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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Book review From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 22, Issue 5
Employees assess leaders on stereotypes and emotions
The wording of an employment advertisement can affect whether the job goes to a woman or a man, as women tend not to apply to advertisements containing words like “determined” and “assertive” that are linked to male stereotypes.
This is among the findings of a research project at Technische Universität München, in Germany, which studied how leaders are selected and assessed.
The researchers showed 260 test subjects’ fictional employment advertisements. They included, for example, a place on a training program for potential managers. If the advertisement described a large number of traits associated with men, women found it less appealing and were less inclined to apply. Such traits include “assertive”, “independent”, “aggressive” and “analytical”. Women found words like “dedicated”, “responsible”, “conscientious” and “sociable” more appealing. For male test subjects, on the other hand, the wording of the job advertisement made no difference.
“A carefully-formulated posting is essential to get the best choice of applicants”, said Professor Claudia Peus, who headed the study. “In most cases, it does not make sense to simply leave out all of the male-sounding phrases. But without a profile featuring at least balanced wording, organizations are robbing themselves of the chance of attracting good female applicants. That is because the stereotypes endure almost unchanged despite the social transformation we have experienced”.
The researchers demonstrated, with a team from New York University, that traditional perception patterns apply, not least in respect of leaders. In a survey of around 600 US–Americans of both genders, respondents considered women and men to be equally competent, productive and efficient on a fundamental level. However, they rated men’s leadership skills more highly. Not only that, the women believed themselves and other women, on average, less capable in this area than the male respondents perceived themselves and others of their gender.
Researchers in a second study by the Technische Universität München examined whether bosses need to display anger from time to time to assert themselves. The academics, led by Professor Isabell M. Welpe, showed more than 500 test subjects videos or scenarios, in words and pictures, of a leader summarizing a bad business year to employees. The superiors showed anger, sadness or no emotion.
The way the test subjects saw it, the angry bosses drew their power predominantly from the threat of penalties and by emphasizing their status. They obtained less power by showing their appreciation for others than did the leaders who displayed sadness or emotions. Angry superiors thus lost out on an interpersonal level. Consequently, the test subjects would be less loyal to the angry managers and would rather attempt to thwart them in their intentions.
“It is simply not true that a tough tone of voice equals authority”, said Professor Welpe. “The position of power held by leaders who take their anger out on their staff may indeed be acknowledged. But it does not earn them lasting loyalty. On the contrary, they risk being betrayed at the next opportunity”.
A further study confirmed that a boss’s empathy has a positive impact. The researchers questioned more than 400 test subjects on their own working lives or asked them to evaluate a fictional meeting following successful talks with a customer. The focus was on whether the managers expressed gratitude to their staff or pride in their own achievements.
The study found that saying “thanks” brings many advantages in both professional and personal life. The more the managers expressed their gratitude, the happier employees were, both with their boss and with their job in general. On the other hand, a leader’s pride may boost people’s general job satisfaction, but the leaders themselves fell in the team members’ estimation, for being too self-centered.
Most UK employees feel unvalued at work
Less than half (48 per cent) of UK employees feel valued at work, and only 40 per cent feel their manager motivates and inspires them, according to a survey of more than 7,000 employees in 20 countries.
Only 37 per cent of employees feel that their organization encourages innovative thinking – a fall of 10 percentage points from last year. Specifically, there is a view that organizations are not learning from mistakes or recognizing that failure is part of the innovation process.
Kate Pritchard, head of employee research at research firm ORC International, which carried out the survey, said: “UK companies need to take a hard look at the impact low engagement scores have on their business performance. Encouraging innovative ideas, creative thinking and providing an environment where employees feel that managers act in their best interest are only some aspects to improving engagement which ultimately have a positive effect on overall business outcomes and client satisfaction”.
Only Hong Kong and Japan fared worse than the UK in the survey, which also covered Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, The Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA.
Meanwhile, more than half of organizations say that the most important question their employee-engagement surveys need to answer is what activities and areas are seen as important to their people.
More than 100 human resource and training specialists were asked to rank the most important three questions they needed their employee-engagement scores to answer. Over 65 per cent included the need to understand what is important to their employees in their top three rankings.
Ian Lee-Emery, managing director of talent-management specialist Head Light, which carried out the research, said: “For years, organizations have invested in employee-engagement programs unsupported by evidence about what is important to employees and whether time and money should be invested elsewhere to engage their people. Few engagement surveys go beyond creating a single rating to explore this measure of importance to the individual”.
The research also indicates that organizations want to pinpoint trouble-spots or areas of disengagement. This requires more information on engagement scores and differences between specific managers, locations or working practices.
Organizations now want to know how their engagement levels affect the ability to achieve business goals or key performance indicators. Almost half of respondents said this is one of their most important needs.
Debbie Hance, head of business psychology at Head Light, commented: “Employee engagement is no longer about a single rating score; it is about understanding how engagement affects our ability to perform as a business and reach our goals, and to better understand the importance and effect of our engagement activities”.
Assaults against NHS staff rise
Physical assaults against National Health Service employees have risen by 5.8 per cent – from 59,744 to 63,199 – in the past year.
Lone working – where individuals are required to work either alone or without direct supervision – is commonplace in health care. A Royal College of Nursing study revealed that more than 60 per cent of community nurses spend more than half their time without immediate access to a colleague for support. Over 70 per cent also reported that they had been subjected to either physical or verbal abuse during their jobs in the two years before the study.
