Is mental health any better post pandemic?

For some of us the pandemic made us prioritise and improve our health, whilst others suffered, and in many cases continue to suffer, from burnout, anxiety and stress, not to mention long Covid. So, did we learn anything about prioritising our health at work from the pandemic, or are we simply going back to the way things were? For many, we are at a crossroads.

In April 2021 McKinsey stated that at least 49% of respondents to a survey said they feel somewhat burned out. In contrast, according to the Office for National Statistics ( in February 2022, 78% of those who worked from home in some capacity said that being able to work from home gave them an improved work-life balance and 47% also reported improved wellbeing. The pandemic taught some to prioritise work/life balance, outdoor pursuits and the importance of community and purpose. Others felt isolated, over-worked, disgruntled and their health suffered.

Mental Health issues continue to grow

Stress has been one of the top work-related factors to affect the mental (and physical) health of adults for decades whether that be as a result of problems with demands, change, relationships, working conditions, power and support. In October 2017 The Stevenson/Farmer review, Thriving at Work, highlighted an estimated 300,000 people lost their jobs each year due to mental health problems. That was pre-pandemic, the situation is now much tougher. Work-related mental ill-health was costing UK businesses up to £45 billion in 2019, but those numbers are now £56 billion a year according to Deloitte UK, an increase of around 25%.

One of the issues facing employers today is they need to address a spectrum of mental wellbeing needs

In addition to the cost to the individuals, employee poor mental health is a huge expense to organisations because of staff turnover and loss of talent, absenteeism and the negative impact on productivity. One of the issues facing employers today is they need to address a spectrum of mental wellbeing needs because different people are affected by poor mental health in a variety of ways.

Progress in tackling workplace mental health issues
There has been some success over the last ten years in opening up dialogue and breaking down the stigma around mental health, with some employers increasingly addressing trauma, anxiety and stress at work, but there is still a huge way to go. Wellbeing has never been so important to our lives and livelihoods. We need to learn the lessons about wellbeing that the pandemic taught us and not just try to go back to the way things were. Going backwards is a losing battle which won’t succeed as workers have different and often greater expectations than they had pre-pandemic which will cause pushback.

Improve wellbeing and good mental health
Look for the signs
Leaders and managers need to be looking for the signs of burnout, long-term anxiety, pressures, trauma and grief. Responsibility and relationships are at the heart of caring for colleagues. Leaders need to show real empathy and deal with employee uncertainty and health issues with compassion. Start conversations with employees and see how best you can meet their needs. Ensure your work culture does not support long-term working out of hours, holidays not being taken and poor work/life balance,

Promote and train for wellbeing at work
Having a focus on employee wellbeing means openly communicating about good food choices, social connections, exercise, being in nature and lifelong learning. This requires specific training but taking these positive steps doesn’t just improve mental health and wellbeing, it also increases performance and cognitive function and helps to futureproof the brain.

Build internal and external community relations
Define your values, optimise learning from one another, foster connections, organise training and full team events which everyone can attend. Encourage full participation, inclusion, and respect, and build mutual understanding, especially across any interpersonal and cultural divides.

Don’t suppress trauma in organisations
A positive mindset can help but doesn’t solve all problems. Trauma, anxiety and fear cannot be left unaddressed. An empathetic corporate leadership will put its people first, rather than see looking after them as a distraction. Offer regular training across all the hierarchy on a variety of wellbeing subjects, ensuring there is something of interest to everyone.

Empower for resilience
Empowering your team often helps them build resilience. Allow people to play to their strengths. Have role models, mentors, collaborations, partnerships and a plan that can be continually adapted because resilience is built on life experiences and the world is constantly changing.

Ensure financial security
Leaders must do what they can to ensure a fair, equal wage. The cost of living crisis means many workers are grappling with rising costs and struggling to make ends meet.

Create psychological safety
This gives individuals permission to talk about what is on their minds because they feel safe and thath means they are more likely to bring their entire self to work. Safety leads to inclusion, diversity and greater levels of wellbeing.

Offer individual-based flexibility
Leaders need to think about the needs of the individual before they lose valuable talent. It is important to remember it is the individual suffering first and foremost and that is where attention should be focused in the first place.


Pros and Cons of Working From Home

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home may have seemed like a perk that only freelancers got to do. Now, many more full-time employees have experienced working remotely or in a hybrid role.

Smiling young male entrepreneur browsing the internet with a laptop while sitting on a sofa working from home

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the pandemic has resulted in over one-third of companies across a wide range of industries increasing telework for some or all of their employees. The BLS also reports that around 60% of the organizations that expanded their telework options are planning to keep them indefinitely.

If you recently joined the ranks of virtual staff, your visions of the remote working life may have been dashed by reality. Working from home may sound like an ideal situation, if you’ve imagined simply rolling out of bed and arriving at your home office in moments, without the hassles of first making yourself presentable and then commuting to a workplace with a boss and colleagues who may drive you crazy.

In reality, though, just like working in an office, remote work comes with pros and cons. The following pros and cons list emerged after conducting informal interviews with more than 100 people with remote jobs. Read on for some positive aspects of telecommuting and the challenges that come with a work-from-home lifestyle.

Benefits of Working From Home
Pro: More flexibility to take care of appointments and errands.
Pro: Fewer interruptions from meetings and chitchat.
Pro: No commute time or expense.
Pro: More time spent with family.
Pro: You can often do your work when you’re most productive.
Pro: You can get more done.
Pro: You can save money on your work wardrobe.
Pro: The ability to live where you want to.
Pro: More flexibility to take care of appointments and errands.
One of the hardest things about committing to a 9-to-5 desk job is that it prevents you from being able to handle almost anything else that comes up in your life, whether attending a routine dentist appointment or picking a sick kid up from school. When you work from home, while you still have to meet your deadlines and be available when you say you will be, you generally have wider bandwidth to tend to other responsibilities without jeopardizing your job.

Pro: There are fewer interruptions from meetings and chitchat.
It’s easier to get into a deep state of focused work when you’re in your home office without colleagues dropping by and sitting down impromptu to talk about their weekends. Limiting unnecessary interruptions from your colleagues and boss is a big plus of working from home and is one reason many remote workers are often more productive than office-based workers. While you may need to dial in for specific meetings, you’ll likely get a break from attending several others – many of which may be unnecessary to your role – that confront staff workers daily.

