This week we are talking about the trade-offs at work to decisions we may need to make at work. And, we are specifically looking at the categories of tasks, rewards, social and physical environment. All organizations make decisions about what jobs and tasks to assign, what compensation to offer, and how to coordinate employees’ efforts, and how to protect the physical welfare of employees. These are just some of the main categories that can be changed to improve…or not that can impact employee well-being.
Managers and leaders make a lot of decisions and of course, attempt to make the best ones that can benefit all of their employees. But understanding that there can be trade-offs becomes important.
- Autonomy, mastery and purpose: For example, let’s say you are going to change the way people do their specific tasks to allow for greater autonomy, giving more immediate feedback allowing people to feel more personally responsible for their role. Sounds great right? The work of Dan Pink even says that people want autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose in their work and that this will really bring people into higher levels of enjoyment in their work. But guess what? Go too far and this can lead to strain, effort, fatigue and physical overload. It can even increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. So, this can increase psychological well-being but decrease the physical domain of well-being.
- Increasing rewards and incentive compensation practices: The intention here is to enhance performance by aligning interests of those who work for the company with those who own the company. This is consistent with expectancy theory that proposes that employees will be more motivated and satisfied when they believe that their actions can bring about valued outcomes. It also seems to align with equity theory that proposes that employees will be more motivated and satisfied when they receive the rewards that they feel they deserve. Of course this all seems to make sense. But guess what? Reward systems and bonus programs can harm interpersonal relationships. Managers say that they want teamwork but they end up rewarding individual effort. And unfortunately or not, people will use their earnings as a benchmark to measure themselves. Now, we have a trade-off between psychological and social well-being.
- Team-building practices: the focus here is on improving interpersonal relations and cohesion at work to enhance employee performance. And the trade off? While this increases social well-being it can decrease psychological well-being. Some people don’t enjoy working in teams due to the desire for autonomy.
- Enhancing health and safety practices: this has been found to of course protect the employee’s physical domain but the trade-off is a decrease in psychological and social well-being. For example, in the NHL when they began requiring helmets, many of the athletes complained that it made them feel less tough. And the same thing occurred in the coal-mining industry as well. There were greater perceptions of weakness and not feeling powerful.
- So, what to do? Well, the most important thing to do is to look for synergies across the multiple domains of well-being and give careful consideration to minimize the trade-offs. It is unlikely that you can avoid trade-offs all together. The steps though are to do the following: Think broadly about who is affected and how, think about the long-term impact and collect more information on employees’ attitudes about current practices before making changes. Lastly, appreciate the complexity of organizational life.
When have you experienced trade-offs at your work and how did they work out? How have you minimized trade-offs in your work to allow for greater overall well-being?