Published date: February 28, 2017
Last modified: February 28, 2017

Access to emails outside work hours is ‘toxic’ source of stress for employees


Research shows valued communications tool is double-edged sword for conscientious staff

Employees checking email outside work hours has been linked to higher levels of stress and pressure.

While personality type affects the degree to which pressure is felt, organisations are being urged to put policies in place to stop employees letting work overspill into home life.

The recommendations are from a report by Future Work Centre, called You’ve got mail!, which polled 2,000 people across a variety of industries, sectors and job roles.

The report, due to be presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in Nottingham this week, found a strong link between ‘push’ email – where email is automatically sent to your inbox – and perceived email pressure. It found ‘push’ email was used by 49 per cent of respondents.

Of those surveyed, 62 per cent said they leave their emails on all day. Younger people were most likely to leave their email on all day (80 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds) than older people (50 per cent of those aged 55 and over).

Perceived email pressure was found to be highest in IT and marketing, PR, media and internet sectors. Of this group, 30 per cent received more than 50 emails a day and more than 65 per cent said their email was always active.

The study also found checking email before work and at night was associated with higher levels of perceived email pressure, while managers were also found to experience significantly higher levels of perceived email pressure compared to non-managers.

Dr Richard MacKinnon, insight director at the Future Work Centre, said: “Our research shows that email is a double-edged sword. Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it’s clear that it’s a source of stress of frustration for many of us.

“The habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages and the unwritten organisational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and wellbeing.”

Newly appointed CIPD president, professor Cary Cooper, said organisations should have policies preventing email access outside of working hours and this should be led by management behaviour. “If a manager sends an email at night to a subordinate or colleague then the message is that we expect you to be available 24/7. The alternative is to close the server down at the weekend and in the evening and there are companies that are doing that,” he said.

Cooper added that there were links between perceived pressure of emails and personality, citing that ‘Type A personalities’ – highly ambitious, driven, time-conscious people – would be likely to be most affected. He warned that besides potentially damaging their own health and affecting their families through poor work-life balance, a business could also suffer if an individual was then off with a stress-related illness.

The Future Work Centre report found a link between personality and perceived stress caused by out of hours email communications. Referring to a measure of personality called the core self-evaluation – which assesses locus of control, neuroticism, self-efficacy, and self-esteem – the report found that people with lower core self-evaluation (less confident people) experience greater interference between work and home than those with higher core self-evaluation (people who think of themselves in a more positive way).

The survey suggested that this may be because those with higher core self-evaluation believe they have more control over their situation and are therefore less impacted by their jobs.

From Future Work Centre, called You’ve got mail!, which polled 2,000 people across a variety of industries, sectors and job roles 2015

Published date: February 22, 2017
Last modified: February 22, 2017

The keys to building a high performance culture

Effective managers are key to creating these high-performance cultures.

The best managers create high-performance cultures by setting clear expectations, defining employees’ roles, creating a trusting environment, and encouraging employees’ growth and development. And, they continuously raise the bar by encouraging higher performance from themselves and from their teams.

But achieving sustainable growth requires commitment from the whole company to build a culture that can adapt to ongoing changes in a competitive environment. Right now, many companies are failing to identify and act on opportunities for change.

The crucial components of a high-performance company

A Gallup study analysed data from more than 30,000 employees from organisations in the oil and gas, banking and finance, property development, tourism, and telecommunications sectors. This analysis revealed six crucial components that determine a company’s ability to create a high-performance culture — one that improves top- and bottom-line business metrics.

1. Implement an effective performance management process. This creates the biggest impact on sustainable growth. Unfortunately, too many companies continue to rely on rigid, archaic management models, leading businesses, by contrast, create performance management processes that:

  • use a merit-based system to differentiate between high and low performers
  • clearly define standards and expectations at the individual, team, departmental, and organizational level
  • develop transparent reward systems
  • articulate shared goals and objectives

These elements don’t just bring an increased level of equity and inclusivity to the company; they also have a direct impact on shaping the organisation’s culture.

