Remote Workers Experiencing Burnout

With many employees working remotely, productivity may decrease and the feeling of being burnt out may increase. As working remotely continues to draw out through many months, many employees may continue to feel this way, as well. Read this blog post to learn more.


Recent polling shows a significant share of the U.S. workforce is feeling burned out after more than two months of working from home during the coronavirus outbreak.

About half of 1,251 respondents in a survey conducted in May by job-search and careers website Monster said they were experiencing burnout. Even before COVID-19 upended workers' lives, the World Health Organization had classified burnout as an "occupational phenomenon" and a hazard.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work, where we work, resulted in clashes between our work and home lives like we've never had before, and really has become a big stressor," said Melissa Jezior, president and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting, a Washington, D.C.-based management consulting firm.

Binita Amin, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., warned that the dangers of burnout are typically greater than just feeling stressed. "Stress is something that is resolved and has some sort of closure, and with burnout there's no real end in sight, so it's significant and chronic in nature," she said. "What happens over time is you start to see that a person's mental, physical and emotional resources are exhausted and depleted. In the work context, you can see it in terms of decreased productivity, difficulty concentrating, and certainly feelings of disillusionment or cynicism."

In a survey of 1,000 workers polled by Eagle Hill in April, 50 percent said they feel less connected to colleagues, 45 percent feel less productive, and 36 percent feel less positive about their careers.

The particular stressors brought on by COVID-19 include overworking and adapting to new ways of working; caring for children in the absence of school or day care; job insecurity; health concerns; isolation; and the lack of clear boundaries between work and home, said Vicki Salemi, a careers expert for Monster based in New York City. "People have also lost many of the ways they used to manage stress, such as spending time with friends, going to concerts and sporting events, and going to the gym," she said.

The Monster poll did find that almost three-quarters of respondents (71 percent) are making an effort to take time for themselves during the workday, such as taking a break or going for a walk. But over half of respondents (52 percent) said they are not planning to take extended time off or vacation despite facing burnout.

Salemi said that people may be reluctant to book a vacation because of financial reasons, the fear of being perceived as not being productive, or concerns about public safety. "Some people are just not ready to go to the beach, while other destinations, like amusement parks, are not really open for business," she said.

"Even if you're not going anywhere, you earned PTO [paid time off], and you should take it," she encouraged. "Using PTO doesn't necessarily mean you have to get on an airplane and fly away somewhere. It can mean taking a staycation. Perhaps people are thinking, 'Well, I'm already home, and I don't need a staycation,' but the reality is that we all need to log off."

She said there are ways to creatively take PTO, such as taking off every Monday or Friday in the month of July, for example.

Employers' Role

Employers can play a big part in helping address burnout among their employees, experts said. Affinity groups and employee assistance programs should be promoted as helpful resources, but there's even more that managers can do, according to Amin. "There's real opportunity to empower your employees to feel more sense of control over things like schedules, workload and types of work assignments, and even influencing things like meaningful connection," she said.

Lack of control is a prime factor of burnout, Jezior said. "Right now, there is a lot outside of our control. But I think one way we can help ground employees is to give them the autonomy and the ownership over how and when they complete their work."

Salemi recommended getting feedback from employees about their workload and work-from-home processes to make sure expectations are aligned and they feel supported. She stressed that managers and leadership should lead by example and encourage employees to take advantage of flexible work options.

"Make an announcement to the team or the organization that it's OK to take time off, even without having someplace to travel to," she said. "Encourage them to take time off."

SOURCE; Maurer, R. (29 May 2020) "Remote Workers Experiencing Burnout" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/remote-workers-experiencing-burnout.aspx


How to Monitor Your Employees — While Respecting Their Privacy

A recent survey found that 55 percent of millennials that had partaken in the survey plan to leave employers that prioritize profits over people. Read this blog post to learn more.


Even before Covid-19 sent an unprecedented number of people to work from home, employers were ramping up their efforts to monitor employee productivity. A 2018 Gartner report revealed that of 239 large corporations, 50% were monitoring the content of employee emails and social media accounts, along with who they met with and how they utilized their workspaces. A year later an Accenture survey of C-suite executives reported that 62% of their organizations were leveraging new tools to collect data on their employees.

These statistics were gathered before the coronavirus pandemic, which has made working from home a necessity for thousands of companies. With that transition having happened so rapidly, employers are left wondering how much work is actually going on. The fear of productivity losses, mingling with the horror of massively declining revenues, has encouraged many leaders to ramp up their employee monitoring efforts.

There is no shortage of digital tools for employee monitoring — or, as privacy advocates put it, “corporate surveillance.” Multiple services enable stealth monitoring, live video feeds, keyboard tracking, optical character recognition, keystroke recording, or location tracking. One such company, Hubstaff, implements random screen capture that can be customized for each person and set to report “once, twice, or three times per 10 minutes,” if managers so wish. Another company, Teramind, captures all keyboard activity and records “all information to comprehensive logs [that] can be used to formulate a base of user-based behavior analytics.”

Despite the easy availability of options, however, monitoring comes with real risk to the companies that pursue it. Surveillance threatens to erode trust between employers and employees. Accenture found that 52% of employees believe that mishandling of data damages trust — and only 30% of the C-suite executives who were polled reported themselves as “confident” that the data would always be used responsibly. Employees who are now subject to new levels of surveillance report being both “incredibly stressed out” by the constant monitoring and also afraid to speak up, a recipe for not only dissatisfaction but also burnout, both of which — ironically — decrease productivity. Worse, monitoring can invite a backlash: In October of 2019 Google employees went public about spy tools allegedly created to suppress internal dissent.

Tempting as it may be to implement monitoring in the service of protecting productivity, it also stands in stark contrast to recent trends in the corporate world. Many organizations have committed to fostering a better employee experience, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. There are not only strong ethical reasons for having one’s eye on that ball, but good bottom line reasons as well. The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey from 2019 found that 55% of millennials plan to leave employers that prioritize profits over people. Retention — which should be a priority for all companies, given the high expense of making and onboarding new hires — becomes difficult and costly for companies that don’t reflect those values. Given the risk of alienating employees coupled with the possibility of error and misapplication of these tools, it is quite likely that, for many, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.

Even so, some companies will still find it worth the tradeoffs. Justified fear of a collapsing economy reasonably drives employers to monitor their employees to ensure they are being productive and efficient. Indeed, they may even have ethically admirable aims in doing so, such as for the sake of their employees’ health and the health of the country as a whole. Furthermore, if the tools are deployed with the goal of discovering which employees are in need of additional help — more on this below — that may be all the more reason to monitor. But if your business concludes that it ought to monitor employees (for whatever reason), it is important to do so in a way that maximally respects its employees.

