Wellbeing: Did I Say Pizza? I Meant Lava Lamp.

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Lava Lamp — reflecting the model of employee wellness and wellbeing promoted by employee well-being consultant Bob MerbergWellness (or wellbeing, if you will) is usually illustrated as a perfect circle divided into uniform wedges. Gallup’s 5 wedges, for example, represent Social, Financial, Physical, Community, and Career Purpose wellbeing. National Wellness Institute has its Occupational, Physical, Social, Intellectual, Spiritual, and Emotional dimensions.

There’s no end to how circles can be sliced up into the elements of wellness, whether there are 6, 7, 8 wedges, or — even as some models have it — 12 wedges of an inner circle surrounded by 8 pastel sections that join to form 2 concentric circles. (Stop this ride, I’m getting dizzy!)

Many models of wellness and wellbeing with circles and wedges to show the elements or dimensions of wellness and well-being.These wellness merry-go-rounds are mostly the product of an American spin on wellness. Elsewhere, especially Europe, the focus is on what wellness is — something related to happiness and life satisfaction. You know… wellbeing! In the US we obsess over the components of wellness — no time to fret about what they add up to — as you may recall from my post “Wellbeing and Pizza: In Search of the Secret Sauce.”

These tidy geometrics are a swell way to say that wellbeing goes beyond physical health. But a handful of static, one dimensional, and evenly distributed wedges — crammed into a flawlessly circular vessel — don’t resonate with my experience of wellness. And I wonder if they’re an ideal way to describe what other people’s wellbeing — ultimately their lives — are or can be.

Meet My Globules

My wellness is more like a lava lamp: An ever-changing bunch of free-floating globules of different shapes and sizes. I’ve got fitness globules, mental health globules, spiritual globules. Some rise to the surface for as others submerge. They’re fluid. They expand and they contract.

Some globules, like my health globule and my financial globule, merge for a while. My emotional globule occasionally smothers my intellectual globule; other times, it’s the other way around. Look: My creativity globule and logic globule are going at each other right now!

But even the lava lamp analogy eventually runs dry. Ultimately, I want my globules to be set free, to be unbound by time and space, and to interconnect with others’ globules — those of people who love me and those of people who don’t. Any model of real wellbeing has to show our globules interacting and interconnecting. You heard me right: We must have global globules.

The change starts within. To paraphrase an ancient sage: Be a lava lamp unto thyself.

Copyright 2020 by Bob Merberg. All rights reserved. (My globules may be your globules. But my work is not.)

Wellbeing and Pizza: In Search of the Secret Sauce

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Employee Wellness Programs

pizza[Originally published on LinkedIn 2018-03-15]

“It’s the damnedest thing, hahaha” my father-in-law would say, his thick Irish brogue muscling its way forward through his baritone laugh. “I hate tomato sauce and cheese, and I don’t like bread, but I like pizza. Hahahahah!”

As a Brooklynite weaned on pizza, this really was the damndest thing I’d ever heard. But the corporate world’s newfound adoration of “wellbeing” gives me insight into my father-in-law’s pizza predilections. And vice versa.
Continue reading »

Employee Well-being, COVID-19, and the Future of Work

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Bus driver during COVID-19 (coronavirus) epidemicI don’t know what’s going to happen to the economy or what course the coronavirus pandemic will take. But I’ve had time to reflect on what a new world order may mean for employee wellness and the future of work.

Here are 10 hopes, fears, and questions (not predictions):

1) We’ll re-frame “meaningful work” — I recently heard, in an interview, a worker who delivers tortillas to grocery stores poignantly articulate what will prevail as a fresh take on meaning and work: Continue reading »

Organizational Justice (and Psychological Breach), Well Summarized

in industrial organizational psychology

wordcloud-- fair unbiased neutral impartial just nonpartisanScience 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 »

The Play’s the Thing: Two Brilliant Articles from Different Generations Shed Light on Fun and Work

in job crafting

worker with a banana

Viewed through the lens of job crafting, “Banana Time: Job Satisfaction and Informal Interaction,” a classic in the annals of organizational studies, offers clues about how to foster real “fun at work” that can boost employee wellbeing and, with any luck, improve business results.

