A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the category “Trust”

Workplace Compassion: What It Is, Why It’s Missing, and How It Contributes to Organizational Success

Compassion - Giving a hand up to another

Should we expect to find compassion in our workplaces – or should we check our emotions at the door in order to be more productive at work?   Is workplace compassion a “nice to have” bonus at work – or is it an organizational imperative for innovation and profitability?  According to recent research, compassion may be the key to innovation, learning, and adaptability in a constantly changing world.

Compassion:  What It Is (and Isn’t)

Compassion is defined as not only our caring response to another person’s suffering, but also to our attempts to help alleviate that suffering.  It is a hard-wired trait in humans – but one that many people feel is lacking in not only our personal relationships, but at work as well.

Workplace compassion is found in the interactions between employees.  It’s displayed in our willingness to help one another.  To understand that there might be reasons for a sudden change in performance.  To recognize that employees are human beings with lives outside of work.

In other words, compassion – whether it is in our personal or professional lives – is the resulting emotion of being conscious of another’s suffering or distress AND being willing to help them alleviate it.

Compassion is, therefore, not just a feeling but also an action.

And, according to many researchers, compassion can be learned.

Why Compassion Is Missing in Most Workplaces

In general, there are three causes that deter compassion in the workplace:

  1. The belief that professional and personal lives should be kept separate.
  2. The fear of appearing vulnerable and weak.
  3. The confusion surrounding how to offer support.

There is a long-held belief that emotions should be “left at the door” when we enter the workplace.  Whatever is going on in our personal lives should be compartmentalized in order to be “dealt with” when we leave work.

That may have worked when most of us worked a standard 40-hour work week and were essentially unreachable outside the office or work site.  But all that changed with the onset of technology.

While technology has been a great boon to many businesses and its workers, it has come with a price:  the 24/7 eLeash.  Today we are constantly accessible at any time of the day or night by email, text messaging, or even the “old-fashioned” phone call.  Workers often are unable to resist the technological call even if they are on vacation or celebrating a holiday with their families; some workers will “check in” even if they are hospitalized (but still conscious).

Because compassion requires the conscious acknowledgement of another person’s pain or suffering, it requires an emotional vulnerability that many workers are afraid to display in professional situations.

But this lack of compassion has deleterious consequences.  The employee who is attempting to balance a heavy workload with a family health crisis might be afraid to ask for help due to fears of being labeled as someone who “can’t handle” the demands of the job.  The resulting high stress levels negatively affect not only their performance, but also their emotional well-being and physical health.

Similarly, the manager who has excelled throughout his career may fear being labeled as “weak” if he responds compassionately (rather than autocratically or “by the book”) to a coworker’s need for some scheduling flexibility due to child demands from a recent divorce.  After all, wouldn’t this “softness” be transmitted through the office grapevine – with the result that he will be “taken advantage of” in the future?

If employees fear asking for some organizational help (or a little “slack”) when they are experiencing major challenges or changes, then they are more likely to become disengaged, unproductive, and burned out.

While the lack of workplace compassion is most frequently viewed as occurring between managers and their subordinates, it is also lacking in the interactions between colleagues and peers.

If the workplace culture is characterized by an obsessive compulsion to “win” and an aversion to “loss,” then employees tend to view providing any kind of compassionate assistance to their coworkers as an action that could undermine their personal ability to succeed.  In such an environment, even authentic offers to help may be viewed with suspicion:  what do they really want in exchange for this help?

Regardless of their formal structure of the workplace relationship, many people are uncomfortable when they are faced with someone who is hurting, in pain, or in desperate need.  How to offer support becomes a tricky undertaking:  would my offer to help make them feel that they are somehow inferior or then feel “bad” about themselves?

How Workplace Compassion Contributes to Organizational Success   

Displaying compassion to our fellow workers, subordinates, and managers requires an acceptance of our innate humanity.  In other words, compassion brings the “human” back into the workplace.

But compassion is not just a “feel good” workplace characteristic.  According to Worline and Dutton (2017), “compassion matters for competitive advantage.”

In an age in which innovation, collaboration, client customization, and adaptability are critical to organizational sustainability, there is an urgent demand for “bigger, better, and faster” – regardless of the goals’ reasonableness or achievability.  As burnout runs rampant in many organizations and employees choose to leave their employers (rather than continuously strive toward the achievement of these unreasonable demands), organizations must rethink their attitudes toward urgency.

Urgency was first touted as a way to create an adrenaline rush in employees so that they could work tirelessly toward the completion of tasks that were critical to organizational success.  But urgency and adrenaline are only healthy and sustainable in short doses; prolonged periods of urgent action that are not balanced with periods of respite and reward create not only burnout, but also emotional and physical health problem.

In other words, if everything is urgent…then nothing really is.

By instead rethinking organizational policies and processes in terms of their level of compassion toward workers, companies can reap the benefits of an engaged, energized, and loyal workforce.

I’m not kidding:  adding compassion as a criteria for policies and procedures has measurable benefits:

  • In a study by Jonathan Haidt of New York University, leaders who interacted with their subordinates in ways that were perceived as fair and self-sacrificing were rewarded with employees who were more loyal, committed, and collaborative in working to find solutions to problems.
  • Fowler and Christakis found that generous, compassionate, and kind actions created a chain reaction in workplaces – thus creating a cultural change toward compassion.
  • In a 2012 study published in BMC Public Health, compassionate acts built bonds between workers – which led to decreased stress levels and greater productivity.

Workplace compassion creates a culture of cooperation and trust.  Rather than a culture of competition, organizational cultures that exhibit and support compassion tend to have lower health care utilization rates, greater employee engagement, less turnover, and a culture of trust that supports learning and innovation.  (I told you I wasn’t kidding.)

5 Tips to Building Workplace Compassion

While I firmly believe that every employee desires to be treated compassionately at work, I also recognize that there are many hurdles to building a culture of compassion.

Based on my research, I have identified five simple ways that organizational leaders and individual employees can approach their work with a sense of compassion:

Tip #1:  Don’t respond based on implicit assumptions.  Bias is well-researched in the protected classes (e.g., gender, race, religion, etc.), but is infrequently acknowledged in the areas of human behavior.  While everyone has implicit biases through which we appraise the behaviors of others, it is important to step outside of these biases in order to see another’s perspective of the challenging situation.

Tip #2:  Be present and authentic.  Compassion should be given freely.  This is accomplished by becoming present in the moment – taking the time to see and listen to the people with whom you are engaged.  In other words, get out of your head and open your heart.

Tip #3:  Encourage employee conversations about non-work activities.  When employees are encouraged to socialize with one another, it provides greater insights into their motivations, fears, and aspirations.  When sharing such information, it can build trust and encourage a greater proclivity to help and support each other.  (NOTE:  Be patient with such sharing activities and NEVER force someone to share more than what they are comfortable with.)

Tip #4:  Create organizational initiatives that encourage employees helping each other.  Organizations that have a strong sense of community involvement may have an advantage in building a compassionate, collaborative culture – but don’t focus exclusively outside the organization.  Perhaps create an initiative that allows employees to provide assistance to other employees who might be in need.  For example, a fund which allows workers to donate their unused time off or make a financial donation to help a coworker.

Tip #5:  Recognize when employees act compassionately and help each other.  Formal recognition (e.g., awards, events) as well as informal “thank you’s” or even the offer to get an overworked colleague a much-needed cup of coffee are powerful ways to reinforce the importance that an organization places on compassionate activities in the workplace.

We humans are wired to empathize – which is an important aspect of compassion.  We’re wired to experience a visceral, emotional response to another’s suffering.  But compassion is more than empathy:  it is also the active response to help alleviate that suffering.

Additionally, compassionate action not only helps someone else who is in need but also makes us feel better and more hopeful.  Acting compassionately is a win-win.

So, even though pain may be an inevitable part of life, our feelings of suffering are not.  Compassion is what makes us human – and it’s a necessity in all of our lives.  Since we spend the majority of our time at work, we need compassion in our daily existence.  And it is through acts of compassion that companies can embrace the humanity of its workforce and harness the power of its only nondupulicatable competitive advantage:  its human resources.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, keynote speaker, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

 

 

Do As I Say! How Poor Leadership Creates Burnout

This is video #5 in a 10-part series focusing on the 10 ways that organizations burn out employees.  I’ll discuss how poor leadership leads to employee burnout and give tips on how to build relationships with employees and increase engagement.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

The ROI of Engaged Employees: How Employee Engagement Affects the Bottom Line (Webinar Presented by Dr. Geri Puleo)

“Engagement” seems to be the new buzz word in the business community.  It’s often used as a way of determining an employee’s level of commitment to the job and the company because a fully engaged employee harnesses his or her physical, intellectual, and emotional resources in their work.

This 7-minute “mini” webinar looks at employee engagement from the perspective of quantifiable, bottom line financial results.  While it may take some time to develop, an engaged workforce is a powerful and non-duplicatable competitive advantage for any company — regardless of size, industry, or market.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Can We Be Happy at Work?

Happiness CartoonThe goal of “being happy” is an ingrained human desire – I’d even call it a hard-wired need.  Not only do we want to be happy in our lives, but we also need to be happy.

Yet happiness seems to elude many of us – even if we have the trappings of what others believe create happiness:  a nice home, a nice car, money in the bank, a good job, and (of course) love.

But as we all know, sometimes what we think will create happiness doesn’t necessarily reflect what actually makes us happy.

Even though we all want to be happy, many of us haven’t truly figured out what “happiness” means to us or the best path to achieve our definition of what it means to “be happy.”

Marketing professionals constantly bombard us with the outer, external, and “tangible” products that they promise will make us “happy.”  Whether it is the latest iPhone or the fanciest pair of shoes, the message is that if we buy these items, then we will finally “be happy.”

But it’s not just “stuff” that we’re told will make us happy.

I’ve recently discovered a fascinating phenomenon in companies that provide services to business owners.  Most of them promise that their product or service – no one else’s! – will finally help us to achieve the success (aka “happiness”) that we want – and deserve! – from our businesses.  What they offer is often a turnkey, “one size fits all” model that may actually conflict with what the business owner actually needs to be “happy” in their business.

I’ve never been a fan of such “cookie cutter” approaches.

Why?  Because I firmly believe that each of us is unique.  Even though we are all humans, our backgrounds, experiences, values, and preferences create very different expectations of what it means when we really are “happy.”

When it comes to happiness, one size doesn’t fit all.

In my research on burnout, I’ve discovered (not surprisingly) that burned out workers are also very unhappy workers.  In fact, burnout tends to turn off our sense of humor – nothing is funny any more and everything is frustrating.

According to George Sand (as quoted in the cartoon above), “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”  While we can understand and appreciate this in our personal lives, why does this fundamental insight fly out the window when we go to work?

In other words, why do we tend to manage others in a way that doesn’t address our human need to love and be loved?

Obviously I’m not recommending anything that even hints of sexual love in the workplace.  Sexual harassment and discrimination are not only illegal, but they also reflect anger, resentment, and degradation rather than love.

But healthy, nonsexual expressions of “love” can be shown in numerous ways in the workplace:

  • A simple “thank you” or “great job” for others’ efforts.  Genuine expressions and acts of appreciation are closely related to the positive feeling of love, which is closely associated with feelings of happiness.
  • Empathy and understanding for employees’ competing work-life demands.  The ability to understand and empathize with another’s struggles and joys not only creates positive bonds between people, but we also tend to be happier when we believe that we are understood.
  • Asking for someone’s expertise and input during the planning and implementation phases of a project.  Love and happiness cannot exist in a healthy way unless there is respect between the parties.

We spend the vast majority of our time at work, thinking about work, and actually working.  As a result, our work environment and on-the-job experiences play a huge role in our feelings of overall happiness.

Happy people are rarely burned out.  Perhaps this is because they enjoy the work that they do and they do the work in an environment in which they are appreciated, respected, and valued.

Happiness also rarely exists in a vacuum.  Toxic work situations characterized by politicking, mistrust, disrespect, and behaviors that don’t address the very real emotional needs of the workforce are rarely “happy” places to work.  As a result, those unhappy workers won’t be fully engaged and committed in helping the company achieve its goals.

When a star performer is also an unhappy and burned out worker, you can bet that he or she will soon leave the organization.  When they don’t “feel the love,” they’re destined to find it somewhere else – usually with your competitor.

Maybe it’s time that managers and human resources professionals begin to focus on employee happiness rather than on the nebulous and esoteric concept of “job satisfaction.”  After all, you can be technically “satisfied” at work, but still not really be happy to be there.

Happiness at work creates that added “oomph” that transforms and enhances the way in which we do our jobs.

If you want outstanding performance from your workers, then you need to provide a work environment and culture that constantly reinforce that they are appreciated, respected, and valued.  In this way, you can “show the love” for your workers – which is one step closer to helping them achieve the happiness that they want and need at work.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, keynote speaker, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” in her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Have We Forgotten How to “Play Nice” at Work?

Teamwork - Bring on new memberWhen we were children, we were always admonished to “play nice.”  In other words, we should share our toys, be nice to other people, and help our friends.   In this way, we could enjoy our time together – and maybe even learn some valuable lessons about human behavior.

As adults, the equivalent to “playing nice” with playmates is to be respectful and helpful to our coworkers.  We should share our resources, respect our differences, and assist our colleagues when they run behind schedule or need a hand.

Like when we were children, we expect that there will be reciprocity:  if I “play nice” with you, then you will “play nice” with me.

While childhood was a much simpler time, these life lessons still ring true in the modern workplace.

However, I often wonder if we’ve really learned how to apply these childhood lessons of “playing nice.”  I have to ask:  have we forgotten how to “play nice” at work?

“Playing Nice” Is Inherently Reciprocal…or Is It? 

Just like no man is an island, no employee works alone.  We need to work with others in order to get the job done.

Ideally, teamwork enables us to get things done as the result of synergies arising from applying our individual KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) to the task at hand.  The whole of our efforts, therefore, is much greater than the sum of our individual parts.  By helping one another, no one is overburdened or stressed out.

The ability to effectively work in teams also reflects (to a large degree) our mastery of interpersonal communication skills.  The logic is that teams understand how to communicate, embrace differences, and share a single-minded focus on an ultimate, unifying goal.  By being on “the same page,” conflict is reduced or averted.

All of these mantras on teamwork reflect the idea of “playing nice.”

However, problems occur when some team members “play nice,”…but others don’t.  When this occurs, there are inevitable feelings of hurt, anger, and betrayal – feelings that ultimately affect organizational productivity and performance.

Consider these examples:

  • Stanley is an extroverted, dedicated employee who makes the time to lend a helping hand to his colleagues.  During his 360° performance review, he is shocked to learn that his coworkers said that he was difficult to work with and actually prevented them from doing their own work.
  • Samantha is a highly creative employee to whom colleagues frequently turn when “stuck” on problems that require outside the box thinking.  As a key partner in the development of a new program, she is startled to discover that her coworkers “forgot” to mention her as a crucial part of the development team when they were interviewed for an article.

How would you respond in these situations?

Stanley chose to become more “cool” or aloof in his interactions with the coworkers who he believed “threw him under the bus” – a behavior that is incongruent with what he believes is required to have a productive workplace.

In contrast, Samantha decided to begin asking for the recognition that she deserves – but fears that she will be labeled as “difficult” and not a “team player.”

In both instances, the employees were surprised by the action or inaction of their team members.  According to them, they had “no warning” that anything was wrong with their relationships.  They felt confused, angry, and betrayed.

They also believed that the best way to respond was to change their behaviors in order to better navigate the politics within their workplaces.

But perhaps more importantly, both workers changed their perceptions about the nature of their work environments.  In fact, both are considering leaving their companies.

The question, of course, is:  could these situations have been averted if all team members “played nice?”

Puleo’s Pointers:  How to “Play Nice” at Work

Even though a worker believes in sharing resources, respecting differences, and lending a hand, it is impossible to “play nice” in a vacuum.  A workplace in which all employees “play nice” requires a culture of trust.

To “play nice” in a corporate culture where workers don’t believe that their colleagues consider others’ best interests would be masochistic.  Adults will never “play nice” when “playing nice” ultimately hurts them professionally and emotionally.

  • If you want employees to “play nice” at work, then you need to establish an organizational foundation built on respect, transparency, leadership, support, and empathy.
  • Recruitment, selection, retention, performance appraisals, and development practices should be based upon and incorporate these fundamental values.
  • Corporate managers and senior leaders must also be appraised on whether their actions support or undermine a culture of trust.
  • “Playing nice” does not mean that there will be no disagreements between employees – accept that they are inevitable.  Remember:  it’s not the number of disagreements that indicates whether trust exists in an organization; rather it’s how you as a manager and/or an employee respond to conflict that reveals whether the culture is trusting or distrustful.

“Playing nice” is not an admonishment that should be given solely to children.  Given today’s chaotic, high stress workplaces, it may be the only way to achieve the natural synergies, enthusiasm, and innovation that result from people trusting each other.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, keynote speaker, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” in her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Paradigm Shifter #45: When someone shows you who they are, believe them!

Paradigm ShiftWhy do so many people’s actions take us off guard?  Why then do we hit ourselves on the head and ask, “How could I not have seen this coming?!?!”

We’ve all had situations where we’ve met someone and their actions or words initially surprised us.  The problem is that most of us tend to give others the “benefit of the doubt.”  We downplay our surprise at others’ words or actions through rationalization.

For example:

  • Lying:  “He told me that he’s a very honest person, but he also admitted that sometimes you’ve got to lie to get the job done; I’m sure that I won’t be one of the people he’d lie to…”
  • Incompetence:  “He wasn’t fully prepared for our meeting, but I guess that’s because he was busy with other clients; I’m sure that once I hire him, he’ll have more of an incentive to really work for me…”
  • Experience:  “He assured me that he has over 20 years experience and has won a lot of awards in his field; I wonder why he didn’t recommend any solutions to my problems and just offered to do whatever I told him to do…”
  • Inexperience:  “He said that he wasn’t really knowledgeable about my problem, but that he would work hard with me to solve it; I wonder why he didn’t do any of the preliminary research before our first meeting…”

Do any of these situations sound familiar?  Have you (like I have often done in the past) disregarded the disconnect when something just didn’t add up?  When you noticed the incongruity between words and actions, did you keep that in mind as you moved forward in the relationship?

I’ve talked about this issue before in Paradigm Shifters #30 – Believe what people do, not what they say.  Unfortunately, there seems to be an increase in the degree of disconnect between someone’s words, expressed priorities, and actions.  Trying to determine the cause is beyond the scope of this paradigm shifter; instead we need to focus on how we can best respond to these disconnects.

The burning question that must be addressed is:  “Is this person intentionally trying to deceive me OR does he/she really believe what it is that they are saying??  In other words, are they aware of the disconnect between their words and actions?

I admit that I tend to give the benefit of the doubt, so I believe that many people are unaware.  However, I have also learned to notice this disconnect and to refer back to it when interpreting events and situations in that relationship.

Disconnects between words and actions don’t exist when people are living authentically.

If someone is living authentically, then there a strong foundation built on core values that underline everything that he or she does.  These values are obvious.  We can see them in their actions.  And whether we agree with these values or not, we understand who that person is.

Whenever there is a disconnect between words and actions, we need to make conscious decisions in determining how to proceed:

#1:  Notice your feelings of surprise or confusion.  It’s not what people say that they’re going to do that matters; it truly is what they do that matters.

#2:  Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification – repeatedly.  If they are intentionally trying to deceive you, you’ll notice fidgeting and squirming – watch their body language.  Also watch their eyes:  if they can’t look at you, then they might be hiding something.  However, if they’re really good at deception, repeatedly ask for clarification until YOU are fully satisfied; we often quit asking questions if we believe that we are making the other person too “uncomfortable.”

#3:  Don’t forget your initial feelings as you move forward in the relationship.  Ironically, people tend to be the most forthcoming about who they are when you first meet them.  If their words or actions gave you pause, don’t just “pooh-pooh” your instincts.  Respect those instincts – they are often insights working more on the subconscious level that haven’t fully filtered up into conscious levels of critical thinking.

#4:  You have a choice in how (and if) the relationship progresses.  There is no need to get in heated arguments if the disconnect continues.  After all, you noticed the disconnect previously so you also play a role in how the relationship evolves.  What you decide to do often depends on the degree of the disconnect AND the importance of those underlying values to you.

People are the foundation of any relationship – whether it’s personal or professional.  Even in the age of B2B (business to business) marketing, we still have to create trusting relationships with the employees who represent the companies with whom we do business.

Trust your instincts, ask for clarification and proof, and, above all, believe people when they show you who they really are.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Paradigm Shifter #30: Believe what people do (not what they say)

Paradigm Shift

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.”  However, I’ve found that many of us prefer to believe what people say, rather than what they actually do – depending upon our perceptions of the current or potential relationship with them.  (See Paradigm Shifter #52:  There is no such thing as reality, only perception.)

Consider the words used to “sell” both the candidate and the job in the typical hiring process:

  • The traditional job interview is a cauldron of self-serving words used by both the job candidate and the company to create an image of the future employment relationship.  This is because the interview is essentially a sales opportunity:  the candidate extols their benefits to the employer and the employer makes the job sufficiently attractive to entice a qualified candidate to accept the job offer.
  • Job candidates are coached to craft answers to common interview questions in a way that places the most positive “spin” on their KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) as well as the scope of their experience.  The extent of that “spin” ranges from conscious omissions of certain facts to outright lies about credentials.
  • Skilled recruiters and desperate hiring managers may enhance the “reality” of the job’s responsibilities, work environment, and political environment (often saying that there are no politics in their workplaces!).  Too many candidates accept this description as accurate – but many workers have experienced this “bait and switch” when the actual job was significantly different from what had been “promised” in the interview.

Deciding what’s “real” and what’s merely “spin” is, therefore, a challenge for both the company and the candidate.  Internet searches, background checks, in box exercises, role playing, and assessment centers are increasingly used to determine if what both the candidate and employer say is true.

Once hired, the decisions relating to whether to believe coworkers’ words or actions continue.

  • Both managers and coworkers complain when employees agree to certain project timelines or standards then fail to meet them.  Depending on our perceptions of both the situation and the employee, their reasons (or words) might be ignored in light of the results (or actions) OR exceptions for the lack of results might be granted if their reasons are perceived as “sufficiently compelling.”

Warning!  These personal relationships can lead to charges of bias or discriminatory practices when we accept excuses from one employee, but are inflexible with another – particularly if he or she is a member of a protected class.  Rationalization for these differences varies from justifiable patterns of past behaviors to intentional or unintentional discrimination.

The Continuum of Whether to Believe Words vs. Actions

The decision to rely on either words or actions depends upon numerous factors:  the level of authority vis-à-vis the employee, the effects that his or her actions have on our own productivity and success, as well as the quality and history of our personal relationship.

The extent to which we believe words vs. actions lies on a continuum.  On one end is the belief that all people lie, so you can’t trust anything that they say; this is abject cynicism.   Conversely, blindly believing anything that anyone tells us is dangerous naiveté.  Perceptions on either end of this continuum fail to build teamwork, trust, and productivity in the workplace.

Fortunately, most people are somewhere in the middle.  The critical factor in determining where we fall on this continuum is experience over time.  Our past experiences with others will generally be the framework for deciding whether to believe a new worker’s words or wait to see their actions.  In established relationships (manager/subordinate or coworker/coworker), past actions will generally be relied on as the “truth” in future situations.

Our actions reflect our priorities – even if they contradict what we say.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Don’t Promise What You Can’t (or Won’t) Deliver

Swear with fingers crossed

“Losers make promises they often break.  Winners make commitments they always keep.”  This quote by Denis Waitley, a well respected success coach and author, provides valuable insight into the modern workplace.

Trust and promises go hand-in-hand.

We’ve all had promises broken by our bosses, coworkers, colleagues,…and ourselves.  While many times there were very good reasons why we couldn’t follow through on what we promised to do, I sometimes wonder whether we focus too much on the reasons behind the broken promise, rather than the effects that our broken promises have on others.

When someone breaks a promise to us, there is often a shift in the relationship.  Depending on the ramifications of that broken promise in our lives, it can destroy the level of trust that may have taken years to establish.  If the business relationship is new, it may cause us to be more cautious in our future dealings with both that individual and others as well.

We need to believe that what people tell us is the truth.  How many times have you depended on another’s person’s commitment to action in developing your own timeline, action plan, or financial decisions?  In this situation, our own personal integrity might have been put to the test because we’ve made promises to others that were contingent upon someone else’s promise to complete a task at a given time.  In such situations, it is not surprising that tempers flare and skepticism infuses future dealings with that person.

The effects of broken promises vary:

  • Is it the first time that a promise has been broken?  Many people will allow a second chance.
  • Was it a “soft” deadline with few ramifications?  Many people will let it go and not let it affect future dealings with that person.
  • Was it just one more incidence of someone failing to live up to what they promised?  In these situations, it might be healthier for both parties to redefine the psychological contract (or expectations) within this relationship.
  • Finally, was the broken promise the inadvertent result of other events that affected the person’s ability to do what they said that they would do – or did that person intentionally commit to something they knew that they could not or would not do?  Broken promises and intentional deceit are two very different situations that require very different responses.

In conversations with colleagues, it appears that trust in the workplace is at an all-time low.  The list of broken promises in the workplace can be found in missed deadlines, subpar performance, and withheld resources.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Some Things to Remember When Making Promises     

Care should be taken when making promises.  If there is any doubt about our ability to deliver, then that needs to be stated directly and initially.  In this way, the person who is relying on us to “make good” on our promise is forewarned and can decide whether or not to depend on us to take these actions.

But even if he or she is forewarned, that does not give us the option to not follow through on what we promised.  A promise is a commitment that needs to be honored.

However, stuff does happen.  If circumstances lead to a broken promise, then it is critical to notify the person who is depending upon us immediately.  Delay – for whatever reason – is never viewed positively.  Also, diligently try to find an alternative to your inability to do the task.

Instead of focusing on the litany of events that led to the broken promise, acknowledge that we failed to do what we said we were going to do and not only apologize, but also empathize.  Simply acknowledging our mistake, recognizing the inconvenience that it is causing the other person, and offering another option can take some of the sting out of the broken promise.

Above all, commit to meeting any promises made to that person in the future.  After a promise has been broken, there has been a withdrawal from the emotional bank account that we share with this person.  Meeting future promises helps to rebuild bridges, strengthen the relationship, and move forward.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

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