Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, the pioneer of mindset theory, has long argued that people’s belief in inherent, unchangeable abilities and traits holds them back from personal growth and professional development. If you don’t believe you can become good at something unless you have a natural aptitude for it, her research finds, you’re unlikely to try it, much less succeed at it. In her influential book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, first published in 2006, Dweck calls this belief the “fixed mindset,” in contrast to a “growth mindset,” which believes that abilities can be developed over time through diligent work.
Recently, Dweck teamed up with her Stanford colleague Greg Walton and Yale University psychologist Paul O’Keefe on a paper that applies the same theoretical framework to passions and interests—things we are often told to find and follow, but which Dweck and her colleagues argue are developed, not discovered. In fact, Dweck and her co-authors told the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan in an article published earlier this month, the suggestion often heard by young people to find what they love to do and then do it for a living may actually be bad advice, as it discourages them from pursuing careers that don’t elicit love at first sight. In other words, it promotes the fixed mindset:
“If passions are things found fully formed, and your job is to look around the world for your passion—it’s a crazy thought,” Walton told me. “It doesn’t reflect the way I or my students experience school, where you go to a class and have a lecture or a conversation, and you think, That’s interesting. It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion in a field.”
When United Airlines announced earlier this month that it was replacing its quarterly performance bonuses with a chance for eligible employees to win prizes in a quarterly drawing triggered by reaching certain performance goals, the blowback from employees was swift and fierce, forcing the airline to quickly backtrack on the plan. By swapping out the modest quarterly bonus for a chance of up to $100,000, United President Scott Kirby had hoped to make the bonus program more exciting for employees, but the Kirby and the rest of United’s leadership misjudged how employees would react to what many saw as a cost-cutting measure that would make it harder for most of them to earn bonuses.
What happened at United can serve as a learning opportunity for other CEOs and rewards leaders, underlining the risks the come with using gamification to motivate employees. Workplace games can sometimes be more effective motivators than cash, as “winning” offers a form of social recognition that financial rewards don’t. Employees can write off losing out on a cash bonus as the price of taking it easy at work, but recognition that is visible to one’s co-workers and serves a social function can motivate them in a different way.
Gamified motivation tactics can also be cheaper and more cost-effective than extra cash, the New York Times‘ Noam Scheiber points out, even if the only prize the game offers is a compliment from the boss. United’s mistake was not in introducing a gamified element to their rewards program, per se, but rather in what it took away to make room for it. In other words, the psychological rewards of winning a competition can be motivational when they come on top of regular compensation, but they can’t be a substitute for it:
“Shareholders and management get the monetary rewards, and ‘meaning’ and ‘excitement’ are consolation prizes that go to workers,” said Caitlin Petre, an assistant professor of media studies at Rutgers University who has examined similar practices at media companies. “This is very much in line with my understanding of how the gamification trend in workplaces operates.” …
It’s not uncommon to think of cybersecurity as primarily a technological challenge, but it’s really more of a human one, Alex Blau writes at the Harvard Business Review, in that cyberattacks so frequently take advantage of human error. Most of the large-scale cyberattacks that have made headlines in the past year at some point involved someone making a mistake or exercising bad judgment and accidentally giving cybercriminals access to sensitive data. Behavioral science, Blau observes, help explain why people (including your employees) have a hard time adopting good cybersecurity habits:
One major insight from the fields of behavioral economics and psychology is that our behavioral biases are quite predictable. For instance, security professionals have said time and again that keeping software up-to-date, and installing security patches as soon as possible, is one of the best methods of protecting information security systems from attacks. However, even though installing updates is a relative no-brainer, many users and even IT administrators procrastinate on this critical step. Why? Part of the problem is that update prompts and patches often come at the wrong time — when the person responsible for installing the update is preoccupied with some other, presently pressing issue.
Blau’s insight here underscores something we discovered in our recent study of organizational culture at CEB, now Gartner. When culture change efforts fail, it is sometimes because employees are unable to manage the tension between the desired change and their day-to-day workflow. Getting employees to adopt a new habit at work means understanding the tradeoffs they need to make in order to do so, minimizing those tradeoffs as much as possible, and giving employees guidance on how to manage them. When best practices in cybersecurity (or any other area where you’re hoping to change employees’ habits) get in the way of an employee doing their work efficiently, the employees is more likely to sidestep them.
If your group health insurance plan covers your employees’ spouses, why shouldn’t your wellness program do the same? At Employee Benefit News last week, Karen Moseley reviewed some research showing the benefits of including spouses in employee well-being initiatives:
By allowing spouses to take part in well-being programs, they may drive better participation from employees. Data from the HERO Scorecard support that idea. For example:
- 28% of employees participated in lifestyle coaching if a spouse was involved, compared to 14% with no spousal involvement.
