Asking better questions

A little while ago I put a call out to HR folks via Twitter, asking them for their best open ended questions for employee surveys.

Now I am something of a cynic when it comes to surveys. I believe in the importance and power of employee voice, I’m just not convinced that a survey every year or two is the best way to get it – or the only way to get it at least.  Voice should be a dialogue.  Surveys have a part to play but organisations have a tendency to over rely on them – and then when it comes to taking action – seriously under deliver.

One of my key issues about surveys is the often used approach of including one or two open form questions at the end. Most organisations use very similar wording.  There will usually be something about the best bit about working at [insert name of organisation] and an opportunity to say something that you think ought to be changed or done differently.  Hardly ground breaking.

I’ve rarely found an organisation that seriously looks at the ‘things I’d change’ text and does anything meaningful with the data. I have however seen shrugs and eye rolls.  Suggestions often get dumped into one of two categories – stuff we know about and can’t / won’t change or stuff that we justify not changing because the employees got it wrong and we know better.

It’s my view that asking people two questions every couple of years with a limited character count ain’t employee voice.

I wanted to take the opportunity to ask some better questions the next time around. So I asked for help and my network delivered.  In the interests of sharing my learning, I’ve detailed them here.  In an example of shocking form I noted the question but not who suggested them and this is now lost forever in my twitter history.  Apologies to you if you gave me one of these cracking questions and I’ve  not give you credit.  Here’s the list:

  • What one thing should we do between now and the next survey to get your score to be significantly higher?
  • What is the one thing we should have asked you but didn’t?
  • What is the best piece of advice you have been given since you started here?  Or, what is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting here?
  • What gives you joy about working here? (I guess there’s a risk with this one that some people might say ‘going home)
  • What do we do that would help you be awesome at work?
  • How could we better support your career?
  • What is the biggest and smallest thing that we could do better?
  • What is the most challenging thing about working here?
  • What has happened in the last month to make you happy at work?
  • What is it about your job that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?
  • What would you do if you were leading the organisation.

My personal favourites are the top two. Questions to get people thinking, not writing the same old stuff that they did last year that you took no notice of.  Of course, a good question and fresh perspectives can’t prevent organisation inaction – but just maybe they will provide you with a whole new set of ideas and challenges.  Just try and do something with the feedback…….

 

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Where’s your flexible working policy?

Almost all organisations will have a flexible working policy, even if all it’s doing is stating the minimum requirements of the legislation.

But where is it?

Where on your intranet, where in your managers guidance, your welcome booklet or your induction material?  Where in your recruitment material and processes?

Is it next to the maternity, adoption and parental leave policies?

If the answer is yes, what lies underneath that decision? And what message do you think it sends to the people that work for you?

Flexible working is for parents. And for everyone else.

This article I spotted last night hits all the nails on the head.

Flexible working is about inclusion, wellbeing, talent attraction and retention and engagement. It’s also about sustainability (just how many people do you have travelling unnecessarily into a city for a face to face meeting that they could do on Skype just because that’s how you’ve always done it?).  Flexible working is also key to addressing the gender pay gap.

The placement of your policy speaks to your intention – and your bias.

If your flexible working policy is sat next to your maternity leave policy, then I’d respectfully suggest you think about moving it to somewhere a little more inclusive instead.

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Top 10 commuters to avoid

It’s a funny old thing getting the train to work. It is, quite often, a fairly miserable experience. The unreliability, the cost, the dilapidated trains.  But most of all, the biggest challenge is often the fellow commuter.  Here is my list of the worst of the worst.

