Creating A Healthy Workplace — Part 2 — Solving the Problem

We have discussed the problem and the way in which it manifests in Part 1 of this paper.  Now, let us discuss the ways in which the problem can be solved.

Addressing the Issue(s)

The way in which business issues are addressed has a great deal to do with whether they are resolved successfully.  This can be done in-house or it can be outsourced.  In either case, it is essential that methodologies, process and techniques are sufficiently specific to maximize the prospect of lasting success (as is done by Lubien-Feinleib) rather than employing a broad-based approach.

First, the process that is not an exact science; it requires patience.  A leader who accepts the challenge of solving underlying business issues needs to be adaptable in order to produce change in an organization’s culture or personality.  Flexibility allows for his or her team to adopt and foster the process by which change can be made.  Teams that can adapt to new ideas and concepts, as well as processes and technology, are only as successful as their leaders.

Turning a team into a satisfied, healthy, and therefore, more productive group of employees requires: (1) an honest, albeit vulnerable effort to identify those parts of the organization that have slipped or need improvement; (2) listening to even the harshest of criticisms – be those about compensation, benefits, management, leadership, processes and/or technology; and (3) learning where adjustments can be made that conform to the organization’s budget and available resources. The following questions should be asked of executives, management and their teams accompanied by a promise of no repercussions for negative or critical responses.

  1. Do you have higher-than-expected turnover?
  2. Are your business departments operating at the expected productivity level?
  3. Are there interpersonal issues with one or more employees that may be cascading to others in the workplace?
  4. Do you feel that you have right kind of management team that can tell you NO or inform you of a harsh reality? (And do you listen?)
  5. Have you conducted an employee satisfaction survey?

If the answers to questions #1 to #3 were yes, and/or questions #4 and #5 were no, then the business — executives and the team — has admitted that there is/are organizational problem(s).

How should change be initiated so these problems can be solved?  Doing this requires that management and/or the executive team be part of the process through which organizational undercurrents are identified.  While it is not uncommon to find interpersonal issues at the root of misunderstandings or distrust, there is always an underlying issue that causes people to turn on others out of lack of respect, trust, or agreement.  The key is to find the underlying issue(s); your team members should be questioning each other, pushing each other’s abilities to create new ideas, and open to respectful discourse that supports rather than divides talented people.

Senior executives/management as well as team leaders may find that they are hindering progress or change.  This should not be regarded as defeat but rather as an opportunity to create change and empower people; in fact, however difficult it may be, it is an opportunity for executives and managers to improve their management style.

Interpersonal issues aside, there are many other factors that can be explored employing in-depth interviewing techniques. [1]  When Lubien-Feinleib works on these problems, we meet with each member of the leadership team individually.  During our interviews, we identify: (1) themes that appear throughout the interviews; and (2) key employees outside of the executive suite who can share their honest and completely confidential insights about the company and its issues.  In the interest of having both unbiased interviewers and interviews, we suggest this be done by professionals who can protect the anonymity of the staff; if this is done in-house, a trained professional who is not part of the management team should conduct the interviews.

In addition to interviewing, online information is available about companies of all sizes and shapes.  Is the company under consideration listed on LinkedIn, or Yelp?  If so, an audit of the comments made about the organization, management team, future outlook and more can provide a completely confidential overview of how it is perceived by current and former employees.  As in any audit, there will be outlying commentary that can either be included or eliminated as appropriate.

Once the issues at the heart of the matter have been deciphered, it is time to query the entire company.  With today’s online survey tools, a survey can be created in minutes; however, careful, strategic preparation and planning will be needed to obtain as much as possible from this exercise.  Questions should be formulated in ways that draw the truth out of the audience; they should also be translated effectively for offices in non-English speaking locations. Anonymity and confidentiality are critical; the collection of data must not be traceable to any individual.  The answers being sought should relate to compensation, benefits, satisfaction of working for the company, and should solicit feedback on such themes as development, career paths, diversity, and trust.

