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FIRED UP or BURNED OUTHow to Reignite Your Team's Passion, Creativity, and Productivity
By MICHAEL LEE STALLARD Carolyn Dewing-Hommes Jason Pankau
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Michael Lee Stallard
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Case for Connection at Work
One of the most powerful and least understood aspects of business is how a sense of connection among people affects their success in life. Just as the wind moves trees and gravity moves objects, connection is invisible, yet has a very real effect on the behavior of people. I'm convinced that unless the people in an organization have a strong sense of connection—a bond that promotes trust, cooperation, and esprit de corps—they will never reach their potential as individuals, and the organization will never reach its potential.
Employees in an organization with a high degree of connection are more engaged, more productive in their jobs, and less likely to leave the organization for a competitor. Such employees are more trusting and more cooperative, share information with their colleagues, and therefore help decision makers reach well-informed decisions. Organizations that cultivate connection will be more innovative. Connection transforms a dog-eat-dog environment into a sled dog team that pulls together.
So what is connection anyway? When we interact with people, we generally feel that we connect with some and not with others. Connection describes something intangible in relationships. When it is present, we feel energy, empathy, and affirmation; when it is absent, we experience neutral or even negative feelings. Although we know what it's like to feel connected on a personal level, few among us understand the effect of connection on us and on our organizations.
Today's Widespread Disconnection and Disengagement at Work
The Gallup Organization has done extensive research in this area. The best measure of connection is Gallup's Q12 survey that asks questions about whether other people in your workplace care for you, help you grow, and consider your opinions and ideas. In 2002 the Gallup Organization published the results of a landmark research study in the Journal of Applied Psychology that tracked nearly eight thousand American-based business units over seven years. Business units with higher Q12 scores—in other words, higher connection—experienced higher productivity, higher profitability, and higher customer satisfaction, as well as lower employee turnover and fewer accidents.
Other studies confirm the opportunity exists to improve performance by improving employee engagement. The 2004 study by the Corporate Executive Board that I mentioned earlier concluded that the most committed employees outperform the average employee by 20 percent and are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization. A Hewitt study of fifteen hundred companies over four years showed companies with higher employee engagement realized higher total shareholder return.
Unfortunately, Gallup research also clearly shows that the lack of connection has resulted in widespread employee disengagement. Results from its Q12 survey consistently indicate approximately 75 percent of workers do not feel engaged or connected at work. The 2004 Corporate Executive Board global study of employee engagement revealed even more dismal results: 76 percent of those surveyed had a moderate commitment to their employers, and 13 percent had very little commitment.
The state of many organizations today is like that of a body builder who exercises only one arm. The result: one bulging bicep and three skinny, underdeveloped limbs. Can any body builder or organization perform at its peak with only 25 percent of its members engaged?
The Gallup Organization conservatively estimates the annual economic cost to the American economy from the approximately 22 million American workers who are extremely negative or "actively disengaged" to be between $250 and $300 billion. This figure doesn't include the cost for employees who are disengaged but have not spiraled down to the level of active disengagement.
Widespread disengagement is a waste of human talent and energy. It's not healthy for employees or employers. People don't live with this level of frustration forever. When they are able to, many will flee to greener pastures, most likely to leaders and environments that will provide the connection they need, whether to somewhere else in your organization or to your competitor.
The Urgency of Connection
Two megatrends promise to make connection even more important: the coming labor shortage and increasing globalization of labor. In the Americas, Europe, and Asia, birth rates have plummeted below worker replacement levels. When more baby boomers retire in a few years, shortages are likely in many segments of the labor market. The numbers are daunting. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a shortfall of 10 million workers by 2010. The Employment Policy Foundation projects a shortage of workers within this decade and lasting through much of the first half of this century. At its peak, it is expected that America will experience a shortfall of 35 million workers. Because workers will have so many jobs to choose from, leaders must understand the impact of the looming labor shortage. They will need to provide a workplace culture that attracts and retains employees or suffer as insufficient labor is available to meet their growth goals.
The coming labor shortage was highlighted in a lead article of the Harvard Business Review. In "It's Time to Retire Retirement," authors Ken Dychtwald, Tamara Erickson, and Bob Morison concluded, after a year-long study of the implications for businesses of the aging workforce:
Mass retirement threatens to drain talent from businesses over the next ten to fifteen years.
Businesses will need to attract and retain older workers to meet their human resource needs.
The workplace environment will need to be altered in order to attract and retain workers.
The media's coverage of this megatrend has just begun. The Wall Street Journal, Time, Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, and other thought-leading periodicals have recently featured articles on the approaching labor shortage. You can be sure that the noise level will rise to a clamor over the years ahead.
The second megatrend, the globalization of labor, will also intensify the need to engage people at work. Many areas of the economy, such as the financial capital markets, already operate in a global manner. Financial capital easily moves around the world, and the prices of financial assets in one part of the world affect prices everywhere else. Globalization is beginning to happen with labor too.
With the rise of offshoring, globalization will continue in the market for people (or human capital, as economists describe us). Technological advances such as broadband Internet connections and online collaboration capabilities have made it easier for companies to move work and jobs around the globe. China and India have already attracted a large number of jobs from other countries. As this trend accelerates, companies that want to retain jobs in their home countries will need to boost the productivity of their people or lose business to competitors that reduce prices by offshoring.
Many firms will be unprepared for the storms ahead, however. Sydney Finkelstein of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business studied cases of business failure to identify what managers can learn from mistakes of the past, and he noted that they usually knew of the developments in their industry that produced unfavorable change but failed to do anything about them. The emerging storms from disengagement, an aging population, and globalization could turn out to be issues managers were aware of but failed to act upon. To gain a performance advantage and reduce their vulnerability in the face of these issues, leaders can intentionally create a work environment that increases engagement and connection within the organization. The reward? A business that achieves sustainable peak performance including employees who are so committed to their organization that they recruit on its behalf. It can happen and will happen when you get connected and get fired up.
Review, Reflection, and Application
Connection affects our success in life. How is the level of connection in your life? How connected do you feel to your colleagues and to the organization where you are employed? Gallup research shows approximately three-fourths of Americans are not connected or engaged at work.
Gallup research also shows that business units with higher levels of engagement—in other words, a higher degree of connection—experience higher productivity, higher profitability, and higher customer satisfaction, as well as lower employee turnover and accidents.
Connection in the workplace will become even more important given the coming labor shortage and increasing globalization of labor.
So what? Increasing connection in the workplace is a significant opportunity to improve the performance of individuals and organizations.
Chapter TwoThe Science of Connection
In recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that positive human contact has a physiological effect on people. More specifically, it reduces the blood levels of the stress hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. It increases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which enhances attention and pleasure, and serotonin, which eases fear and worry. Connection also increases the levels of oxytocin and/or vasopressin that make us more trusting and helps us bond with others. In laymen's terms, connection makes us feel good. Connection provides a sense of well-being, it minimizes stress, and it makes us more trusting.
The observations of psychiatrists confirm these discoveries about connection. Dr. Edward Hallowell, a practicing psychiatrist and instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written that most business executives he encounters in his practice are deprived of connection with others, and he has stated that it makes them feel lonely, isolated, and confused at work. He believes that people in organizations with a deficiency of connection become distrusting, disrespectful, and dissatisfied. He describes these cultures without connection as "corrosive." To treat patients suffering from emotional isolation, Dr. Hallowell helps them increase connection in their lives.
Some psychoanalysts and psychologists at Wellesley College are doing work in what they refer to as "Relational-Cultural Theory." Based on years of research, they believe the lack of connection in the workplace is one reason why more and more mid-career women are walking away from successful careers. They sense that their workplace cultures are unhealthy. Because women in general tend to be more relational than men, they typically sense when the relational dynamics are less than ideal. Men seem to be less sensitive to connection and the damage done to individuals and organizations when connections are lacking or absent.
Connection Meets Basic Human Psychological Needs
Other research establishes that connection improves mental and physical health throughout our lives:
Babies who are held, stroked, and cuddled are mentally and physically healthier.
Adolescents who feel connected at home and at school are more well-adjusted.
Patients with greater social support recover faster.
People who experience positive human contact are more creative and better problem solvers.
Adults with more social relationships are less prone to sickness, depression, and suicide.
Seniors with greater social relationships live longer.
All of this evidence begs the question, what is it about connection that makes it so powerful? We have deeply felt human needs to be respected, to be recognized for our talents, to belong, to have autonomy or control over our work, to experience personal growth, and to do work that we feel has meaning and do it in a way that we feel is ethical. When we work in an environment that recognizes these realities of our human nature, we thrive. We feel more energetic, more optimistic, and more fully alive. When we work in an environment that fails to recognize these parts of our human nature, our physical and mental health are damaged.
People want and need to be valued. Psychologist Abraham Maslow, in the landmark article "A Theory of Human Motivation," described it this way:
All people in our society (with a few pathological exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others. By firmly based self-esteem, we mean that which is soundly based on real capacity, achievement and respect of others. These are, first, the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom. Secondly, we have what we may call the desire for reputation or prestige (defining it as respect or esteem from other people), recognition, attention, importance or appreciation ... More and more today ... there is appearing widespread appreciation of their central importance.
Maslow went on to recognize that the needs for self-esteem and the esteem of others are deficit needs (needs that, if unmet over time, will produce pain and the desire to relieve them). One example of a deficit need is the physical need for nourishment. Left unmet, this deficit need produces the pain of hunger and the drive to seek food and eat.
When people are shown respect in the workplace and their real talents and contributions are genuinely recognized, they become fired up. They put their hearts into their work. Being consistently disrespected or ignored damages their sense of self-worth and drives them to seek ways to restore their status. If they are unable to, they eventually become disengaged.
Having established our need to be valued as a deficit need, Maslow commented on the effect of meeting esteem needs:
Satisfaction of the self-esteem need leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, capability and adequacy of being useful and necessary in the world. But the thwarting of these needs produces feelings of inferiority, of weakness and of helplessness. These feelings in turn give rise to either basic self-discouragement or else neurotic trends.
Excerpted from FIRED UP or BURNED OUT by MICHAEL LEE STALLARD Carolyn Dewing-Hommes Jason Pankau Copyright © 2007 by Michael Lee Stallard. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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