Here are six recommendations on how to walk this tightrope.

1. Choose your metrics carefully by involving all relevant stakeholders.
Applying numbers to things is easy, as is making quick judgments based on numeric scores spit out by a piece of software. This leads to both unnecessary surveillance and ill-formed decisions. It’s simply too easy to react to information that, in practice, is irrelevant to productivity, efficiency, and revenue. If you insist on monitoring employees, make sure what you’re tracking is relevant and necessary. Simply monitoring the quantity of emails written or read, for instance, is not a reliable indicator of productivity.

If you want the right metrics, then engage all of the relevant stakeholders in the process to determine those metrics, from hiring managers to supervisors to those who are actually being monitored. With regards to employee engagement it is especially important to reach both experienced and new employees, and that they are able to deliver their input in a setting where there is no fear of reprisal. For instance, they can be in discussion with a supervisor — but preferably not their direct supervisor, who has the authority to fire or promote them.

2. Be transparent with your employees about what you’re monitoring and why. 
Part and parcel of respecting someone is that you take the time to openly and honestly communicate with them. Tell your employees what you’re monitoring and why. Give them the opportunity to offer feedback. Share the results of the monitoring with them and, crucially, provide a system by which they can appeal decisions about their career influenced by the data collected.

Transparency increases employee acceptance rates. Gartner found that only 30% of employees were comfortable with their employer monitoring their email. But in the same study, when an employer shared that they would be monitoring and explained why, more than 50% of workers reported being comfortable with it.

3. Offer carrots as well as sticks.
Monitoring or surveillance software is implicitly tied to overseers who are bent on compliance and submission. Oppressive governments, for example, tie surveillance with threats of fines and imprisonment. But you don’t need to pursue monitoring as a method of oppression. You would do better to think about it as a tool by which you can figure out how to help your employees be more productive or reward them for their hustle. That means thinking about what kinds of carrots can be used to motivate and boost relevant numbers, not just sticks to discourage inefficiencies.

4. Accept that very good workers will not always be able to do very good work all the time — especially under present circumstances.
These are unique times and it would be wrong — both ethically and factually — to make decisions about who is and who is not a good employee or a hard worker based on performance under these conditions. Some very hard-working and talented employees may be stretched extraordinarily thin due to a lack of school and child care options, for instance. These are people you want to keep because, in the long run, they provide a tremendous amount of value. Ensure that your supervisors take the time to talk to their supervisees when the numbers aren’t what you want them to be. And again, that conversation should reflect an understanding of the employee’s situation and focus on creative solutions, not threats.

5. Monitor your own systems to ensure that people of color and other vulnerable groups are not disproportionately affected.
Central to any company’s diversity and inclusion effort is a commitment to eliminating any discrimination against traditionally marginalized populations. Precisely because they have been marginalized, those populations tend to occupy more junior roles in an organization — and junior roles often suffer the most scrutiny. This means that there is a risk of disproportionately surveilling the very groups a company’s inclusivity efforts are designed to protect, which invites significant ethical, reputational, and legal risks.

If employee monitoring is being used, it is important that the most junior people are not surveilled to a greater extent than their managers, or at least not to an extent that places special burdens on them. For instance, it would be particularly troublesome if very junior employees received a level of surveillance — say, sentiment analysis or keyboard logging — that only slightly more senior people did not. A policy that says, “This is how we monitor all employees” raises fewer ethical red flags than a policy that says, “This is how we monitor most employees, except for the most junior ones, who undergo a great deal more surveillance.” Equal application of the law, in other words, legitimately blunts the force of charges of discrimination.

6. Decrease monitoring when and where you can.
The impulse to monitor is understandable, especially in these times. But as people return to their offices — and even as some continue to work from home — look for places to pull back monitoring efforts where things are going well. This communicates trust to employees. It also corrects for the tendency to acquire more control than necessary when circumstances are not as severe as they once were.

At the end of the day, your employees are your most valuable assets. They possess institutional knowledge and skills others do not. You’ve invested time and money in them and they are very expensive to replace. Treating them with respect is not only something they deserve — it’s crucial for a company’s retention efforts. If your company does choose to move ahead with surveillance software in this climate, you need to remind yourself that you are not the police. You should be monitoring employees not with a raised baton, but with an outstretched hand.

SOURCE: Blackman, R. (28 May 2020) "How to Monitor Your Employees — While Respecting Their Privacy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/05/how-to-monitor-your-employees-while-respecting-their-privacy


Work from home forever? Businesses are divided on that

With many businesses working remotely still due to the coronavirus, many businesses are debating on if working from home will become permanently and are even divided on that decision. Read this blog post to learn more.


The work-from-home movement is gaining steam in Silicon Valley as a flurry of companies — big and small — are embracing remote-working policies beyond the pandemic. But even as some executives extol its virtues, other tech leaders aren’t so sure, opening a growing divide inside the industry over the future of work. It’s a worthy debate.

On Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his company will start allowing some existing employees to work from home permanently. He said Facebook will also “aggressively open up remote hiring” for engineering talent in areas it doesn’t have an office, saying as much as 50% of the company’s employees could eventually work remotely within 10 years. In similar fashion, Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke said his e-commerce software company will allow its employees to work from home indefinitely, adding he expects that most of his staff will work remotely going forward. The days of “office centricity is over,” the executive posted on social media. The two companies join Twitter, which said last week it will let employees work from home as standard practice as well.

Not everyone in technology is on board. Take-Two Interactive Software CEO Strauss Zelnick said on an investor call this week that he believes sustained strong productivity will get more difficult the longer people are forced to work from home, adding that “there is no substitute for in-person collaboration and connection.” That follows comments from Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella, who expressed concern in an interview with the New York Times last week that early positive remote-work productivity metrics may mask underlying deficiencies, in terms of managing and mentoring employees. He also raised worries about potential burnout and mental-health issues. “Maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?” he asked.

There’s something to be said for this pushback. Sure, there are many pluses to offering off-site work flexibility — including better employee retention and the ability to hire from a more diverse talent base in other geographies — but corporations should realize the work-from-home trend isn’t a panacea. In fact, there are significant drawbacks and challenges that shouldn’t be overlooked.

As Zelnick pointed out, there are unquantifiable benefits derived from being in the same physical location. Scheduled videoconferencing meetings don’t engender the same spontaneous creativity compared to the many back-and-forth brief conversations during a typical day at an office. And nothing beats face-to-face interactions for building the relationships and trust required to persuade your colleagues on big decisions.

