing” would have sufficed, though it would have been just as equally an unwelcome surprise.

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

“I want to empower you” is a euphemism for “step it up” and it’s transparent. Actually, it’s translucent: the employee will get the point that you’re telling them to step it up but they also might wonder if they were already supposed to be doing said tasks. It might instill insecurity and the word has a note of embedded insincerity.

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Maybe Try this Instead?

Rather than use the word “empower” just come out and tell your employee what you want them to do. Lay out the specific ways you need them to be “empowered” rather than use that word. Create a joint plan so they walk away with a clear sense of what they’re empowered to do. Save “empower” for 3rd person. You can always tell someone else that you empower your employees if you’re dying to use that word. I want to empower you to use ‘empower’ sparingly.

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You hear a Star Wars ringtone repeat until the call finally goes to voicemail.

Nearby, some coworkers are discussing the logistics of The Walking Dead while the latest Drake album plays through communal speakers.

You stare at your computer screen, trying to remember what you were about to do when you’re asked to join a meeting that will go nowhere and solve nothing.

After the meeting a coworker asks you to help him with something. You can’t believe he couldn’t figure this out on his own.

Your boss has been absent the last few days and suddenly bursts in to alert everyone to stop what they’re doing because the ship is about to go under. This happens every month.

As our offices get hipper and the sharing of information encouraged more and more you might find yourself in an unproductive working environment. Fear not! There is hope.

All it takes is changing all of your ingrained habits and routines. I know, easier said than done. But it’s not impossible. Here are some tips:

  1. Buy noise reductive earphones. I used a pair while I wrote my book, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night. My neighbor’s house was under construction for six months. I would not have been able to write a word without my trusty Bose noise-cancelling headphones. These earphones – coupled with a little white noise or brain.fm – makes a world of difference.

Note: These things really work. If you do this, put a sign on your back to gently approach you because it can be terrifying when you’re not expecting someone.

2. Set boundaries with your time. Every office has a few interrupters who routinely need help, who like to chitchat, who seek advice. They’ll hunt you down. See if you can have some fun with this one: maybe an “ON AIR” light to indicate you’re not available, maybe a velvet rope, or maybe an auto-response you create in the AM that announces you’ll be unavailable for a period of time that day (every day?).

3. Chunk your time: This can be done the night before or first thing in the morning. Assign time periods for your projects so you have a plan in place. It can be very relaxing to look at your daily calendar and see, “OK, I’m doing this until 12, then I’m doing that until two.” Assign a time slot for tedium like answering emails and such and then turn off those notifications for the rest of the time. Tell the people in your personal and professional life to call if there is an emergency, rather than text or email. That way you’ll know it’s necessary to pick up.

4. Divide your day into Creative & Reactive work. To time-chunk more effectively, try this. Creative work is projects that require your undivided attention and the full scope of your mental capacity. You’ll want to schedule those early in the day when you are the least depleted. Reactive work – answering phone calls, emails, unimportant but unavoidable meetings and so on – can be slated for the latter half of the day.

Note: During the creative part of your workday block out everything that is not part of your creative work. No emails, phone calls, texts, social media.

5. Don’t go to every meeting if you don’t have to. If you work for a meeting-heavy company, figure out when your presence is truly required. Maybe you can get exemption if not truly needed. If you are truly needed, see if the meetings can be scheduled for a time that works for you (see: #3: chunk your time). Basically, this falls under the “don’t be afraid to speak up” umbrella. If you never say anything then you’ll never know.

6. If you’re not a fireman, don’t get involved with putting out every fire. There are those reactive-putting-out-fires constantly environments that can tire a soul out, i.e. the whole company might fold any second if we don’t do THIS! Maybe you can implement a grass roots campaign to analyze what’s urgent and what’s not. A nice consequence is you will begin to behave proactively (versus reactively) to abate these “urgent” scenarios from reoccurring.