If you were absent the day they assigned Banana Time in Industrial Sociology class, I highly recommend this unique article. Sociologist Donald Roy’s story, embedding himself in a small group of die press operators, was published in 1959 and is unlike anything else you’ve read in a journal. At times it’s humorous, sarcastic, and self-deprecating. And it’s always empathetic.

Roy didn’t set out specifically to explore fun at work. He primarily was studying how laborers coped with tedious work. He also sought to “penetrate the mysteries of the small group,” recognizing there might be a relationship between surviving monotony — and it’s “twin brother,” fatigue — and the human relations that take place among co-workers.

Roy describes the isolation he and his small cadre of co-workers experienced:

…This was truly a situation of laissez-faire management. There was no interference from staff experts, no hounding by time-study engineers or personnel men hot on the scent of efficiency or good human relations. Nor were there any signs of industrial democracy in the form of safety, recreational, or production committees.

Roy cites forerunners who described humans’ irrepressible impulse to engage in play, which can help “the worker find some meaning in any activity assigned to him.”

Short-Range Production Goals with Achievement Rewards

He shares his experience of this impulse, in the initial days before he interacted with the three other die press operators — “clicker operators,” as Roy called them — in his work area. He cognitively crafted what he called “the game of work”:

‘As soon as I finish a thousand of the green ones, I’ll click some brown ones.’ And, with success in attaining the objective of working with brown materials, a new goal of ‘I’ll get to do the white ones’ might be set. Or the new goal might involve switching dies.

“Thus,” Roy writes, “the game of work might be described as a continuous sequence of short-range production goals with achievement rewards in the form of activity change.”

Ultimately, he acknowledges, “These games were not as interesting in the experiencing as they might seem to be from the telling.”

After his first week, however, Roy realizes that another game — one played daily by his co-workers — is taking place.

Looking Forward to Banana Time

First, he notices a regular pattern of horseplay and teasing. In one example, one of the clicker operators, Ike, would steal a banana from the lunchbox of another, Sammy:

Ike would gulp it down by himself after surreptitiously extracting it from Sammy’s lunch box, kept on a shelf behind Sammy’s work station. Each morning, after making the snatch, Ike would call out, “Banana time!” and proceed to down his prize while Sammy made futile protests and denunciations. The banana was one which Sammy brought for his own consumption at lunch time; he never did get to eat his banana, but kept bringing one for his lunch. At first this daily theft startled and amazed me. Then I grew to look forward to the daily seizure and the verbal interaction which followed.

Roy describes a variety of “time” activities the workers wove into their daily work routine. Many revolved around refreshments, such as peach time, a daily mid-morning ritual in which Sammy shared two peaches with the other press operators. There were also coffee time, Coke time, and many other “times,” including, of course, quitting time.

(Sorry Family Guy fans… No peanut butter and jelly time!)

Team Job Crafting

These playful activities, initiated organically (that is, intrinsically) within the group, are a form of team job crafting. They met specific employee needs like social support and relief from monotony, and were enjoyed by everyone who chose to engage. Contrast organic, worker-crafted fun with activities planned by management or by a fun-at-work committee.

Banana Time and the other “times” are examples of relational (social) crafting. (For an overview of job crafting, including relational, cognitive, and task crafting, see my previous post: I Have Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing. It’s Name Is Job Crafting.)

Roy observed other kinds of social interaction, as well, and the influence they all had on what we now call the employee experience:

The interaction was there, in constant flow. It captured attention and held interest to make the long day pass. The 12 hours of “click, —move die, click, — move die” became as easy to endure as 8 hours of varied activity. The “beast of boredom” was gentled to the harmlessness of a kitten.

Seven Lessons for Workplace Leaders

It may feel like a stretch, at first, to apply Roy’s 1959 die press operator experience to the modern workplace, but it suggests no less than seven insights relevant to most modern work situations:

  1. Workers engage in playfulness to remain stimulated.
  2. Fun delays or cloaks fatigue.
  3. Workers use gamification to find meaning in their work.
  4. Playful rituals during the workday are used to mark time and support short-term intrinsic motivation.
  5. Workplace fun often revolves around food and beverages.
  6. Playing with others is more meaningful than playing alone.
  7. Informal interaction between members of a work group is important for job satisfaction.

As for management goals, Roy posed one possibility: “Leavening the boredom of individualized work routines with a concurrent flow of group festivities had a negative effect on turnover.”

He observed that the more he played the less tired he felt, which may have positive implications for productivity, but Roy neither measured productivity nor speculated about it.

One of Roy’s most important observations, in my opinion, is that, given the opportunity, workers craft their own fun, especially via social interaction.

Job Crafting, Gamification, and Play

Arnold Bakker and Marianne van Woerkom, in last year’s article “Flow at Work: a Self-Determination Perspective,” posit that job crafting and “designing work to be playful” are two strategies workers use to satisfy basic needs, which leads to improved job performance. They cite (as Roy did) a well accepted theory that humans have a “natural tendency” for play. And they point to research suggesting that fun at work “leads to higher job satisfaction, morale, pride in work, creativity, service quality, as well as lower burnout and absenteeism.”

Echoing Roy’s experience of cognitive game-playing before he discovered Banana Time (Remember? “As soon as I finish a thousand green ones, I’ll click some brown ones”), Bakker and van Woerkom share testimonials from people who gamified their work, such as one HR manager who said:

When I need to work on a boring, bureaucratic task, I gamify it by building additional tasks into the boring task. One option is to fill out the form using the fewest words possible yet covering all the content that must be addressed. This makes it a writing challenge and so, more interesting.

Bakker and van Woerkom conclude,

Proactively creating conditions at work that foster play – to which we will refer to as “playful work design” could therefore be an effective strategy to increase flow at work.

(Flow at work, the author’s explain, is “a short-term peak experience characterized by absorption, work enjoyment, and intrinsic work motivation.”)

Beyond “Fun” Activities at Work

Bakker and van Woerkom focus on individual gamification, which Roy found to be “not as interesting in the experiencing as it might seem to be from the telling,” rather than socially interactive play. Nevertheless, their research affirms Roy’s finding 50 years ago: workers will find ways to craft fun into their work. And the authors encourage leaders to create conditions that encourage workers to do so.

For today’s manager, the lesson is clear: Ping-pong tables, office scooters, outings, office parades, and dress-up-as-whatever days in the office are all well-and-good, but more important is an environment that supports employees crafting their own fun. (The foremost benefit of social outings, office parties, and other gatherings — especially when accompanied by autonomy designed into the work — may be to provide opportunities to interact in ways that foster future fun and relational job crafting.)

When all is said and done, as we contemplate Roy’s insights, as well as the theories advanced by Bakker and van Woerkom, we may conclude that trying to provide fun at work needn’t be nearly as high a priority as enabling the fun of work.

______

Thank you to Dmitrijs Kravcenko and team, who introduced me to Donald Roy and Banana Time via their remarkable podcast “Talking About Organizations.” Check it out. Start with the first episode, or jump right in with their discussion of Banana Time.

JD-R Job Crafting Intervention: What Works? What Doesn’t?

in job crafting

job crafting JD-R intervention with post-its

 

Oodles of studies that include workers with diverse jobs in various countries show that JD-R job crafting is an employee-forward way to improve person-job fit — a win-win for employees and employers. It leads to improved wellbeing, stronger work engagement, better adaptability to change, and more productive job performance.

But when it comes to pulling their job demands and resources into an ideal level of balance — ie. JD-R job crafting — workers often aren’t aware of the possibility, and some aren’t confident in their ability to do it. Then again, some employers haven’t yet come to appreciate job crafting or don’t know how to inspire it.