It’s notable that even as Facebook projects confidence and forward-looking thought leadership in its charge toward its new work-from-home culture, it is implementing the change slowly. Zuckerberg said only the company’s senior engineers with strong performance reviews will be initially allowed to apply for remote-work flexibility, adding it will be a measured transition before extending the policy to non-engineers.

To be frank, it wouldn’t surprise me to see many of these companies slow down their transitions to remote working. After all, the world is only a few months into this massive remote-work experiment. The initial productivity benefits may dissipate and significant negative consequences may well appear over time. Best not to rush into any drastic decisions.

SOURCE: Kim, T. (26 May 2020) "Work from home forever? Businesses are divided on that" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/work-from-home-forever-businesses-are-divided-on-that


Taking Walks with the Kids Is One Perk of Working Remotely; Handling Their Meltdowns Is Not

Although many employees are now enjoying the perks that come with working remotely, such as saving time on their daily commutes, there are also downsides that may come with it. Read this blog post to learn more.


Time with kids. Time with pets. Time to exercise. Time to cook. Time to sleep in.

These are among the perks that employees appreciate while having to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the results of a recent survey.

But there are downsides, too: trying to work while overseeing kids' schooling, for instance, or being distracted by children so stressed-out by quarantine that they frequently cry or act out.

"The level of remote employees reporting enjoying the extra time they have as a result of not commuting one to two hours a day was an intense theme," said Paul White, Ph.D., a psychologist in Wichita, Kan., who writes on relationships in the workplace and who conducted the survey with Natalie Hamrick, Ph.D., a research psychologist.

By that, White said, he means that the vast majority of respondents indicated that not having to commute was one of the things they most appreciated about being forced to work from home.

"We wanted to learn about newly remote employees—those who were forced to work remotely," said White, who is co-author of four books, including The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (Northfield Press, 2014). "With the millions of new remote workers—who face different challenges than traditional remote workers—we thought it would be wise to explore the experiences, perceptions, reactions and coping mechanisms of this group of workers … for the purpose of providing guidance to leaders, supervisors and HR professionals in understanding their new remote employees and how best to support them."

From more than 1,200 applicants, White chose 50 people representing different ages, genders, geographies and living situations. Most participants had been working remotely less than two weeks when the study began. They were asked to fill out an online questionnaire once a week for four weeks, answering questions about their concerns, the challenges they faced, their anxiety level, what they were anxious about, what coping behaviors they were using, the feelings they were experiencing and the positive aspects of working from home.

Anxiety Levels

Respondents tended to report a moderate amount of anxiety—about their health and the health of their relatives and about the impact of the pandemic globally and on the economy.

The levels of stress and anxiety were fairly consistent across the respondents' ages, genders, family situations, living arrangements and geography, which surprised White.

"I thought maybe that living in an urban setting rather than a rural one might feel more stressful," he said. "But there was no difference between participants in those groups as to anxiety, stress or positive reports. Same thing for whether you lived alone or not, or had kids or not."

Managing Kids

Respondents who had children reported that their biggest challenges when working from home were things like "working while overseeing my children's schooling" and handling cooped-up children who were experiencing "lots of crying and meltdowns."

"Employers and employees alike must recognize that working from home naturally involves surrounding noises like animals and children," said Michael Masset, chief human resources officer at ITWP, a digital market research company based in Wilton, Conn. "We are all human and having to deal with more than we have before. Child care and schooling have been disrupted. Companies must maintain structure for employees but also provide flexibility where necessary—not only because it's the right thing to do but because it will ultimately lead to greater productivity."

The Upside to Working at Home

One thing that surprised White was the number of people who said not having to commute was the most positive aspect of working from home.

"The intensity of [the reply] and the breadth of it were unexpected," he said, noting that "not commuting" was an answer to an open-ended question, not a choice on a list of answers. "It was [about] … more time with family, lunch with the wife, walks with my kids, time for exercising. It populated the majority of the positive things they were mentioning."

Should managers worry that employees who report having more time for exercising, cooking or playing with kids might be less productive than they were at the workplace?

Mercer partner and business segment leader Adam Pressman says the consultancy is "hearing from both employers and employees that there are two sides to this coin."

"On one hand, employees that work from home do report they have extra time in their day due to less travel and no commute," he said. "However, we are also hearing concerns about maintaining work/life balance and managing burnout. With everyone working at home, e-mail traffic has increased and the amount of time on Zoom and conference calls has increased as well. And for employees who are parents with children now being forced to do online learning, it can be a challenge to keep up with both work and family needs.

"We encourage employers to be empathetic during this time and allow people to find a work structure and approach that works for them."

Alex Konankykhin is the CEO of TransparentBusiness, a New York City-based workforce management and coordination software company. While it's a leader's duty to worry about employee performance, he said, good managers know who their solid performers are. That probably isn't going to change when those employees work at home, even if they are "in their jammies," he noted.

"Managers know that [some] employees may give in to the temptation to take advantage of the lack of transparency into their work and enjoy Netflix marathons, moonlight for other companies, work on a personal pet project or spend time on domestic matters," Konankykhin said. But, he added, "every manager knows [which of his or her] workers are dedicated employees. And often, when working at home, [they put in] more hours than they used to in the office, due to the time saved on the daily commute and due to the higher comfort level of working at home."

SOURCE: Wilkie, D. (06 May 2020) "Taking Walks with the Kids Is One Perk of Working Remotely; Handling Their Meltdowns Is Not" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/newly-remote-workers-coronavirus-.aspx


Viewpoint: How to Lead in a Crisis

As many leaders have been faced with uncertainty during the trying times the coronavirus pandemic brought upon them, it's important for them to lead with the advantage that the uncertainty can bring. Read this blog post to learn more.


Despite a host of warnings about the impending COVID-19 crisis, it caught most of us by surprise. I recall attending the regular leadership team meetings of a few of my clients the week of March 9, and by March 15, the world had changed. It was no longer a potential crisis; it was a full-on global pandemic where new terms such as "social distancing" and "flattening the curve" became part of our lexicon. A spectrum of responses emerged, from reactive chaos to deploying well-practiced business continuity modes.

The challenge that leaders face in a crisis is that their organizations aren't typically set up to operate with such uncertainty. Leaders create visions, plans and metrics to attempt to control their environments and minimize uncertainty as best they can. In a crisis many leaders default to what they know how to do in order to reduce frustration and quell their own and others' fears. This default mode is simply not productive and rather than reduce uncertainty and anxiety, it increases both.

Today all organizations are faced with a new normal—uncertainty and inability to control the environments in which they operate. We know the pandemic will end but it won't truly be over until a vaccine is available. We know the curve will eventually flatten but projections seem to change hourly. We know people will get back to work but we don't know whether social distancing will continue to influence the economy. We know that remote work is possible on a broad scale but it's not clear if this will work long-term.

Ralph Stacey and Douglas Griffin's definition of a leader is one that lends itself to today's environment: "One recognized as a leader has a greater capacity to live with the anxiety of not knowing and not being in control. The leader is recognized as having the courage to carry on interacting productively and creatively despite not knowing." This definition certainly applies to today's environment of tremendous uncertainty and great anxiety. Clearly there is much we don't know about what the future will hold. It is also clear that leadership today requires an ability to embrace uncertainty and interact productively.

While it's a relatively small sample size, we have been amazed by the approaches our clients have taken to navigate their way through these challenging times. None have had an easy time, and some were certainly more prepared than others, but most have quickly overcome their natural tendency to control and shifted to doing their best to operate in crisis mode. In each case a few important themes emerged for how to embrace the uncertainty – humility, transparency, engagement, focus and patience.

Positive humility. In their own ways, each CEO acknowledged their fear about the unknown and that they didn't have all the answers, but they exuded a sense of calmness and confidence in their organizations to work smart and hard to get through the crisis. By reinforcing and modeling positive humility CEOs have established a tone for their leadership teams to cascade throughout their organizations.

Transparency. CEOs and their leadership teams are proactively communicating difficult information openly and being clear when they don't have answers to important questions. For example, they are not promising that no jobs will be lost but they are committing to pursuing all avenues necessary such as the SBA CARES Loans to secure jobs as long as possible.

Engagement. When in doubt these organizations are doing their best to negotiate clear expectations (i.e., daily check-in sessions with supervisors) and over-communicate (i.e., using email, internal web site and supervisors to reinforce that hourly workers will be paid weekly). They are also encouraging managers and staff to use multiple channels to remain in contact both formally and informally (i.e., Virtual Team Meetings, Virtual happy hours, random watercooler calls).

Focus. After a short period of getting their remote offices working, CEOs and their leadership teams redoubled their efforts to ensure their organizations remained focused on the core mission (i.e., executing loans, building interiors, registering / renewing members). They also reinforced that today's plans would likely change tomorrow and that learning from mistakes and helping employees and customers manage uncertainty is a big part of their jobs.

Patience. In a crisis adults often revert to overdone strengths – people who are naturally decisive might become arrogant or people who tend to be naturally empathetic might become overly protective. These CEOs and their leadership teams recognize this tendency to revert. They are working hard to have patience with each other by giving space, not overreacting themselves and providing gentle feedback.

These are extremely challenging times and despite efforts by the smartest scientists, economists and business leaders in the world, there is no clear path to when things will get back to normal. Ambiguity is a daily obstacle for most business leaders, but today we are dealing with ambiguity on steroids. It is not easy but we are so encouraged to see so many CEOs and their leadership teams embrace the ambiguity to help their organizations get to the other side of this crazy time.

Jack McGuinness is co-founder and managing partner of Relationship Impact, a consulting firm focused on helping great leaders build great leadership teams.

This article is excerpted from www.ChiefExecutive.net with permission from Chief Executive. C 2020. All rights reserved.

SOURCE: McGuinness, J. (20 April 2020) "Viewpoint: How to Lead in a Crisis" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Viewpoint-How-to-Lead-in-a-Crisis-Coronavirus.aspx


4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic

While the spread of the coronavirus continuously increases, employees are urged to stay at home if they feel any symptoms that could be related to the virus. As employers begin to risk lost productivity due to sick leave, they may be tempted to adopt inflexible standards. Continue reading this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Government officials are urging sick workers to stay home and employers to have flexible leave policies during the coronavirus pandemic. Don't let business pressures and reliance on past practices lead you to make bad decisions about attendance and leave policies during the public health emergency. Here are four mistakes employment law attorneys said businesses should avoid.

1. Being Inflexible

Many employers are understandably worried about the business impact of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. They might be tempted to adopt inflexible sick time or general attendance policies to keep people coming to the workplace in an effort to maximize productivity, said Marissa Mastroianni, an attorney with Cole Schotz in Hackensack, N.J. "But it's a mistake to adopt an inflexible policy that would pressure a sick worker to come to the office," she noted.

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, employers have a duty to protect employees against known hazards in the workplace. "If one does not already exist, develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that can help guide protective actions against COVID-19," OSHA said in its Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.

The guidance noted that workers might be absent because they are sick or caring for sick family members, need to care for children whose schools or day care centers are closed, have at-risk people at home, or are afraid to come to work because they think they'll be exposed to the virus.

"Don't make employees feel pressured to come in when they shouldn't," Mastroianni said. If employees feel sick or think they have been exposed, they should be told to stay home. "We don't want to wait until someone is actually diagnosed."

Under OSHA rules, employees who reasonably believe they are in imminent danger can't be fired for refusing to come to the worksite. But what if an employee just doesn't feel comfortable reporting to work?

"Be more flexible with existing policies," said Susan Kline, an attorney with Faegre Drinker in Indianapolis. Employers should also consider providing additional sick time for instances of actual illness. If someone can't work from home, decide if offering paid time off is possible.

Some employees may take advantage of a flexible leave policy, Mastroianni said, but the employer's potential for liability is significant if employees are required to report to the workplace when they should stay home.

The analysis could be very fact-specific, and employers may want to contact a lawyer before denying time off.

"For a lot of companies, it's a challenge," Kline said, "because they want to be supportive but also don't know how big this is going to get."

2. Applying Policies Inconsistently

"Employers may choose to relax certain procedures set forth in sick-leave policies under extenuating circumstances, such as the current outbreak," said Jason Habinsky, an attorney with Haynes and Boone in New York City. "However, it is critical that employers apply any such modifications uniformly in order to avoid any claims of discrimination or unfair treatment."

For example, if an employer chooses to excuse absences for or to advance paid time off or vacation time to employees as a result of a COVID-19-related illness, the employer must be certain to do the same for all employees who are absent under similar circumstances.

"This requires employers to ensure that all decision-makers are aware of any temporary or permanent modifications to sick-leave policies to maintain consistency," Habinsky said.

3. Ignoring Leave Laws

All sick-leave policies must comply with applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws, and these laws may require employers to provide leave for COVID-19-related absences. Although employers may be required to provide leave, they should note that many laws allow employees to decide when to use it.

Employers must also avoid forcing a sick employee to perform services while out on leave, Habinsky noted, as this may constitute interference or retaliation under certain leave laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In fact, employers must avoid taking any actions against employees that could be construed as retaliation in violation of the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws.

"This could include any form of discipline in response to an employee's use of sick time or request to use sick-leave time," Habinsky said. "Likewise, to the extent employees are performing services while working remotely from home, they must be paid for time worked in accordance with applicable federal and state wage laws consistent with their classification as exempt or nonexempt."

Laura Pasqualone, an attorney with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie in Phoenix, noted that many paid-sick-leave laws prohibit employers from requiring a doctor's note unless the absence is for at least three days. But requiring a medical certification at all could further burden emergency rooms and urgent care facilities and could expose employees to more germs, she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged employers not to require employees to provide a doctor's note to verify their COVID-19-related illness or to return to work.

4. Failing to Actively Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home

According to the CDC, employers should actively encourage sick employees to stay home by:

  • Telling employees to stay home if they have symptoms of acute respiratory illness, a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, or signs of a fever. Employees should be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication before returning to work.
  • Urging employees to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick for any reason.
  • Ensuring that the company's sick-leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of the policies.
  • Making sure contractors and staffing agencies inform their employees about the importance of staying home when ill and urging business partners not to reprimand workers who need to take sick leave.
  • Not requiring employees with acute respiratory illness to provide a doctor's note to verify their illness or to return to work, since health care providers may be overwhelmed with requests.
  • Maintaining flexible policies that allow employees to stay home to care for a sick relative.

"Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual," the CDC said.

[Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.]

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (18 March 2020) "4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/4-Sick-Leave-Practices-to-Avoid-During-the-Coronavirus-Pandemic.aspx


Data-Driven Decisions Start with These 4 Questions

With data being considered the new oil, unique advantages are being brought into the business world. Properly using data can result in unimaginable possibilities, but to get the correct answers the right questions must be asked.  Read this blog post to learn more about how data is introducing optimized operations and new possibilities with the help of new questions being asked.


Data has become central to how we run our businesses today. In fact, the global market intelligence firm International Data Corporation (IDC) projects spending on data and analytics to reach $274.3 billion by 2022. However, much of that money is not being spent wisely. Gartner analyst Nick Heudecker‏ has estimated that as many as 85% of big data projects fail.

A big part of the problem is that numbers that show up on a computer screen take on a special air of authority. Once data are pulled in through massive databases and analyzed through complex analytics software, we rarely ask where it came from, how it’s been modified, or whether it’s fit for the purpose intended.

The truth is that to get useful answers from data, we can’t just take it at face value. We need to learn how to ask thoughtful questions. In particular, we need to know how it was sourced, what models were used to analyze it, and what was left out. Most of all, we need to go beyond using data simply to optimize operations and leverage it to imagine new possibilities.

We can start by asking:

How was the data sourced?

Data, it’s been said, is the plural of anecdote. Real-world events, such as transactions, diagnostics, and other relevant information, are recorded and stored in massive server farms. Yet few bother to ask where the data came from, and unfortunately, the quality and care with which data is gathered can vary widely. In fact, a Gartner study recently found that firms lose an average of $15 million per year due to poor data quality.

Often data is subject to human error, such as when poorly paid and unmotivated retail clerks perform inventory checks. However, even when the data collection process is automated, there are significant sources of error, such as intermittent power outages in cellphone towers or mistakes in the clearing process for financial transactions.

Data that is of poor quality or used in the wrong context can be worse than no data at all. In fact, one study found that 65% of a retailer’s inventory data was inaccurate. Another concern, which has become increasingly important since the EU passed stringent GDPR data standards is whether there was proper consent when the data was collected.

So don’t just assume the data you have is accurate and of good quality. You have to ask where it was sourced from and how it’s been maintained. Increasingly, we need to audit our data transactions with as much care as we do our financial transactions.

How was it analyzed?

Even if data is accurate and well maintained, the quality of analytic models can vary widely. Often models are pulled together from open-source platforms, such as GitHub, and repurposed for a particular task. Before long, everybody forgets where it came from or how it is evaluating a particular data set.

Lapses like these are more common than you’d think and can cause serious damage. Consider the case of two prominent economists who published a working paper that warned that U.S. debt was approaching a critical level. Their work caused a political firestorm but, as it turned out, they had made a simple Excel error that caused them to overstate the effect that debt had on GDP.

As models become more sophisticated and incorporate more sources, we’re also increasingly seeing bigger problems with how models are trained. One of the most common errors is overfitting, which basically means that the more variables you use to create a model, the harder it gets to make it generally valid. In some cases, excess data can result in data leakage, in which training data gets mixed with testing data.

These types of errors can plague even the most sophisticated firms. Amazon and Google, just to name two of the most prominent cases, have recently had highly publicized scandals related to model bias. As we do with data, we need to constantly be asking hard questions of our models. Are they suited to the purpose we’re using them for? Are they taking the right factors into account? Does the output truly reflect what’s going on in the real world?

What doesn’t the data tell us?

Data models, just like humans, tend to base judgments on the information that is most available. Sometimes, the data you don’t have can affect your decision making as much as the data you do have. We commonly associate this type of availability bias with human decisions, but often human designers pass it on to automated systems.

For instance, in the financial industry, those who have extensive credit histories can access credit much easier than those who don’t. The latter, often referred to as “thin-file” clients, can find it difficult to buy a car, rent an apartment, or get a credit card. (One of us, Greg, experienced this problem personally when he returned to the U.S. after 15 years overseas).

Yet a thin file doesn’t necessarily indicate a poor credit risk. Firms often end up turning away potentially profitable customers simply because they lack data on them. Experian recently began to address this problem with its Boost program, which allows consumers to raise their scores by giving them credit for things like regular telecom and utility payments. To date, millions have signed up.

So it’s important to ask hard questions about what your data model might be missing. If you are managing what you measure, you need to ensure that what you are measuring reflects the real world, not just the data that’s easiest to collect.

How can we use data to redesign products and business models?

Over the past decade, we’ve learned how data can help us run our businesses more efficiently. Using data intelligently allows us to automate processes, predict when our machines need maintenance, and serve our customers better. It’s data that enables Amazon to offer same-day shipping.

Data can also become an important part of the product itself. To take one famous example, Netflix has long used smart data analytics to create better programming for less money. This has given the company an important edge over rivals like Disney and WarnerMedia.

Yet where it gets really exciting is when you can use data to completely re-imagine your business. At Experian, where Eric works, they’ve been able to leverage the cloud to shift from only delivering processed data in the form of credit reports to a service that offers its customers real-time access to more granular data that the reports are based on. That may seem like a subtle shift, but it’s become one of the fastest-growing parts of Experian’s business.

It’s been said that data is the new oil, but it’s far more valuable than that. We need to start treating data as more than a passive asset class. If used wisely, it can offer a true competitive edge and take a business in completely new directions. To achieve that, however, you can’t start merely looking for answers. You have to learn how to ask new questions.

SOURCE: Haller, E.; Satell, G. (11 February 2020) "Data-Driven Decisions Start with These 4 Questions" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/02/data-driven-decisions-start-with-these-4-questions


New employee retention tool has four legs and goes 'woof'

The term "a dog is a human's best friend" can get thrown around, but what if dogs lead to increased productivity and less stress? Read this blog post to learn how allowing dogs at work can benefit employee productivity.


There are so many reasons to allow dogs in the workplace, from increasing production and morale to decreasing absences.

And while financial institutions have not traditionally offered such an employee benefit, there are plenty of banks and fintechs that are leading the way in the industry.

For example, JPMorgan Chase not only allows dogs into its branches, but it also hands out dog treats. Wells Fargo is another company with a great pet policy. In fact, Wells Fargo has a host of dogs that have been part of various offices throughout the years.

Other companies are going the extra mile, and providing dog parks on-site or dedicated walking areas for their four-legged colleagues. The online small-business lender Kabbage is well known for its laid-back work culture, including casual dress code, beer on tap and a dog-friendly policy.

Perhaps one of the most pet-friendly companies is Redtail Technology, which is named after the founder Brian McLaughlin’s dog. Not only does the company encourage people to bring their dogs to work, it also has a dog park, and a Slack channel for employees to message each other when they’re about to take their dog out for a play.

Still skeptical about this approach? Here are five scientifically backed reasons that allowing dogs into the office can benefit employees.

First, allowing people to bring their pet along with them to work actually helps to decrease stress for not just them, but everyone in the workspace. Washington State University found that petting a dog for just 10 minutes can help to reduce stress.

Playing with or petting a dog can increase the levels of oxytocin, a stress-reducing hormone; and decrease the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

A team of researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University carried out a study that compared three groups of employees: those who brought their dogs to work, those who had dogs but left them at home those who didn’t own a dog. The lead of the study, Randolph Barker, said that "the differences in perceived stress between days the dog was present and absent were significant. The employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms."

Second, when staff bring their dog to work, they will need regular walks throughout the day, which will encourage people to be active. Being physically active not only gives people the satisfaction that naturally comes with exercise, but it will also increases productivity.

Each time someone exercises, new mitochondria produce more energy known as ATP. This gives people more energy physically and for the brain, which boosts mental output and productivity.

Third, workplaces that allow dogs into their offices usually find that employees are more cooperative with each other, and that they have better working relationships. Dogs increase morale and bring a more fun and positive outlook to office life, which encourages people to be friendlier to each other.

Dogs are a common interest between many different people from all walks of life, so having some common ground can help people to connect. Central Michigan University found that when a dog is in the room with a group of people, they are more likely to trust each other and collaborate together effectively.

Fourth, actively encouraging staff to bring their pet to work will foster a really good relationship between employer and employee. It will help to make employees feel valued and increase the likelihood they'll stay long term at the company.

The more satisfied people feel in their job role, the less likely they are to search for work elsewhere, making employee retention rates higher, according to one study.

Fifth, allowing staff to bring their pet to work increases their job satisfaction and reduces stress, which in turn will mean that they are less likely to become ill and need time off work. This can have an added effect on other employees in the business too. With the positive, stress-reducing nature that dogs bring to an office, people will be less likely to take time off.

With such benefits already working for some financial companies, hopefully others will start to catch up with these pet-friendly policies soon.

SOURCE: Woods, T. (09 January 2020) "New employee retention tool has four legs and goes 'woof'" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/pet-friendly-policies-as-employee-retention-tools


Implementing AI Technology for HR

Artificial intelligence (AI) has taken the tasks of collecting, copying, entering and checking data off of HR professional's hands. With advancements in technology, AI has become a way to open a variety of opportunities to influence a company's workflow. Read this blog post to learn about artificial intelligence and how it's developing HR managers and leaders.


When HR managers embark on implementing artificial intelligence (AI) into their company's workflow, they'll be grappling with a disruptive technology that changes the way people from HR leaders to recruiters to front-line employees work.

That may be why PwC's latest Human Resource Technology Survey of 599 HR and information technology (IT) leaders worldwide shows that those leaders are cautious about leveraging the technology to drive HR functions.

In fact, 63 percent of those surveyed have not yet implemented artificial intelligence for HR, and many cite various reasons that influenced their decision not to do so, including:

•Cost of implementation.
•Complexity of integration into the existing IT infrastructure.
•Lack of skilled staff.
•Lack of compelling use cases that can be tied to business outcomes.

But while they are hesitant to jump into using AI, 42 percent of respondents said they plan to implement AI for HR over the next one to three years. The technology opens significant possibilities.

"Human resource executives want their teams to focus on meaningful tasks, such as interpreting data, decision-making, storytelling and strategies that enrich the worker experience, which is what AI solutions can offer. Without AI, HR professionals are relegated to collecting, copying, entering, re-entering and checking data," said Mike Brennan, president of Leapgen, a Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based HR consulting firm.

HR leaders will have to find the right tools, team with the right partners, and find the best opportunities to apply AI to HR functions without causing employee anxiety.

Schneider Electric's Story

Andrew Saidy, vice president of talent digitization, talent acquisition and mobility at Schneider Electric, a multinational company based in Paris, oversaw the implementation of an AI-driven platform that revolutionized the talent mobility and career development processes at his company.

Three important factors pushed Schneider Electric, which employs approximately 144,000 employees across 100 countries, to make the change. First, more than half of Schneider's employees are Millennials, a generational group whose members change jobs more frequently than workers in other age groups. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average job tenure of Millennials is 2.8 years.

Second, 47 percent of Schneider employees surveyed in exit interviews said they were leaving because they couldn't find their next opportunity within the organization.

Third, the process of matching employees to job opportunities within the company was laborious, cumbersome and lengthy.

"Recruiters were spending weeks waiting for responses, making phone calls, sifting through CVs and selecting which candidates would be chosen for interviews," Saidy said.

With a clearly defined use case for its AI strategy, the company chose to develop a cloud-based, AI-driven talent market. The HR team had to decide whether to build or buy a solution.

