Science For Work summarizes research-based evidence that can guide business management decisions, with emphasis on industrial and organizational psychology. Their recent post, Why You Should Consider Fairness When Designing Your Change Management Process, exemplifies the well-researched, practical, and engaging content this non-profit organization provides. The topic, organizational justice, can be difficult to comprehend by well-being professionals for whom organizational behavior is uncharted territory. But Science for Work does a fine job breaking it down. See their infographic (below) followed by my two cents, then head on over to ScienceForWork.com to learn more. Continue reading »
Worldwide, a yearning for civility blossomed in 2018, and workplaces were no exception.
In addition to Christine Porath’s presentation at SHRM, civility surfaced on the agenda of major wellness conferences, and a prominent midwest health care system launched, with some fanfare, an introductory “Choose Civility” e-course. Continue reading »
If a job has high Motivating Potential, the jobholders are more likely to feel their work is meaningful, to exhibit high levels of motivation, performance, and job satisfaction. If a job has low Motivating Potential, jobholders are more likely to exhibit negative outcomes, like absenteeism, turnover, and sluggish performance.
Does your Employee Assistance Program proactively address workplace mental health? Are they reaching out and screening employees — like those out on disability, or who have recently given birth, or are dealing with grief, or who have a chronic disease — who are at risk for mental health problems?
Job Crafting in Practice — Examples from Google, Logitech, Burt’s Bees, and morein Uncategorized, Featured, job crafting
Does The Illinois Workplace Wellness Study Say What Everyone Says It Says?in Employee Wellness Programs, Featured
Seems like every month, the University of Illinois workplace wellness study re-enters the limelight, and earlier this month Aaron Carroll, MD really shoved it center stage in his New York Times piece, Workplace Wellness Programs Don’t Work Well. Why Some Studies Show Otherwise.
This was a randomized controlled study of an employee wellness program. To date, the study results have shown no improvement in health behaviors, health care costs, or productivity. To date.
You can read the full study paper published on the Bureau of Economic Research website. But if you’re not one to wade through a swamp of statistics, check out the study’s very own website for info, updates, and bar charts galore.
Does Feeling Valued Count?
Rather than cherry-picking the facts, allow me to just suggest questions to consider as you learn more about this study:
What does “doesn’t work” mean, anyway? Work to do what?
The study found that the number of program participants who believed their employer was committed to their health and safety increased significantly as an effect of the intervention. Is this important?
In the study paper, how many times do the researchers make the claim that has captured the imagination of Dr. Carroll and many others in the business and health care media, that “wellness doesn’t work”? (You can cheat by using your browser’s “Find” function. Or take a guess. It’s somewhere between -1 and +1.)
Was the study published in a peer-reviewed journal?
“I heavily favor peer-reviewed work.”
— Aaron Carroll, in The Power (and Weakness) of Peer Review, 2011.
How many employers, and how many different kinds of wellness strategies, were included in this study of the University of Illinois wellness program (called iThrive)?
Let’s say you’re running a program for a global manufacturing company or a tech start-up. How comparable is your employee population to the employees at University of Illinois?
A Comprehensive Wellness Program
iThrive is said to be a “comprehensive” wellness program. In my mind, a comprehensive wellness program might include some behavioral programs, cultural strategies, environmental strategies, and, most importantly, organizational strategies that promote healthy work.
Is this a comprehensive program? You be the judge. The core activies and strategies of iThrive:
- Biometric health screenings
- Health risk assessments
- Participation incentives
- Participation in “one of several activities in the fall and then again in the spring.” Activities included classes on chronic disease management; weight management; tai chi; physical fitness; financial wellness; healthy workplace habits; a tobacco cessation hotline; and an online, self-paced wellness challenge.”
A “Post-Intervention” Time Warp?
- Screenings were conducted from August 15 to September 16, 2016.
- Health risk assessment was conducted from September 8 to October 4.
- Fall wellness activities were held October 10 to December 16.
- Spring wellness activities were held January 30 to April 25, 2017.
- “Post-intervention” healthcare utilization was measured for the period August 1, 2016 through July 31, 2017.
Thinking carefully about this timeline, what changes in healthcare utilization patterns would you expect during the first year of the program?