Before the survey is given, it must be tested and retested in order to make sure that it is as accurate is possible.  Considerable care must be given the roll-out to all employees.  For example, surveying people in August in most industries is not advisable because it is the slowest month of the year and the month in which the greatest amount of vacation/holiday is taken.  If a survey must be conducted in August, the response time should be longer than at other times of the year; we recommend between two-and-a-half and three weeks.

To obtain the greatest participation in the survey, communications about it must be positive, open, inclusive and engaging.  Employees should be told how long the survey could take to complete so that they can take it when they have the requisite amount of time.  Follow up with regular communications — share the percentage of completed surveys and reiterate the deadline so employees have a sense of urgency.  Managers should be asked to support this effort in team meetings.

Identifying whether there is trust in management is critical because it is an indicator of disconnection.  If employees do not trust management, their supervisors or their peers, a serious problem exists. Building trust in a company requires a delicate balance of staying true to core culture and, at the same time, changing the causes for lack of trust.  When trust erodes in the workplace, it is important to focus on restoring or creating a new healthy environment.

Ultimately, it is essential to remember that each employee is a person with unique experiences that have created the talented individual who spends more time working in the organization any Monday through Friday than he/she does with anyone else during waking hours.  When an executive takes the time to explore employees’ ideas and thoughts, he or she is revered as engaged and interested in his/her staff, which then builds trust.

When the survey has closed, the answers should be reviewed expeditiously and carefully.  The results should indicate the staff’s level of satisfaction and trust; this should then be shared with everyone in the company.  While sharing this information may feel painful and judgmental, doing so helps bring credibility and honesty to the company leadership.  In fact, it is through the sharing information including the harshest criticism that the entire staff will be able to help change the things that are keeping your organization from performing at its best.

Why this process?  In over 50 years of combined experience, we have seen management decisions to hire consulting firms for too much money, resulting in changes to processes and technology without addressing the people dynamic in an organization.  These tactical changes, whether converting to new techniques, methodologies and processes — such as Lean or Six Sigma — or from archaic manual processes to new technology platforms, do not resolve the underlying issues.  Further, we have observed that recommendations made by consultants result in loss of productivity and institutional knowledge, increased lay-offs and attrition, and eroding morale and employee engagement.  In addition, as noted earlier, the cost of replacing employees is in excess of their salary!  The business will have decreased its bottom line and, perhaps, be in worse shape.

Preparing for Change

Once the steps above have been executed, it is time to create a blueprint for change.  Engage those inside and outside the organization to solve the biggest challenges; look to market benchmarks for issues related to salaries and benefits, professional help for management and interpersonal challenges, as well as to in-house departments — such as technology or human resources — to partner, research, procure or implement organic solutions to other challenges.

Incentivizing employees for organizational change is often a misunderstood technique; however, when done correctly it can have a multiplier effect.  By structuring performance reviews and compensation to adopting technology, accepting and propagating positivity, as well as meeting the demands of change, a much more satisfied and accountable team can be created.  Each employee and leader must have tangible and realistic goals that relate to organizational goals as part of their performance reviews.

Communicating change is by far the most important opportunity available to enlist employees in the process of creating positive change.  When employees are connected to the process as an on-going effort and information is shared whenever it is available, a team environment and individual buy-in that benefits the company will be created.  Further, should reorganization occur, the chances of acceptance will be increased.

Finally …

If the steps discussed above are undertaken, the issues that cause internal problems in an organization can be identified and solutions can be implemented. The result will be increased employee satisfaction and engagement, improved morale and organizational culture, and increased financial success.

[1] Judith F Feinleib & Erin Lubien, Interviewing Techniques, Polling and In-Depth Interviewing, 2017,

Larry Dressler & Roger Schwartz, Standing in the Fire: Leading High-Heat Meetings With Clarity, Calm and Courage, Berrett-Kohler, 1987, Oakland, California.