"This is an idea we toyed with at the start because we are a technology company, we are a digital company, and we are leaders in digital energy management," Saidy said. "We have a strong team of enterprise IT developers, and we could have had the ability to build a talent platform internally as opposed to buying something outside of the market."

What surprised Schneider's HR team was that there are many vendors offering AI solutions for HR tasks, but having so many AI solution providers to choose from presents other issues.

"You have to be careful when you select a company for your AI project," he said. The vendors "need to be financially stable" and need to have "a clear product road map and customers with proven success. You can't just go for whoever is claiming to provide a solution."

After a three-month search, which included testing vendors' algorithms, Schneider's HR and digital teams decided to buy an internal talent product from Gloat, an Israeli technology company. The platform, called Open Talent Market, leverages AI to match employee resumes with open positions, including long-term jobs and short-term projects.

Part of the software evaluation involved letting employees register on the site and upload their education and experience to get a sense of whether they thought the tool was intuitive, easy to use and engaging. Schneider used a Net Promoter Score to assess employees' experience and enthusiasm for the tool.

The company monitored the number of employee registrations, short-term and long-term jobs that appeared on the site, and successful matches of qualified employees to job posts.

Schneider's HR team also tested the algorithm's ability to adequately address bias and evaluated its security features. Schneider chose software that doesn't require candidates to enter information related to gender or race, or place or date of birth.

Keeping in mind the difficulties Amazon experienced when it built an AI-driven recruiting system that perpetuated gender bias, Schneider is mindful that many of its jobs such as engineer, field technician or electrical engineer have typically been filled by male candidates, Saidy said.

Schneider's technical team also carefully considered the software's security capabilities, measures to protect from data breaches and secure integrations. This was particularly important when considering that Open Talent Market is connected to the company's applicant tracking system, learning management system and human resource information system, as well as LinkedIn.

Recruiter Adjustment

Since its launch in September 2018, Open Talent Market has put Schneider's managers in the driver's seat and has changed the role of some of the company's 200 recruiters—an adjustment that hasn't always been smooth, Saidy said.

"Initially, some recruiters had reservations on the Open Talent Market because of the way it changed their jobs [by giving more control to hiring managers] and took away from recruiters the tasks of sourcing and shortlisting internal candidates, now done by the platform."

Making sure recruiters continue to be motivated, engaged and enthusiastic about their job as their tasks change was a key consideration, Saidy said.

"To address this, we focused on why we put the Open Talent Market in place, what is in it for the recruiters, and how they reinvest their time consulting and supporting managers as well as employees' internal mobility. Keeping the lines of communication open with the teams is an especially important pillar of a successful change adoption."

SOURCE: Lewis, N. (09 January 2020) "Implementing AI Technology for HR" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/technology/Pages/Implementing-AI-Technology-HR.aspxA


How to Motivate Your Team During Crunch Time

Keeping teams excited and enthusiastic during busy times of the year is a struggle that most HR departments and employers experience. Whether it's a nearing deadline or seasonal ends, it's important to make sure that teams stay motivated. Read this blog to learn how to keep motivation within teams.


There are times when work ramps up and you need all hands on deck. Ideally, you want people to jump into the work excited and enthusiastic rather than dreading what’s coming. So, what can you do to rally the troops when the team’s workload is particularly heavy? How do you talk about the project or time period so that people don’t feel daunted? And, how do you keep an eye on stress levels while still motivating people to get through the crunch?

What the Experts Say
Whether it’s a seasonal crunch time or a particularly demanding project with a tight deadline, it can be hard to keep people focused and motivated when they’re overloaded. The fact is, “most people already have a lot on their plate,” says Lisa Lai, a business advisor and coach. And so when you ask your team for more, “it can leave people feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.” On top of this, as the pace of work increases and our always-on technology serves as a tether to the office, intense periods are becoming more prevalent, says Ethan Bernstein, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Harvard Business School. “There is a greater quantity of crunch times and more of the work that we get done happens during a crunch,” he says. This has critical implications for you, the boss. By “focusing your attention on your employees” and projecting a calm, confident presence, you can make these times easier for the people on your team, Bernstein says. Here’s how.

Project positive energy
For starters, says Lai, “check your own emotional energy as a manager.” If you’re feeling beleaguered, worried, anxious, or frustrated about a project “there’s no way you can show up in front of your team” and be a confident guiding force. To lead, you need to be “engaged, motivated” and “emotionally bought in.” Start by “reflecting on why the work matters.” Figure out “why this project is relevant and who benefits from it,” she says. Remember, too, that crunch times can be useful learning opportunities. Yes, critical, time-sensitive projects are often tense, but “you want peaks and valleys,” says Bernstein. “Peaks — when everyone is engaged and motivated at the same time — are good” for team morale and drive. But they should not be the status quo. “There is a value to intermittency,” he says. If your team is in a constant crunch, employees “are not operating at an [optimal] level of productivity and effectiveness.”

Express empathy
Once you’ve personally connected to the work and its purpose, “convey that message to your team,” says Lai. “Don’t just say, ‘Here are the deliverables. Here’s the deadline.’” Instead, “develop the story” around why the project has meaning and what the ultimate goal is. “Define what success looks like.” Be upfront with your team and acknowledge the “burden and sacrifices” involved, such as late nights and weekends at the office. Express empathy and be vulnerable, adds Lai. “Say: ‘This is going to be hard. I am feeling it, too.’” Convey solidarity in the spirit of, “we are in this together,” says Bernstein. “We have to grind this out as one team.” And try not to dwell on the negatives. Tell your reports that, “there are going to be parts of this that are going to be fun, too.” Maintaining team camaraderie is a priority. That way, “it doesn’t have to hurt so much.”

Think about milestones
Next, consider breaking up the work into manageable chunks so that the overall deliverable isn’t so intimidating. Lai recommends, “creating meaningful arcs” to the project based on the work that matters most. Setting short-term targets for each phase directs the team’s focus, creates accountability, and helps to bring them closer to the end goal. “Say: ‘We will take a breath after each one. We will evaluate and make sure we’re on the right track. If we need to change course, we will do that.’” Milestones ought to help the team feel good about the incremental progress it’s making, so make sure you’re instituting them for the right reasons. “Don’t have all these mini crunches for the purpose of micromanaging,” says Bernstein. It’s also important to consider how multiple deadlines may affect the pace of your team’s work. If you give a team a defined amount of time to do a task, research shows that the team will work at a different speed before and after the midpoint. “The rubber meets the road” the closer a deadline looms, Bernstein says.

