What Happened When One Company Experimented with Mandatory, Scheduled Vacations

What Happened When One Company Experimented with Mandatory, Scheduled Vacations

While a growing body of research shows that taking regular vacations makes employees happier, healthier, more productive, and less likely to burn out—a win-win for the individual and their employer—getting employees to actually take vacations is still a challenge for many organizations. One proposed solution to employees’ reluctance to take breaks is to offer them unlimited leave, but critics of this approach point out that it can backfire, discouraging employees from taking time off because they don’t know how much they are really allowed or expected to take.

To correct for that tendency, some organizations offer employees incentives to take vacations, such as annual travel stipends that they must either spend on leisure travel or forfeit. Others have taken this a step further and make vacations a requirement rather than an option. To that end, Neil Pasricha and Shashank Nigam write at the Harvard Business Review about an experiment they conducted at Nigam’s small aviation strategy firm, SimpliFlying, where they required employees to take one out of every seven weeks off, on a regular schedule. Employees were strictly forbidden from contacting the office while on vacation, losing their pay for the week if they did:

After this experiment was in place for 12 weeks, we had managers rate employee productivity, creativity, and happiness levels before and after the mandatory time off. (We used a five-point Likert scale, using simple statements such as “Ravi is demonstrating creativity in his work,” with the options ranging from one, Strongly Disagree, to five, Strongly Agree.) And what did we find out?

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Is the Pursuit of Employee Happiness an Employer’s Responsibility?

Is the Pursuit of Employee Happiness an Employer’s Responsibility?

In a piece at Fast Company adapted from his forthcoming book The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzik insists that employers should not be in the business of making employees happy:

For starters, the notion that organizations should be interested in making their employees happy puts the cart before the horse. What employers truly care about (and this includes nonprofits and public agencies) is productivity, performance, and organizational effectiveness—and rightly so. It’s only because employees’ so-called engagement or job satisfaction enhances these outcomes that employers have a stake in boosting them. In fact, “engagement” is shorthand for a set of factors that are often mistaken as synonyms for “happiness. Unlike engagement, however, happiness doesn’t translate into higher levels of performance or productivity, and a relative degree of dissatisfaction will boost productivity and performance more than happiness does.

In fact, nothing of value would ever be created unless people are somewhat unhappy and therefore motivated to change their state of affairs. Long before the first Chief Happiness Officer was appointed, achievements large and small in art, science, and industry have resulted from people who’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to address their dissatisfaction with some aspect of reality. For example, successful innovators and entrepreneurs are energized by their annoyance with the status quo, and they channel their productive dissatisfaction into creating progress and change. Anyone who’s entirely contented is unlikely to innovate. With no imbalance to address, they grow complacent.

Chamorro-Premuzik’s argument here puts a fresh spin on the case against organizations attempting to maximize their employees’ happiness.

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Employee Wellbeing Really Does Drive Better Performance

Employee Wellbeing Really Does Drive Better Performance

Mark Eltringham at Workplace Insight flags a new study that solidifies the connection between employee wellbeing initiatives and business performance:

A new report published by IZA World of Labor claims that a rise in workers’ happiness and wellbeing leads to an increase in productivity. The study from economist Dr Eugenio Proto, of the University of Warwick’s Department of Economics and Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) concludes that companies would profit from investment in their employees’ wellbeing. It cites the experience of large companies that have recently highlighted the importance of employee wellbeing in their company profiles. The authors claims that, until recently, evidence for a link between employee wellbeing and company performance has been sparse and that their own study shows a positive correlation between a rise in happiness and an increase in productivity. Proto believes that finding causal links between employee wellbeing and company performance is important for firms to justify spending corporate resources to provide a happier work environment for their employees and that the available evidence suggests that companies can be encouraged to introduce policies to increase employee happiness.

CEB research also supports this link. Our 2015 Plan Design Survey, which surveyed more than 7,000 global employees, found significant relationships between wellbeing offerings and employee outcomes.

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‘Til Turnover Do Us Part

‘Til Turnover Do Us Part

At the Conversation, Irit Alony discusses a study she conducted in which she applied a method commonly used to predict divorce to predict employee turnover instead. As it turns out, she writes, unhappy employees end up quitting their jobs for reasons strikingly similar to why unhappy marriages fall apart:

Participants in this turnover study were first interviewed, and their their attitudes (like job satisfaction, commitment, intentions to quit, engagement, and burnout) were measured. A year later, their attitudes were measured again, and another year after that, the study looked at who left and who stayed. The study found that employees who left their jobs didn’t use the following coping mechanisms: they didn’t balance the good with the bad, they didn’t genuinely accept that bad things are just part of life, they didn’t avoid lengthy discussions of the negatives and they didn’t express hope. …

The predictions of employees who leave organisations in this research are very similar to predictors of divorce. Past research has shown that when there are forms of negativity in a marriage, like disappointment, withdrawal, hostility, or contempt, you know the couple is at a high risk of divorce. Couples who not only accept their struggles but even celebrate them remain happily married, and so do couples who successfully avoid conflict.

