The People Manager
All posts from: September 2010
Happy staff work harder and achieve more. This is probably not a big surprise to most managers, nor I suspect is the view that if staff are unhappy it affects their work. A team of researchers from the Warwick Business School led by Professor Andrew Oswald have conducted a number of experiments on students which confirm this.
One experiment involved participants completing routine tasks involving adding up numbers. The task was broken up by showing one group a 10 minute video of comedy clips and another a clip showing patterns of different coloured sticks. Those in the group who had a laugh performed the tasks better, 12 per cent better.
In the past there has been much debate about the impact of skill training, new technology and reward schemes on improving performance. The researchers believe that their findings, published in Warwick’s Economic Research Journal, highlight the importance of “human emotions”.
In the current harsh economic climate, it would be a lot more helpful to managers if researchers could suggest how to keep staff happy whilst freezing their pay, making their colleagues redundant and charging them more for office car parking. I don’t think that posting a “joke of the day” on the office intranet or showing clips of “mock the week” is going to do the trick.
So how are managers to keep staff motivated whilst budgets are cut? It is true that external factors influence people’s feelings of wellbeing. If England had won the world cup then the feel good factor would have resulted in increased productivity in the short term. If an individual is experiencing personal problems like going through a divorce then we know their work can suffer. But in general we know that people report they feel happy in work if they get on with their colleagues and their line manager. The implication is that the organisation may be going through a bad time but in this team we still enjoy coming to work. The other key factor for staff in the public sector is why they do the job in the first place. Auxiliary nurses, care assistants and hospital porters are low paid. They could earn more money stacking shelves in their local supermarket, but they get satisfaction from helping vulnerable people who are grateful for the support they receive. Contrast this with staff who deal directly with the public on reception or in a call centre and who are often subjected to verbal abuse from frustrated and distressed callers.
Happiness at work for public sector workers is determined by their relationships with colleagues and their interaction with the public. Managers are responsible for fostering good working relationships within the team and supporting staff in their dealings with the public. This is not always easy as personality conflicts can erupt within teams, an individual can be viewed by others as not pulling their weight or getting favourable treatment. The manager cannot ignore this if they want staff to feel happy coming to work. When staff are dealing with customers who are angry that their service has been reduced or taken away as a result of budget cuts then a manager’s support needs to be tangible. This means being prepared to take the call and take the brunt of the caller’s anger.
A manager is responsible for keeping their staff happy at work but this doesn’t involve telling jokes or performing amusing impressions of senior managers -not unless you want to be known as a bit of a comedian.
This is not a blog about budget cuts, the challenge presented by an ageing population or the threat posed by the private sector. This is a blog about values, passion and inspiration.
My passion is equality. It seems to me that equality is what the public sector is all about. It is the emphasis on the moral case for equality rather than the legal or business case that makes the public sector different from the private sector, the not for profit sector and the voluntary sector.
For me it is obvious - get equality and diversity right and all else follows. If equality and diversity in recruitment is right you will have a workforce that reflects the diverse population you serve. If you recruit people who do not all come from the same background, hold the same beliefs and think in the same way you are more likely to have the creativity and insight to respond to the challenges of providing services to a diverse population. You are more likely to be customer focused if your staff recognise different sections of the community want their needs met in different ways and you are more likely to have people who can think of different ways of meeting needs.
Staff who are customer focused quickly realise you need a range of providers and services to meet the needs of a diverse population. That means working with a range of partners. If you get equality and diversity right, you will have developed your listening skills as an organisation and so you will have the right approach to engage communities and work in partnership. Such skills will stand the organisation in good stead for promoting health equality.
Meeting the really big challenges means radically changing the way people behave in the organisation. It means engaging staff at every level in doing things differently and it requires people to be inspired. League tables have limited motivational appeal, so does saving money. Claiming the customer is king is hard to maintain in the face of hospital closures, cuts in services or admitting someone into a psychiatric ward against their wishes. And despite the traditional emphasis on charismatic leadership, frontline staff don’t do it for the chief executive. In fact, in the public sector, staff tell us in staff surveys they don’t trust senior managers, they don’t do it for the money, they do it for the people they serve and they do it because they want to make a difference. The challenge is to maintain this public sector ethos when services are contracted out to the private sector. The challenge is to maintain this sense of commitment to the general good rather than the bottom line. The challenge is to do this at the same time as the public sector is adopting many of the methods and much of the language of business. What better/clearer way of doing this than focusing on fairness - because that’s what equality and diversity is all about. Fairness in how we recruit people, fairness in how we select people for promotion, fairness in how we treat people at work, fairness in how we allocate scarce resources and fairness in how we provide services. Fairness is relevant, fairness inspires.