Pro: There is no commute time or expense.
You can save a lot of money and avoid wasting hours spent getting to and from work when your office is right down the hall. Avoiding traffic battles tops the list of benefits for some of those who work from home. Many remote workers also mentioned saving money by eschewing a pricey professional wardrobe unless they meet with clients.

Pro: More time spent with family.
Office workers must kiss their loved ones goodbye each morning when heading off to work; not so for virtual workers, who can work side by side with a work-from-home spouse or with kids who are learning in a digital classroom. By doing away with the commute time, there is more time to be spent with loved ones.

Pro: You can often do your work when you’re most productive.
When you work in an office, your schedule is rarely your own. Between the aforementioned interruptions from colleagues and meetings, plus your boss hovering nearby with agenda items and to-dos, accomplishing your focus work may be a “catch as catch can” situation, grabbing time to think and compose important reports and communications between events that others have imposed.

It’s still always essential when working from home to be mindful of your team’s needs and be available to dial in for virtual meetings. But remote employees generally have greater latitude to select their time of peak productivity to do their most important work and – depending on who else is working at home with them – have more quiet time to hone in on tasks that require concentration.

Pro: You can get more done.
A number of recent studies have confirmed the growing body of research that prove working from home can help you be more productive than you can in an office, with stats showing productivity increases of up to 77%. It makes sense when you consider the above points that you have fewer interruptions and can work when you’re at your best while working remotely.

[ READ: Work-From-Home Gift Guide. ]
Pro: You can save money on your work wardrobe.
In addition to saving drive time and gas expenses, the work-from-home crowd can generally save on clothing costs as well. While you may need to have professional garb at the ready for video calls (at least for your top half on camera), most who work from home have more freedom to wear what they want while they work.

Pro: The ability to live where you want to.
While some employers have restrictions about where you can live as a remote employee and may change your pay according to the area you reside in, a huge perk of the remote life is the ability to choose your location without needing to worry about a daily commute. Even if you’re in a hybrid role or need to make occasional visits to the office for meetings, if you don’t need to drive in each day, you have a wider range of possible places to settle besides right near the office.

Cons of Working From Home
Con: No physical separation between work and leisure time.
Con: Easy to misread cues via electronic communications.
Con: You have to make the effort to get a change of scenery.
Con: Less in-person contact with co-workers.
Con: You are not on-site for in-office perks.
Con: You have to be more self-motivated.
Con: Some bosses may be biased against those who aren’t in the office.
Con: No physical separation between work and leisure time.
Many who work from home lamented that they often find themselves working around the clock, since their labor has no definite start or end times; those lines can often be blurred. As a result, they sometimes feel as if they are always at work, making it difficult to shift to the post-work relaxation mode that many office workers take for granted.

The absence of an obvious division between the personal and professional realms means some remote workers get distracted by housework. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is important when you’re working from home.

Con: It’s easy to misread cues via electronic communications.
While few who work from home expressed feeling “lonely,” as is typically assumed, many did point to the difficulty of getting the tone right through digital communication systems, such as email, chat, social media and text. Without body language, facial expressions and other cues, remote employees have to put in extra effort to maintain positive communications.

Con: You have to make the effort to get a change of scenery.
What can be a blessing can also become a curse in the form of cabin fever. Some freelancers and others who work from home lamented that where they work during the day is the exact same place where they’ll be sitting later that evening; getting involved in their work often translates to spending a huge portion of the day indoors. Pre-pandemic, many stressed the importance of scheduling lunches and other meetings to keep them in the mix and avoid the rut of never leaving the house.

Con: There is less in-person contact with co-workers.
While you may have more time with loved ones when working from a home office, the flipside is less opportunity for face time (minus a screen) with people at your company. If your co-workers drive you crazy, then reduced time on-site might be a perk for you. But if you enjoy office-based camaraderie and like to be able to socialize with your team in person, then the remote life might make you miserable.

Con: You are not on-site for in-office perks.
You can’t swing by the break room and grab a doughnut or hit the company gym if you’re working from home. This may be more of a disadvantage for workers in industries such as tech, with impressive on-site offerings like game rooms and chef-made food among their company benefits. If there’s a perk you like about being in the office, then working from home may make you miss it.

Con: You have to be more self-motivated.
If you’re the type of person who procrastinates working unless a boss is breathing down your neck, then you might find yourself underperforming in a work-from-home role. Remote workers have to motivate themselves to get the job done, which puts more onus on people working from home to manage their time wisely to complete their projects, instead of having someone else setting the timelines and spurring them along.

Con: Some bosses may be biased against those who aren’t in the office.
A study by researchers at the University of California at Davis and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that “face time” – the amount of time that you’re seen at work either within normal business hours or outside of them – can affect how your boss and others perceive you at work. If you’re not in the office and others are, some managers may be either intentionally or unintentionally biased against you. You may find that your contributions aren’t noticed or appreciated as much by your team and may feel compelled to make extra efforts to keep on everyone’s radar screen.

Weighing the pros and cons of working from home has become even more important in the wake of the pandemic, since many companies are now giving their employees the option to not come back into the office. If you are given the choice to consider working from home permanently, be sure to think through each of the pros and cons of working from home to land on a solution that matches your priorities. Remote work has clear benefits, but no situation is perfect. Understanding the reasons to work from home – as well as the reasons not to – can go a long way in learning how to work from home successfully.


Thinking through the ethics of corporate journalism—before there’s a problem

Thinking through the ethics of corporate journalism—before there’s a problem
Three simple strategies that should form the basis of your content playbook.

It’s been 50 years since survey respondents famously told Oliver Quayle that they trusted a news anchor more than any candidate running for public office. At the top of their list of “most trusted” people in America was none other than Walter Cronkite, who dominated the evening news ratings for a generation. In that turbulent era, defined by the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and Watergate, people tended to trust the news media—in particular Cronkite’s deft and steady delivery—more than most other institutions.

Today, we’re witnessing another shift in public trust, this time in the perception of the news media itself. For the second year in a row, “my employer’s media” beat traditional information sources (including media and government) as the most trusted news source in the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey of 36,000 people in 28 countries commissioned by communications giant Edelman. In explaining the finding, CEO Richard Edelman reasoned that most people consider their employer’s media to be depoliticized and “honest.”