These are among the reasons we, especially those of us trained and experienced in operationalizing workplace wellbeing programs, want to know how to structure JD-R job crafting interventions and what kinds of interventions work.

In a previous post, I reported studies of what I dubbed “Job Crafting Classic,” the original model proposed by Wrzesniewski, Dutton, and Berg.

Here, let’s navigate the more rugged terrain of the JD-R job crafting landscape. The following are studies of JD-R job crafting interventions — almost every study I could find. Almost all are based on a “quasi-experimental” design, meaning that — consistent with most studies of workplace interventions — neither the participant group nor the control group was selected randomly. They’re mostly pre- and post-test study designs, meaning measurements — of things like job crafting behaviors, work engagement, levels of demands and resources, and job performance — were measured before the intervention and after.

This is a relatively detailed overview, with links to the original studies in case you want more detail. If you’re in a rush, there’s an abbreviated version on LinkedIn.

4-Week Job Crafting Intervention for Police District Employees

Van den Heuvel et al paved the way with phased intervention for employees of a police district. The first stage was a one-day workshop that taught participants about JD-R job crafting; had them assess the current state of their demands and resources; and raised their awareness of opportunities to find more meaning and satisfaction in their jobs via crafting. The workshop concluded with creation of a job crafting plan. This was followed by four weeks of independent work on their plan, which included two or three goals per week. At the end of the study period, a half-day “reflection session” was held.

The study included 39 employees in a Dutch police district and 47 employees in a control group.

Outcomes: Increased wellbeing; increased self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to effect their situation); greater access to developmental opportunities. (The same team recently published another study (in Dutch)  of a similar intervention — with only one goal per week and more participant interaction between each other and with the trainers — with 83 civil servants. They found increases in job crafting behaviors, increases in access to job resources, and improved wellbeing, compared to controls).

The researchers found the findings of their police district study, generally, to be “not significant.” But they concluded,

The job crafting intervention seems to have potential to enable employees to proactively build a motivating work environment and to improve their own well‐being.

Van den Heuvel, Machteld, Evangelia Demerouti, and Maria CW Peeters. “The job crafting intervention: Effects on job resources, self‐efficacy, and affective well‐being.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 88.3 (2015): 511-532. This pilot intervention was originally described with additional detail in Van den Heuvel, Machteld, Evangelia Demerouti, and Maria Peeters. “Succesvol job craften door middel van een groepstraining.” Scherp in werk 5 (2012): 27-49. [Dutch], worth noting because it may be the first published study of a JD-R job crafting intervention.


Simplified Job Crafting Intervention for Medical Specialists and Nurses

Intervention: Gordon et al tested a fine-tuned version of the 4-week intervention (above). They explained: “As the eects found by Van den Heuvel and colleagues were rather weak, we modified their intervention in several respects. Adjustments were made to the intervention to increase individuals’ understanding and application of job crafting behaviors into their daily work…”

The intervention started with a three-hour workshop in which participants learned about JD-R job crafting — seeking resources, seeking challenges, and reducing demands. It encouraged participants to learn from their own or others’ real–life experiences by sharing stories of how their proactive behavior changed their thoughts, feelings, or relationships at work. The workshops were customized to support the employer and its workers during a period of organizational change. At the end of the workshop, participants created individual job crafting plans to follow for next three weeks.

The team conducted one study with 119 medical specialists and another with 58 nurses. The interventions were customized for each group based on the needs of the organization and the employees during a period of organizational change.

Outcomes: Overall, the participants experienced increases in their job crafting behaviors, improved wellbeing, and better performance compared to controls. The medical specialists improved adaptive performance — that is, their ability to effectively modify behavior in response to changes at work. Consistent with other JD-R research, reducing demands did not clearly lead to positive outcomes — a dynamic that’s not yet fully understood.

The interventions led to “medium to large” increases in job crafting behavior and wellbeing.

The researchers concluded that the intervention was…

…a promising job redesign intervention strategy that individual employees can use to improve their well-being and job performance… Individual and organizational interests … can be integrated by adopting the theoretical framework of the ‘job demands-resources model.’