2. Create empowerment and authority. Implementing an effective performance management process allows companies to strengthen empowerment and authority at all organisational levels. Gallup’s research finds that empowerment and authority are lacking in companies where trust and accountability are weak or absent. In organisations where trust and accountability are strong, empowered employees are more likely to:

  • recognise and respond to changing information from the marketplace
  • develop innovative ideas to meet market demands and stay ahead of the competition
  • connect with customers to create a branded experience

Companies that decentralise the decision-making process and allow employees to contribute benefit from multiple perspectives. They gain greater depth and breadth in how they recognize and respond to changes in the marketplace.

3. Increase leadership capability at all levels of the company. Gallup’s analysis shows that companies with the highest levels of employee engagement share a common mission and purpose, from the top of the business to the bottom. Their leaders are accessible and visible, and they:

  • inspire employees with consistent and regular communication — both company-wide and individually — about the organization’s future
  • connect today’s work, initiatives, and changes with where the business is heading
  • provide employees with a unified message that bolsters the company’s mission, and they show employees how to “live” that mission
  • inspire trust and respect throughout the organization
  • involve all employees in developing strategy, especially field experts and high-potential and future leaders

The real vision of the company begins to crystallize only after leaders create organization-wide buy-in from and engagement among employees.

4. Develop a customer-centric strategy. The true test of whether a company’s leaders have successfully created a customer-centric strategy is how well they can connect their company — their brand, people, and mission and purpose — with their customers and the community. Gallup’s research shows that organisations that accomplish this goal are more likely to stand out in a marketplace that is increasingly congested.

Before companies can create and implement a customer-centric strategy, they must first ensure that employees understand why they are doing it — and that employees understand their individual and collective responsibilities in meeting customer needs and expectations. This process, although easier when employees are already engaged, can create opportunities to increase employee engagement.

Asking front-line employees to actively listen and respond to customers, for example, provides opportunities to increase their sense of authority and empowerment and to anchor their actions in the company’s mission, purpose, and customer service values. Sharing stories of how front-line employees have demonstrated customer service values to engage customers can bring those values to life and make them more than an abstract concept or a poster on the wall of the reception area.

5. Increase communication and collaboration. Integrating customer service values, mission and purpose, leadership visibility, and authority and empowerment into a comprehensive performance management process will be successful only if companies communicate these initiatives in a coordinated way. Gallup’s analysis shows that companies must improve their communication and collaboration if they aspire to be high-performance organisations. This is a complex challenge for any business, but it is complicated further by the tapestry of diverse societies and cultures. The most engaged organisations overcome this challenge by:

  • selecting leaders and managers who have the potential to be top performers based on the right balance of talent, skills, knowledge, and experience
  • ensuring that leaders and managers understand their role in the communication process, both within the company and with external audiences
  • scheduling regular and open one-on-one conversations to disseminate and individualise key messages and following up as needed to ensure employees understand and absorb those messages
  • using a collaborative approach to resolve problems and pursue opportunities as a team and across departments and divisions, which is key to developing and maintaining high levels of responsiveness and quality
  • creating strong levels of trust among a diverse workforce, which is particularly crucial in a region where many may be working without citizenship or lack a sense of community or belonging

6. Enhance training and development. Many companies don’t invest in their employees. However, Gallup’s research suggests that most engaged organisations recognize that setting up their employees for success is vital to ensuring continuous improvement and growth for employees and for the company. These companies don’t relegate employee development to managers. Instead, they view talent as a corporate asset and support it at all levels. This ensures that high-potential employees have greater internal mobility and opportunity; it also prevents “talent hoarding,” which frustrates employees who find themselves at a career dead end.

The analysis also suggests that the most engaged companies align customized training and development plans with the organization’s overarching objectives and direction, providing employees with a clear career pathway.

From intention to action

How can executives move their company toward high performance and sustainable growth? The six components outlined above provide some guidance. But leaders may struggle to decide which changes to implement first, as all six must be integrated effectively to ensure success. Gallup’s analysis reveals that there is room for improvement even in the region’s highest performing businesses. The key differentiator among the most engaged companies is a heightened intent to change — and that commitment to change has enhanced their brand with employees and customers.

Published date: February 1, 2017
Last modified: February 1, 2017

The 6 stages every organization goes through as it matures – the OD challenge!

As workloads increase exponentially, approaches which have worked well in the past start failing. Some teams and people can get overwhelmed with work. Previously-effective managers start making mistakes as their span of control expands. And systems start to buckle under increased load.

While growth is fun when things are going well, when things go wrong, this chaos can be intensely stressful. More than this, these problems can be damaging (or even fatal) to the organization.

The “Greiner Curve” is a useful way of thinking about the crises that organizations experience as they grow.

Organisations that can quickly understand the root cause of many of the problems they are likely to experience in a fast growing business, can anticipate problems before they occur, so that they can meet them with pre-prepared solutions.

Understanding the theory

Greiner’s Growth Model describes phases that organizations go through as they grow.

Each growth phase is made up of a period of relatively stable growth, followed by what might be called a “crisis” when major organizational change is needed if the company is to carry on growing.

Phase 1: Growth through creativity

Here, the entrepreneurs who founded the firm are busy creating products and opening up markets. There aren’t many staff, so informal communication works fine, and rewards for long hours are probably through profit share or stock options. However, as more staff join, production expands and capital is injected, there’s a need for more formal communication.

This phase ends with a Leadership Crisis, where professional management is needed. The founders may change their style and take on this role, but often someone new will be brought in.

Phase 2: Growth through direction

Growth continues in an environment of more formal communications, budgets and focus on separate activities like marketing and production. Incentive schemes replace stock as a financial reward.

However, there comes a point when the products and processes become so numerous that there are not enough hours in the day for one person to manage them all, and he or she can’t possibly know as much about all these products or services as those lower down the hierarchy.

This phase ends with an Autonomy Crisis: New structures based on delegation are called for.

Phase 3: Growth through delegation

With mid-level managers freed up to react fast to opportunities for new products or in new markets, the organization continues to grow, with top management just monitoring and dealing with the big issues (perhaps starting to look at merger or acquisition opportunities). Many businesses flounder at this stage, as the manager whose directive approach solved the problems at the end of Phase 1 finds it hard to let go, yet the mid-level managers struggle with their new roles as leaders.

Phase 4: Growth through coordination and monitoring

Growth continues with the previously isolated business units re-organized into product groups or service practices. Investment finance is allocated centrally and managed according to Return on Investment (ROI) and not just profits. Incentives are shared through company-wide profit share schemes aligned to corporate goals. Eventually, though, work becomes submerged under increasing amounts of bureaucracy, and growth may become stifled.

This phase ends on a Red-Tape Crisis: A new culture and structure must be introduced.

Phase 5: Growth through collaboration

The formal controls of phases 2-4 are replaced by professional good sense as staff group and re-group flexibly in teams to deliver projects in a matrix structure supported by sophisticated information systems and team-based financial rewards.

This phase ends with a crisis of Internal Growth: Further growth can only come by developing partnerships with complementary organizations.

Phase 6: Growth through extra-organizational solutions

Greiner’s recently added sixth phase suggests that growth may continue through merger, outsourcing, networks and other solutions involving other companies.

Growth rates will vary between and even within phases. The duration of each phase depends almost totally on the rate of growth of the market in which the organization operates. The longer a phase lasts, though, the harder it will be to implement a transition.

For reference

Dictionaries define the word “crisis” as a “turning point”, but for many of us it has a negative meaning to do with panic. While companies certainly have to change at each of these points, if they properly plan for there is no need for panic and so we will call them “transitions”.

Larry E. Greiner originally proposed this model in 1972 with five phases of growth. In 1998, he added a sixth phase in an updated version of his original article.
Courtesy Mind Tools / Reprinted from “Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow” by Larry E. Greiner, May 1998. Copyright © 1998 by the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved.