At our latest Enabling the Future of Work™ conference, we were delighted to welcome Bruce Daisley, Vice-President EMEA at Twitter, to address delegates on how to make the working environment better for everyone.
Bruce started by saying that it was some things that he was noticing around the office environment that got him interested in the phenomenon of burnout. Through the talk, he looked at what is causing it to rise and, more importantly, how we can deal with it.
Stress and Burnout:Stress is the body’s response to threat. Burnout is the stage of stress where a person can no longer do their job effectively. People are emotionally and physically exhausted, struggle to have interactions with others, are constantly tired and yet can’t sleep.
The rise in stress and burnout has been fuelled most recently by the way work has changed, and continues to change, over time. People, for example, who are expected to be connected to email have seen their average ‘working day’ increase from 7.5 hours to 9.5 hours. This always-on culture means that half of all workers are living with stress levels at maximum, making burnout a very real possibility.
The concept of automation also leads to an increase in stress. Some workers, particularly manual workers, constantly feel like ‘the robots are coming’ and that if they don’t work the hardest that they possibly can, then they’ll be replaced.
The feeling of threat is there whether the threat is real or simply perceived.
Rats Get Stressed Too:
The two most important systems in the mammal’s brain that relate to work are the Fear System and the Seeking System. The Fear System is the heightened sense of danger that includes the adrenaline ‘fight or flight’ response. The Seeking System is the one that concerns curiosity and creativity and our desire to explore. The Fear System is the most dominant and it suppresses the Seeking System.
Rats have a Seeking System that’s very similar to humans. Jaak Panksepp, a former Estonian neuroscientist and psychobiologist, performed a simple experiment and found that normally, rats will perform around 50 instances of ‘Seeking’ – looking around, exploring things and showing curiosity – in five minutes. If you put a piece of cat hair in the cage that number drops to zero.
What’s interesting is that, firstly, they don’t need to have seen a cat in their lives before and secondly, if you remove the cat hair, clean the cage and return them to a safe environment, the Seeking System only gets back up to around 70%. This is the biggest issue with stress – even if you remove the stressors completely you don’t necessarily get back to normal.
Answer the Question ‘Why?’
One way to increase worker motivation is to answer the question ‘Why?’. When people feel connected to why they’re doing their job, the quality of work goes up. When people can see the outcome of their efforts, their efforts increase. So, as an example, an open kitchen in a restaurant is not only so that diners know their food isn’t being kicked around the floor, it’s also so that the chefs can see the enjoyment diners are getting from their food. Restaurants which bring in open kitchens see the quality of food increase.
This is not the answer alone, however. If you look at jobs with strong sense of purpose and a close connection to the results – for example the NHS – levels of burnout are still too high.
The next thing to look at is how we work and what we can do to make jobs less stressful.
Good Jobs Bring Profit:
Zeynep Ton, author of multiple employee satisfaction publications, investigated whether giving good jobs to employees had an effect on profitability, with a focus on the retail sector. She discovered a strong correlation between firms actively giving employees good jobs and higher results. The assumed trade-off between low prices and good jobs is a fallacy. Lowering worker satisfaction and benefits in order to reduce costs to the consumer is a choice, not a necessity.
Of course, analysts always treat this with scepticism. When Costco greatly improved their worker experience, one commentator stated, ‘at Costco, it’s better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder’. What happened next? Costco results improved dramatically.
In other words, thinking about good work and giving a good employee experience isn’t a luxury. Rather, it’s a good way to future proof your business. The best example of this is the Spanish supermarket Mercadona. They pay double the minimum wage and, consequently, have turnover of just 3.4%. But if you compare their results to Carrefour, their sales per square foot are 50% higher.
Five Steps to Happier Workers:
1. Understand How We Think
We have extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators are things like money and benefits, intrinsic motivators are things like the challenge of a role. Even though money is a strong motivator, applied in the wrong way it can actually have the opposite effect. If you take a group of children who are good at and enjoy art, and offer a prize, the quality goes down. They spend more time thinking about whether the art is any good and less time actually producing it.
2. Understand How We Team
An experiment with groups of rowers split training so that one half simply rowed at their own pace, individually, and the other half were in a virtual boat rowing together. The endorphins in the second group were double those of the first group. Working together towards a common purpose is much more rewarding than working alone to the same purpose. Teamwork develops understanding & trust and these things lead to better work.
3. Understand How We Relax
One call centre found that performance increased by 23% and stress decreased by 19% simply by switching from staggered to shared tea breaks. The reasons for this are twofold – firstly, employees get a chance to vent and share their problems rather than letting them build up. Secondly, they get the chance to share knowledge in an informal ‘oh, when that happened I did this’ way that upskills everyone and shares problem-solving ideas.
4. Understand How We Settle In
Simply, by improving the on-boarding process, we can increase performance. One company implemented perhaps the simplest system ever. When taking on employees, they asked a seemingly trivial question: “what is unique about you that leads to your happiest times at work? Reflect on a specific time when you were acting in the way you were ‘born to act’” This increased 12-month retention by 50% and increased customer satisfaction by 12 points (on the company. The questions helped the employees feel that the company cares and that the job is designed for them.
5. Understand How We Belong
Much of what human beings do is done in the service of belongingness. Loneliness is a bigger cause of early death than obesity. Research shows that simply by having friends at work accelerates performance. Having a working environment that encourages social interaction between workers and fostering good relations, can pay dividends.
#Goodwork for Everyone:
At Staffline, we are actively working towards improving the world of work for everyone. Many of the areas that Bruce outlined are the ones where we’re already focussing our efforts. Everything we do puts people front and centre to make workers and workplaces better.
Our unique customer experience management programme ‘Have Your Say’ reduces stress at work by seeking feedback from employees at every step of the working journey. By stopping small issues – for example badly fitting work clothes, or poor shift management – before they can grow, employees are happier. Being listened to leads to a feeling of being valued so at Staffline we encourage all our workers to ‘Have Your Say’ with a commitment that ‘Feedback will Improve your Experience’
As the UK’s largest recruiter, we work with some of the UK’s leading brands, offering only the best opportunities for our candidates.
To find out more about how Staffline can bring all of these benefits to your company, contact us today.
Watch this short clip below for a round-up of Bruce's presentation, focusing in particular on dealing with high-stress environments, at our latest Enabling the Future of Work™ conference.
An Overview of Staffline:
Established in 1986, Staffline is now the UK’s largest recruiter and workforce provider, delivering OnSite workforce solutions to leading brands. We work in partnership with clients and candidates, meeting business needs and matching people with opportunities.
We specialise in large-scale recruitment, providing teams to help businesses succeed. Our support is flexible to meet changing demands.
We make the world of work simple, helping companies to find the right people and perform at their best. Our service and pricing are bespoke, and we offer complete protection on compliance and ethical standards.
Our OnSite services support a range of sectors including agriculture, food production, logistics, transport, manufacturing and the automotive sector. We’re based at over 400 sites nationwide and find work for over 60,000 people each day.
Our new technologies include the AI chat bot, delivering ‘always on’ communication, the Universe platform, a game-changing candidate interface, and industry-leading customer experience management programme ‘Have your Say’. These innovations drive our customer-centric approach. We lead where others follow.
The Staffline Group also includes leading public service provider PeoplePlus - which helps tens of thousands of unemployed and disadvantaged people find work each year.
Find out more at: www.staffline.co.uk