“NHS staff should expect to be able to provide care in a safe environment, free from violence and physical assault”, said Richard Hampton, of the central security-management body for the health service, NHS Protect. “We urge employers to take firm action in all cases of assault against NHS staff. We urge all NHS staff to report assault and acts of violence against them. Employers must do all they can to support staff in preventing incidents and pursuing offenders”.
Patrick Dealtry, who chairs the lone-worker section of the trade body representing the UK’s private security industry, the British Security Industry Association, commented: “With staff facing an increased risk of physical assault on a day-to-day basis, employers across the health-care sector should be committed to developing and implementing a comprehensive lone-worker protection policy”.
Some lone-worker devices are equipped with mobile-telephone technology to connect employees quickly and discreetly with an emergency response system that has direct links to the police.
One in six lies about foreign-language ability
One in six Britons has lied or exaggerated the truth regarding foreign-language skills on their CV, and 28 per cent of them believe that their dishonesty is the reason they secured their current job.
Some 16 per cent of respondents in a survey of almost 2,000 UK adults who had looked for a job in the past 18 months said that they had incorrectly claimed to potential employers that they could converse in a foreign language that they had either limited or no ability to speak. Almost all had applied for jobs where they were sure that their exaggerated language skills would not be needed, with 88 per cent explaining that this was the case. The languages most commonly lied about were French (46 per cent), German (35 per cent), Spanish (22 per cent) and Italian (15 per cent).
Of the participants who lied about being bilingual, 28 per cent believed that their false claims were the reason that they had secured their current employment. However, 41 per cent of the lying respondents claimed to have amended their CVs after their dishonesty was uncovered by an employer.
The study was conducted by www.Global-Lingo.com, a company specializing in translation and transcription.
Women more likely to make good international executives
The ideal international executive is single, female, aged around 30 years, has foreign-language skills and is good at networking and selling, according to a survey of business leaders.
Over half (52 per cent) of staff considering working abroad consult their partner, but for a third, parents were the key people to speak to before making a decision. Nearly two-fifths (39 per cent) of business leaders said that it was the employee’s decision alone, illustrating how working overseas tends to attract independent employees.
Once employees are working overseas nearly a third of employers said their staff’s main financial concern would be banking and pensions. A quarter were most concerned about taxation and a fifth about currency risk.
Some 37 per cent of employers believe that staff rarely come home earlier than planned. Around 13 per cent of employers said they have not experienced an employee return early when posted overseas. This may be because many employers are clued up when it comes to the most desired elements of a package staff want when overseas, with nearly half stating that health cover was important.
However, the research revealed that the process of relocating is also stressful for the employers. Almost half of respondents said that the process of relocating staff was challenging, although two-fifths thought that process was not as hard as they had envisaged. Nearly a fifth were most concerned about costs, and one in ten thought that the process itself was very confusing.
Beverly Cook, managing director of health-insurer Expacare, which carried out the survey of 1,000 decision-makers from UK businesses with between 5 and 1,000 employees, said: “Many employees find the process of relocating staff simple and most remain working overseas until the end of their agreed term. A big part of this for the employer will be linked to choosing the right people for the right position, but also in the way they look after and prepare their staff going overseas”.
Bridging the family-business generation gap
The transition from one generation to the next can make or break a family business and as the baby-boomers hand over to the millennial generation the risks of getting it wrong have never been greater.
The results of research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), talking to more than 200 family members likely to take over family businesses in 21 countries worldwide, looks specifically at the issue of succession and how family firms prepare for these changes.
The report identifies three areas where a mismatch of styles, ambitions and plans could cause difficulties for the UK family businesses, which account for more than 9 million jobs, around £80 billion in annual tax receipts and nearly a quarter of national wealth.
Henrik Steinbrecher, PwC global middle-market leader, said: “The world has changed out of all recognition since the current generation took over and the pace of change can only accelerate in response to demographic shifts, urbanization, climate change and new technology.”
“The handover for first-generation businesses – those making the transition from start-up venture to family firm – is commonly the most fraught. Of those taking over under these circumstances, 20 per cent say they are not looking forward to running the business, compared to 8 per cent for respondents as a whole”.
Bearing the family name can work against the next generation. Almost 90 per cent say they have to work harder than others in the firm to prove themselves, while 59 per cent consider gaining the respect of their colleagues is the single biggest challenge they face.
Promotion to chief executive is no longer automatic for the next generation, with a growing number of family businesses being prepared to make tough succession decisions. The survey revealed that 73 per cent said they were looking forward to running the business one day, but only 35 per cent thought that was definite, and as many as 29 per cent thought it at best only fairly likely.
There is a tendency for some in the older generation to overestimate how well they have run the business, while underestimating their children’s capacity to do this as competently as they did.
Sian Steele, PwC partner and family-business specialist in the UK, commented: “Members of the current generation often comment that their children are not sufficiently entrepreneurial and are not prepared to put in the long hours they did to build the business while, down the hall, their children are wishing their parents would embrace new technology and new ideas.”
“This sort of impasse can slow decision-making and lead to the phenomenon of the sticky baton, where the older generation hands over management of the firm in theory but in practice retains control over everything that matters”. The survey reveals that as many as 64 per cent think the current generation will find it tough to let go.
Henrik Steinbrecher concluded: “Firms that manage succession well are those that plan many years ahead – ideally, five to seven years in advance – accompanied by sensible conversations that address roles, responsibilities and timings”.