Gordon, Heather J., et al. “Individual job redesign: job crafting interventions in healthcare.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 104 (2018): 98-114.


Blending The Job Crafting Exercise and JD-R Interventions for Healthcare Workers

Van Wingerden published several studies of job crafting interventions in recent years. She and her team published a relatively early study of a JD-R job crafting intervention, delivering a hybrid of the style of interventions described above and the Michigan Job Crafting Exercise™. The subjects were 67 healthcare workers who diagnose, identify, and treat hearing-impaired patients.

The intervention led to increased work engagement and improved job performance in the participants. Van Wingerden continued to use this “hybrid” (my word) intervention, weaving the JD-R model into the Job Crafting Exercise framework, in other studies.

Wingerden, Jessica van, Arnold B. Bakker, and Daantje Derks. “A test of a job demands-resources intervention.” Journal of Managerial Psychology 31.3 (2016): 686-701.


Comparing Resource Interventions and Job Crafting Interventions for Special Education Teachers

Van Wingerden et al compared different interventions for primary school special education teachers at multiple sites: 26 participants took part in an intervention geared exclusively to increasing personal resources  (specifically, psychological capital… hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience); 32 participated in a complete job crafting intervention; 26 participated in a combined personal resources and job crafting intervention. 18 study subjects were assigned to a control group.

The study found… 

  1. The personal resources intervention improved work engagement
  2. Job crafting intervention can, in contrast to  Van den Heuval’s study above, increase employees’ job crafting behavior.
  3. An intervention combining personal resources and job crafting leads to improved performance, but not increased work engagement.

The researchers concluded that job crafters probably should focus on increasing resources if they seek to boost work engagement. They suggested that, in addition to interventions, senior managers could do more to support employees’ balance of demands and resources, especially by expanding available resources.

Van Wingerden, Jessica, Daantje Derks, and Arnold B. Bakker. “The impact of personal resources and job crafting interventions on work engagement and performance.” Human Resource Management 56.1 (2017): 51-67. [first published in 2015]


Lasting Effects of Job Crafting in Teachers

Van Wingerden took it a step further in a study of 75 teachers, in which she and her team evaluated the sustainability of outcomes one year after completion of a JD-R job crafting intervention, in addition to the measurements they took shortly after the intervention’s conclusion.

They found that

  1. Participants exhibited significantly increased job crafting behaviors one week after the intervention was completed and 1 year later.
  2. Feedback, professional development, and self-efficacy resources had increased at the conclusion and one year after the job crafting intervention.
  3. Significant performance improvements weren’t found at the conclusion of the study, but were found one year after the intervention. The researchers explained this lag by suggesting that participants increased their challenge job demands during the intervention, which could result in a short-term suppression of performance improvement but long-term growth.

They concluded…

The job crafting intervention may be a promising tool to facilitate a resourceful work environment which enables employees to achieve their personal and organizational goals.

(This study, which focused on reducing hindering demands, did not lead to increased work engagement — a recurring finding in JD-R studies. A study Van Wingerden led and published in 2017, Fostering Employee Well-Being Via a Job Crafting Intervention, however, found that an intervention focused on increasing challenge demands did lead to increased work engagement.)

Van Wingerden, Jessica, Arnold B. Bakker, and Daantje Derks. “The longitudinal impact of a job crafting intervention.” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 26.1 (2017): 107-119.


Broad Study on Effects of Job Crafting Opportunities

Finally, Van Wingerden and Poell published a study in 2017 that, based on questionnaire responses of 2,090 Dutch employees from various walks of life, supports the value of job crafting interventions: “Results indicated that individuals who experience a high level of opportunities to craft reported higher levels of job crafting behavior. In turn, perceived opportunities to craft and job crafting behavior related to higher levels of work engagement and subsequently performance.”  [Emphasis added.] Interventions are one means of creating “opportunities” to craft jobs.

The research team advised:

Managers who positively influence employees’ perceived opportunities to craft before offering job crafting interventions, in the organization, can create optimal conditions that may in fact strengthen intervention effects.

Wingerden, Jessica Van, and Rob F. Poell. “Employees’ Perceived Opportunities to Craft and In-Role Performance: The Mediating Role of Job Crafting and Work Engagement.” Frontiers in psychology 8 (2017): 1876.


“Awareness” Intervention in Chemical Plant Workers

Tims et al surveyed chemical plant workers regarding their levels of demands, resources, work engagement, job satisfaction, and burnout. Surveys were sent at the outset and at the conclusion of a 2-month study period, with another survey specific to job crafting sent midway.  All participants received standardized feedback that scored their levels of job demands and resources, with examples illustrating how demands and resources can be crafted by employees. 288 workers completed all three surveys and were, therefore, included in the analysis.

(This study generally isn’t described as an intervention, but it obviously is one — more of an “awareness” campaign rather than a behavioral intervention, but an intervention all the same. In health promotion terms, it’s comparable to, say, assessing someone’s level of physical activity and, if it’s low, providing boilerplate feedback on the risk of sedentary lifestyle and strategies people use to add physical activity into their life. The fact we aren’t telling them what they have to do or that they have to do anything at all doesn’t mean it’s not an intervention. In fact, it would be a fairly typical health intervention.)

Access to different types of resources had increased for respondents who reported, at the midway point, that they craft resources. This was positively related to increased engagement and job satisfaction, and decreased burnout. Those who said they craft job demands did not necessarily experience a change in job demands, but crafting challenge demands was linked to increases in wellbeing. This is consistent with findings in other studies that suggest, perhaps counter-intuitively, that positive outcomes may be rooted in the empowerment to engage in job crafting, if not with actual changes in resources and, especially, demands.

These researchers offered this caution:

Our results do not suggest that employees should be held responsible for their work environment and well-being. Rather, they suggest that management interventions should focus more on the effects of job demands on employee well-being because employees seem to change their job demands less often than their job resources.

They added…

These results obviously suggest that employees can optimize their own well-being when allowed to. Therefore, organizations should not only facilitate employee well-being by providing sufficient job resources and an optimal level of job demands, but they should also offer opportunities for employee job crafting.

Tims, Maria, Arnold B. Bakker, and Daantje Derks. “The impact of job crafting on job demands, job resources, and well-being.” Journal of occupational health psychology 18.2 (2013): 230.


Harvard Meta-Analysis: Job Crafting is Associated Positively with Work Engagement, but Interventions…

Harvard’s Frederick and VanderWeele conducted a meta-analysis on job crafting. A pre-print of the study is available on a limited basis. The researchers searched for studies of various outcomes, but only found enough studies of sufficient quality to examine work engagement as an outcome.

Their analysis showed that job crafting is positively associated with work engagement, but they weren’t able to say the same thing about interventions, specifically.

The studies of interventions, rather than just job crafting behaviors, that we did identify found no effect of the intervention (Van den Heuvel et al., 2015; Van Wingerden et al., 2015).

Presumably, they mean “no effect” on work engagement. Frederick and VanderWheele acknowledge that the intervention studies may not have had sufficiently large subject pools to demonstrate such an effect. Take note, however:

  • The authors don’t mention Van Wingerden’s 2016 and 2017 studies (above) — perhaps they were published after the meta-analysis was conducted — that did demonstrate increased improvements in work engagement.
  • The analysis didn’t include Tims et al’s “Impact of Job Crafting…”  stealth intervention from 2012 (above), understandably since the authors didn’t describe it as an intervention. But it was an intervention and it did lead to greater work engagement.

If you’ve paid close attention, you may notice a few red flags about these studies: small populations (n), apparently homogenous demographics, limited number of studies, and a concentrated group of researchers. In a future post, I’ll offer my assessment of these studies — strictly from my perspective as an American employee-wellbeing practitioner — and (spoiler alert!) I’ll share why job crafting is, by far, the most exciting thing to happen to employee wellbeing in a long time.