After six straight years of improving numbers in its annual job satisfaction survey, the Conference Board announced last week that more than 50 percent of US employees are happy with their jobs for the first time since 2005:
The increase in job satisfaction is largely due to the improvement in the labor market in recent years. “Workers are benefiting from historically low layoff rates, which adds to a greater sense of job security,” said Michelle Kan, Associate Director, Knowledge Organization, and a co-author of the report with Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President, Knowledge Organization and Human Capital Lead, Gad Levanon, Chief Economist, North America, and Allen Li, Associate Economist at The Conference Board. “Employees have more opportunities at other companies and more confidence in pursuing those opportunities. And, as it becomes harder to find qualified workers and retain existing ones, employers are gradually accelerating wage growth and improving other job features.”
“The US labor market will likely remain tight for most of the next fifteen years,” said Levanon. “With the massive retirement of baby boomers continuing through 2030, we expect the US labor market will be quite tight during that period, contributing to higher job satisfaction levels in the coming years.”
Despite the expectation of a continuously tight labor market, Levanon notes that US job satisfaction is unlikely to rebound to the levels seen 20 or 30 years ago, a prediction he attributes to other factors such as “the emphasis on maximizing shareholder value, declining unionization, outsourcing (both domestic and foreign) and market concentration.” While job satisfaction climbed from 49.6 percent last year to 50.8 percent this year, that’s a far cry from the 61.1 percent who said they were happy in their jobs in 1987, Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor points out.
Mel Jones believes it is. At the Atlantic on Friday, she examined why many organizations are having trouble developing successful mentorship programs, arguing that they often “don’t have the buy-in they need from executives to succeed, and many people find them to be formulaic and pointless”:
There are many problems with the existing model of corporate mentorship, says Jennifer Labin, the principal partner of TERP Associates, a firm that specializes in creating public- and private-sector mentoring programs. “Mentoring programs have become this band-aid,” Labin says. She adds that, in her experience, programs are often “thrown together by overworked, overwhelmed people who’ve never built mentoring programs.” Many people in these roles have often never even been mentored themselves, according to Labin. …
What makes this so dangerous for companies is that there is more harm to be done by bad mentorship than their is good to be done by great mentorship.
In a world of constant connectivity, it can be difficult for knowledge workers to separate themselves from their work and carve out genuine personal time. Employers can exacerbate this “always on” problem when they create an expectation that employees will respond to work-related emails at all hours simply because they can. At Quartz, Anne Quito passes along some solutions to that problem from participants in a workshop at last month’s TED conference:
The most insidious of all emails are those sent while we’re not in the office. German companies Volkswagen and Daimler AG have taken proactive measures to help employees safeguard their time off. Volkswagen’s Blackberry servers stops delivering messages after an employee’s shift and Daimler has a voluntary “Mail on Holiday” program that automatically deletes incoming messages when employees are on vacation. “As employees come back from holidays, they start with a clean desk,” explains a Daimler human resource representative to Quartz.
A manager who works in an Australia start-up says he turns his mobile phone off during the month he goes on annual leave. For bosses and clients who insist on keeping contact, he gives his out-of-office email as his out-of-office contact. “I say if you need to contact me, here’s my wife’s email address.” It’s an offer no one has ever taken, he reports. “It can be done—disappearing for weeks at a time.”
I would be in big trouble if all the emails I received while on PTO were deleted, but the off-hours struggle is real! Rather than going to such an extreme as deleting everything, something I’ve found useful in the past is setting expectations with my team about what communications will be important to send, and which are safe to omit.
At Entrepreneur, leadership consultant Matthew Wride examines trust in the workplace through the lens of a Nobel Prize-winning economics theory “on how markets operate when transactions involve asymmetrical information“:
Asymmetrical information is the enemy of trust. Unsurprisingly, trust is eroded when we believe others are withholding information or where we do not have enough information on our end to move forward with conviction. We hesitate, just like the used-car buyer who frets over whether he is getting the deal of a lifetime or a bucket of bolts and a set of blown valves, worn rings and a barely-working water pump. …
In our view, trust is best fortified and grown through expectation alignment. …
Interestingly, my firm has found that the nature of a person’s expectations is less important than whether there is alignment between the parties. Again, the used car market illustrates this point all too well. If we buy a low-priced car and it breaks down, we become less upset because “we got what we paid for.” On the other side, nothing is more frustrating that than paying top price for a late model Honda Accord, only to find yourself stuck with a costly repair bill. Just like we don’t relish surprises with our used cars, employees do not thrive when there are too many surprises at work. They prefer consistency and predictability.
This is one of several articles and studies our team has come across reinforcing the value of trust for organizational performance and highlighting the challenges of nurturing trust in today’s environment. Trust has also been a key theme in several of the best practices we’ve published in our recent research on enterprise contribution and enterprise leadership.
As part of their ongoing research into employee engagement, Gallup analyzed the factors that influence engagement and found that while “no single element is of chief importance because each organization or workgroup continuously changes … setting clear expectations may be the most foundational element”:
Only about half of all workers strongly indicate that they know what is expected of them at work. Expectations — or a lack thereof — have the power to make or break worker engagement. Even if employees feel energized and motivated, those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can’t advance key initiatives to create value for an organization.
The desire for clear expectations is a shining example of a shared need across generations, from millennials to traditionalists. All workers, regardless of age or stage in their career, want to know what’s expected of them in the workplace. And the lack of clear expectations can cause anxiety and confusion in workers.
But with clear expectations, employees thrive. For example, Gallup finds that 72% of millennials who strongly agree that their manager helps them establish performance goals are engaged. And across all generations, individuals who strongly agree that their manager helps them set performance goals are nearly eight times more likely to be engaged than if they strongly disagree with the statement.
Clear objectives and expectations are critical not only for employee engagement, but also for managing performance. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to acknowledge that setting those expectations is more challenging in today’s complex work environment, because the right answer or path forward in employees’ work is not always obvious.
By now, it is firmly established in the conventional wisdom that good leadership today is all about honesty, transparency, and even radical candor. Millennials value open and honest relationships with their bosses, so the thinking goes, and being an up-front and straightforward manager will make you more trustworthy, more respected, and ultimately more effective.
But Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer still believes “that the ability to lie convincingly may be the single most important management skill.” Writing at Fortune, Pfeffer argues that the virtues of deception are not to be discounted. Pointing to decades of research into the power of high expectations to improve performance, he stresses that leadership sometimes means convincing people that you have more faith in their abilities than you really do:
In many cases, for positive expectations to improve performance, leaders or teachers must deliver false or bogus information to the targets. If poor performers are going to improve because they are told they are expected to do great, leaders may have to say things they may not believe. …