Go Back to Work with a Smile!

In my home town of Melbourne, last week  was “back to work” for many people in the corporate world (most small businesses either worked through or were back earlier!). This signals the return of what I call the grey-faced army – people heading off to work on a daily basis, looking like their world has just ended. While their annual Christmas holiday has finished, it shouldn’t feel like a punishment to be at work!

Being unhappy about going to work is bad news for the individuals. There’s lots of research about the connection between work-induced stress and illness or depression. A side effect of these symptoms is an increase in sick-leave as well as possible increases in medical costs. This can become an expensive problem for individuals and for their managers and businesses.

A direct negative effect is that both productivity and profitability can be badly affected by unhappy employees, even those who aren’t off sick. In many businesses that I work with, it’s actually “presentee-ism” not absentee-ism that causes the most grief. The cost to businesses of people turning up and not being fully engaged in their work is very hard to calculate. So many employees have an attitude of “what’s the minimum I can get away with”, which means that customers are not looked after properly, details are not dealt with and projects take longer than they should. Other bad news is that these workers come up with less creative ideas and see less opportunities to improve business processes.

One of the more recent studies into this area of cost to business was conducted in 2010 in Germany by the Gallup Organisation.  Despite Germany having the best economic growth in Europe, Gallup estimated that disengaged employees cost the German economy more than 120 billion euros per year in lost productivity. This was based on their finding that 87% of surveyed employees were rated as ‘less-than-engaged’ in their work. Of these, nearly a quarter (20% of those surveyed) were “actively disengaged”. (You can read morehere ) This result was very similar to another, 9 years earlier, when Gallup estimated that these disengaged employees were costing US business more than US$300 billion (Details here).  Whatever the related numbers are for your country, the opportunity cost of this is enormous!

Engaged-274x300To play a little with the word that these surveys use to describe the group of unhappy employees, let’s think about the emotions that surround the word “engaged” outside the workplace. When you hear that friends are engaged, is it likely that they are happy, enthusiastic about the experience and optimistic about the future? Wouldn’t it be great if you and your team felt that way about turning up to work on a daily basis?

Workplaces which have an Optimistic culture, filled with employees with an Optimistic approach, deliver better outcomes because of the decisions that are made and the way those decisions are implemented. Customer satisfaction levels improve as do all other measures of business success. Amongst other things, areas that are boosted in optimistic workplaces include productivity, efficiency, risk-management, team function, development and cross-pollination of ideas and, of course, profitability.

One of the challenges in building and maintaining this type of culture is that the areas requiring attention from managers and business owners  are easy to do…and really easy NOT to do! The great news is that the changes are not expensive to implement – they take some time and focus but not a huge budget.  I believe that there are seven areas that are critical and three of these can create a good return-on-investment quickly:

(1) balancing leadership vs management activities – helping your team members get their goals achieved while making sure that you don’t get too caught up in day-to-day tasks; regularly getting your head up to check that you & your team are going in the right direction and communicating some of that “big picture” information to everybody.

(2) improving reward & recognition processes – recognising the four levels of performance that people are likely to be delivering and creating reward mechanisms that encourage the behaviours that you want to see more of (& that discourage undesirable behaviours).

(3) creating & monitoring individual & team goals – a focus on just one or the other decreases momentum and optimism – research tells us that people respond better with a combination of goals for which they have full responsibility and some for which they share the load and the outcome.

For a 50 question assessment of the Optimism levels at your workplace, you can download a complimentary audit here: Corporate Optimism Assessment. I’d be very happy, as a special New Year gift, to give you feedback on your responses – just send me an email at helen@helenmac.com with ‘Feedback’ in the subject line and I’ll make contact to arrange a mutually convenient time for a consultation, at no charge to you. It’s all part of my bigger goal of raising Optimism levels in the workplace!

Stay tuned for more ideas to build and maintain your personal Optimism levels as well as that of your team and business!

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