This means nothing to me…

This is the seventh and final post in a series of blogs discussing the concept of motivation and what its sources might be. Its prompted by a conversation I had with Bee Heller, from The Pioneers. Bee asserts that there are seven different sources of motivation, and is writing about each of them on The Pioneers website. 

We decided I’d write a commentary piece about each one on my own blog, and look at what’s happened in organisations I’ve worked in and with – whether the source of motivation Bee’s blog discussed has been used to good effect or been neglected; what’s worked well in terms of creating an environment that enhances that motivation; and what’s not worked so well or undermined that motivation for people? 

Here’s Bee’s blog on meaning. In it, she suggests that employee retention becomes much easier when organisations provide a sense of meaning for their work, and contrasts two differing ways of doing this – one overarching purpose, which she says has good short term effects but potentially damaging long term effects; and a pluralistic approach where lots of different ways of doing meaningful work are encouraged, which she suggests is a better long term approach. 

I agree in part with Bees thoughts. I certainly agree meaningful work is a source of motivation and can therefore help with employee retention. But I’m less certain that having one overarching purpose in an organisation is only a short term fix, and that a pluralistic approach is therefore the best way.

I have usually been able to find meaning in what I do. I’ve often recounted the story of telling my 3 year old daughter that my job was to help people be happy at work, and I guess that’s what my meaning and overarching purpose is. When I’ve worked in places where I’ve felt a connection it’s usually because the organisation has a similar ethos and let’s me do my thing.

It’s also why I often dislike doing operational HR activities as, although they’re needed, they aren’t necessarily linked to my purpose, although may well have a contributory hygiene factor.

I was in my favourite job for 11 years. This was an organisation that had a purpose to improve the lives of its customers, and that resonated so much with me that we just understood each other and could see common ground. I did my thing there for 11 years before the organisational purpose changed and I felt I no longer had that connection, and left. 

I have been in other jobs where the organisation and I had a complete disconnect about what they saw me doing and what I felt was right to do, where my role was expected to be about compliance and regulation, and no focus given to helping people feel happy at work. I have never lasted long in such places. 

I have had various bits of freelance work over the years too, and the beauty of that is that I could pick and choose work that matched my purpose. It’s no surprise that I got a lot of energy out of those bits of work and consider them some of my best work too. 

So when I get meaning from an organisation, I stay. In that sense I agree with Bee.  The search for meaning is a motivating factor, and has been a motivating factor in my leaving some roles. 

I don’t necessarily agree that the overarching unitary purpose is only a short term thing though. Uber, cited as an example, are perhaps the exception rather than the rule and I know many organisations who have maintained their unitary purpose successfully – I would suggest that the growth of Uber brought with it people whose purposes didn’t match the original meaning, and this contributed to what has happened. Had they got their recruitment right, and found people whose meaning matched their own, what did happen might never have. 

A pluralistic approach can have many benefits, as Bee does suggest, and I’ve seen this work also. But an organisation needs to have sufficient size and maturity to cope with and make the best of this. It’s no better or worse than the unitary approach, just different. 

Ultimately though, my own sense of meaning comes from helping people to be happy, whether that be through my HR work, my PT stuff, and any voluntary or freelance work I do also. It can be a motivating factor in getting me to stay at places, and getting me to leave places. 

It is possibly also why my ideal jobs are (or would have been) a professional wrestler or a Man Utd footballer, as both have immense potential to create happiness for people. 

Somehow I ended up in HR instead. But I still hope. 

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, I now have a 16 year old son who is technically and in some regards legally an adult. This makes me feel very old. 

A Perfect Day

Last week I did an Ignite talk at #cipdnap17 on the subject of Work Life Balance and how I go about creating A Perfect Day. Given that it is, by coincidence, Go Home On Time Day on 21 June, the timing seems apt to expand on this. 

I’m grateful to Gemma Dale for publishing her own excellent blog on this subject which made me think about writing this one. 

Read hers, then come straight back here. I’ll wait. 

Done? Good. 

My Ignite talk was again delivered as a rhyme, and I really enjoyed doing it. I drew some inspiration not just for the talk but for my whole approach to work life balance from Nigel Marsh’s excellent TED talk on the subject some years ago.

My talk was filmed and you can watch it here if you like. 

In it, I’m making, in a fairly haphazard way, a few key points which I’ll expand on here. 

