How Can Positive Practices in the Workplace Impact Teams?

men-1979261_960_720Dr. Perry Geue recently published an article in  The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, which is entitled “Positive Practices in the Workplace: Impact on Team Climate, Work Engagement, and Task Performance.” We are pleased to welcome Dr. Geue as a contributor and excited to announce that the findings will be free to access on our site for a limited time. Below Dr. Geue provides his insights regarding inspiration behind the research.

JABS_72ppiRGB_powerpointThe research study “Positive Practices in the Workplace: Impact on Team Climate, Work Engagement, and Task Performance” was inspired by an interest in positive work environments, both how they form and their effect in motivating employees toward exceptional performance. Many work environments, such as settings with intense service climates, like the rapidly-paced, routinized food preparation teams in this study, do not readily facilitate employee experiences of freedom, autonomy, and self-expression, which are key factors in employees finding meaning in their work and experiencing well-being in the workplace. A positive work environment, or PWE, is a social climate where employees are treated as positively as possible, one characterized by positive emotions, social inclusion, and quality connections between employees. How do such environments induce employee purpose and  performance in climates that are often hurried and highly structured?

A primary thrust of this study was to delineate how virtuous behaviors in the workplace, termed “positive practices” in the study, could potentially engender a PWE in a demanding service setting, and the effect of this climate on the engagement and performance of employees in work teams. Virtuous behaviors reflect employee actions that are inherently good, apart from instrumental purposes, and they represent the highest aspirations of the human condition. Do workplace behaviors that reflect employees doing good also lead to employees doing well? Can employee behaviors that are respectful, caring, compassionate, forgiving, inspiring, and meaningful in their intent toward others create a climate that is positive and elevating, as well as productive?

Intriguing significant relationships in the study suggest that employees feel more dedicated to and engaged in their work when they sense that work has purpose, significance, and meaning, and that a key to work meaningfulness is mutual interaction that promotes trust, respect, and confidence, where employees believe in each other, communicate the good they see in each other, and forgive each other’s mistakes. In an intensive team service climate, prosocial actions between employees that demonstrate appreciation, affirmation, and respect, could enhance work meaningfulness and lead to greater performance.

The present study impacts the way that managers perceive their role in the workplace. Rather than a posture of correction and control, managers should adopt affirming management practices that contribute to a more positive work environment. Such practices could include managers encouraging team members to exercise optimistic thinking and reinterpret challenges as opportunities, thus granting greater autonomy in creative problem solving, leading to meaningfulness in work. Managers could cultivate a culture of gratitude and appreciation in their work teams, leading team members in mutual respect and acknowledgment of their contributions, expressing thankfulness for accomplishments, and engendering virtuous cycles of honor. Managers could encourage and model forgiveness for miss-steps, engendering a safe psychological climate, viewing mistakes as opportunities for learning, and thus thwarting the blame game that is so demoralizing in the work context. Such positive practices could transform and energize the workplace as employees discover greater value in each other and their work. The potentiality of such a positive work environment is inestimable.

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Workplace Photo attributed to Free-Photos (CC)

Leadership and Employee Work Passion: Propositions for Future Empirical Investigations

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Richard Egan of the University of Canberra, Mark Turner and Deborah Blackman of the University of New South Wales. They recently published an article in the Human Resource Development Review, entitled “Leadership and Employee Work Passion: Propositions for Future Empirical Investigations,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Egan reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

HRDR_72ppiRGB_powerpointIn what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

By measuring employee perceptions of their interpersonal experience with organizational leaders as well as employee affect and levels of intent, this study contributes to bridging the gap between the long-standing research base relating to organizational leadership and the emergent theory of employee work passion. Indeed, scholars such as Albrecht (2010) and Meyer, Gagné, and Parfyonova (2010) have called for research to integrate theories and evidence from adjacent fields. Such integration will allow Human Resource Development scholars and organizational practitioners to develop a deeper understanding of related psychological constructs that contribute to the development of work passion.

In terms of practical implications, by exploring theoretical links between leadership behavior, employee affect and work intentions, we develop and provide a relevant theoretical framework for future discussion, analysis and refinement. With a clearer understanding of how leadership impacts on employee affect and employee work intentions, HRD practitioners can measure the antecedents to and consequences of work passion accurately. Subsequently, appropriate behavioral interventions, such as training and coaching programs that aim to increase leader awareness and skills needed to build workplace environments where employees can choose to be passionate about their work, can be developed.

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Deconstructing Privilege and Equalizing Access to Employee Engagement

1118629691_d977a99f65_z[We’re pleased to welcome Brad Shuck of University of Louisville. Brad recently published an article in Human Resource Development Review with co-authors Joshua C. Collins, Tonette S. Rocco, and Raquel Diaz, entitled Deconstructing the Privilege and Power of Employee Engagement: Issues of Inequality for Management and Human Resource Development.” From Brad:]

We were inspired to write this article due to some experiences that each author had encountered in their own personal lives. In some situations, we found ourselves thinking about what work must be like for people we met in our daily lives, how they might be treated as an employee, and how their co-workers and leaders were experienced. I personally had a profound experience while traveling aboard, watching a man dig hundreds of small square holes in the blazing sun, with no break or water in long sleeves. Despite the conditions outside and what seemed to be the grueling nature of his work, he was smiling and seemed to be enjoying his duties. He moved from hole to hole with energy and presence, paying close attention to the details of the earth he was moving.