  1. The one who has their bag on the seat next to them and pretends they can’t see all the people standing up. Note to this commuter. This isn’t going to work. It really isn’t, no matter how much you harrumph or how slow you move your stuff. Be fair to others.
  2. The one who watches video on their phone without headphones.   This should be illegal. I tolerate quite a lot on the train, but this is the one thing that I will ask someone to stop. With, it must be said, varying levels of success.
  3. The manspreader. Nuff said.
  4. The one with the excessively loud ringtone. Most often accompanied with and excessively loud conversation when answered. I’M ON THE TRAIN.
  5. The one who breaches the GDPR. I am amazed what people do on the train. I have seen people assessing CVs, reading legal papers, sending emails about other people, all with personal data on display. I’ve also overhead people getting interview feedback.   I recently sat next to a legal type and read his court papers over his shoulder. It was fascinating stuff, but I bet the claimant wouldn’t have been all that happy about it.
  6. The ones that are drunk. Whether it’s the Christmas party season or that lone dude who is nailing can after can of Stella Artois, this is never the commuter to sit next to.
  7. The one who only gets the train occasionally and loudly reflects how they are glad that they don’t have to do this every day.  Lucky you.  And just for the record, we already know how awful it is.
  8. The one who won’t give way with their laptop. You are sitting at a table trying to do a little work on your laptop. Only the person opposite to you has their laptop out too and is taking all the space. Note to this commuter. If you are sitting opposite me, it’s going to get a shove.
  9. The one who talks to strangers. The person sitting next to them is a new potential friend!  AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
  10. The one who overshares. You know the one. They spend the entire journey on the phone to their mum or their BFF and you know everything about them. Including lots of stuff you never, ever wanted to know. Shhhhh.

These aren’t the only challenging commuters; there’s the ones who bring stinky food, the ones who take their shoes off, the snorers, and those who have dubious personal hygiene.

I hope if you are reading this, you aren’t one of these commuters. I don’t think I am.  Although I do crunch Werthers Originals all the way to the office.  Which means that somewhere, I’m probably on someone else’s list of people not to sit next to.

 

PS: commuting is a wellbeing issue. It is stressful, expensive and takes away from people’s time with their family.  Flexible working is a potential solution.  Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. 

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Hanging out the washing

I was chatting recently with some female colleagues, and we got to talking about flexible working. In particular, we talked about some of those negative perceptions of people who work flexibly, especially those who work from home for some of the time.  Flexism.

The idea that we are skiving. That somehow we are less committed. That it’s alright for some.  That we are probably watching Homes Under the Hammer.  We talked about how when we do work from home, we feel that we do deeper, more focused work.  We are more productive, without the constant disruptions of office life.  We have time to think, plan, create.

And then one of my colleagues said…. ‘well of course, I also do the washing’.

One by one we all agreed. One of the key benefits of working from home is getting your washing done.

A conversation of epic domesticity followed.  Get a load in first thing.  Get it on the line at lunch.  If you are organised, you can get two loads done and dry in a day.  The joy!  Each of us nodded along, completely understanding because we do it too.

Behind the humour, a serious point. This is just another small way in which domestic labour falling on women is taken for granted.  Another small way in which we are constantly balancing the work stuff and the life stuff.  Fitting it in. Because this is where the bulk of it still falls.  On women.

Back to the myths and the stereotypes of flexible working. All too often we see flexible working through the ‘family friendly’ lens.  It’s something that mums want, when their children are young.  It’s something that skivers want too.  We don’t think about it as being for wellbeing, inclusion, talent attraction and retention, engagement, a potential key to tackling the gender pay gap.

We got it wrong. Turns out, flexible working is for people who want to do the laundry.

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London’s Calling (or is it)

I recently attended a work life balance event for International Women’s Day. Inspiring female academics spoke about their experiences of balance, wellbeing, of finding their way through the challenges of demanding careers, family and all of the other life stuff. There were a few things that stood out to me, that are at the forefront of my mind a week later. I wanted to share some of those thoughts and ideas here.

We talked about whether you can really have it all. The conclusion….. yes. Probably. Just not all at the same time.

Work life balance means different things to different people at different stages in their lives. It’s important to work out what it means for you and what resources, whether individual or organisational, exist to help you. I hear this…. as a wellbeing coach, I always begin with new coachees by talking about the meaning of wellbeing to them. There is no one answer. There are a few formal definitions if you go googling, but wellbeing is contextual, personal, changeable.

Back to the speakers. We must recognise and move through the tough days. Acknowledge when you are having a tough time and take some steps, no matter how small, to support self-resilience. Connect with the people around you. Others will have experienced this too. Do some physical activity, take time for yourself and your leisure. Find time to do nothing.

Share your tips with others. In the organisation, set a good example. We change culture through small actions. Don’t join in with the evening and weekend emailing.

Create discipline within your working day – this is both a simple but difficult thing to do. Time is a precious resource. We need to protect it. Time is not a free gift, it’s finite. Some people say yes to everything they are asked to do. This will not serve your wellbeing. There are other, better ways to prove yourself than turning up to every meeting. Work out the ones that matter and go to those. Brevity is key.