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What HR Needs to Know About Sentiment Analysis

What HR Needs to Know About Sentiment Analysis

In the brave new world of employee monitoring technology, one of the most fascinating developments is the refinement of sentiment analysis, which promises to give employers timely and accurate data about how their employees are feeling. The Atlantic’s Kaveh Waddell gives an overview of where this technology came from and where it is going:

The field—known as sentiment analysis—got its start in market research. As online reviews started to gather steam in the mid-2000s, companies who wanted to understand how their products—or their competitors’ offerings—were being received began to use algorithms to aggregate reviews, says Bing Liu, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who has written extensively about the history of sentiment analysis. The algorithmic approach could reveal broader insights than a focus groups or surveys, the thinking went. …

More recently, the corporate world has turned these same tools inward. Large companies like Accenture, Intel, IBM, and Twitter have started using the software to understand how their own employees feel about their jobs, and identify problems that might escape a harried supervisor during annual-review time. …

Sentiment analysis is far from a polished technology. “The computer’s understanding of natural language is still bad,” says Liu. “Accuracy is not very easy.” A research project that tested basic analysis tools on a trove of emails sent between developers of an open-source server software suite only had a maximum accuracy rate of 30 percent. (Interestingly, when two people tried to determine the emotions expressed in 50 emails, they could only agree on three-quarters of them, says Tourani Parastou, the main author of the research paper at Polytechnique Montréal.)

Indeed, we’re seeing a boom in start-ups and corporate analytics teams offering real-time sentiment tracking tools as part of the digital transformation of HR. Employee engagement teams, for example, are moving away from large, annual or semi-annual engagement surveys that are arduous and backward looking. Tools ranging from pulse surveys and mood trackers, to social network analysis and health monitoring, now provide a wide variety of new, on-the-go sources of data for companies to better gauge employee engagement. HR is transforming into a data and tech-savvy function, but better data is not enough for HR practitioners to fully adopt these innovations.

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Should We Manage Happiness?

Should We Manage Happiness?

The ongoing revolution in employee monitoring technology is making it possible to learn more about employees’ behaviors, habits, health, and even emotions than ever before. Between these new capabilities and the growing understanding of the connection between employee happiness, engagement, and performance, the urge to monitor and manage employees’ happiness isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

But should employers be in the business of trying to manipulate their employees’ emotions? The Economist argues “no”:

Companies would be much better off forgetting wishy-washy goals like encouraging contentment. They should concentrate on eliminating specific annoyances, such as time-wasting meetings and pointless memos. Instead, they are likely to develop ever more sophisticated ways of measuring the emotional state of their employees. Academics are already busy creating smartphone apps that help people keep track of their moods, such as Track Your Happiness and Moodscope. It may not be long before human-resource departments start measuring workplace euphoria via apps, cameras and voice recorders.

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McDonald’s Study: Age-Diverse Teams Boost Employee and Customer Happiness

McDonald’s Study: Age-Diverse Teams Boost Employee and Customer Happiness

A recent study by McDonald’s in the UK found that employees who work with peers of different generations tend to be a bit happier at work, while customer satisfaction seems to improve as well. Jo Faragher outlines the findings at Personnel Today:

In a survey of 32,000 of the restaurant chain’s employees, those who worked with a cross-section of ages showed a 10% increase in happiness levels compared with those who worked with a peer group of similar age. In a comparable poll of customers, 84% said they liked to see a mixture of ages in the restaurant team, with 60% expecting a better service as a result.

McDonald’s research also found that 58% of workers felt it was a priority to have an opportunity to work with people of different ages. This was more important for those born between 1900 and 1964 (a priority for 67%), and 16-year-olds (a priority for 57%). More than two-thirds (70%) of employees who responded to the poll expected to work with people who have different life experiences and views of the world, the research found.

Advocates of age diversity tell the CIPD’s Greg Pitcher that this survey underscores what they already know about the value of keeping senior citizens in the workforce:

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, hopes other employers will recognise the benefits of a multigenerational workforce. She said: “Research backs up the benefits of a more age-diverse workforce and also shows many older workers have no intention of taking it easy and are still looking to progress with their careers.

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