Offer autonomy
Allow the team to structure their workdays in ways that maximize their productivity. Crunch times are not the time for politics around face time or HR rules about working from home to get in the way,” Lai says. Let your employees play a role in defining the team and how they work together. “If they have a voice, they are more likely to lean into the work,” she says. “You want people to participate and feel involved in the process.” While they should be in charge, do what you can to clear the way for them. For example, says Bernstein, it’s helpful to clear the decks so employees can concentrate on the task at hand. You have the power to “take away distractions” and “make the crunch time relieving in some respects,” he says.

Be judicious with incentives
Rewards and incentives can be a key motivational tool. Lai suggests deploying them throughout the projected timeline, not just when it ends. “You need moments of celebration,” she says. “That’s how you create sustained engagement.” Think about ways to recognize your team’s hard work: a Friday afternoon off perhaps, or an all-office ice cream social. And yet, warns Bernstein, “extrinsic rewards have some downsides.” If, for instance, you tell your team that everyone gets the morning off after you reach a deadline, “you’re only incenting the completion of the work rather than the quality of it,” he says. Instead, he recommends “placing intrinsic rewards front and center.” Focus on how the project represents a “good developmental opportunity for team members,” and the reasons why “working closely together” will benefit the team in the long run.

Watch for red flags
You can often judge whether or not your direct report is anxious by the expression on their face or the way they talk. “You have an ability to read people, so use it,” says Bernstein. If you see that an employee is struggling, reach out. Don’t “keep plowing forward” at all costs, says Lai. “The biggest red flag is when people stop talking,” she says. “When your team goes quiet,” it’s an indication that employees “are feeling lost or overwhelmed.” Talk to your team. “Ask them: What’s going well and what is not going well? What do we need to pivot on? What roadblocks need to be removed?”

Be present and grateful
One final piece of advice: “be accessible,” says Bernstein. Lai concurs: “Even if you do all the other things right, if you disappear behind closed doors,” your leadership will be “an epic failure.” You need to be consistently available. Let your employees know you have their backs. “Walk the floor and talk to people. Ask: ‘Who needs help?’” Your colleagues “will value that you are present,” she adds. It goes without saying that you need to express gratitude for the sacrifices they’re making. Regularly say “thank you” and find small ways to show you appreciate what they’re putting in. And Lai adds: “it never hurts to bring donuts.”

Principles to Remember

Do

Check your own emotional energy. You can’t motivate your team if you’re not engaged and excited about the project.
Break up the work into manageable chunks so that the overall deliverable isn’t so intimidating. Milestones can focus the team.
Encourage your team members to structure their workdays in ways that maximize their productivity.

Don’t

Be dishonest or sugarcoat matters. Acknowledge to your team the burden and sacrifices involved.
Ignore obvious problems. If you see that an employee is struggling, reach out. Ask: What roadblocks need to be removed?
Disappear behind closed doors. You need to be accessible and visible to your team.
Case Study #1: Project enthusiasm and communicate why the work matters
Syed Irfan Ajmal, a digital marketing entrepreneur based in Pakistan, has had a lot of experience motivating teams during crunch times.

To “do it right,” he says, “you’ve got to know your team well. You have to know what excites them, what scares them, and what their deepest desires and biggest challenges are.”

In January 2013, Syed partnered with another entrepreneur — Yasir Hussain Sheikh — on a technology startup. The two of them assembled a small team of eight people to create and license a specialized spatial intelligence product.

The product, inspired by CNN’s “Magic Wall,” was to help TV hosts demonstrate the results of Pakistan’s elections using maps and data visualization on a multi-touch screen.

The pressure was intense — the elections were being held in May and so the team only had a few months to deliver. “We had an extremely short time period to work with,” says Syed. “If we failed to build and license the product by March 2013, all our work would have been futile.”

Syed and Yasir were worried about hitting the looming deadline, but they knew they needed to project positive energy to their team. Together, they reflected on what success would do for their startup and mean for Pakistan. They thought about their goals and their purpose. “What we were trying to accomplish had never been done in the country before,” recalls Syed.

When they communicated the significance of the product to their team, “everything changed for the better,” he says.

“My partner was very good at motivating the team by sharing his vision about what completing this project on time would mean for everyone,” he says. “Yasir’s passion was contagious, and did wonders for everyone’s energy and enthusiasm.”

Syed wasn’t bashful in laying out the sacrifices involved. “I didn’t use any scare tactics, but I told everyone that this project required us to work day and night,” he says. “I think the team appreciated my honesty.”

He and his business partner also tried to foster camaraderie and collaboration by dividing their small team into even smaller sub-teams, where each member’s skills complemented those of others. That way, each team member had a say in how the work would be accomplished. “Yasir and I were always available to provide instant and constructive feedback,” he says.

Ultimately, the team prevailed and was proud of their accomplishment. “We were successful and we witnessed our product being used on national TV.”

Case Study #2: Think about ways to be helpful to your team and say thank you
Carl Ryden, co-founder and CEO of PrecisionLender, an AI-powered software company for commercial banks, says that the most important thing to bear in mind when motivating staff during an intense period is that the “crunch has to be anomalous.”

“People can’t pedal as hard as they can all day, every day,” he says. “It has to be temporary. [Employees] need to trust that this isn’t the norm and that [they work] for an organization that respects work-life balance.”

Recently, his company — which is based in North Carolina, needed to launch the first release of its intelligent virtual assistant, Andi, within its application. “We had a deadline that we had to meet,” says Carl. As the deadline drew closer, it became clear that “there was still a lot of work that needed to get done and that many of our developers were going to have to work on the weekends to do it.”

Carl knew that the team was stressed — and he wanted to help in any way that he could. “I wanted to show solidarity but I also wanted to get out of their way and let them do their jobs,” he says.

Carl says that if he stayed at the office alongside his team, “it would have seemed like [he] was there in a supervisory role” in need of constant “status reports.” Instead, he decided to give his team autonomy. “I said, ‘I trust you to get this done. And I want to make sure you have everything you need. What can I take off your plates to let you focus your attention?”

“I didn’t want to make things worse.”

The team appreciated his vote of confidence. Once it was over — “the team got it done on time and it turned out to be a great success” — Carl made sure to express his gratitude. “I said thank you, individually and collectively, to the team,” he says. “I wanted to acknowledge their great work.”

SOURCE: Knight, R. (18 December 2019) "How to Motivate Your Team During Crunch Time" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/12/how-to-motivate-your-team-during-crunch-time?ab=hero-subleft-3