Alison Beard is an editor at HBR IdeaCast, co-host of DearHBR, and works at Harvard Business Review.
What will it take for you to feel safe at work again? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Ethan Bernstein, a professor at Harvard Business School. They talk through what to do when your essential employees are staying home despite increased safety measures, you want to redesign your open office to make it work for the new normal, or you’re seeing a growing divide between workers who have to come in and those who can work from home. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: How to Make Sure People Won’t Hate Your New Open Office Plan by Brandi Pearce and Pamela Hinds — “Despite optimistic assertions about the benefits of open office space, outcomes are mixed. In some cases, open-plan office designs are reported to increase collaboration, employee satisfaction, and communication, but in others these new spaces are criticized for creating distractions, reducing privacy and autonomy, and undermining employee motivation and satisfaction.” The New Yorker: The Open-Office Trap by Maria Konnikova — “An open environment may even have a negative impact on our health. In a recent study of more than twenty-four hundred employees in Denmark, Jan Pejtersen and his colleagues found that as the number of people working in a single room went up, the number of employees who took sick leave increased apace. Workers in two-person offices took an average of fifty per cent more sick leave than those in single offices, while those who worked in fully open offices were out an average of sixty-two per cent more.” HBR: 7 Factors of Great Office Design by Peter Bacevice, Liz Burow, and Mat Triebner — “The design and outfitting of workspace is a major capital investment for any organization that can affect a number of business outcomes, including productivity, employee satisfaction, engagement, talent recruitment, and brand impact. Given the myriad ways to design and plan a space, leaders should approach workplace design in a strategic way. Imitating the latest fads start-ups are adopting won’t necessarily get you the results your company desires; asking the right questions — and, above all, listening to employees’ answers — will.” HBR: Why You Should Rotate Office Seating Assignments — “Interestingly, the change to employees’ physical space seemed to boost performance even more than did another switch the company made (which Lee also studied), from individual incentives to fixed wages. In addition, the effect generated by the relocation was quick—the rise in cross-category deals occurred within a month—and it increased throughout the 80 days postmove.”
Are you experiencing gender bias at work? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Katie Coffman, a professor at Harvard Business School. They talk through what to do when you are held to a higher standard as a female manager, you’ve been promoted but a male deputy has been chosen for you, or you join a company that is living in the past. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: Research: Vague Feedback Is Holding Women Back by Shelley J. Correll and Caroline Simard — “Our research shows that women are systematically less likely to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes, both when they receive praise and when the feedback is developmental. In other words, men are offered a clearer picture of what they are doing well and more-specific guidance of what is needed to get to the next level.” HBS Working Knowledge: When Gender Discrimination Is Not About Gender by Katherine B. Coffman, Christine L. Exley, and Muriel Niederle — “Employers are simply less willing to hire a worker from a group that performs worse on average, even when this group is instead defined by a non-stereotypical characteristic. In this way, beliefs about average group differences are the key driver of discrimination against women in our setting.” HBR: 3 Ways to Advance Gender Equity as We Return to the Office by David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson — “Crises are often catalysts for turning points in people’s individual lives, and also for societies. The current pandemic will be another turning point, one that provides an opportunity to rework work in a way that disrupts traditional narratives and beliefs into new norms and values that make ‘work’ work for everyone.” HBR: How Women Manage the Gendered Norms of Leadership by Wei Zheng, Ronit Kark, and Alyson Meister — “A wealth of research shows that female leaders, much more than their male counterparts, face the need to be warm and nice (what society traditionally expects from women), as well as competent or tough (what society traditionally expects from men and leaders). The problem is that these qualities are often seen as opposites. This creates a ‘catch-22’ and ‘double bind’ for women leaders.”
Do you wish you could understand your boss better? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Mimi Nicklin, a business coach and the author of the new book Softening the Edge: Empathy: How humanity’s oldest leadership trait is changing our world. They talk through what to do when you have a boss who is unforgiving, who relies on you to cover their flaws, or who flip-flops between being your warm friend and cold supervisor. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: What to Do When You and Your Boss Aren’t Getting Along by Rebecca Knight — “Even the best office relationships hit a rut, but if it’s your relationship with your boss that’s suffering, work can be especially challenging. Maybe you’ve lost their trust, or you haven’t been seeing eye to eye lately, or maybe you’ve never really gotten along. Whatever the reason, how can you build a connection that’s more than ‘just OK’? What steps can you take to improve your interactions?” Book: Softening the Edge: Empathy: How humanity’s oldest leadership trait is changing our world by Mimi Nicklin — “I recently asked one of our interns what the majority of his friends were doing and what their goals were. He replied that only two of them were going into corporate internships because the feeling today is that they can ‘do it better alone’. They don’t believe that senior players in organisations are able to, or interested in, trying to understand them, so why bother with corporate life?” HBR: What Your Boss Really Wants from You by Robert M. Galford — “Even in these times of feverish attention to performance metrics, it’s not always clear what the boss wants or expects. Why? Maybe there’s a presumption that those expectations are already clear and they’re not. Or, maybe the employee is placing pressure on him- or herself to do better (‘I am a strong performer, but maybe that’s not enough.’). There’s a joint responsibility to ensure that expectations are well-articulated and understood. But that kind of effective give-and-take doesn’t happen with the frequency or the quality we wish it did.” HBR: What to Do When Your Peer Becomes Your Boss by Amy Gallo — “Your colleague just got a promotion. Now, instead of being your peer, she’s your boss. Does your relationship need to change? Should you act differently, or expect her to treat you differently? In other words, how do you manage up to someone who’s just jumped a level above you and who might’ve been a friend?”
Do you have a difficult subordinate who needs coaching? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Melvin Smith, a professor at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University and coauthor of the book Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth. They talk through what to do when your new employee is slacking off, a new hire needs to adjust to your organization’s culture and communication style, or you have to coach two direct reports who are in conflict with each other. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach by Monique Valcour — “As a manager, you have a high level of expertise that you’re used to sharing, often in a directive manner. This is fine when you’re clarifying action steps for a project you’re leading or when people come to you asking for advice. But in a coaching conversation, it’s essential to restrain your impulse to provide the answers. Your path is not your employee’s path. Open-ended questions, not answers, are the tools of coaching. You succeed as a coach by helping your team members articulate their goals and challenges and find their own answers.” Book: Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth by Richard E. Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten — “This is what great coaches do. It’s what great managers do and great teachers do and what others do who know how to help people find and do what they love. They engage us in conversations that inspire us. They make us want to develop and change, and they help us do so.” HBR: How to Motivate Your Problem People by Nigel Nicholson — “Yes, it can be time-consuming, difficult, and fraught with risks and setbacks: Although some employees may respond quickly to your approach, others might require time to rebuild positive relationships with you and their work. But at least they will be heading in the right direction, under their own steam. And in the end, you ideally will have not only a rehabilitated employee but also a healthier, more productive organization.” HBR: How to Manage a Stubborn, Defensive, or Defiant Employee by Liz Kislik — “Some of the hardest employees to manage are people who are consistently oppositional. They might actively debate or ignore feedback, refuse to follow instructions they disagree with, or create a constant stream of negative comments about new initiatives. Most often, these behaviors are meant to make the employee look strong and mask a fear of change, an aversion to anticipated conflict, or the worry that they will look stupid or incompetent.”
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