I wondered if it were possible for this man to be engaged when the conditions of his work seemed so tough. After some reflection, I realized that I needed to check my own privilege, realizing that I had a lot to learn about deconstructing issues related to privilege – and inherently power – when it came to exploring the idea of employee engagement. It was of course entirely possible for the man I met to be engaged – and for any person to be fully engaged in any work – and that so much of what I was assuming about his work – and again, the work of others – was wrapped in the ways individuals encountered experiences of privilege in their own work settings. It became important for us to explore these issues, as we suspected that both privilege and power potentially influenced experiences of engagement, although we knew very little about how and why this might happen.

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We were initially struck by the fact that almost universally, every organization wants higher levels of engagement, and despite decades worth of research and practice, the numbers on engagement have changed very little. Some have suggested that this is due in large part of the failure to win the hearts and minds of employees. We offer, however, that perhaps it is not a massive failure at all; rather for the many who go to work every day, organizational struggle is the norm due to encounters of privilege at play inside organizations. When employee engagement is a privilege only a select few employee’s experience, we agreed with scholars such as David Guest – who suggested that employee engagement is nothing more than a manufactured, normative, and exploitative overextension of work (our words, not his).

On the other hand, when organizations develop deeply inclusive cultures that foster engagement – when they support the conditions for engagement to flourish and all employees enjoy a positive psychological state of work—this leads to higher levels of performance, greater productivity, and experiences of higher levels of well-being. Because we define employee engagement as a psychological state dependent on an employees’ encounters with that organizational culture, the outcomes of employee engagement (i.e., higher performance) can be defined as a privilege for the organization. When an organization nurtures those conditions of engagement, employees are more likely to engage at higher levels and consequently perform better. Undoubtedly, higher levels of performance becomes an earned organizational asset that helps an organization advance and benefit over and at the expense of their competitors. The willingness to nurture the conditions for engagement develops as an authentic experience for the employee. From this perspective, employee engagement is not exploitative or overextending at all. It is transformational and positive, and it is a shared experience.

There is still so much to unpack and work through with this topic, and we hope that our work can inspire future research that might take up this perspective empirically, to test our propositions and better refine this still emerging theory. We also hope that those who read our ideas on this topic will think about their own engagement and how, if at all, their experiences with their own work have been influenced by encounters with privileged organizational structures and individuals, as well as what role they choose to play in that process and experience.

The abstract for the article:

The purpose of our work was to explore the job demands–resources model of engagement through the critical lens(es) of privilege and power. This deconstruction of the privilege and power of employee engagement was focused toward exploring four principal questions: Who (a) controls the context of work? (b) determines the experience of engagement? (c) defines the value of engagement? and (d) benefits from high levels of engagement? We conclude that organizations and employees both benefit from the outcomes associated with the heightened experience of employee engagement. We maintain, however, that the organization is uniquely positioned to influence systems of power and privilege that ultimately enable the conditions for engagement to flourish. Organizations desiring high levels of engagement have an obligation to confront manifestations of privilege such as unequal states of power, access, status, credibility, and normality.

You can read Deconstructing the Privilege and Power of Employee Engagement: Issues of Inequality for Management and Human Resource Development from Human Resource Development Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on all of the latest research from Human Resource Development ReviewClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

Do the Benefits of Work Engagement Extend Beyond the Office?

3925183530_4902bb6ae9_zStudies of work engagement and the associated positive outcomes tend to focus on the effects of engagement exclusively in the work realm, but do the benefits of work engagement extend beyond the office? In a recent Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies article entitled “The Work/Nonwork Spillover: The Enrichment Role of Work Engagement,” authors Liat Eldor, Itzhak Harpaz, and Mina Westman expand the scope of research on the effects of work engagement.

The abstract for the paper:

This study examines whether work engagement enriches employees beyond the JLOcontribution of the domain of work, focusing on satisfaction with life and community involvement. Moreover, the ambivalence of scholars about the added value of the work engagement concept compared with similar work-related attitudes prompted us to assess the benefits that work engagement offers with regard to improving one’s satisfaction with life and community involvement compared with the benefits of other, similar work-related attitudes such as job involvement and job satisfaction. Furthermore, given the studies indicating the impact of sector of employment (public vs. business) on understanding the work/nonwork nexus, the current study also investigates the effect of the sector of employment on this enrichment process. Utilizing multilevel modeling analysis techniques on data from 554 employees in public and business sector organizations, we obtained results consistent with our hypotheses. Work engagement and employees’ outcomes beyond work had positive and significant relationships. Moreover, the relationship between work engagement and community involvement was stronger in public sector employees than in business sector employees. The implications for organizational theory, research, and practice are discussed as possible leverage points for creating conditions that promote engagement at work and beyond.

