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.
The average employee spends about four hours a week getting back and forth from work. Survey data shows that for most employees, this is the most dreaded part of the work week. Cari Romm at Science of Us has a suggestion for how to make it a little more bearable: take a nap during your commute:
Step one, figure out how long your train ride takes from the moment you step on till the moment you exit. Step two, use that number to calculate what time you’ll be arriving, and set a phone alarm for a few minutes before then. Step three, stick some headphones in your ears and snooze away, unburdened by worry that you’ll miss your stop. (Note: Train riders only, for obvious reasons. Drivers, you’re still stuck with a fully conscious ride to work.)
The beauty of the commuting nap is that it takes one of the most hated ways to spend time (commuting) and replaces it with one of the most beloved (sleeping). It’s difficult to overstate just how much a long commute — especially one spent entirely awake — can negatively impact a person’s quality of life: People who suffer through it each day tend to have more stress, lower well-being, and even rockier marriages; commuting beat out house cleaning and even work itself in a survey of the most happiness-draining activities.
For those of us who commute by train or bus and can manage it, taking a nap does seem like a good idea. Estimates are that 50 to 75 million people in the US are sleep deprived, and this has real consequences: It hurts performance, lowers our emotional intelligence and makes us less effective leaders.
For the millions of us who drive to work, however, the chance to nap will continue to elude us until driverless cars come along to take us to work every day. In the meantime, as Romm also mentions, the Association for Psychological Science highlights a new study suggesting another way to get the most out of our commutes:
Over the past two years, there has been plenty of focus on performance ratings—are they good, bad, or a necessary evil?—and a number of major employers have radically reformed or even discarded their rating systems in an effort to overhaul the way performance management works. At CEB, we’ve found that for all the criticism they’ve gotten, ratings do serve an important purpose in helping employees understand how their work is measured and where they stand, and getting rid of them doesn’t actually improve performance.
With so much attention given to performance ratings, or what comes out of the back end of the performance management process, HR may be neglecting an equally important question: What are we putting into the front end of that process when it comes to goal setting? For organizations that are having trouble with performance management, the source of their frustration might be a “garbage in, garbage out” problem. In an interview at First Round Review, BetterWorks CEO Kris Duggan discusses how his company uses a technique called Goal Science Thinking to solve that problem:
It’s an approach that uses OKRs [Objectives and Key Results] as a foundation and turbo-charges them by applying human behavioral psychology, increasing engagement, and enforcing regular practice. Essentially, it leverages all the tricks and hooks we mortals use to stick to good habits — only re-imagined to help large teams stay on top of business targets. …
Everyone at the company can view everyone else’s goals. There aren’t any secrets or hidden agendas. Hierarchy has been banished — allowing direct reports to view their manager’s goals and even those of managers on completely unrelated teams. Interestingly, BetterWorks found that people view their supervisor’s goals 20% more often than their own. Obviously there’s appetite for this kind of knowledge and transparency. In older, more traditional systems, this wouldn’t have been possible. Only managers could have reviewed reports’ goals down through the chain of command.