1. That there is something that approximates a perfect day for everyone, but it is a rare and unusual thing. Too often we don’t make efforts to create it, as we are too busy or (worse) don’t realise what we need or (even worse) do realise but do nothing about it. My point was that by making some very small adjustments to your day, and helping others to do the same, our organisations and our families can reap huge rewards. 

2. In HR we could take a leading role in educating managers and employees on the benefits of flexibility. However this doesn’t often seem to happen, and even when leading by example I’ve encountered suspicion and mistrust. But our ability to influence is there and should be used. 

3. The demands of modern family life are often largely incompatible with the demands of the traditional working day and traditional organisation. So one of these sets of demands has to change, and the only one we in HR can realistically influence on behalf of others is the latter. But again by leading by example we can show people how to manage the demands of both. 

4. Organisations who tell their staff how to work, how to dress, when to take lunch and for how long, what hours to work etc are going about it all in the wrong way. They can’t unlock the engagement and discretionary effort they want from their staff unless they change. Too many organisations judge people by how many hours they are sat at their desk, and not by the quality of output they deliver. If someone wants to take an hour or so off to do the school run and help their kids with their homework, and then will log on late at night and catch up, does it really matter as long as their work is done?

5. Working in the evening or at weekends is a personal choice and not one that should be encouraged or expected by organisations. Too many see emails sent late at night or at weekends as a sign of being some kind of workplace hero, as working harder or more than someone else. If you want to do it, fine – but set your emails to send first thing in the morning so you don’t impose your lifestyle and working patterns on others. 

6. You are never too busy to spend time building working and family relationships and a coffee catch-up with someone is time well spent no matter what else you need to be doing. Telling someone you’re too busy to grab a coffee says less about your workload and more about you as a human being.

So if it’s Go Home On Time Day, I suppose this will mean different things to different people. 

And that’s ok, because everyone’s perfect day is different. Everyone’s perception of work life balance is also different. 

But in organisations, as HR professionals, we need to be encouraging people to explore what it means for them. To adopt a trial and error approach and, as I’ve mentioned before, present successive drafts of themselves. 

We shouldn’t judge anyone for trying to get themselves balanced. 

Till next time. 

Gary 

PS in other news, I’ve recently built a large climbing frame. I am reminded why I hate DIY and also how poor I am at it. I would happily outsource all of this if I could. And I have a new shed to build next…

Mental

It’s been Mental Health Awareness Week  this past week and it’s been hard to escape the mass amounts of publicity raising awareness. I’ve found it really interesting to read so many examples from both famous people and people I respect in my PLN about their struggles with mental health issues. 

It’s made me reflect on my own experiences. I don’t think I’ve ever had any long term mental health issues, although I’ve certainly had some very short term adverse reactions to events, but I tend to be able to spot when these happen and take steps to deal with it. 

I think I’m more fortunate than others in that respect, but I admire anyone who has the courage to talk about their issues. 

My one episode of any kind of mental health issue came when my first marriage broke down unexpectedly and in very public and extremely difficult circumstances. I know for certain I suffered a depressive episode and struggled with lots of things. I’ve talked before about how my employer at the time and particularly the Chief Executive supported me wholeheartedly. My judgement was very much impaired, I made lots of bad decisions, my mood was all over the place and I didn’t think there was a way to recover. 

But time heals. 

Slowly. 

Nowadays I can tell when I’m feeling stressed or coming close to anything like a depressive episode. There are headaches, a feeling of blood rushing round my head, and heart palpitations in extreme cases. I’d have trouble sleeping, or staying asleep and would wake very early with my brain very active. If any two or more of these or other symptoms show themselves, I know I’m getting stressed and I know if I do nothing about it then it would make me ill. 

So I tend to do something about it.

Sometimes it’s about doing something physical to expend some energy. I’m lucky enough to be fit and active and I use that to help me in times of stress. It gives me time to think as well, which helps too. 

Sometimes it’s about talking or writing. I find both incredibly useful to manage my emotional state. I’m a big believer in the power of counselling and other similar techniques, although I was brought up to think that men shouldn’t show emotion as it was a sign of weakness, and I should hide it all away. 

This means I do struggle to show emotion, and do keep it all internal, so talking and writing gives me an outlet. 

Whilst I have times of difficulty nothing has come close to the depressive episode around my divorce, although I know that if I didn’t have coping mechanisms I’d be in greater difficulty. 

I also am more aware now of situations that can cause me stress. It’s usually when people think something about me that is untrue, or argue with me from a position I can’t understand, or when I feel a very strong sense of injustice. These situations create some of the symptoms I’ve described so I have to try my coping mechanisms. 

An alternative is to avoid these situations altogether but that’s not always possible, and another technique is to not let them stress me, but that’s easier said than done as well. 

I read an interview in HR Magazine this week with Alastair Campbell  talking about his own mental health issues. He mentally rates each day at its outset according to how he feels it is going to go from what he knows he is doing that day, on a scale of 0-10. He says he is comfortable if his days are no lower than 2 and no higher than 7 but he struggles if he knows days are going either side of those scores. 

I quite like this approach. He’s planning ahead, and if he knows he’s in for a 2 day, he knows he has to plan out his coping strategies and to be honest on reflection I can see that’s what I have been doing, albeit without any scoring mechanism to quantify it. I’ll always schedule a run after an event I know may cause me some difficulty, and it does help. Or I’ll make sure I make contact with someone I can talk to during the day. 

I’ve also read about some places, e.g. in France, where companies can’t send emails after a certain time and employees can’t read emails whilst on holiday. When I first heard about this I didn’t think it was workable, but over time I’ve come to appreciate what a good move it is in terms of mental health and work life balance. 

I blogged here about my experiments with it and I’ve continued them. When I’m off work for anything more than 24 hours I deactivate my email from my phone and tablet so I’m not disturbed. And I try my best each evening to switch off my work communications and focus on other things like family, and I’m mostly successful in doing so. 

There was once a regional union official who used to send me very abusive emails late at night. He would never send these during the day and in person he was not as nasty either. But he seemed to get a kick out of sending these because he knew the effect it would have on me (a very negative emotional reaction because it hit all the triggers I mention above and I had no available coping mechanisms due to the time of night, and he knew that), and he would also cc in the Chief Executive and as many other union officials as he could, which would further exacerbate my stress reaction and is a part of the reasons why I’m so anti cc. 

These experiences taught me the downsides of using email late at night, and I often encourage managers who do need to complete work and send email themselves late at night to set them to send at 8am. They get their bit done but without the negative impact or intrusion into someone’s home life. 

I’m halfway through The Winning Mindset digital coaching programme via ex England cricketer and noted sports psychologist Jeremy Snape and it’s really good. Highly recommended. I’ll do a longer blog on it when it’s finished but a few of the daily coaching episodes have focused on mental health and in particular how to develop mental toughness or resilience. 

It’s been interesting to hear from world class athletes and their coaches about how they manage work life balance, how they manage their mental state and how they cope with setbacks or criticism. 

One thing I particularly liked was a top athlete suggesting that you shouldn’t view mistakes or bad experiences as something to dwell on, but instead view them as successive drafts of your ever increasing performance. 

Another was to put setbacks and such things in context. Rarely do setbacks affect your entire life, usually just one portion of it and often they’re no reflection on your whole self or your direction or anything, they’re just one isolated bad incident that is already in the past and therefore it shouldn’t affect your sense of self worth. 

Really good stuff and I’m enjoying the coaching programme and have got a lot from it. Watch out for another blog on this soon. 

But I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m not supposed to be anything less than strong and focused all the time. That as a man I should never have emotions and certainly shouldn’t ever feel like crying. I’m a senior manager too and I still often think that’s not what we do. 

Those kinds of views are wrong but they are what I was brought up believing and what many people still do believe. It’s only through campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week and the stories shared by those a bit braver than me and those who have gone through tougher times than me that I can even begin to feel it’s ok to talk about feeling stressed and being less than my best from time to time. 

In this blog I’ve tried to explain how I cope with difficult times and how it’s been helpful to read others stories and to learn from external sources too. 

I hope that I’m able to help others in doing so. 

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, I’ve had the wetsuit out today and have been open water swimming for the first time since last August when I caught a nasty bug doing so. I felt great except for the first few minutes when I had brain freeze. Glad I’m back in the open water. 

Mental Health Awareness Week

I’m only human, after all

This blog is about criticism, both public and private, and its effects on people. It is prompted by some unusual but repeated public criticism of his players by Jose Mourinho, which seems to be a style he believes is both appropriate and effective. 

Let’s examine this. 