Keep these questions in mind. And I hope you’ll pose a lot more of your own when you read about future findings from this and other studies.
Check out Part II of this post, Studying the Study: Different Kinds of Analysis Yield Contradictory Results For Illinois Wellness Study.
“What Do Companies Mean by Culture?” is a fascinating article from Scientific American’s “Workplace Anthropology” series.
Right down to the way it uses the word “organic,” the article aligns with my recent post about the importance of a work environment that encourages employees to craft their own “fun at work,” rather than simply having fun activities prescribed:
And the best cultural markers are those that aren’t imposed on employees—mandatory game night or spin classes!—but are those that are formulated by employees. These create a shared sense of continuity, which creates the foundations for trust and support and strengthens the bonds between people. Organizational culture is rooted in the ways companies encourage these organic interactions but also in how they support their employees themselves.
We wellness professionals are an interventionist lot. Once we see that job crafting “in the wild” enhances wellbeing, reduces burnout, boosts performance, and eases adaptation to change, we want to know how we can make it happen.
And if we’re going to offer job crafting programs… We want to know what what works, based on evidence..
Let’s look at interventions based on two branches of job crafting:
- What I call Job Crafting Classic — as I described in I Have Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing. It’s Name is Job Crafting — in which workers modify the tasks of their job, the personal interactions they have, and their perception of the job in order to experience a greater sense of meaning and purpose, and to increase work engagement, satisfaction, resilience, and thriving.
- What I call Job Demands-Resources Job Crafting — as described in my article The Good, the Bad, and the Crafty: Challenges and Hindrances in JD-R Job Crafting — in which workers seek resources, seek challenges, and ratchet down “hindering” demands in order to achieve much of what’s achieved in Job Crafting Classic, but with more emphasis on well-being and, theoretically, health.
Job Crafting Classic
In a controlled study at a large tech company, employees were happier and more effective in their jobs 6 weeks after completing the Job Crafting Exercise™. This quick video Job Crafting Classic intervention and some outcomes…
As far as I can tell, outcomes from this particular intervention, which was spearheaded by Amy Wrysznewksi, Jane Dutton, and Justin Berg, weren’t published in a peer-reviewed journal.
A Japanese study delivered a variation of The Job Crafting Exercise to 54 manufacturing managers and 25 psychiatric hospital workers. The intervention led to improved levels of work engagement, reduced stress, and an increase in job crafting behavior.
Increasing job crafting behavior — Wrzesniewski et al describe a job-crafting mindset — is important. The intention of these programs is not to have participants modify their jobs at the intervention workshop and then go about their merry way; it’s to have them re-envision their jobs as malleable and to develop their skills and their sense of empowerment…so they can establish and continuously improve their person-job fit.
Interventions and evidence for JD-R Job Crafting are a different story — one that will be told in Part II.
See what different kinds of job crafting look like in the real world of work:
- Job Demands Resources
- Seeking resources
- Seeking challenges
- Reducing hindrance demands
- Job Crafting “Classic”
- Task crafting
- Relational crafting
- Cognitive crafting
(It helps if you read some of the Jozito blogs about job crafting Bob Merberg previously published here.)
On a snowy winter day, as I listened on a conference call with a client, I watched through the window of my cozy home office as the curbside recycling truck lurched to a halt.
A burly guy jumped off the truck, where he’d been clinging in the blasting snow and arctic wind. In his orange reflector-striped parker, snow-dusted cap, and humongo gloves, he lifted my recycling bin out of the snow bank where it’d been half-buried by the city plow and in one swift move heaved the clinking and clanking contents into the backend of the truck.
He tossed the emptied bin onto my snow-covered driveway and stepped back onto the rear of the truck as it grinded away. With its amber caution lights flashing and sparkling in the icicles that hung off its rim like a damaged chandelier, the truck — its passenger clutching the back and ducking his head out of the wind — vanished into the whiteout.
“What kind of wellbeing program would appeal to this guy?” I thought. “What would be useful to him?”
On my conference call, the client was chatting about placing fruit-infused water stations in break rooms.
Would the recycling worker want a fitness challenge to track his steps? Would he like a health coach to call that evening to “nudge” him to eat fewer carbs? A work-life balance lunch-and-learn?
In the latest iteration of employee wellbeing, where all the buzz is about purpose, authentic self, mindfulness, and gratitude, would the recycling worker pick up what we’re throwing out there?
I don’t know what this individual worker wants and I won’t make assumptions. I haven’t spoken to him yet, but, like you, I chat with blue collar employees, manual laborers, and lower-wage workers every day. Some I meet in the course of my daily business, some are friends, some are family members. And I do ask what they want and how their workplace can support their wellbeing.
The above was originally the preamble to my LinkedIn post, “How My Dad Proved Steve Jobs Wrong About Loving What You Do…”, but I cut it because of length, relevance, and tone. Still, I’d love to hear from you. How can we serve employees in job classes like this recycling worker? How can we best support their wellbeing?
To understand what job crafting has to do with employee health and wellbeing, it’s important to understanding the inner workings of job stress and motivation.
In a previous post — “I’ve Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing: It’s Name Is Job Crafting” — I explained how, in 2001, Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton proposed that employees tweak their job tasks, workplace social connections, and perspective about their role to gain a greater sense of purpose and meaning, potentially leading to better job performance.
Around that same time, in the Netherlands, Evangelia Demerouti, Arnold Bakker, and others introduced their model of Job Demands-Resources (JD-R), which has since been fine-tuned and validated as relevant to a full range of occupations and outcomes in countless studies around the world.
If you’re familiar with job stress research, you know that job stress has causes, and shouldn’t be dismissed as a choice employees make.
Forget trendy notions that “stress is good.” It’s wishful thinking based on cherry-picked evidence. If stress is so great, why aren’t employees demanding more of it?
Forty years of research has shown that harmful job stress is a result of jobs that have low levels of autonomy and high demands.
Job Demands and Autonomy Are Linked to Health Problems
Over the years, job autonomy (or control) has been defined different ways, but can be broadly understood as limited flexibility (for example, with the tasks of the job) and limited decisional latitude, meaning the employee isn’t permitted or encouraged to make decisions in their work or about their work.
Job demands originally meant the psychological intensity of work, but ultimately can be understood to include workload, time pressure, and physical demands.
Robert Karasek introduced the theory of demands and control in 1979. He and others have shown that jobs in which workers consistently encounter high job demands with low job control — the combination of which is called job strain — are linked to a variety of health issues, especially high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, as well as depression, anxiety, burnout, and metabolic disorders. Reducing job strain can improve productivity.
Karasek later learned that social support “buffers” the negative effects of high-strain jobs. Social support originally meant supervisors’ and co-workers’ support for performing job tasks, but can be understood in all of the many ways it’s been defined: Having a sense of “belongingness” at work; having co-workers who are empathetic and confidantes; having supervisors who take a genuine interest in the personal and professional lives of team members; and having a best friend at work.
In sum, high demands and low control are an unhealthy combo. (High demands and high control are not necessarily bad.)
Effort-Reward Imbalance Is Linked to Health Problems
Unhealthy job stress has been framed in other ways. Germany’s Johannes Siegrist found that work in which the required effort is disproportionately high compared to the job rewards— effort-reward imbalance — leads to the same kinds of health problems that result from job strain. “Rewards,” here, doesn’t just mean financial compensation, but also career opportunities and level of esteem within the organization.
The effort-reward imbalance model reminds me of an encounter I once had with a business analyst who transferred to another department because she didn’t feel valued in the department she was hired into. When I asked her, “What would have made you feel more valued?” her answer was not “better pay” or “someone saying ‘good job’”…
“I just wanted someone to listen to my ideas,” she told me.
A worker who doesn’t feel valued (i.e. esteemed) by being “listened to” is likely to have a higher level of disengagement and health impairment. This offers a glimpse into how management style, job design, organizational culture, performance, turnover, health, and wellbeing are all interconnected.
Overtime, Job Insecurity, Injustice, and More…
Several other causes of job stress have been identified, and most of them can in some way fit into the demand-control and/or the effort-reward imbalance model:
- • chronic overtime
- • job insecurity
- • work-life conflict
- • role ambiguity (not being clear of what’s expected, receiving contradictory direction, duplication with other workers’ roles, or not understanding how the work fits into the overall organization — all of which are among the most common complaints I’ve heard from employees who report high job stress).