Other recent research bears this out. PwC’s Trust in US Business Survey, conducted in August 2021, found that people trust businesses as much as or more than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase in public faith has put pressure on companies to raise their game in communicating who they are and what they do. More than 75% of the 1,115 US adults surveyed in late 2021 by nonprofits Just Capital, Public Citizen, and Ceres said they wanted to see more corporate disclosures of business, social, and environmental practices, as well as the impact of those activities.

A bar chart lists the top qualities that build trust in business for consumers and employees. The highest-ranked quality is being accountable.

Such demand for clarity in the initiatives that companies are undertaking has given rise to so-called corporate journalism—a trend in which experienced writers and editors work on the inside of firms to create narrative-based, reportage-like content, often to augment broader public relations or marketing campaigns. (Strategy+business, where this article is published, can also be considered corporate journalism, produced by PwC.) When you factor press releases, blogs, and social media posts into the equation, companies can sometimes find themselves producing a lot of content without a coherent ethics strategy.

Ethical questions abound
For leaders navigating these crosscurrents, the challenge is delivering content that is fair and accurate while also advancing the interests of the organization. Though about 70% of global consumer-facing companies already have a content strategy to guide the formation of policies and practices for publishing content, many companies are still figuring out how to make their way through a thicket of ethical questions. Should an organization, for an example, proactively discuss controversies that would have been expedient to sidestep in the past? Should firms publish content that is accurate but not comprehensive, such as reporting on a corporate climate pledge that doesn’t note environmental shortcomings in other parts of the business? Should they invite opposing views and criticism? Should they openly admit and correct mistakes? And who within the organization makes the call if the audience for the content should desire information that clashes with the company’s corporate messaging?

Boston College associate professor Michael Serazio, who studies corporations’ efforts to promote themselves within traditional news formats and practices, says the profit motive is so powerful that it’s “unreasonable” to expect companies to become dependable truth tellers. “Would you trust Enron Magazine? Lehman Brothers Daily?” he asked strategy+business in an interview for this article.

Nobel laureate economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller would seem to agree, at least in terms of the motives inherent to modern companies, writing in their 2015 book, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, that “the economic system is filled with trickery, and everyone needs to know that.”

The question at the center of the debate is whether companies can thoroughly and honestly address the subject they should know best: themselves. “It’s a lot for a company to take on, but it’s doable,” author and former General Electric vice chair Beth Comstock told strategy+business. During her tenure at GE, the company hired journalists to give their content efforts more validity.

General Electric faced a public relations crisis in 2011 after the New York Times wrote that the company reported a tax benefit of US$3.2 billion in 2010 even though it had worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, including $5.1 billion from the United States. Eager to show that GE had, indeed, paid taxes, the executives debated releasing company tax returns. In the end “we shared bits and pieces,” Comstock said. “These things become so complicated.” Still, “it’s good to have the aspiration.”

But even leaders of venerable news companies become thin-skinned when they’re in the spotlight, sometimes arguing that people shouldn’t expect their organization to cover itself fairly—and wouldn’t believe the organization if it tried. Bloomberg News has a policy of not covering itself, which extended to founder Michael Bloomberg when he announced his US presidential run in 2019. Meanwhile, the movement for news organizations to hold themselves accountable with independent reader representatives or ombudspeople has largely petered out. Only a few still have such a representative, down from the 50 newspapers that had them in 1980.

In the main, corporate journalism fits a familiar pattern that also occurs when any new technology is introduced: it grows rapidly and becomes ubiquitous, and only then do companies begin to see and address the problems it creates. Though executives can’t predict the future, they can adopt a sound framework that will help them prepare for and respond to unexpected impacts. Here are three strategies that can help leaders develop a playbook based in candor.

Corporate journalism fits a familiar pattern that also occurs when any new technology is introduced: it grows rapidly and becomes ubiquitous, and only then do people begin to see and address the problems it creates.

Hire truth tellers—and listen to them. You can’t count on managers to rock the boat. Most are promoted as a reward for sticking with the company for a long time, creating a corporate culture that is inclined to avoid risks. Let the managers manage, and, separately, find some independent thinkers who know how to present information honestly, clearly, and engagingly.

It’s a tough job. “You’re never going to have the best perspective on your own organization,” ProPublica founding general manager and former president Richard Tofel told strategy+business. This is especially the case if the company is publicly traded and trying to parse securities laws’ disclosure requirements. Still, what Tofel calls “radical transparency” is “appropriate and pays real dividends” for companies with the courage to practice it. Tofel, a onetime assistant publisher of the Wall Street Journal who now, as a principal of Gallatin Advisory LLC, helps clients navigate the world of journalism, adds that “if there is a bad fact in the world, then people will eventually find it out.”

That’s why a broader ecosystem of experts and collaborators needs to be embedded into a firm’s publishing processes. Outside perspectives and expertise on fair and balanced reporting of information will go a long way toward building trust with consumers and placing societal need in line with the responsibility to grow revenues.

Engage with critics who have the public’s ear—and admit your mistakes. Few companies have the nerve to embarrass themselves in any form, let alone in their own media. For example, just 215 (23%) of 954 US companies surveyed disclosed that they conducted a gender pay gap analysis last year, according to a Just Capital study of transparency on the issue. Boards also typically swat away shareholder resolutions urging them to disclose direct and indirect payments for lobbying, even though 54 (84%) of the 64 largest institutional investors want to see it, according to the Center for Political Accountability.

It’s time to get over this reflexive secrecy and defensiveness. It’s a bad look, it’s counterproductive, and soon it might cease to be an option.

The Conference Board said that in 2021, publicly traded corporations saw “record support for shareholder proposals” calling for fuller disclosures about environmental and human capital policies, political activity, and governance decisions—and predicted the trend would “continue into 2022.” Earlier this year, the business research group said the growing public belief in stakeholder capitalism represents a “tectonic” shift driven by institutional investors that “face client pressure to invest and vote in a socially responsible manner.”

Serious critics can help a company improve itself. So why not seek them out and even give them a platform to discuss or respectfully debate their critiques, especially if those critiques are going to be heard elsewhere? Sure, some executives will object to seeing dissenting views in a company’s own media. But this is how outlets can earn an audience’s interest and trust—and distinguish their communications from mere propaganda.

Encourage question-asking. It’s hard to persuade the public to trust you if your own employees don’t. And though Edelman and others see growing public confidence in business, this faith appears fragile when you look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ reports of growing quit rates and Gallup surveys showing increasing employee disengagement.

Employee dissatisfaction is a complex problem that defies simple solutions. But one way to promote engagement and trust is to encourage employees to ask questions—the tougher the better—and then address their concerns via the company’s media channels.

Companies can do their part by assuring employees that they’re likely to be rewarded for asking relevant questions—and never have to fear that their good-faith queries will be dismissed as stupid, inappropriate, or a waste of executives’ time. Those that want to fully embrace question-asking can offer training, which is a strategy supported by the Right Question Institute, a nonprofit that encourages self-advocacy and what it calls “microdemocracy.”

Executives who promote question-asking might discover measurable benefits for their enterprises, in addition to promoting trust. At a time of fast and unpredictable change, it’s a way to ensure that people are up to date with new directions in everything from the design, building, and operation of tools to strategy, marketing, and brand storytelling. It can help to bust organizational silos. What’s more, question-asking may help companies “see things in a slightly different way, and the result of this may be new insights, new learning,” Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald note in their 2015 book, Creating a Learning Society.

Acting with integrity
Recent research points to a historic moment for businesses. Consumers, employees, and other stakeholders expect companies to earn their trust by being honest, authentic, and transparent. If mistakes happen, leaders are now expected to commit to making things right, quickly. No longer can they tell the public whatever’s expedient in the moment.

Those accustomed to viewing trust as just a metric for the success of a self-serving brand or public relations strategy ignore the recent warning signs at their peril. They may not enjoy the soul-searching that’s needed to change their mindset or the hard work required to change their strategy and culture. But as Walter Cronkite used to say each night, “that’s the way it is.”


Using trust to combat fear in teams

Many expedition leaders have discovered this over the years. American mountaineer Alison Levine talks about a situation that occurred during one of her polar expeditions. Levine thought her teammates were plotting against her because she felt she was the weakest member of the team. Instead, they were strategising how to help by lightening the load in her sled. It was only when they had a frank and open conversation that her mistrust was laid to rest and the entire team could be productive.

It can be similar in the workplace. When there is pressure to deliver results, or an unexpected threat appears, a leader can feel unease and fearfulness, which if not addressed, can then impact on how they engage with their people. Rather than passing on their own fears, it’s down to the leader to find ways to break that cycle and motivate their team differently.

When feeling under threat by the environment – people tend to close down and focus inside

Connect people to a bigger purpose
When feeling under threat by the environment – people tend to close down and focus inside. A leader needs to be aware of this and connect everyone to a common mission. Eddie Jones, Head Coach of the England Rugby Team says “to get people enthusiastic and to get more out of them, you want people to be part of something special”. And it’s the leaders’ job to communicate what that mission or purpose is. The best way to do that is to help each person in the team to understand how what they do contributes to the bigger purpose, just as President Kennedy’s visit to NASA headquarters showed when he asked a young man cleaning the floor, what his role was at NASA. The young man replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”. More recently the CIPD report post-pandemic reinforced the importance of senior managers being more visible and reinforcing the connection with organisational goals. Helping people to transcend their day-to-day challenges is a vital leadership skill to keep maintaining motivation.

Discomfort may not last forever
A leader should also remind others that nothing lasts forever. It’s human nature for any of us to tolerate a certain level of discomfort if we know it’s not going to be permanent. Leaders would be wise to remember this human trait and to give their team some sort of timeline and additional perspective. Author Suzy Welch used the 10-10-10 approach to inform decision-making, (how will this be in 10 hours, 10 days, 10 years) and in her book explains that people do not habitually assess outcomes and consequences, and therefore do not act rationally all the time. It’s often stress that impacts decision making, therefore, to engage and motivate teams, a practical tool which gives a timeline for thinking ahead can allay fears and increase a willingness to tolerate discomfort in the short term, knowing it is not going to continue with no end in sight.

Encourage teams to become familiar with the unfamiliar
Finally, a leader should train their people to become familiar with the unfamiliar which requires conscious practice. Neuroscientists today report that people are conscious of only a very small part of their brain activity, so most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behaviour are being undertaken by the part of the brain that is operating unconsciously. That means it takes effort to become used to the unknown, the atypical, or the unfamiliar. One way to do this is a simple exercise of ‘yes…and…’. Those who are skilled in the field of improvisational comedy may already use this approach which suggests that a person should accept what another has said, and then add to it, expanding the thinking for all parties involved.

When teams are experiencing danger or a hostile environment, the tendency will be to close down and limit thinking, whereas the opposite is really what’s needed. Matthew Syed describes it in his book Rebel Ideas, whereby the power of thinking differently is what enables teams to see beyond what is known. Syed reminds us that catastrophic effects can occur. For example, the CIA were loath to bring greater diversity into the organisation, which skewed perceptions about how real any perceived threats were. He quotes a CIA insider who said, ‘They could not believe that this tall Saudi (bin Laden) with a beard, squatting around a campfire could be a threat to the United States of America.’

Developing the skills to motivate and engage a team to be able to thrive in uncertainty and a potentially hostile environment, requires continual practice. If a leader can communicate and inspire people to connect to a bigger purpose, help them to be prepared for change, and managing expectations about time to keep people focused, it will serve them well in calmer times too – if they ever happen.


Reviving Your Compensation Plan

ve been reading a lot lately about what Compensation will look like in the future and I remembered a project that I had once worked on. It was in Hong Kong — the Asia Pacific headquarters of a global company.

Word was the employees were not happy with their pay package. Some wanted more salary, some more medical, some more vacation, etc.

For example, one single man told me it wasn’t fair that the company decided everything about his package and didn’t ask him what he wanted/didn’t want. He wanted more vacation and would take less salary in order to get it.

I couldn’t see anything unreasonable about his request. Yes, some companies offered flex benefits — but this situation included cash compensation as well.