I should start by saying, again, that I’m a United fan, so I’ve been watching this closely. I’ve long admired Mourinho before he came to United last summer and it’s been interesting to see his approach to man management. 

In his short tenure as United manager, he has used public criticism and also ostracism to attempt to motivate and manage certain players. 

First Schweinsteiger was ostracised and made to train with the reserves, but not allowed to leave the club. Later, when he had been readmitted to the fold and then allowed to leave, Mourinho expressed regret at the way he had treated Schweinsteiger, but that didn’t stop him doing it in the first place. Now, if this was a “real” workplace, this would be deemed bullying, and possibly leading to constructive dismissal when the player left. 

Of course, football isn’t real, but let’s go on. 

Then Mkhitaryan suffered some of the same treatment but fairly soon after got back in the team and began to play very well indeed. Mourinho took credit for this, saying it took him some time to help Mkhitaryan to learn how to play in this country. In a real workplace, this may also be bullying and possibly racial discrimination too, but of course football exists in its own bubble. 

Then lately both Rashford and Martial have come under fire for their goal scoring records. Rashford has responded with some of his best performances of the season and a few goals, but Martial is still under fire and Mourinho says he listens too much to his agent (union rep perhaps?) and not enough to him. This could be considered good performance management but for the public nature of it, and as such it may be considered bullying too. 

Finally, recently Shaw has been heavily criticised for his commitment and performance, again in public. But Shaw has also responded with some better performances and has been “rewarded” with public praise. 

I could go on. 

Others, he has largely ignored in public, as he feels they give him what he wants and “get him”. 

I think treatment like this is more common than we realise in organisations. I’ve come across examples in my HR career, and have had friends and family tell me stories that would have made my hair stand on end, if I had any. But the difference is that this is usually in private. 

The public nature of the Mourinho criticism has made me wonder though. 

It obviously gets some results, as some players have demonstrated. 

So does the end justify the means?

Is public criticism acceptable if the recipient takes it on board and responds with increased performance levels?

I’m not so sure. 

I have come across semi-public criticism of employees in the past myself and have always been shocked at this. In some cases it has been, like with Mourinho, one of the most senior people in the organisation being critical of an individual in front of others (if not quite as public as Mourinho), but in none of the cases I’ve personally witnessed has the individual managed to turn things around and publicly respond with better performances. In all cases the criticism has been too much and they’ve parted company with the organisation. 

And that’s sad. Not because they didn’t respond in that way, but because there was really no way they could. Real people don’t exist in the professional football bubble. When we are criticised, particularly when unjustified and especially in a public way, we react badly in most cases. 

In most cases, we can’t deal with it. Criticism, when doled out from a very senior person in a semi public manner, removes most of the motivators from Herzbergs model and reduces the positive effects of any hygiene factors too. It’s a massive demotivator, and more so when the individual feels it’s unjustified and also, because of the respective positions in the organisation, feels they can’t respond. 

So why does Mourinho feel he can get away with it, and often does? Is it because of the results it seems to get?

I’m at a loss to explain it. 

But the criticism must hurt those who receive it. Whenever I’m criticised, be it in my personal or professional life (and believe it or not, I am not infallible) I will always hurt inside, but the way I can tell if the criticism has any merit is the depth of emotions it triggers in me. If I have a strong emotional reaction and keep thinking about it, it usually means there was something to the criticism and I can usually use that as fuel to change something. Is that what Shaw, Rashford and others have felt and done? But if the criticism is unjustified or inaccurate, I deal with it in different ways and have a different reaction to it, sometimes involving trying to show the person delivering it why and how they are wrong, which can often backfire on me. 

I told you I’m not infallible. 

I’m only human, after all, as the song goes. 

And so is everyone else, so if criticism must be given out, and there are sometimes really good reasons why it should, managers should make sure they do so one on one, not in public, base it on the facts so that it is accurate and not subjective, and also be aware of how individuals may respond differently to such comments. Regardless, criticism has a major impact on employee engagement for that individual employee, and therefore must be taken seriously by organisations. 

As for Mourinho and his man management tactics, they seem to be working. He’s likely to get away with it. And sadly, most managers doing things like this will also get away with it. 

It’s up to us in HR to make sure managers know it’s not acceptable to treat people in this way, and to provide guidance on how to treat people as human beings. 

Till next time. 

Gary

PS all quotes now in for our building work and mortgage information obtained too. Approaching decision time about whether to go ahead with it…