- • organizational injustice (being treated unfairly, which at the extreme includes bullying and harassment)
- • lower levels of status within the organization
- • sustaining high levels of vigilance (e.g. first responders, air traffic controllers, etc.)
Back to Bakker
The overlaps between and the nuances of these job stress theories makes them difficult to understand and apply. That’s where Bakker and Demerouti’s Job Demands-Resources model comes in. While building on the existing theories and expanding upon them, it also provides a simpler way of making sense of job stress and motivation. I consider it a comprehensible and practical unifying theory.
JD-R posits that all job traits can be categorized as either demands or resources.
- • Demands require sustained effort from employees. They’re an expenditure of personal energy.
- • Resources help fuel progress toward work-related goals. They’re restorative, buffering the effects of job demands —and activating personal development.
I interpret JD-R to mean that Karasek’s “demands,” Siegrest’s “efforts,” as well as role ambiguity, job insecurity, injustice, tedium, and work-life conflict are demands.
Job autonomy, social support, rewards, recognition, feedback, task variety, and training are examples of resources.
Side note: If you’re familiar with Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s self-determination theory — popularized in the Daniel Pink bestseller, Drive — which tells us that motivation and flourishing depend on autonomy, competence, and relatedness (i.e. social connection), you may recognize that job resources generally can be matched to the components of self-determination.
- • Demands regulate job stress.
- • Resources regulate job motivation and engagement.
- • And the two forces may act upon each other.
That’s enough theory for now. What I’ve come to appreciate about JD-R is how, according to research by Bakker and others, it serves as a foundation for a practical application: job crafting.
JD-R takes job crafting beyond meaning and purpose — which has received most of the public attention — and ties it directly into health and wellbeing.
I’ll spell this out further in a future post, and also draw the important distinction between positive and negative job demands. I’ll share what research shows about the effectiveness of job crafting interventions for improving employee wellbeing, work engagement, absenteeism, performance, and productivity. And I’ll offer evidence-based tips on how you can prime your organization for job crafting.
For an excellent overview, see Bakker and Demerouti’s 2016 article: Job Demands-Resources Theory: Taking Stock and Looking Forward
19 Tips for Employee Wellbeing Program Evaluationin Uncategorized, Employee Wellness Programs, Featured
The process of evaluating employee wellbeing and sustainability programs depends on the organization and its goals.
Here are tips that can be applied in almost any situation to assure your findings meet your needs:
- Have a plan. Include program component evaluations, communication (and other process) evaluations, and overall program outcome evaluations.
- Identify metrics based on program goals. You wouldn’t, for example, spotlight biometric screening data to measure a program’s effect on culture or employee engagement.
- Rely on data. Use story and data visualization to communicate and provide insight into data.
- Benchmark against reference groups, including vendor book-of-business, national norms, and (yes) sometimes non-participants.
- Understand biases, including the powerful affect of selection bias.
- Leverage existing sources of data, such as HRAs, biometrics, safety, employee engagement surveys, EAP, HR info systems, and disability.
- Identify relationships between findings. How are physical health, productivity, employee engagement, behavioral health, and well-being strategies affecting each other?
- When using surveys, use validated instruments, when possible.
- Engage in-house experts (eg data analysts), if available.
- Require vendors and consultants to provide expert evaluation consultation.
- Take vendor self-evaluations with a grain of salt.
- Be conservative in conclusions.
- Communicate evaluation findings throughout the organization, including to participants.
- Be transparent about findings, even when they are disappointing.
- Follow participant cohorts to show change over time.
- Generally, seek to measure sustained outcomes, not just results immediately post-program.
- Understand intent-to-treat methodology, and use it if you’re trying to do a rigorous analysis of health interventions.
- Evaluation goals differ – for example, garnering program support vs. quality improvement. Establish methodology accordingly.
- If in doubt, strive to be as rigorous as possible, but don’t get bogged down in perfectionism unless you’re publishing research.
If your organization needs help with its program evaluation, contact Jozito LLC’s principal consultant, Bob Merberg, using this website’s contact form.