Most companies continue to design traditional programs based on a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead of this, what if companies changed their approach? What if they handed over control to employees to configure the amount of their own benefits, perks, and cash compensation — creating a package unique to their own personal situations.

I talked with a random sample of employees — young, old, single, married with/without children. This was a diverse group and I could see why their needs/wants might be different. The recurring theme was that they would like to have some say in how their pay package was structured.

14893672221_33f420fdd4_cLong story short — the regional Controller and I calculated the total cost of each employee’s current package. Then to keep things simple, we gave each one a pie chart with sections apportioned for each pay component and its percentage of the whole pie as well as the cost of each one.

Employees then drew their own pie charts reconfigured to show components they wanted in the future as well as the percentages of each to the total package. Since they had the total cost of their current package, the total of their new package had to match it. The company wanted employees to have at least some medical and life insurance coverage so there was a minimum level for these benefits that had to be included. Everything else, the employee decided.

As we went through this process we saw several positives that we hadn’t anticipated. Getting employees involved accomplished several things:

1) Employees became aware of the total cost of their package — not just the cash portion. Traditional “benefits statements” are fine, but this was different. Just seeing their package was not as good as knowing they could change it.

2) They talked at length among themselves about the ramifications of choosing greater/lesser amounts of each available component they could “flex.”

3) Compensation and benefits became transparent and employees gained a better understanding of how Compensation worked.

The result? The best communication of compensation and benefits the company could ever have hoped for.

Unsophisticated? No doubt — but it was a start. Administrative burden? The Controller was willing to take on the extra work. It helped that the number of employees was only ~40. Best practice? This became the best practice for THEIR company.

I’m not aware of any formal research that’s been done on this approach but is that really important? If it works, isn’t that the real test? Besides research studies can’t keep up with the pace of business today. Companies have to be nimble and quick to change course. Compensation needs to be too. Waiting for research to tell you if a practice is OK will leave you behind in the dust.

We have an increasingly diverse and young workforce that has different values and work-life issues. Getting free Friday lunches is great, but some employees would rather work through lunch in order to leave the office early to spend more time with family.


Leading the Overly Self-Critical Employee

“She’s hard on herself, but it’s because she demands excellence. ” “The team is relentless in their pursuit of perfection.” How many times have you heard others – or said something similar – and meant it as a compliment? When employees demand perfection of themselves, there’s a fine line between healthy striving and self-defeating perfectionism. As with all things related to leadership communication, there is a nuance to providing this praise. And if you’re not aware of it, you may be doing more damage than good. Read on to learn more about employees who are “hard on themselves” and what you as a leader can do if their self-criticism is starting to impact their mental wellbeing and productivity.

High-Performing Employees: When is Perfection “Too Much”?
It probably comes as no surprise to you that there are “healthy” types of perfectionism and not-so healthy versions. Striving for improvement is a worthy goal and is a “healthy” type of perfectionism. As a leader, you want people on your team who set high standards for themselves and achieve their goals.

However, say experts, too much focus on perfection can swing the pendulum into unhealthy territory. Psychologists call this maladaptive perfectionism. Signs that your employee may have an unhealthy relationship with their quest for perfection:

An excessive preoccupation with controlling outcomes
Fear of making mistakes
Constantly asking for reassurance
What, then, is the “secret sauce” of striving for excellence? How can you, as a leader, encourage people to do their best without heaping extra pressure on the already self-critical employee? Turns out there’s an important combination of traits that set apart the confident and resilient individual from the counterproductive perfectionist.

[Related: Is Your Perfectionism Working For Or Against You?]

It’s Good To Be Confident (Even Better To Be Self-Compassionate)
You’ve probably noticed that your most confident employees are also among some of your most productive and satisfied. But have you ever encountered an employee who seems confident on the outside, but yet in conversation, they reveal hyper-criticism of their successes? It’s like no matter how much they succeed, they’re still not satisfied. Or, they fall apart when a project suffers a set-back and they assign a disproportionate amount of blame to themselves.

It would seem that confidence would be a leading indicator for success at work, but it turns out that the true people equation is “confidence +self-compassion = workplace success.”

According to studies by Dr. Kristin Neff, a noted researcher in the field of self-compassion, it’s those employees who have both confidence and the ability to “cut themselves some slack” after experiencing failure who are the most able to handle the stresses of their everyday work life.

If you’re noticing that a team member is being highly self-critical – and spinning in a cycle of blaming themselves – it’s time for you to step in as a leader and coach them.

Ways To Help Employees Who Are Overly Self-Critical
So, how to help an employee who is talented, but experiencing a bout of overly self-critical behavior? It’s not enough to say, “quit being so hard on yourself”; you need to help them build skill and perspective for when life hands them a bummer. And one of the best ways to do this is to help employees realize the degree to which the “stories” they’re telling themselves are getting in the way of their progress.

Acknowledge The Critic. We all have an inner critic that evaluates our actions. So it’s important to validate with your employee that “The Critic” shows up for all of us. Help them see that it’s how we handle this voice of doubt determines if we continue to ride the struggle bus or are able to bounce back.

What are Their Stories? Humans make sense of the world by carrying on an inner monologue about their observations, experiences and interactions. These “stories” in our heads seem like the absolute truth. But in reality, there are many ways to view the world. And a great leader helps people see alternate narratives that can guide people out of discouragement and into hope.

Encourage your employee to harness the power of the “champion” and “editor” voices in their heads as a way to manage their inner critic.

The champion is our internal cheerleader and says things like, “you have handled tough situations like this in the past” and “you’ve got this!”
The editor looks for unhelpful statements like, “you really blew this project” or, “there goes my chance for that promotion” and reframes them with more realistic assessments such as, “It’s true that I screwed up; and I’m going to do what it takes to get back on track” or, “Am I really the stupidest person on the planet right now? No, I made a mistake.”
Help Them Take a Step Back. To gain perspective, sometimes we need to step outside of ourselves. If an employee is really stuck in the shame/blame cycle, it might be helpful to suggest this exercise from Dr. Nef – imagine you are comforting a colleague who is feeling badly about a mistake they made at work. What would you say to them? This “what would you say to a friend?” exercise helps people gain distance from their situation. It helps mitigate what psychologists call “catastrophizing” – the tendency to take small errors and blow them out of proportion.

Encouraging employees to have self-compassion isn’t letting them off the hook for their mistakes and miscues. It’s about encouraging a healthy mindset to rebound from setbacks so they can build resilience and move on to a more productive work life. As this article from the BBC highlights, science indicates that building emotional resilience in the form of self-compassion improves health and productivity. And that’s a win for leaders and employees alike.


Consumer Streaks Are Motivating – The Key Is Keeping Them Alive

People often go out of their way to repeat a behaviour if it is logged and highlighted to them.

If you’ve ever played Wordle, learned a new language on Duolingo, or worked out with Peloton, you may be familiar with daily app notifications that nudge you to keep at it – or risk breaking a streak of consecutive efforts. Do you or do you not heed the clarion call?

If you do, you are in good company. Consumers, our latest research shows, are more likely to continue doing something when their recent repetition of that behaviour is logged and highlighted to them – as many apps are programmed to do these days. Conversely, when consumers are made aware of the fact that their streak is broken, they are less likely to keep up the behaviour.

In fact, we discovered that consumers go to great lengths to maintain these “streaks” because they deem it to be a meaningful goal in and of itself, independent of what they hope to achieve – keeping fit, learning a new language, etc. – from repeating the behaviour in the first place.

Our findings suggest ways for both businesses to better leverage technology to keep customers coming back, as well as for consumers to motivate themselves to pursue desirable goals. Organisations could also improve efforts to increase employee engagement and motivation.

Streaky behaviours

As app users ourselves (who isn’t?), we were struck by how streaks – defined in academic research as behaviours repeated at least three times consecutively – have taken a life of their own. For example, if we make a consistent effort to, say, learn French or try a different wine every day, and that streak is broken because we get busy or the app fails to ping us, it can be pretty demotivating. We may very well lose interest in learning French or wine sampling as a result. Not surprisingly, people often go out of their way to keep their streaks alive, as teenagers obsessed with their Snapchat streaks would tell you.

We theorised that the crucial factor might have something to do with whether streaks are recorded or not. Companies increasingly track and highlight streaky behaviours, dishing out badges and icons to spur app users to keep up with targeted behaviours, yet there has been little research on what impact such monitoring might have on consumer decision making. Does it draw them in and keep them hooked? Should firms downplay broken streaks when they invariably happen, be it a result of user fatigue or technical fault?

To find out, we conducted seven experiments with more than 4,000 participants on how highlighting consumers’ recent behaviour patterns could affect their subsequent engagement in those behaviours. In one experiment, we collected data from a university fitness programme, and in the others, we simulated real-life consumer interaction with apps in the popular domains of exercise, language learning and games.

Across our studies, we found that participants were much more likely to engage in a target behaviour when their intact (versus broken) streak was highlighted via an app’s behavioural log, even when their previous actual behaviour was exactly the same. For example, in one study, all participants did the same three strength exercises and successfully logged them in an app. They then completed a fourth strength exercise, but some were told that this final exercise was not logged.

What happened next was telling: More participants engaged in another strength exercise, rather than switch to a different type of exercise, when they had an intact streak rather than a broken one (66.23 percent vs. 57.86 percent). Even though all participants were well aware that they had in reality completed four consecutive strength exercises, simply having that series of behaviour framed as an intact vs. broken streak within the app’s behavioural log influenced their subsequent behaviour.

Notably, in another study, we found that the effect of intact vs. broken streaks was amplified when participants felt personally responsible for breaking a streak rather than attributing it to an external factor (e.g. app malfunction). And, in a different study, we found that the effect was diminished when participants were given an opportunity to repair their streak.

In fact, simply logging a series of behaviours can itself affect consumers’ subsequent decisions to engage in that behaviour. We tested this by having participants attempt to learn Portuguese and/or Hawaiian language via an app under development. Participants with an intact streak in answering Portuguese questions were much more likely to continue when their recent streak was highlighted via the app than when it was not. Conversely, participants with a broken streak were less likely to persist when their broken streak was highlighted compared to when it was not.

Streaks apparently have an impact beyond influencing behaviour. We found that participants with an intact logged streak felt a greater sense of accomplishment than participants whose activity was not logged at all or who had a broken logged streak. They were also more likely to continue using the app and recommend it to a friend.

Indeed the desire to maintain streaks is so strong that almost half of participants were willing to engage in an undesirable activity, such as watching an advertisement, to maintain their streaks or repair their broken streaks.

Implications for companies

Our research is the first to demonstrate that the journey, rather than the destination, often becomes a goal in and of itself. People tend to become very attached to the process of achieving a specific result, which streaks essentially chronicle. They see their perseverance in the process as a sign of self-efficacy deserving of pride and accomplishment.

Our findings offer several takeaways for companies in terms of both consumer and employee engagement.

Consumer engagement

Companies might want to avoid highlighting consumers’ broken streaks, for example by not sending notifications to alert them when they break a streak – a surprisingly common practice in many apps. It may also be a good idea to define streaks more broadly, such as allowing several exercises or games to count towards a streak, rather than confining streaky behaviour to a single type of activity. Companies might want to be more flexible in delineating streaks – counting weekly rather than daily behaviour, for instance.

These tweaks would help to keep consumers’ streaks intact and encourage them to stay and be engaged. But beware of defining streaks too loosely – most people need enough of a challenge to be, and remain, motivated.

How should firms mitigate the fallout when consumers inevitably break their logged streaks? Rather than allowing consumers to blame themselves, as our studies show, companies could communicate to users that they are partially responsible for the break. They could also provide consumers with opportunities to repair their streaks. For example, Duolingo allows users to buy a “streak freeze” with in-app currency so they can pre-emptively keep their streak intact if they ever miss a day of language learning.

Employee engagement

Keeping employees engaged and motivated has taken on increased urgency in the face of the Great Resignation and remote working. One solution might be to gamify motivation. An organisation that wants employees to come back to the office more often for in-person interactions might encourage employees to log their in-office days and reward staff who come in, say, three consecutive days per week for a month with small prizes.

Likewise, companies that engage gig workers, like Uber, could motivate drivers and food couriers by tracking their streaks. It could be something as simple as highlighting how many days or hours in a row the individual has been working and rewarding those who meet pre-determined thresholds with bonuses.

