What to do about the disengaged workforce?

It’s the end of one year and the start of another, and although there is a certain artificiality involved, the torrent of year-end prognostications sometimes can lead to something good. I’ve made a haphazard and totally unscientific survey, and here’s some of the things I have seen mentioned — and some that I haven’t seen enough.

A lot of mentions of HR software becoming more socialized, although calling it ‘Total Employee Lifecycle Management’ doesn’t make it sound too palatable. Nonetheless, social HR is an obvious and growing trend. Witness offerings like SmartRecruiters, that start at the hiring end of the HR pipeline, and make the process of posting jobs, managing candidates, and tracking the status of applicants as simple as possible.

But in the frenzy to ‘unlock the value of employees throughout their entire lifecycle’ — cringe — we are skirting some well-known truths. The most important, perhaps, is that we have seen an enormous swing in engagement in the past decades. In late 2011, Gallup research showed that the majority of American workers were disengaged:

Majority of American Workers Not Engaged in Their Jobs via Gallup

Seventy-one percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and are less likely to be productive. That leaves nearly one-third of American workers who are “engaged,” or involved in and enthusiastic about their work and contributing to their organizations in a positive manner. This trend remained relatively stable throughout 2011.

Highly-educated and middle-aged workers are more likely to be disengaged, and men more likely to be than women. But Gallup doesn’t offer any real analysis of what’s going on. There doesn’t seem to be any science in their thinking, aside from number crunching.

However, there is some actual science out there that might be able to explain these trends. John Helliwell is a well-known economist who has undertaken basic research in to social capital and trust in the workplace. He has worked with Robert Putnum (Bowling Alone) and others to try to dig into trust — and its lack — at work. He had the insight that people might be trading off other economic factors in exchange for work where they feel more trusted, and he did the research to poke at that:

How’s The Job? Well-Being And Social Capital In The Workplace, John Helliwell and Haifang Huang, (from Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 63, No. 2 (January 2010))

Surveys that collect measures of life satisfaction in conjunction with measures of social capital provide evidence that social capital (measured by marriage and family, ties to friends and neighbors, civic engagement, trustworthiness, and trust) is strongly linked to subjective well-being (Helliwell and Putnam 2004). The research so far has largely ignored life satisfaction and social capital in the workplace. Given the fact that workers spend about half of their weekday waking hours on the job, this omission is too important to ignore. Fortunately, the three surveys we use in this paper all provide measures of perceived trust in workplaces, in terms of either trust in management or trust among co-workers. We use these trust measures as a proxy for workplace social capital, which we view as part of job amenities. We hypothesize that there exists a market in which workers trade-off between trust and wages. The market, however, can be inefficient due to lack of information and the costs of searching for and changing jobs. The estimated compensating differentials can provide an implicit estimate of such costs. So far as we know, ours are the first estimates of compensating differentials for workplace trust. The concept of compensating differentials provides, we think, the best way of framing and presenting our workplace results.

And analyzing the other important job satisfaction factors — salary, autonomy, etc. — and solving for trust, the researchers determined the economic value of trust is very high. How high? Quoting the authors, ‘a one-third-standard-deviation increase in trust in management is equivalent to an income increase of more than one-third.’ They also found that work place trust is the strongest determinant of workplace satisfaction, and is strongly linked to absenteeism, illness, and productivity.

Turning that around, workers would accept a third less pay in exchange for a management one-third more trustworthy.

Looking back at the Gallup data, Helliwell and Huang also found that women are more likely than men to make this economic tradeoff: they are more willing to accept a lower wage in exchange for a work environment higher in social capital. And to generalize that, it might be possible for companies to intentionally foster a trust-rich environment in order to increase productivity at lower cost:

Do our results for the value of workplace trust and other job characteristics really reflect compensating differentials in the usual sense, with employers who can offer better non-financial job characteristics being able to hire workers of given quality at lower wages? We think so. Our results suggest that a firm managing to provide better jobs (as measured by some package of the non-financial job characteristics connected to higher levels of life satisfaction) would be able to reap rewards in some combination of dimensions: lower quit rates, lower monitoring costs, easier (and hence less expensive) hiring, and more effective effort from employees at all wage levels.

So, a paradoxical answer to the implicit question of the costs of an engaged workforce: it may be cheaper to actively build a work environment with high social capital — high in trust — because people will be willing make an economic tradeoff, exchanging possible income and other benefits for higher job satisfaction.

Recall those ideas when you are reading the prattling of year-end prognosticators: there are some ideas that are timeless, and one is that trust trumps everything else at work, if we only have the eyes to see it.

Today in Cloud

Brewster Kahle spoke in the same session as me at an event near Amsterdam today. In amongst a number of interesting points, Kahle mentioned in passing that the Internet Archive offers cloud storage services to public institutions, with contributions of around $2,000 ‘endowing’ a terabyte of storage in perpetuity. This is an intriguing model, and cautious archives, libraries and museums may be happier to trust Kahle than strictly commercial providers. Does this relatively safe and straightforward first step make it easier or harder for those institutions to subsequently adopt mainstream services, and might they bring pressure to bear on the Archive to offer a fuller range of cloud services that compete more directly with Amazon et al?