We need to let go of trying to be a superman or woman. Let your standards in housework drop if you need to. You don’t need to be perfect and you need get comfortable with that.

And here comes my favourite tip from the session. Pretend you are in London for the day. Tell everyone you aren’t around. Shut the office door. Block the time out. You’ll be amazed at what gets done in your absence.

I think this session resonated with me so much, as I am pretty bad at this stuff. Despite coaching others on wellbeing, I’m not so good at taking my own advice.  Over committing is my downfall.  Here is what I have learned about wellbeing and trying to have it all, even if I don’t always put it into practice.

  • No is a complete sentence.
  • Guilt is a useless emotion. It hurts you and keeps you stuck.
  • Work (knowledge work at least) never actually ends. It just pauses until you come back to it.
  • The Queen is probably not coming for tea. Even if she does, she’s been a working mum, she will understand.
  • It’s not me/you that is at fault for finding this balance stuff difficult. It’s the system that we operate in.
  • If you don’t take care of your own wellbeing, who will?
  • Protect your you time. That thing that sustains you, that gives you a sense of wellbeing, or just reduces your stress, do that.  Deliberately, proactively and without guilt.

Or…..just tell everyone you have gone to London.

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If you are interested in fitness, health and wellbeing I also write a blog over here

On hugs.

I watched the recent Ted Baker hug story with interest. For those who haven’t seen the headlines, their CEO has recently resigned following a leave of absence, after staff spoke out about harassment including forced hugs and asking female staff to sit on his knee and cuddle him.  The resignation statement on the Ted Baker website talks about learning lessons and making appropriate changes.

The story resonated with me because I have been there. My first proper job after graduation was with a recruitment consultancy.  The owner and CEO was what some people might describe as ‘touchy feely’.  He would often walk into a room and hug you and kiss your cheek, let his hand linger on your back. There are worse forms of harassment in the workplace, but those hugs were a little too close for comfort for my liking.  I’m sure that there are some people who won’t see this as all that bad.  At the time it was generally laughed off as ‘just what he is like’ and ‘he doesn’t mean anything by it’.  Excuses for inappropriate behaviour.

I’m all for a hug. With people that I like.

And there’s the thing.

It’s not about the hug or the kiss or the cuddle.

It’s about the power. It is about someone with the power that comes from seniority, choosing to use it.  Underneath every unwanted hug or kiss from boss to subordinate is the subtext that the individual on the receiving end doesn’t have that power, and can’t say no without fear of consequence.

In my case, the 20 something year old me was straight out of university and skint. I needed that job. So I didn’t feel that I could tell a man in his 50s, who owned the company that ultimately paid my rent, to get the hell away from me.  There was no one to complain to.  So like most of the other women in the office, I put up with it.  It’s not something I would do today, but I’m older, and wiser and have more power of my own.

This stuff wasn’t acceptable 20 years ago and it isn’t today. The more we talk about it, the more we highlight cases like these and the more that we show that there are consequences for inappropriate behaviour, the more we empower others to tell those that choose to exercise their power in harmful ways that they can hug right off.

That’s nice.

From time to time I run workshops for managers and leaders about wellbeing. We explore what we mean by wellbeing, what a well team looks like, the role of the manager in enabling staff wellbeing, and how to have wellbeing conversations.

Typically, the delegates are self-selecting, so to some extent I am preaching to the converted – or at least the curious and interested. The question often arises in some form or another about how we reach those who aren’t so interested. Because in many respects those are the folk that we need to reach the most.

Recently, this discussion came up in the form of comment.  A delegate shared the responses she had received when telling fellow managers that she was attending my workshop.

That’s nice.

She didn’t think it was nice. Neither did I.

We thought it was necessary.

Kittens are nice. So are fluffy bunny rabbits.  Also, wine.  And biscuits.

Wellbeing isn’t nice. It’s serious stuff.  Work can be a force for good.  It can also be a source of stress, ill-health, pressure.

Caring about the health and wellbeing of the people that work for you is the right thing to do. As a people manager or HR professional we have responsibilities in this space.

It isn’t nice to be capable of having a conversation about mental health. About working with wellbeing in mind.  Role modelling, tackling behaviours that can negatively impact upon health, promoting a healthy culture.

It isn’t nice, it is a critical part of management responsibilities.

If you want nice, here are some cute rabbits.

bunny