7. If you’re drowning in work, prioritize. Sit down with your manager/boss to help prioritize your workload. Then you can chunk your time (#3), maybe work from home, and skip some meetings perhaps (#4). To be clear, I’m referring to the overwhelming workload that results because you might work at a company where everyone wears a lot of hats, or perhaps someone was recently let go and their job was folded into yours. This isn’t because you don’t know how to manage your time and/or distractions. Bottom line: don’t assume other people know you are overloaded. It’s your job to speak up.

8. If your boss is inconsistent, ask for confirmation. This can be frustrating. You start to work on something only to be told to change directions midway; something was given top priority and then there’s a new something that’s suddenly an even higher priority; but wait, now there’s something even more important; actually, now that they think of it, the first thing is still the most important and by the way, where are you on that? If you have a boss like this, get confirmation on the prioritization of work.

9. When your colleagues aren’t carrying their weight, do this. Communicate, but don’t tattletale. For instance, you can send a group email to all parties involved, with the boss cc’d, asking for confirmation on who’s responsible for what. That way it’s in writing and there are no assumptions. If the scenario doesn’t allow for that type of communication the next best thing is to speak with the colleague(s) themselves. Again, speaking up is vital!

The only reliable way to get different results in this world is to change your own behavior. Don’t expect anyone to change. Much of being productive in an unproductive work environment involves being communicative about your needs and speaking up for yourself. It’s the only way you’ll know what resources and freedom are available to you.

A great byproduct of all this speaking up for yourself is your self-confidence will improve; your self-efficacy will be bolstered; you’ll feel empowered to ask for what you need; the world will start to work for you instead of against you. Perspective is everything. Don’t presume anyone knows what’s happening in your world and don’t expect anything to change without your effecting the change first.

It all starts with you.

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Dear Employee,

Went through your spreadsheet and I think this is a great start.

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Dear Boss,

Thank you for those kind, succinct words. I was up late the last couple of nights working on it, hoping to impress you, so knowing I’ve started something great is inspiring. Hopefully you can shed some light on where the finish line is. That way, when I start again I’ll know when I’m done.

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

A lack of guidance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where the employee doesn’t meet your standards because no one – except you – knows what those standards are; maybe you don’t either until you see them met. You have to give guidelines so you get the work you want out of your people. It also creates disengagement as the employee feels unrecognized for the hard work they’ve done thus far, and frustrated by a lack leadership.

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Maybe Try this Instead?

If you’ve been handed some extensive work try not to minimize it with “this is a great start” as that undermines all the effort put into it. Get specific. Clearly explain what you want. If you don’t clearly explain what you want and then say, “this is a great start” the employee’s going to think, “Start?? I thought I was done!” If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want then indicate that you don’t need anything extensive because the project at hand is just getting started.

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Dear Boss,

I just realized today was the deadline for me to get you the final piece for the new campaign that you asked me to make a priority. I unfortunately don’t have the work done, but if it’s any consolation I did finish this other project that won’t create any sales, because I don’t know why exactly.

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Dear Employee,

For some reason, I’m not feeling consoled. I think it’s primarily because the project you did finish doesn’t have any effect on us making money and the project you didn’t finish does. I guess I never specifically said out loud to concentrate first on the projects that have a direct impact on our sales, but let’s make that the policy going forward, whadda ya say?

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

You prioritized your work at your own expense. Companies are only in business when they make money and tasks that don’t further the company’s sales are typically not the most important. More importantly though, when there’s a deadline you have to meet, alert the powers that be that you need more time. Nothing worse than finding out the day something’s due you won’t be getting it.

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Maybe Try this Instead?

Make sure you know what is a priority and what isn’t. Though one project might be more attractive because you can easily see how to complete it, make sure you finish the high priority items first. Typically we avoid that which is taxing our brain and giving us trouble. Definitely ask for an extension if you don’t see yourself completing the work by the deadline. And if you do find yourself having not met a deadline without having given any advanced warning, it’s best to simply apologize, give an ETA, and get it done asap.

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Dear Employee,

Every night at 6PM I like to kick my heels up and take a breather from the day’s work. You might have seen me with my legs on my desk, hands behind my head, gazing out the window. As a boss it’s important for me to enjoy a moment of zen. It recharges me. At about 6:30 I resume work and then go home at about 7.