Freelancers or employees who work from home most days could self-motivate by using apps that monitor productivity, tracking specific behaviours that lead to a desired outcome, and creating streaks that are meaningful to them. For academics, for example, that might mean consistently putting in the work of writing research papers that would eventually be submitted to a top-tier journal or publication.


The Great Resignation

Why are so many people feeling so restless nowadays? I have noticed that friends are feeling that there is more to life than 9-5 and are itching for significant change in their lives, whether moving out of cities, looking for greater work flexibility or creating more meaning for themselves. Increasingly Business clients are asking for more help in developing strategies to retain their staff in the face of mounting demands. Are we facing a new wave of uncertainty around retention?

Clearly the signs are in front of us. The pandemic has thrown up issues that have been simmering beneath the surface for a while. Working from home, previously granted in exceptional circumstances, has now become normalised and there is more anxiety coming into the office. Evidence suggests that for many organisations productivity has not been affected, and in some cases increased. Counter that with businesses wanting to bring staff back to the office to build teams and release creativity.

Pressure from the government to revive city centres and breathe life back into dormant towns. Recently Jacob Rhys Mogg issued attendance tables for each civil service department in a bid to galvanise cabinet ministers into action. Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee, added support by saying “It is simply unacceptable for so many of our public servants to continue sitting at home.”

Are we witnessing a re-writing of the psychological contract between employer and employee? Specifically, the balance of power has shifted in many industries away from the employer towards the employee – they are voting with their feet. Statistics prove this: –

UK labour force survey – over one million people changed roles in the same industry between July and September 2021
Ranstad survey – 69% of people are confident about finding a new role
This has resulted in headlines such as ’The great resignation’ and provided energy in organisations to focus on retention. These include:

Strengthening the employee journey from attraction to onboarding
Reviews of the Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
Developing new policies related to hybrid working and the value of diversity and inclusion
Investment in leadership development, especially concerning empathetic conversations, diversity and inclusion and building psychological safety – aimed at creating meaningful leadership conversations. This is supported by engagement surveys which identify how pivotal the line manager/employee relationship is to retention
Creating new purpose which people can connect with, shifting with the current themes of sustainability, environment, and compelling values.
I leave you with this consideration: “What actions are your organisation taking to retain your valued staff?”


Generations in the Workplace: Understanding Ageism

“Ageism is the last acceptable prejudice in America,” said TV personality Bill Maher many years ago. Maher has railed against ageism when it comes to dismissing older Americans. He often reminds viewers that the United States puts too much emphasis on youth.

“You’re beautiful when you’re young,” he has said. “You’re wise when you’re old.”

WATCH: DEI: Create a Culture of Belonging

As Human Resources leaders aim to get four generations to work together in harmony, they should be aware of the different types of ageism that exist and how to be inclusive and equitable with employees regardless of their age.

What Is Ageism?
To begin, HR professionals must understand that ageism is a type of discrimination based on the number of years a person has lived. Young people could certainly be discriminated against, too. Just think of all the stereotypes that elders have perpetuated about Gen Z and Millennials. Making blanket statements about people, based on their generation alone, could be seen as discriminatory. Assumptions about their skills and talent could prevent them from gaining opportunities or could prevent them from fitting in.

However, in the United Staters, older people tend to be the victims of ageism. Americans, after all, put a premium on youth. In the workplace, this can lead to colleagues treating them disrespectfully, ignoring their input, failing to include them, or even forcing them to retire or laying them off.

Ageism for Generations
Now that there are four generations in the workplace, HR leaders must educate people about how their language and behavior can be more inclusive and collaborative. For example, a veteran professor at a top business school recently lamented on LinkedIn that people constantly ask him when he is going to retire. He was insulted. He expressed that others should recognize the wisdom and experience he brings to the job and how that enriches his teaching and research.

The World Health Organization warns about how damaging ageism can be:

“Ageism can change how we view ourselves, can erode solidarity between generations, can devalue or limit our ability to benefit from what younger and older populations can contribute, and can impact our health, longevity, and wellbeing while also having far-reaching economic consequences.”

Types of Ageism
In further pursuit of understanding ageism, HR professionals should consider the different kinds of discrimation committed because of age. Different websites classify the types of ageism in slightly different ways. Here are the three types named by Medical News Today:

Institutional Ageism
This is when an organization or institution systemically discriminates on the basis of age. In other words, it’s built into the workplace culture. Frankly, not hiring older people or failing to promote them could be examples of this kind of ageism. It’s baked into the organization’s DNA from the start, and it undermines the diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy that most companies claim to have.

Interpersonal Ageism
If someone discriminates against a colleague in a social situation, then they are committing interpersonal ageism. For instance, when Harry from accounting starts poking fun at an elder colleague by referencing his need for a cane or being over the hill at the holiday party, he is committing interpersonal ageism.

Internalized Ageism
Probably the worst kind, internalized ageism references the fact that people often internalize beliefs and then apply them to themselves. So, an older person who feels as though he can no longer throw his hat in the ring for a promotion because of his age would be an example.


Making Humanitarian Operations More Sustainable

Do good intentions always lead to good outcomes? Experience shows that the lack of coordinated response can lead to future humanitarian and sustainability challenges.

Humanitarian operations take place in challenging contexts. When a minute can make a difference between life and death, stakeholders from international donors to local communities are hard pressed to make decisions quickly, often with poor information and constrained budgets.

In the Ukraine crisis, while temporary homes for refugees were quickly found in European countries, the need for more sustainable semi-permanent solutions becomes clear as the crisis wears on. Households that were quick to welcome refugees in times of crisis may not be able to host them for more than a few months. Beyond a roof over their heads, refugees need jobs and schools, among other needs, to get back on track. Moreover, given how quickly refugees have been matched with hosts, mismatch can happen and they might even end up worse off (e.g. subjected to harassment or trafficking). The lack of preparedness means that solutions – which are not necessarily sustainable – have to be improvised along the way.

More often than not, the immediate post-disaster emergency portrayed in the media are but the tip of the iceberg. In addition to addressing short-term needs to relieve acute suffering, humanitarian operations must balance the long-term need to sustainably recover and to strengthen local communities. In reality, humanitarian crises last more than nine years on average.