First, the Premise: Work Shapes Wellbeing
The foundation of employee wellbeing isn’t employee behavior — it’s workplace exposure. Exposure to things like…
- the physical environment,
- the psychosocial environment,
- the policies of the organization,
- the work itself.
Designing jobs to optimize these exposures is a direct path to creating healthier work.
The employer that values employee wellbeing will design jobs that offer
- manageable demands,
- well defined roles,
- appropriate rewards,
- plenty of personal and professional support.
As the business world crams countless sections into its wellbeing pie charts, it persistently omits the core: For a sustainable workforce, healthy work comes first.
What Is Job Crafting?
In job crafting, employees tweak any combination of…
- their tasks,
- their workplace interactions,
- the way they view their jobs.
One of the most commonly cited examples comes from Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton, who first coined the phrase job crafting in 2001. In their study of hospital housekeepers, some workers distinguished themselves by envisioning their role as part of the care team, taking the initiative to chip in where they could to make the environment more patient-friendly — adjusting a picture on the wall of a patient’s room, delivering a glass of water, or spending more time interacting with patients and visitors.
The researchers wrote,
When hospital cleaners integrate themselves into patient care functions, they are able to see their work as being about healing people and to see themselves as a key part of this process, thus enhancing work meaning and creating a more positive work identity.
A variety of workers studied, from machine operators to engineers to sales professionals, have been found to experience greater job satisfaction, better performance, less burnout, and enhanced wellbeing by bringing more meaning to their jobs via self-initiated or intervention-based job crafting.
I’ve come to see job crafting as the workforce sustainability intervention many of us have sought: An evidence-based, employee-centric methodology that can enhance employee wellbeing in a manner aligned with employers’ priorities.
Job crafting is not the solution, but it may be the keystone for employers that have their house in order. It’s one answer to the question, “Okay, we value autonomy, employee engagement, a supportive environment, and the rest… But what do we do about it?”
Job crafting is a tool — not a substitute — for good management.
If you may be interested in hosting a job-crafting beta workshop later in the coming year, touch base via the Jozito.com contact form.
A version of post was originally published on LinkedIn on December 28, 2017.
Chez Workplace: Study Links Teaching Kitchens to Good Employee Wellbeing and Health Behavior Outcomesin Featured
A study investigating the feasibility of workplace teaching kitchens, and the outcomes that might result from integrating them with other types of health behavior interventions, may herald a new and important movement for employee wellbeing programs.
The Teaching Kitchen Collaborative — led by the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health — endeavors to promote teaching kitchens as “catalysts of enhanced personal and public health” across a variety of settings, including workplaces.
The study — led by Dr. David Eisenberg, Director of Culinary Nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and published in the Journal of Lifestyle Medicine — set out to determine the feasibility of an interdisciplinary teaching kitchen curriculum that includes…
- nutrition education
- hands-on cooking instruction
- encouragement and resources to promote physical activity
- mindfulness training, and
- personalized health coaching
… and to measure the program’s behavioral and health outcomes.
At the completion of 14- and 16-week interventions participants showed statistically significant decreases in body weight, body mass index, waist circumference, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol.
Participants who completed the program also were more likely to engage in positive behaviors, such as cooking meals from scratch at home more often, relying on ready-made meals less often, reading nutrition labels on purchased foods more often, and feeling more confident in cooking.
The study had several limitations, as the researchers noted in their published article. The number of participants was small (40 all told) and the pool of potential participants was comprised of (non-culinary) employees of the Culinary Institute of America, which meant they had state-of-the-art teaching kitchen facilities available to them. The intervention was expensive, and many of the results weren’t statistically significant or sustained over 12 months of follow-up.
Models for teaching kitchens, in the workplace and in other settings, will continue to be refined and studied. The pilot study described here represents an encouraging first step. As Harvard wrote in its summary of the findings:
With dramatic increases in obesity and diabetes, the search is on for innovative strategies to change the paths of those living with, or at risk for developing these and other lifestyle-related chronic diseases. In conjunction with good medical guidance, holistic strategies are needed.
Dr. David Eisenberg may have tapped into one winning strategy with Teaching Kitchens—a kind of cooking laboratory that combines culinary instruction using healthful whole ingredients, nutrition education, exercise, mindfulness, and personalized health coaching.