The digital age has its pros and cons for the workforce. Technology provides employees with faster, easier access to information and data. It also allows for greater personalization and more interaction between employee and employer. Yet the digitalization of the workplace does have its downsides. Consider smartphones, for example: They can be alternately distracting and distressing; they can create barriers to action like information overload and decision fatigue, as well as work-life balance issues stemming from an “always-on” mentality.
Some managers, frustrated with the ubiquity of these devices and their ability to distract employees, are banning phones from meetings or otherwise limiting their use in the workplace, the Wall Street Journal’s John Simons wrote in a feature last week. Simons points to studies indicating that executives and managers consider smartphones “the leading productivity killers in the workplace” and that the presence of a phone can harm people’s cognitive performance, even when they are not using or holding it. He also notes Google’s recent announcement that the next version of its Android operating system will introduce a feature enabling users to see how much time they spend on their phones, which apps they use the most, and how often the phone gets unlocked.
Our recent research at CEB, now Gartner, also underscores these downsides of technology at work. While solutions to help employees minimize time wasted on tech, like Google’s forthcoming Android time tracker, might be helpful, our research suggests that no technological intervention can have a meaningful impact on employee performance or the employee experience by itself. The limitations are striking, given the large investments organizations (and HR functions in particular) are making in technology to support employees. But the challenges employers face are human and organizational, not just technological—and the same must be true of any solution.
Despite the #MeToo movement bringing the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace to the forefront of the public consciousness in the US and around the world, a recent survey from the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence finds that most American workers don’t see their employer taking new action to prevent or stop it. The association gives an overview of the survey at Phys.org:
Only 10 percent of U.S. workers said their employer has added more training or resources related to sexual harassment since the recent increased media and public attention on this serious workplace problem. Just 8 percent said their employer implemented a more stringent policy related to sexual harassment, and only 7 percent reported that their employer hosted an all-staff meeting or town hall to discuss sexual harassment.
Research has shown training to recognize and report sexual harassment isn’t enough to change employee behavior or a workplace culture where harassment is more likely to occur. Instead, psychologists recommend a comprehensive approach that incorporates fair policies that are clearly communicated, ongoing training, leadership support of a civil and respectful culture, and the hiring and promotion of women into senior leadership roles.
It is certainly easy for companies to fall back on training as a solution when their main concern is mitigating liability. However, sexual harassment training is arguably better than no response at all; at the very least, it acknowledges that sexual harassment exists and signals to employees that the organization does not intend to simply sweep it under the rug. Without that acknowledgment from an organization and its leaders, by comparison, employee morale and confidence in the organization’s ability or willingness to handle harassment can suffer greatly. This can send organizations into a self-destructive feedback loop: Lack of acknowledgement and action from leadership discourages employees from reporting, which causes leaders to believe that their organization doesn’t actually have a harassment problem. This makes the fallout all the more damaging when it eventually comes to light that they were wrong.
In a white paper my colleague Lori Lipe and I are currently writing, we look at some of the beliefs that hinder employees from reporting sexual harassment. What we are seeing is that employees’ perception of whether harassment is actually taken seriously at the organization factors heavily into their consideration of the costs and benefits of coming forward. In our latest Global Labor Market Survey, CEB, now Gartner, found that employees are significantly less likely to report when there is a gender imbalance at the top management team, particularly when it is male-dominated. This perception likely stems from the skepticism that male leaders may not take harassment as seriously and therefore dismiss accusations or be unmotivated to pursue justice. This relationship is also evident in the findings of the APA survey:
It’s impossible to hide from your coworkers. Whether you work in the office, from home, or at a coffee shop, any of your colleagues can instantly interrupt (and perhaps ruin) your day with a “tap on the shoulder” thanks to a plethora of communication technologies. At Bloomberg BNA Last week, Genevieve Douglas highlighted some new data illustrating the negative impact this constant onslaught of communication is having on a growing number of employees. Many are either missing critical information they need, or are considering changing employers to get away from the deluge of chatter and information.
Douglas points to a survey published in March by the communications software provider Dynamic Signal, in which half of respondents said they felt overwhelmed by the proliferation of these tools and pressured to use multiple platforms. A third of the employees surveyed said they were so stressed out by the state of communication in their workplace that they were ready to quit because of it.
Having personally tracked the reasons why employees quit with my colleague Brian Kropp for over a decade, I’m skeptical that employees will really quit because of poor communication alone. However, our latest research does substantiate the claim that providing employees with “on demand access” to information and HR solutions through more channels and new technology platforms really does hinder their performance.
Business leaders are aware of this problem of communication overload and looking to address it proactively, Natalie McCullough, general manager of MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics at Microsoft, told Douglas. When it comes to enabling employee collaboration through technology, our new research points to a useful rule of thumb: If you want to improve employees’ performance and experience at the same time, focus less on providing new ways for them to communicate and more on enabling them to act.
