We complete our series of the shocking revelations found in Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance – and What We Can Do About It, by author Jeffrey Pfeffer. Professor Pfeffer cites numerous research studies that show that toxic management practices are very harmful to the human body, perhaps even more detrimental than exposure to second-hand smoke. In this part of our book review, we focus on the need for social support in the workplace, and the detrimental effects on both workers and organizations when social support is not present.
As before, the picture is not a pretty one.
Social support in the workplace
Social support is the connection that workers feel with their co-workers, managers and the
organization itself. Pfeffer’s research shows that when workers feel a high degree of belongingness, they perform better emotionally and cognitively. High levels of social support contribute to better physical and mental health along with providing protection against the negative effects of stressful experiences. Furthermore, the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement survey asks participants if they have a best friend at work, which points out the importance of social connections to workplace engagement.
What executives and leaders can do to encourage social support
Pfeffer’s first recommendation is to discontinue the “rank and yank” method of conducting
performance evaluations, in which employees are ranked according to their perceived contributions, and the bottom 10% is terminated. Popularized by Jack Welch at GE, this management practice contributes to intense competition among team members, a fear-based atmosphere, high stress levels and lower overall performance. Instead, Pfeffer advocates for a more humane system of providing continual performance feedback based on mutually-agreed on goals and objectives that will improve the culture and physical health of an organization.
Additionally, organizations can provide support to team members having difficulties, as in providing services in the wake of a natural disaster. Stericycle’s Culture VP Lara Morrow tells of efforts she encouraged at her company to support workers in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in September 2017. The company collected and distributed donations of supplies, food and clothing for their employees affected by the disaster. The company even matched employee donations to the hardship fund, raising over $100,000 in just a few days. This kind of social support endears workers to their employer, increasing their loyalty to the company and their tendency to expend discretionary effort on the job. Of course, this action also contributes positively to a company’s bottom line results.
Leaders can also create a culture of community in which team members develop strong friendships with each other. A very good example of how to encourage friendships at work is the small group program at Veteran’s United, a company specializing in the VA Home Loan Benefit. The company has encouraged the flourishing of over 60 small groups that meet on company time and focus on areas of interest to the participants. The focus of these small groups at VU range drastically from a men’s group who gather to talk about their emotions to parent support groups to even a conspiracy theory group. The CEO has communicated his desire that every team member join a small group and incentivized his mandate by giving each participant an additional 8 hours of PTO (paid time off) per
Conclusive evidence that workplace culture is shaped by management practices
Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book provides ample evidence to convince even a skeptic that many un-enlightened management practices produce detrimental effects on employee health, well-being, productivity, and commitment to expending discretionary effort on the job. Although Pfeffer could expend more discretionary effort in connecting these effects to poor organizational performance, there is enough proof in the book to make it clear that leaders must eliminate these four toxic workplace practices:
From the desk of