But does sustainability stand a chance in the face of the urgency of disaster response?

Is there room for sustainability?

Sustainability, as defined in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), covers a range of economic, social and environmental factors. Thankfully, there is growing awareness that it is fundamentally impossible to meet the SDGs if some people are left behind. In fact, the “humanitarian-development gap” has been recognised for decades.

Since the mid-1990s, the fields of humanitarian operations and sustainable operations have formed the cornerstone of my research agenda. This culminated in a workshop in 2019 on “How can we make humanitarian operations more sustainable?” as I transitioned to emeritus professor. The workshop, co-organised with Charles J. Corbett from UCLA Anderson School of Business and Alfonso J. Pedraza-Martinez from the Kelly School of Business, brought together over 100 academics, logistics practitioners in humanitarian organisations (HOs) and sustainability managers from industry.

During the workshop, we demonstrated how sustainability could be better integrated into humanitarian operations in spite of the tension between immediate and long-term needs.

Given that humanitarian operations span the entire disaster management cycle, HOs can – and have to – operate in more sustainable ways in each phase of the cycle. This requires stakeholders, including HOs, donors, and watchdog organisations to think differently.

New perspectives make a world of difference

In the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the influx of donated bottled water created mountains of plastic bottles that cluttered drains and caused flooding after heavy rains. How did good intentions go so wrong?

Haiti’s experience highlights the importance of better alignment of humanitarian and environmental imperatives. At the core of this problem is material convergence – when an avalanche of in-kind donations arrive on site in the aftermath of a disaster. Better logistical coordination among HOs could have prevented the “second disaster” in Haiti.

In most disasters, water is critical only during the first two or three days before quickly becoming a low-priority item. The Pan-American Health Organization classifies donations as either urgent, high priority, low priority or non-priority. With this knowledge and with better coordination, improving material convergence can lead to reduced waste.

Ideally, donors would not contribute not donations in-kind, but cash that HOs can use to purchase the most-needed relief items. In the next best scenario, logistical support could prevent non-priority items from entering the disaster area, such as by sorting the items in the donors’ home countries before shipping. There would be an appropriate level of coordination that ensures that relief items are sent to a specific receiving organisation, with a bill of lading, or cargo list, detailing the items in the package. Relevant local information from the disaster area could also ensure that priority items are in the most appropriate packaging, such as water in 10-litre bottles instead of small bottles.

Long-term vs short-term perspectives

Better planning and coordination cannot happen if stakeholders do not recognise that rather than a single event, the entire humanitarian operation – as detailed in the disaster management cycle – consists four phases: preparedness, response, rehabilitation and mitigation.

First, funders need to recognise that most funding systems pose a barrier to capacity building in the longer term. When donors earmark funds for emergency response, the same funds cannot be used for long-term investments such as improving coordination between local and global HOs. Unfortunately, such investments in preparedness are typically categorised as overhead and hence frowned upon by potential donors. Overcoming these barriers requires discussion with local communities, HOs, local governments, international donors and other stakeholders.

At the operational level, HOs need to recognise the importance of pivoting to a different time-scale when needed. During the Ebola virus outbreaks, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) operating model was designed to stop the outbreak within three months, but the Ebola virus programmes became longer and the operating model must change. Initially, the WHO rented 600 vehicles, but buying them might have been wiser and acquiring motorcycles would have helped them to reach rural areas with no paved roads more efficiently.

In fact, merging supply chains for short-term emergency response and long-term operations has enabled the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to expand its global warehouse network while reducing cost and lead time. This involves allowing stocks earmarked for long-term operations to be used in emergencies, and for stocks left over from emergencies to be used in longer-term operations. While this fruitful endeavour has led to both cost and time efficiency, it requires close collaboration between relief and development operations.

Global vs local

When disaster strikes, HOs do not always adequately include local communities even when these communities have invested in disaster preparedness. In fact, local knowledge is key to ensuring sustainability. A great deal of work remains to be done to improve coordination between global HOs and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

For global HOs to work more effectively with local HOs, they must accept that the people who live in a disaster area know the local conditions best. For example, dark bread was shipped internationally to Albania, which was not favoured by the local population. For months, international humanitarian workers were eating dark bread at every meeting to avoid throwing them away.

The voices of beneficiaries must be heard to implement sustainable solutions that respect their culture and dignity. Local volunteers are also immediately operational and familiar with the context, as we have seen in the Ukrainian crisis.

“Local or global” must again be addressed in procuring the necessary relief items. Although local procurement might be more sustainable, it is often stymied by the effectiveness of the global machinery. Using local procurement would require better interfaces between local and global organisations that operate using different technologies.

The more standardised offering by global HOs would reduce the need for coordination and detailed information, which could result in more efficient response. However, if disaster response is too standardised, it may not match local demands and would create more waste. Greater adaptation to local needs means that items are earmarked for specific populations, which reduces the flexibility achievable by pre-positioning supplies. This trade-off between the benefits and disadvantages of standardisation remains an important topic for operations management research.

Navigating trade-offs for sustainability

In many ways, tough trade-offs are required if sustainability is to be integrated in humanitarian response. At the end of the day, a key deterrent is cost. How should short-term and long-term damage and costs be measured and compared?

Sustainability in humanitarian operations involves diverse stakeholders, ranging from global donors to local beneficiaries. Stakeholders need to think differently about the balance between short-term and long-term interventions and the role of local vs. global organisations. At the same time, their decisions and action are often driven by their own metrics and incentives. Therefore, it is important that they set the appropriate metrics and incentives with a long-term perspective, such that they do not miss the woods for the trees.

While carbon footprint is a key measure of sustainability in supply chains, other environmental aspects may be more relevant in the humanitarian setting. There are no clear standards for measuring societal impact, even if intergenerational justice is often mentioned. There is a need for more benchmarking in the humanitarian sector, and those benchmarks can be more integrated in decision making.

Overall, when humanitarian operations are seen through the lens of the disaster management cycle, there are long-term actions that can improve their sustainability. Most of these actions must be put in place either before a crisis or during the long-term rehabilitation that follows the immediate response. It is more feasible to incorporate sustainability during preparation, rehabilitation, and mitigation than during the immediate response to disaster.