Adding a communication channel should not lead to more communications, but rather better communications that are ‘effortless’ to process and use. This, paradoxically, requires employers to restrict the sharing of information and communicate in ways that nudge employees to act. We call this “guided action.”
Although our research at CEB, now Gartner, has found that organizations with flexible working programs realize an increase in employee engagement and productivity, the stigma against flexible work persists and employees often fear that their colleagues and managers will question their competence or commitment if they ask for parental leave or remote work options.
In a recent piece at the Harvard Business Review, Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup offered some suggestions for how to mitigate this challenge. The authors recommended that workforce policies be designed in a way that is wholly inclusive, from parents who have to pick up their children from daycare to employees who have to tend to their sick grandparents. Although people’s reasons for needing flexible work arrangements can differ, they write, organizations should adopt a clear set of principles for managing that flexibility and ensure that it is fairly applied regardless of the reason.
Williams and Multhaup’s ideas for creating an inclusive policy are sensible, but the problem remains that organizations often don’t promote their flexible work policies effectively. In fact, our research indicates that flexible work practices are underutilized even by employees who value flexibility. In order to better enable workers to take advantage of these options, managers need to create an environment where they are not only used, but encouraged.
From our research at CEB, now Gartner, we know that most mergers and acquisitions are not clear successes. As with other forms of major enterprise change, there are many possible reasons why two companies might fail to integrate: culture clash, product mix-ups, stalled growth, complex technology integrations, and so on. According to INSEAD professor Quy Huy, another reason M&A can fail is because the communication plan is overly positive and too frequently impersonal.
Huy believes that part of the problem is what he calls the “trap of professionalism,” a symptom of modern corporate culture in which negative feelings are suppressed and politeness is overvalued relative to raising constructive tensions that can improve ideas. Additionally, once disagreements bubble to the surface, the response is often more rosy messaging rather than straightforward attempts to discuss and address any issues.
Huy discovered how this dynamic of productive disagreement plays out in the context of M&A by interviewing 73 managers across both organizations involved in an acquisition. At first, both sides were excited by the possibilities of their merger. The acquirer saw value in gaining specialized expertise within its walls and the acquired company was excited about having the resources to take on more ambitious projects. But tension quickly arose, initially due to differences in the philosophy of each organization’s sales strategy, and later due to challenges in IT integration.
The issue wasn’t that these tensions existed, but that they were never discussed or addressed.
Microsoft has rolled out the biggest update to its Microsoft Teams collaboration software since the product was launched in late 2016, adding an array of features “allowing users to better work with apps – something Microsoft Teams accomplishes via integrations, new search and discovery features, commands, and more,” Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch:
Some of the features are, in fact, quite Slack-like. For example, Microsoft Teams now offers a way to search for apps from the new app store where you can browse by category or search by name, category or integration type – like Project Management or BI. … In Microsoft’s case, however, there’s a bit more emphasis on the apps your organization has added and assigned to you, as well as those you regularly work with.
A new “personal space” displays all the items that you’ve been assigned across your apps, like your tasks in Planner or issues in Jira Cloud, plus those from apps you’ve recently accessed, like OneNote notebooks or videos from Microsoft Stream. Microsoft even added its own new app called Who, powered by Microsoft Graph. This lets you search across your organization for people by name or topic. The updated version of Teams also makes it easier to launch apps.
The new update continues the feature war that has been ongoing between Teams and the startup Slack, its chief rival, over the past year: Microsoft first introduced third-party applications for Teams at its Build conference last May, while both services beefed up their features in September to compete both with each other and with new entrants to the increasingly competitive workplace collaboration software market.
Blind, the anonymous workplace community app that bills itself as a “real-time Glassdoor” and has taken the tech sector by storm, is releasing a desktop version of its native mobile app this month, Joel Cheesman reported last week, citing an app update. The application, which claims hundreds of thousands of verified users including over 30,000 Microsoft employees and 16,000 at Amazon, allows users to chat, share information, and gossip anonymously with other people at their company, about their company.
Blind started out in South Korea in 2014 and came to Silicon Valley in 2015, where it has ignited a controversy over what anonymous forums mean for both employees and employers: Like Glassdoor, Blind is a place where employees can share information (not necessarily accurate) and express opinions (not necessarily positive) without what they say getting back to their employer, but also without that employer having much opportunity to present their side of the story. It has also raised questions about data privacy and security, though Blind assures users that it takes pains to encrypt and discard user data, so that nothing they write there can ever be traced back to them through digital fingerprints, and so that no personal data will be exposed in the event of a breach.
In any case, with the desktop move, Cheesman predicts Blind “will certainly introduce the app to a lot of people who hadn’t heard of it before.” That’s obviously the idea, anyway, as a fast-growing company like Blind naturally wants to expand its user base. Cheesman is skeptical, however, that Blind’s anonymous forum will survive: