Laura Petrecca at USA Today reports that MetLife’s 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends finds employee morale is plunging. In two plus years of careful budget scrutiny, employers have forgotten to watch “what drives employee satisfaction and loyalty,” says Ronald Leopold, VP of MetLife’s U.S. Business. And a study by the American Psychological Association says that four out of ten employees are overstressed by extremely high workloads and unrealistic job expectations from bosses.
What seems to have been lost on employers is that the same thing that drives employees in good times drives them in bad times as well. That is their ability to affect what controls them and know that their work matters. Almost all employers took both of these away during the last economic downturn. They made decisions about what work would be done, whether there would be layoffs, and how layoffs would be handled. They decided where resulting “extra” work would be distributed and, as usual, they neglected to ensure that employees knew how their efforts were affecting the people who really matter — customers and communities — except when there were problems.
Research continues to show that all human beings are happier, healthier, and more productive when they understand how they are in control of their own choices and outcomes, even when they do not get the results that they intend. Psychologists call this internal locus of control. When employees have internal locus of control — and know they have it — they are not debilitated by even extremely high-pressure overload situations.
When Kingsford Charcoal found it necessary to close facilities and lay off workers, they made sure to activate workers’ internal locus of control and design conditions to prevent loss of morale and productivity. They put a team of workers and executives together to oversee transitions at closing facilities. The team created entrepreneurial development opportunities in communities, based on services that were needed but not yet available. They supported community college study for certificates and degrees. They worked with local elected, appointed, and professional leaders on ways to ensure success for new businesses.
The results where that productivity doubled at Kingsford’s facilities that didn’t close. Remaining employees did not feel guilty, or lucky. They were part of the decision making; they knew that the people who were laid off left for new jobs and enterprises that they really wanted to take on.
This might not be the exact scenario for your business, but the key is to ask, What keeps our people in control of their own lives and decisions? How do they know that their work makes a difference that matters? Activating employees’ internal locus of control should be the basis of work design and the underlying philosophy of employee management in both good and bad times.
Originally published at carolsanford.com on March 29, 2011.