- 88% of employers reported improvements in health risk with spousal involvement, compared to 81% without.
- 70% reported positive impact on medical trend with spousal involvement, compared to 64% without. …
The benefits of including spouses in wellness efforts are not strictly financial. A 2016 Harvard Business Review survey found that 70% of participants in employee well-being programs felt the program was an indication their employers supported them. Extending wellness support to family members only strengthens that connection. Improving a spouse’s well-being might even make an employee more productive.
Our research at CEB (now Gartner) further reinforces the importance of employees’ spouses to encourage healthy behaviors. We find that spouses and partners are the biggest motivator for wellness activities such as exercise and healthy eating, and have more influence on employees’ health behaviors than doctors, nurses, or other health providers.
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Everyone would like to get paid a little more for the work they do, but is compensation the ticket to a happy workforce? Not quite, Glassdoor’s chief economist Andrew Chamberlain writes at the Harvard Business Review. Discussing a recent analysis of Glassdoor data, Chamberlain explains that he and data scientist Patrick Wong found that “the top predictor of workplace satisfaction is not pay: It is the culture and values of the organization, followed closely by the quality of senior leadership and the career opportunities at the company”:
Although money isn’t a major driver of employee satisfaction, a person’s workplace priorities do change as their income rises. For example, the culture and values of the organization explain about 21.6% of worker satisfaction in the lowest income group, but that rises to 23.4% for the highest incomes. This suggests that higher earners want their employers to share their values and create a positive company image.
Other factors whose importance rises as compensation does include the quality of senior leadership (which rises from 20.4% to 22.8% of the predictive pie as income rises) and the importance of career opportunities (rising from 17.5% to 22.8%). At higher pay levels, workers clearly place more emphasis on culture and long-term concerns like leadership and growth opportunities, rather than day-to-day concerns like pay and work-life balance.
Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace interviewed 37 of their sorority sisters from the early 90s to understand what happens to women’s ambitions in the years following college graduation, and at the Atlantic this week, they examine the career arcs of these women in a series of essays called “The Ambition Interviews.” To understand the divergent paths the women took between college and the time of the interview, they divided the group into three categories:
- High Achievers: women for whom motherhood had little influence on their career trajectory
- Opt Outers: women who left work as soon as their first child was born, and
- Scale Backers: women who moved to less demanding jobs after their first child
While not a scientifically rigorous survey, Schank and Wallace’s project sheds some light on the factors that motivate many women to drop out of the workforce after having children. Throughout the series, they investigate these women’s career trajectories to uncover the choices they made and the factors that led them to become either High Achievers, Scale Backers, or Opt Outers.
This classification of women into these three groups is an accurate way to categorize their past career trajectories. However, the fact that a woman has had a career path that reflects one of the three options does not necessarily imply that she will continue on the same path moving forward, or that men’s aspirations are static. For HR leaders, it’s important to recognize the impact an organization can have on its employees’ ambitions.
“Widely publicizing pay,” strategy professor Todd Zenger argues at the Harvard Business Review, “simply reminds the vast majority of employees, nearly all of whom possess exaggerated self-perceptions of their performance, that their current pay is well below where they think it should be.” As a result, it “unveils more than real gender-based inequities; it also fuels perceived inequities prompted by inflated self-perceptions.” So employees receiving salaries commensurate with their value to the organization feel underpaid relative to their higher-paid colleagues, which de-motivates them and makes them less productive, more likely to quit, and more likely to agitate for changes to the organization’s rewards policy:
For many years, Harvard managed the bulk of its endowment portfolio with internal Harvard employees but paid them much like fund managers employed by external investment management firms. The performance of these Harvard employees was quite remarkable during the early 2000s. As a result, some of these Harvard employees earned in excess of $30 million in yearly pay, due to performance that was truly exceptional against industry benchmarks. Their superior performance earned billions for Harvard, and all was fine until these pay outcomes became transparent to the Harvard community. This transparency set off a wave of opposition from students, faculty, and alumni alike. All efforts to justify these rewards, based on claims that payments to outside fund managers for such exceptional results would have been greater, fell on deaf ears. Harvard’s president at the time, Larry Summers, relented and flattened pay, pushing several fund managers to leave. Harvard also moved the management of a much larger share of the endowment to external fund managers, including many who had just departed Harvard. Transparency prompted lobbying for change.
Employers’ responses to these perceptions, Zenger adds, don’t tend to help employees: whether flattening pay, isolate employees with different pay patterns, or outsource those roles where pay diverges dramatically, as Harvard and other organizations have done: