Employee Engagement HR Human Resources

The Transformation of Human Resources

Flipping the script on what HR is and how it has transitioned can be challenging.

When people think of HR, they think of HR as an administrative function that polices employees. HR is so much more! If you currently have HR that is only working on admin and compliance, you are missing out on the best part of HR!
human resources
I remember attending a team house party for work this summer. It included young accountants, Partners, and HR. As the party wore one, a group pulled out Cards Against Humanity and sat down with their margaritas. It was getting late so I started to pack up with a couple of the HR staff so we could get back to our families. As we were leaving, one of the HR staff overheard one of the accounting team members say, ‘Good, HR is leaving! Now we can have fun!” As you can imagine, this was disheartening to the HR employee. She declared, “I like to have fun too!” It was true, the HR team loved to have fun! They are unique, personable, witty, and bold. So why is there a perception that those in HR aren’t fun and like to keep others from having fun?

Overcoming a doldrum view of HR and the people in it, is a task in itself. I get it.

Human resources used to be administrative and punitive. In the past, the HR department was used to police employees, complete paperwork for compliance, and perhaps, give out a day-old birthday cake occasionally. For most, their interactions with HR were mundane and even negative. Some HR departments still operate this way and hinder the proactive, positive, work HR can provide. However human resources have evolved as it should and now is the time to challenge the status-quo of what HR is and isn’t.

Let me state this, HR isn’t boring! Great HR policies increase employee satisfaction, happiness, and engagement in their work. Happier employees go home happy to their families. They aren’t bringing the stress of the day to their children or spouses. Thus,  great HR improves work life which improves home life which improves communities. HR, when proactive and as a business partner, can have a positive impact on businesses and people. It’s time to flip the script on the perception of HR!

Employee behavior Employee Engagement HR Human Resources Pyschology

Psychology Changes Behavior and Increase Employee Engagement

Are you intrigued how some concepts you learn at school stay with you in absolute clarity while other concepts are lost, it seems, almost instantaneously? One of the concepts that sticks in my mind is Intermittent Reinforcement from my Behavioral Psych class some, uh, 20 years ago.

Let me explain it by painting a picture… Have you watched a screaming child in a grocery store? You know the one, shrilling at the top of his lungs, echoing his voice through the entire store, shaking his fist toward something he wants? Chances are this child is a victim of Intermittent Reinforcement.

employee engagement

Sometimes we, as parents, say “no” to our kid’s initial demand. However, when a child starts to complain louder, sometimes we give in because we’re so exhausted we just don’t want to hear the complaint anymore (or perhaps, after saying “no” we realize our kid was awesome for the day, deserves the treat, and we reverse our first “no”).

Sometimes, we are strong and our “no” means “no”. Sometimes, our “no” may mean “yes”. There isn’t a regular ratio of firm “no” responses to “no”-turned-“yes” responses. Our kids learn that sometimes mom or dad means “no” and sometimes (if they carry on long enough) “no” can be turned into a “yes”. They don’t know when it will happen, but they know there is always a possibility they will get what they want if they try hard enough.

Intermittent Reinforcement strengthens the behavior (screaming) by rewarding that behavior on an unscheduled reward system. We can strengthen employees’ behavior without even knowing it because of intermittent reinforcement. If it isn’t by design, rarely is the behavior that is strengthened positive. Gambling is another example of Intermittent Reinforcement.

Now am I suggesting Intermittent Reinforcement is the best design for employees? Not always. But it is a form of Positive Reinforcement which is an effective tool in your employee management toolbox.

Using psychology to strengthen employee behavior in a positive, engaging way, is a no brainer. When a client comes to me with employee issues. I don’t think about the behavior we want to eliminate. I think about the behavior we want to create. I then start to create a policy to reward the desired behavior. The rewards don’t have to be expensive. It should be something your employees care about. This is why I discuss on my website the importance of knowing what your employees’ value and why they work. Sometimes I create a reward system that is multi-prong, to hit different values of different people. Using a reward system encourages buy in and creates excitement which increases engagement.

Operant Conditioning: Positive, Negative, Reinforcement, and Punishment

Reinforcement is any action that increases behavior. Punishment is an action that reduces a behavior. Reinforcement and punishment can both be positive or negative. Positive is the addition of something that changes behavior. Negative is the removal of something that changes behavior. In regard to HR, Positive Reinforcement is adding an extra benefit (PTO, bonus…) to encourage a behavior (bringing in new customers, not exceeding current PTO, retention).

Negative Reinforcement is the removal of an annoying or unpleasant stimulus in response to a desired behavior. I see this with micromanagers who tell their employees “freedom must be earned”. The micromanagement is an annoying action that the employee wants to remove. Employees work hard not because they are inspired to do so but because they want to remove the stress of micromanagement.

Punishment is not like negative reinforcement, although many mistake it as the same. Positive punishment is adding an undesirable stimulus (like micromanagement-picking on micromanagement today) when an employee underperforms. The addition of a stimulus looked at as negative, removes the behavior, underperforming. Negative Punishment is removing a stimulus to decrease behavior. This is akin to taking away a toy when a child misbehaves.

Overall, Positive Reinforcement is the most effective way to increase behavior. As you can understand, some of the operant conditioning functions will only decrease trust and anger your employees, decreasing engagement, decreasing productivity, and increasing turnover. This is a main reason why micromanagement is rarely an effective management technique. It offers results, but it also harbors anger and distrust and doesn’t empower employees to adjust their behavior in a positive fashion.

So next time you want to reduce a behavior in your employees, think about the opposite, the behavior you want to encourage and find a way that appeals to your employees to reward the behavior. This will make your life easier and your employees happier!