Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’
High Level Conference of the Economic and Social Council, United Nations
July 9, 2012
What do we know about what drives people to work, to contribute to groups or organizations to which they belong? It turns out to be quite a bit. Beyond subsistence, one key component of what drives people to contribute through work is the need that people have to feel that their life, their existence is of value, that it has meaning. Humans, by-and-large, have a strong desire to feel valued, and part of what drives that sense of being valued is belonging to and contributing in a meaningful fashion to societal groups.
Societal groups, be they for-profit companies, charitable organizations, governmental organizations, religious organizations, sports teams, nation states or neighborhood beautification committees are all simply various types of organizations to which we belong. And certainly it is possible to belong to multiple kinds of organizations simultaneously.
That feeling of “being valued”, of being considered a worthwhile member of an organization is driven by the interactions that individuals have within the groups to which they belong and how members are rewarded by those groups for their contributions. Rewards at for-profit organizations for instance, involve salaries and bonuses, benefits, psychological recognition, opportunities for advancement, and developmental experiences.
Rewards for belonging to other kinds of societal groups may be very different. Almost 70 years ago, in the midst of World War II, President Roosevelt in his State of the Union proposed an Economic Bill of Rights, providing for a strong social safety net stating that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security, independence, and that political rights, as characterized by the initial Bill of Rights, are inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness. Among the rights included were:
• The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
• The right to earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing and recreation;
• The right of every family to a decent home;
• The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
• The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment;
• The right to a good education.
Many of these economic rights and rewards are achievable when people gain decent employment. But one question that arises is if a social safety net is provided, regardless of employment status, does it affect people’s drive to work? A partial answer to that can be found by examining how satisfied people are when reporting themselves to be over-worked or under-worked on their jobs.
First a preliminary question. If you survey a cross section of employees from within a country, are the findings generalizeable or predictive of broader conditions within that country? A test of this was undertaken from June, 2008 to October, 2009 by surveying quarterly, 16,000 people across the 12 largest global economies using an index called Employee Confidence which I developed. In a nutshell, Employee Confidence examines two aspects of employee attitudes, confidence in their respective organizations and confidence in their personal situation.
By treating countries as large organizations, with each country’s respective head of state filling the role of CEO, research techniques such as survey linkage can be applied to entire countries. This approach allows you to “link” attitudinal data from employees to measures of performance at the country level, such as national or state unemployment levels and GDP growth, among others.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the results we would expect to find at an organizational/company level also apply when you sample a representative cross-section of citizenry and look at country-level performance indicators. For example, within the USA, for one over-sampled iteration, each state was treated as an organizational unit. Comparisons of citizenry attitudes by state on the Employee Confidence Index to unemployment levels by state showed that Employee Confidence was a leading indicator of what unemployment levels would be within that state the following month.
In other words, the strongest relationships found were between Employee Confidence attitudes now, and what officially reported state unemployment levels would be 1 month from now. This relationship was marginally stronger than the relationship between current attitudes compared to the previous month’s unemployment levels and current attitudes compared to current unemployment levels.
Additionally at the country level, Employee Confidence was found to be strongly related to change in GDP growth during this timeframe, with employees in India, Russia, China and Brazil achieving top scores and employees in Japan, Italy, France and Spain scoring the lowest. The rank order correlation was found to be .87 between Employee Confidence at the country level and GDP growth.
This would seem to give some indication that asking a cross section of employees about their levels of Employee Confidence might be a leading indicator of whether unemployment levels among citizens and potentially other economic metrics such as national GDP were heading upwards or downwards in the near term.
Now, given that the evidence suggests that certain citizenry attitudes at a country level can be used in a similar fashion to employee attitudes in predicting organizational performance, we can begin to draw some conclusions using employee survey data not only about “people at work” but also about “people as citizens”.
For instance, one study I undertook looked at the relationship between workload and satisfaction. Employees who consider their workload to be “about right” tend to be the most satisfied with their jobs, while those who say they are underworked are less satisfied than employees who complain of being overworked.
This study examined the level of job satisfaction of more than 800,000 employees at 61 companies worldwide. Of the companies surveyed,
• 75% had operations in North America,
• 11% had operations in Europe,
• 14% had operations in Asia.
Employees participating in the survey were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their jobs, and their perceptions of their workload. Respondents who described their workload as “about right” rated their job satisfaction at an average of 73 percent favorable, while employees who said they had “too much work” rated their satisfaction level at 57% favorable. By contrast, those who said they had “too little work” had the lowest average job satisfaction rating of 32% favorable.
By slicing the data geographically we can examine how workers in different parts of the world felt about their workloads and how that relates to job satisfaction. Employees in North America who said they had “too little work” had an average job satisfaction rating of 36% favorable, whereas European workers in this category had a satisfaction rating of 12% favorable, and Asian employees a rating of 13% favorable.
Job Satisfaction and Perception of Workload are not related to the degree in which a society spends on Social Safety Nets. For instance, according to the OECD in 2012 the USA will spend 20% of GDP on social spending, while in Europe, in general, greater amounts are spent on social safety nets, and in Asia, with the exception of Japan, which will spend 23%, spending on social safety nets is generally lower.
Some conclusions that can be drawn by looking across these studies include:
• Given the linkages found between country level performance metrics and employees attitude data, there does seem to be generalizability between employee attitudes at work, and given a large enough and a representative sample, citizenry attitudes at a country level.
• And while we did not survey people working in sweatshop-like conditions, people tend to be most positive when they have about the right amount of work to do, but on a whole, prefer being busy over not having enough to do. One could surmise that among people who are not given enough to do, there is a tendency to feel that their contributions are not valued.
• The notion that creating societies with strong social safety nets, as has been done in some European countries to a greater extent than in the USA, diminishes the desire to work does not bear out.
So where do statements such as, “those lazy people will find jobs once their welfare checks run out”, come from? There is a tendency for humans to make decisions and draw conclusions representing their world-view based on heuristics, or rules of thumb and to consider only evidence that supports their point-of-view. The down side of this evolutionary derived shortcut to speedier human information processing is that it can play into stereotypes, bias and bigotry.
Let’s apply some evidence-based decision making to the notion that by having a safety net that societies are creating benefits that are so generous that those who are unemployed will have less of a desire to work.
• The evidence suggests that the majorities of people are happy when working, and in fact are happier when they feel that they have too much to do rather than too little.
• The evidence suggests that in societies with strong social safety nets that there is no diminution of satisfaction for the majority of workers that the work itself brings.
It is possible to go into the general population and at the extremes of the distribution find individuals who fit the worst-case scenarios and stereotypes of people who prefer not to work, living off of social safety nets, but they are exceptions rather than the rule.
In sum, based on a review of multiple databases that include both the private and public sector, the evidence is clear, most people want to work, to do a good job at work and want to feel that they are contributing in a meaningful fashion and this is independent of geography and the type of social safety net that is in place.
© 2012 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman
July 9, 2012 at 7:14 pm
Dr. Walter Reichman, Professor Emeritus Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, has joined OrgVitality as a Partner and Vice President. Walter chaired the psychology department at Baruch College for 17 years with well over 120 students receiving their Masters and PhDs under his tutelage. During his tenure, the Ph.D program in Industrial/Organizational psychology achieved national recognition as a training ground for exceptional practitioners and researchers who have assumed important positions in universities and in private, public and consulting organizations across the country.
One of Walter’s key interest areas over the years has been substance abuse and its effects on organizational performance. He has been awarded numerous research grants to study substance abuse in industry and has written, presented and consulted to organizations on this topic over the years. As a researcher and practitioner on Employee Assistance Programs, Occupational Alcoholism Programs, and Career Development Programs he has help organization’s impact their performance and has improved the lives of their employees. Based upon this work, Walter has created an innovative “Executive Assistance Program” line of services for OrgVitality to support senior managers whose personal difficulties detract from optimal organizational performance.
He is an active in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations representing the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP). His goal is to utilize the science of psychology to improve the deliberations and programs of the United Nations. Walter co-hosts Brown Bag luncheons for the staff of the United Nations Development Program, writes about health, work and opportunities for developing entrepreneurship among disenfranchised women for the Council.
Walter is also working in the area of succession planning and he recently delivered a training program covering the latest research on that topic for the U.S. Department of Defense. Immediately prior to joining OrgVitality, Walter was a Vice President at a survey research firm where he conducted engagement surveys, customer satisfaction surveys, and readiness for change surveys for private, public and government organizations.
Walter is the co- author of “Personal Adjustment and Growth: A Lifespan Approach.” This book emphasizes positive ways of dealing with life events from childhood through old age. It has given rise to courses on the Psychology of Life Experience in many colleges and universities. Walter will be presenting at three symposia of the International Congress of Applied Psychology in Melbourne, Australia in July 2010. The symposia will deal with organizational psychology’s response to world poverty, healthy employees in healthy organizations and how psychology has impacted the United Nations. He has an MBA from City College of the City University of New York and an MA and Ed.D from Teachers College of Columbia University.
Jeffrey Saltzman, CEO of OrgVitality stated, “We are thrilled that Walter had joined us and are extremely excited about the knowledge and skill set that the addition of Walter will make available to our clients. His spirit, experience and knowledge are rare commodities in today’s world and we are excited that we will be able to capitalize on it becoming richer ourselves for the experience.”
Walter, based in New York, is available for speeches, Executive Assistance Program coaching and support, consulting and other thought leadership assignments. He can be reached at email@example.com.
About OrgVitality, LLC:
OrgVitality is a management consulting firm that helps organizations make sustainable improvements in their operations and offerings, increasing their Vitality, allowing them to thrive in varied environments, and empowering them to excel in their unique organizational strategies. The firm consists of highly experienced and respected professionals in Human Resources and Marketing with technical expertise in Industrial Organizational Psychology, Organizational Development and research. Headquartered in Westchester, New York, OrgVitality’s, services include employee surveys, 360 surveys, coaching and executive assistance, customer surveys, brand and market research, and social media consulting and implementation. For more information, please visit www.orgvitality.com, email contactus@orgvitality or call (914) 747-7736.