You can read “The Work/Nonwork Spillover: The Enrichment Role of Work Engagement” from Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Picnic image attributed to Benson Kua (CC)

The Hidden Costs of Working Sick

sneeze-894326-mWork doesn’t stop when we’re under the weather. But how does feeling bad affect how we perform our jobs? To address this question, Michael Christian, Noah Eisenkraft, and Chaitali Kapadia of the Kenan-Flager Business School at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill investigate how somatic complaints such as pain and illness affect how much people help their coworkers and expend less effort on their job. Tracking two samples of office workers over time, the researchers linked pain at work to ebbs and flows job performance via its effects on the worker’s energy.

Explaining their findings, the researchers argue that pain and illness consumes the same energy people use for motivation and direct towards performing work tasks. As a result, workers in pain are more ASQ_v59n3_Sept2014_cover.inddlikely to withdraw and narrow their focus to just the essential parts of their job role. People in pain, whether the pain is caused by a chronic condition or a fleeting headache, are less likely to help coworkers or make constructive suggestions for improvement at work. On the bright side, the study reported that these effects diminished over time. Long-term sufferers of chronic pain have an increased capacity for balancing daily job demands with pain.

The implications? Daily changes in physical health should be “legitimized” at work. Employees are often asked or obligated to work regardless of how poorly they feel. This is bad for business. Organizations that want the best performance from their employees should be proactive about employee health, developing and implementing effective treatments and symptom management strategies, especially for those employees who have chronic health conditions. Leaders who recognize that an employee’s physical health—rather than his or her commitment—can affect performance may reap long-term benefits by showing understanding to their workers. The study is published in Administrative Science Quarterly.

[The study is entitled “Dynamic Associations among Somatic Complaints, Human Energy, and Discretionary Behaviors: Experiences with Pain Fluctuations at Work” and can be read for free from Administrative Science Quarterly by clicking here.]

Mental Health and Work: Employee Engagement, Part 1 of 3

Results from the U.S. National Co-morbidity Survey, a nationally representative study of Americans ages 15 to 54, reported that 18% of those who were employed said they experienced symptoms of a mental health disorder in the previous month.

During Mental Health Awareness Month (#MHM2014) it seems fitting to examine research on a problem affecting many employees that is often overlooked.  Mental health is a serious issue in the workplace,  but how do we deal with it as employees, coworkers, employers, HR personnel and anyone else touched by it? What needs to change to ensure healthier employees – and healthier workplaces?

This week, in a three-part series, we’ll explore recent research on mental health issues with their relevance and importance in the field of business and management. As the authors of our first featured article note,

“The nature of today’s labor market requires organizations to be productive and competitive to survive and grow, since they are constantly confronted with the pressure to be profitable as fast as possible. Thus, workers are expected to be psychologically connected to their work, proactive, and committed to high-quality performance standards, to collaborate with others, to be energetic and dedicated, and to be absorbed by their work. Simply put, ‘today’s organizations are in need of engaged employees.”

But are those struggling with mental health issues able to be engaged as this suggests? The research literature offers insight into individual, as well as corporate, issues related to mental health (including engagement and well-being), which is where we start today.

An article published in the Journal of Career Assessment by Patrizia Villotti, University of Trento, Italy; Cristian Balducci, University of Bologna, Italy; Sara Zaniboni, University of Trento, Italy; Marc Corbière, Université de Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada; and Franco Fraccaroli of University of Trento, Italy, “An Analysis of Work Engagement Among Workers With Mental Disorders Recently Integrated to Work,” looked at work outcomes, along with the  importance of social support from coworkers and supervisors, and occupational self-efficacy. “Among the general population and individuals suffering from other disabilities, people with mental disorders face severe difficulties in participating and integrating in the contemporary work world despite the evidence that they have the potential and desire to work. The purpose of this study is to determine the validity of the work engagement construct among mentally ill workers and to develop a nomological network delineating the relationship of work engagement with its antecedents, and its consequences in this specific population.” Click here to read the article.

An article published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies by Brad Shuck, University of Louisville  and Thomas G. Reio, Jr., Florida International University, “Employee Engagement and Well-Being: A Moderation Model and Implications for Practice,” examined the degree to which psychological workplace climate was associated with personal accomplishment, depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and psychological well-being, and whether employee engagement moderated these relations. Click here to read the article.

An article published in Human Relations  by Else Ouweneel, Utrecht University;  Pascale M. LeBlanc, Eindhoven University of Technology; Wilmar B. Schaufeli and Corine I. van Wijhe, both at Utrecht University, “Good morning, good day: A diary study on positive emotions, hope, and work engagement,” studied potential positive within-person relationships, including positive emotions, work-related hope, and the three dimensions of work engagement on a daily level. Click here to read the article.

Tomorrow’s post: Mental Health and Work: Stress and Organizational Behavior, Part 2 of 3