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Dear Boss,

I’ve noticed. Right about the time as you kick up your heels I am usually about to leave for the day, that is until I see your reclining silhouette basking in a state of nirvana. I then re-open my computer to make it look like I’m still working and text my spouse that I’m not sure when I’ll be coming home. The next hour or so is one of excruciating boredom as we all wait for you to head out the door and give us the thumbs up for working so hard.

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

It’s a mental lock down. As the employee’s response above indicates, you’re not breeding harder workers per se but rather an environment that keeps bodies in chairs for an extra hour each day. The fact that this pattern occurs at the end of the workday means your employees leave the office with “Get me out of here!” reverberating through their brain, tires screeching out of the parking lot.

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Maybe Try this Instead?

It’s easily fixable and not one of life’s major work struggles. Simply let your employees know that if their work is done and/or they need to cut out for some personal reason they’re free to go. This policy instills trust and engagement. Like most things in life communication is key. If on the other hand you’re relishing the mental lock down, completely aware that no one is leaving because you’re still in the office, you might find a career as a pig farmer more enriching.

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Dear Boss,

 

It’s just ridiculous, the amount of traffic I’m sitting through to get here by 9am. I don’t know how I’m supposed to do this.

I have been stuck in traffic every day this week for over two hours. First I hit the rush hour traffic to get out of my state and then I have to sit through all the rush hour traffic to get into the city. And if I take the train it’s over $40! But then I don’t have my car with me, and I may need it when I leave work. I mean, this is crazy!

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Dear Employee,

I’m sorry that I didn’t force you to move far away?

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

Nobody asked you to move far away. It was a choice you made, which leaves the commute in your hands, to suffer through … quietly. Don’t complain to your boss.

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Maybe Try this Instead?

Here’s what you can do if you choose to take a job that has a long commute or you choose to move far away:

  1. If you have demonstrated that you are a reliable, independent worker and this is something that is negotiable at your company, have a conversation about telecommuting. The most recent Gallup Organization engagement survey found that telecommuters had the highest levels of engagement when in-office and home-office work schedules were combined.
  2. If you have demonstrated that you are a rockstar and it’s time to have a talk about raises, factor your travel costs into your calculations. It doesn’t hurt to ask in the context of a raise. It does hurt to ask in the context of a move.
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Dear Employee,

I’m just checking in to see if you finished that project I asked you to finish by this Friday. It’s now Monday afternoon and I still haven’t heard anything from you but didn’t want to breathe down your neck because I figured you would let me know when it was done. As you know, this project is pretty important.

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Dear Boss,

Oh yeah. I finished that last week.

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

Your boss probably has 3x what you have on your plate. They may seem like they are picking their noses and watching youtube on a daily basis, but in addition to their own nose picking, they are responsible for everyone else’s nose picking who they manage or oversee. When your boss has to follow up with you it gives the impression that you aren’t on top of your workload, which in turn triggers micromanaging behavior.

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Maybe Try this Instead?

Throw your boss a bone here and there and type a simple sentence that says, “project completed!” It’s a nice thing to do in this world of overwhelm and ultimately reduces unnecessary contempt.

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the_books

Nicole Lipkin, Psy.D., MBA is a business psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting. She is a speaker, consultant, and coach and has shared her expertise on NPR, NBC, Forbes, Entrepreneur, CBS, Fox Business News, and other media outlets. She is the author of “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night” and the co-author of “Y in the Workplace: Managing the “Me First” Generation.” Check out the award winning book trailer for What Keeps Leaders Up At Night.

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Engagement is probably one of the most critical yet elusive factors in the workplace. It’s hard to describe but we certainly all know it when we feel it or see it. People go from totally pumped and engaged to seriously deflated and disengaged because of a breach of the psychological contract.

A psychological contract is a person’s belief about the mutual obligations that exist between an employer and an employee—some stated and tangible (like you give me pay and benefits and I’ll give you work output, time and hours) and some unstated and intangible (like you will provide me with a positive work culture and opportunity and I’ll give you commitment, loyalty and effort). This contract obviously evolves, both ways, as expectations develop and as we start melding into the culture.

Disengagement often happens though when there is a breach of this contract. And these breaches, as I’m sure some of us have experienced, come about for a variety of reasons like violations of trust, actions that reveal a lack of honesty and integrity, behaviors that violate ethics or the law, promises that get broken, assignments that intrude on personal time, job descriptions and expectations that are ill-defined, environments that are difficult and depressing, and leaders who drastically alter the deal.

These breaches that lead to disengagement are critical because research has consistently shown that disengagement can lead to a decline in productivity, performance, workplace safety, loyalty and retention, organizational citizenship behaviors, and overall, the bottom line.

Some research has even found that contractual breaches influence different age groups differently. Younger employees lose their sense of trust and commitment; older ones lose their sense of job satisfaction. Regardless of what it impacts, research has shown that when an employee is disengaged, their disengagement can negatively impact the team and ultimately, negatively impact customer engagement and retention.

The reason why this occurs is a phenomenon called Emotional Contagion, which is a very simple concept: if you smile and are positive around someone they will feel good and most likely carry that positivity to the next place they go, which can create a ripple effect, and is pretty amazing when you realize how powerful a small positive gesture can be. The same ripple effect can of course occur when projecting negativity. Don’t believe me? Take a moment and think about whether you feel good or bad around a positive person and/or negative person. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure this one out.

Sigal Barsade, a professor at Wharton Business School, studied emotional contagion and observed that “People are walking mood inductors, continuously influencing the moods and then the judgments and behaviors of others.” In her research she has found that when participants are exposed to someone acting cheerfully in a group the group behaves more cheerfully. When participants were exposed to someone acting in an angry way, the group became angrier. Positive emotions created more cooperation; negative emotions increased conflict and decreased cooperative decision-making. The effect occurs in every type of organization, in every industry, and in every large and small work group.

This research confirms that disengagement, often caused by a breach in the psychological contract, can have incredibly significant unintended consequences. Often a broken psychological contract is left unrepaired, which only worsens the impact and consequences. Acknowledging the breach and making attempts to repair it is critical to regaining engagement and interrupting the effects of emotional contagion. It’s a no brainer.

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the_books

 

Nicole Lipkin, Psy.D., MBA is a business psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting. She is a speaker, consultant, and coach and has shared her expertise on NPR, NBC, Forbes, Entrepreneur, CBS, Fox Business News, and other media outlets. She is the author of “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night” and the co-author of “Y in the Workplace: Managing the “Me First” Generation.” Check out the award winning book trailer for What Keeps Leaders Up At Night.

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Dear Boss,

We’re all excited for the upcoming mixer with our potential new clients. We know this is a sensitive topic but we request the option of wearing our own clothing rather than the company logo shirts. We thus kindly request that it not be mandatory to wear the company logo shirts as we think it’ll hamper our confidence.

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Dear Employee(s),

I am excited to show you the new and improved company logo shirts I have ready to go. They are a fashion-forward marine blue I was able to purchase at a terrific bulk discount rate from USAACS & Co, or as they’re known in the fashion industry: USA Affordable Company Shirts. We’re going to look like a cohesive team and that’s what’s going to impress everyone. Appreciate the feedback!

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Why your plan will surely backfire

There’s a time and place for the company logo to shine (e.g., conventions where you have a booth). A company logoed shirt at a professional networking event can erase individuality and make someone feel like a dork, especially if everyone else is wearing their own, normal clothing.

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Maybe try this instead:

Save the company logoed shirts for when you need to especially stand out as a company representative, like behind a convention booth, or in the store, or if you are in door-to-door sales so the homeowner doesn’t think you are there to murder them.

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Nicole Lipkin, Psy.D., MBA is a business psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting. She is a speaker, consultant, and coach and has shared her expertise on NPR, NBC, Forbes, Entrepreneur, CBS, Fox Business News, and other media outlets. She is the author of “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night” and the co-author of “Y in the Workplace: Managing the “Me First” Generation.” Check out the award winning book trailer for What Keeps Leaders Up At Night.

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