Tag Archives: employment

Positive psychology and adoption without coercion

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker.

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Although positive psychology and its bastard child Appreciative Inquiry have a cadre of Mafia-esque adherents, there’s no need to throw out the baby with the bathwaterc:

In 1998, Dr. Martin Seligman became President of the American Psychological Association (APA) and publicly promoted an entirely new field of study–known today as Positive Psychology. Dr. Seligman argued that for far too long psychological investigation was based on a disease model of human behavior. Essentially, psychology was focused on how to make people less miserable. So, Seligman challenged his fellow psychologists to develop something new – a science which instead placed emphasis on healthy human behavior, how to improve normal lives, and ultimately, how to make life more fulfilling.

The consequences of this emerging field are intriguing, but it hasn’t met with widespread adoption when it comes to corporate employee engagement practices. I’d argue that far too many of today’s corporations operate under a model that is centered on how to make work life “less miserable.” And despite all the money that companies pour into employee engagement tools and surveys, companies are still bad at making work more meaningful, more fulfilling, and more engaging. What if anything can be done? And what can corporations learn–if anything–from the field of positive psychology and other scholars in this area?

If adoption can be promoted without the oppressive, “my way is best and everything in organization development that came before is worthless” mentality, there are benefits to be realized.  I haven’t seen these ideas taken forward that way, and their adherents–who putatively value inclusion–are notoriously dismissive of that significant portion of the human experience that is not sunshine and puppies.  It’s time to view positive psychology in context.

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Federal hiring process the target of much-needed reform

There is a push for much-needed reform in the federal government’s hiring processes:

THE FEDERAL government faces unprecedented challenges over the next few years. An aging workforce, more than one-third of which will be eligible to retire within five years, must tackle a bewildering array of issues. Given the federal government’s need for 600,000 new employees over the course of the present administration alone, a sometimes yearlong hiring process that 45 percent of federal job applicants polled found difficult to navigate is more than an annoyance: It is a hazard. U.S. government workers stand on the front lines of many of today’s key issues. It is crucial that they be up to the task.

Talking about this problem isn’t new, but action is rare. So a June 11 memo from the Office of Management and Budget is noteworthy. In it, OMB Director Peter Orszag outlines four clear benchmarks for improving the federal hiring process, requiring agencies to meet them in the next six months and demonstrate progress in their annual budget proposals. Such prominent placement of this directive demonstrates a laudable administration commitment to the cause of hiring reform.

They aren’t there yet.  I am in the process of deciding what my next career move will be–a “safe” job or a bricolage of consulting and teaching opportunities–and among my 200+ job opportunities in the field are half a dozen government positions for which I would be a very good fit.  Unfortunately, the hiring process is so arcane and tedious that I will not be applying for any of them.

I had a long conversation with a dear friend at Schiphol during a layover recently, someone who contracts with the federal government but has no interest in coming on-board with them.  The friend allowed that waiting a year to 18 months to get into a job with lower pay and more hassles doesn’t appeal to most people.  I shared my own experience from several years ago of applying for a government job, then taking a private sector role less than a month later.  Nine months into my new job, an agency HR person called to schedule an interview with me.  I told the person that I had been working for another organization for nine months.  She replied that that was happening with almost all of her good candidates.  Go figure.

In the time it would take to complete one application for a government job–many of which must be mailed in hard copy x4–I can reach half a dozen CEOs at companies who are hiring now.  As an aside, I am seeing hiring for my sort of expertise being up dramatically over this time last year.  With many other, easier opportunities out there, government may have a record number of applicants, but there are surely great numbers of candidates who would rather have a job now.

Employers’ choices now may have downstream consequences

This recent story from the Washington Post captured some anxiety (and predictions) I have about the job market in the coming years:

More than 6,000 people jammed into the National Building Museum in Washington to apply for openings at 75 agencies, including the departments of Treasury, Homeland Security, Justice, Veterans Affairs and Energy.

“In private industry, all they have to do is tap you on the shoulder, and you’re gone,” said Jacqueline Shipp, 42, who during the past two years was laid off from a bank and then a cash-advance service.

But in the government, added Shipp of Silver Spring, “you get stability, you get great benefits and [an opportunity] to move up and progress in your job.”

Here are some educated guesses one could make about hiring right now:

  1. People are more likely to take what they can get in a job, jumping at the first offer.
  2. Employers might reasonably be expected to be tighter with compensation.
  3. Those who have jobs are more likely to stay in them with less regard for satisfaction.

All of which seems to work well for employers, and the balance of power has certainly shifted in their direction.  That said, here are some predictions about the downstream effects of the current employment picture:

  1. When the economy is more robust, those who can jump at a better opportunity will.
  2. Employees will be more likely to move for money.
  3. Employers will have a much tougher time with retention, turnover, and recruitment.

These aren’t ambitious guesses, and they probably have an easy precedent in the recovery of the early 90s.  That said, there is no reason to believe that organizations have suddenly become wiser across the board, which means the pattern is almost certain to repeat.  The social contract between employer and employee will be sacrificed for short-term “needs of the business”, which is one big thing shareholders and analysts appreciate in publicly traded companies.  The problem:  shareholders and analysts for the most part think in much narrower time horizons than organizational longevity and health require.  An employees’ market is expensive for employers–very expensive–but it’s a cost without a fixed due date or real estimate.  That doesn’t mean the bill won’t come due.

There’s a reasonable expectation that an economic recovery in the coming years will produce an employees’ market just as the downturn has shifted the advantage to employers.  Assuming that outcome as a likelihood, might it not make sense for an employer to prepare for the future by maintaining slightly better employment practices than competitors?  It would seem that one source of strategic advantage in the future is simply thinking about the future.

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UK to pay firms to hire people

It should be interesting to see how the UK’s plans to stimulate employment work out:

Under the latest plans, the government will put £400m, nearly half of the £1bn contingency fund it set aside in last November’s pre-budget report, to reward firms who hire someone who has been out of work for more than six months, according to a Downing Street aide.

The Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will administer the scheme over a two-year period starting in April, and the DWP said it would also be funding £100m of the project through savings the department was making through the government’s VAT cut. An aide said yesterday: “This is genuinely new money.”

The government’s scheme will give Jobcentre Plus staff the power to award up to £2,500 to a firm that hires someone unemployed for more than six months. New training places will also be funded, and volunteering that may help the jobless secure employment at a later stage will also be given extra money.

I am in no way qualified to guess what an economist might say about this incentive, nor what inevitable externalities will show up in the plan.  It seems like they have the money and urgency, but £2,500 isn’t a lot of money to most employers.  Recruitment and onboarding tend to be expensive for new employees, perhaps more so after six months on the bench.  That same incentive applied to retaining existing staff might be more effective.  That’s merely speculation, though.  The results of this experiment should show up in the coming months.