3 Sources of Conflict in Remote Teams, and How to Avoid Them

All collaborative groups experience conflict. Dealing with that conflict is difficult enough in teams working face-to-face, but remote teams experience additional challenges, such as communicating primarily over email and working in different time zones. What can we do to minimize sources of conflict?

How to Use Communication to Establish Trust in Remote Teams

What remote teams actually experience is known as “swift trust”, which happens when you don’t have the time or means to build trust through multiple interactions. While this type of trust cultivates easily, it’s also very fragile. How can you establish trust using communication tools?

How to Build Trust Remotely

skyhawk_2Trust is probably the most crucial factor in any working relationship — indeed, in any human relationship. It can be a challenge to engender trust in your colleagues at the best of times, but when you’re not on site with them, it’s even harder.
In a face-to-face working relationship, you may not be particularly conscious of the need to build trust, or the innate tactics you use to do so. But when you’re working remotely, it can be a good idea to give a little thought to trust, and to be conscious of it as you build your remote working experience. Here are what I see as the most effective and most straightforward ways to build trust remotely. Read More about How to Build Trust Remotely

Open Thread: How Much Do You Trust Your Web Apps?

The news that Gmail went down this morning (UK time) got me thinking about how we increasingly rely on third parties for essential business services. With a proliferation of web apps offering to meet our every business need and the inexorable rise of cloud computing, are we investing too much trust in them?

Fortunately, I have Offline Gmail support enabled, which meant that I could at least continue working on emails received overnight while Gmail was down. But judging by the outpouring of angst on Twitter, many people had a pretty unproductive morning, with some four hours of downtime.

Gmail appears to be back up now, but you can bet that this won’t be the last time a major web app suffers downtime. While we can probably be reasonably confident that Google (s goog) has the engineering talent to recover from most failures quite quickly (especially as Google’s paid-for Google For Domains users have a service-level agreement, including an uptime guarantee of 99.9 percent), we’ve seen many services suffer from a lack of continued support and investment, and some that disappear altogether.

Are we putting too much faith in services that we have no control over? Do you have a backup plan in place in case a critical part of your workflow goes down?

Building Your Online Credibility

Are you trustworthy?
This is something we have to ask ourselves as web workers.  In fact, our clients are probably asking us this very question through subtext, we just aren’t aware of it.  Important as this question may be, there is another question that should be considered:
Do you appear trustworthy?
Online credibility is especially important for us, since it’s likely that our online presence is the only thing potential customers will see.  In this increasingly searchable world, we need to use every means possible to establish that we are worthy of a client’s trust. Here are some ways in which we can do this:
Read More about Building Your Online Credibility

Divvs: Trust Through Networking

ScreenshotHow do you know whether you can trust someone you’ve run across on the web – say, by finding them on Craigslist? That’s the question Divvs is setting out to answer. Currently in alpha, it takes a relatively simple approach to the problem: the more connected you are across multiple networks, the more trustworthy you are. The result is wrapped up in a single numerical “Divvs Rating.” When you sign up, you’re given the opportunity to identify yourself in multiple ways (currently email, mobile phone, Facebook, and Twitter). Each identity is verified (for example, you’ll get a text code to your phone number, to input back to the site), and the more identity juice you have, and the better connected you are, the higher your Divvs rating.

It’s an interesting idea, a sort of formalization of the common practice of Googling people. If it becomes popular, the Divvs rating could serve as a quick way to size up potential collaborators and subcontractors. Of course, if it becomes popular, spammers will also try to figure out how to scam it – but we’re a ways off from that point yet. At the moment, it’s at least a fun exercise in comparing your networking level to those of your peers.

Sprint and Verizon announce RAZR2 V9m: haptics and video on outside screen

Razr2v9mhrcYou can’t get it from Sprint until August 22nd, but the Motorola RAZR2 V9m just got official on their CDMA network. Looks like it’s the first flip-phone in the U.S. to offer your video watching on the smaller outside screen of the handset. The outer screen is only marginally smaller than the internal screen (2-inches vs. 2.2-inches), but you’ll have double the resolution if you want to watch on the inner screen. That outer screen also uses haptics technology to help you control your tunes, video and calls: you’ll get tactile feedback from the screen as you hit controls. Nice!

Update: Verizon customers with $299 can get in on all the haptics they can stand as the V9m was announced for VZW too.

Vulcan FlipStart- yes it’s for real

FlipStartThe one annoying thing about NDAs and news embargoes is that they rely on all parties who know about a product ahead of time to keep mum about, like they promised.  PC Magazine jumped the gun (review since removed) on the Vulcan FlipStart so all embargoes are off and I can now talk about it, albeit briefly.  The FlipStart is real and will be available for purchase soon.  I’m not going to get into the specs or details about the FlipStart, I’ll just wait until my evaluation unit arrives.  I’ve been told that will be today so hang on to your gadget bags, all will be revealed very shortly.