What does role conflict look like? Here are a few examples:
Arguably, the most respected research on the psychology of employee engagement was published by William Kahn in 1990, which spoke of employees being able to express their authentic selves. Whilst much great research has followed (particularly linking engagement to well-being), none seems to contradict Kahn in any way.
Three psychological components of employee engagement
Safety: being able to invest one’s self without fear of negative consequences
Meaning: receiving a return on investment … in work role performances
Availability: one is ready to personally engage at a particular moment
You can see how role conflicts can directly undermine all three!
I consider it as 'upward and downward spirals' ...
Spirals image here …
Whenever I look at an organisations culture results, but only include those people who report high degrees of role conflict, it is clear that their work world is full of threat or insecurity. Essentially, they are experiencing regular ‘fight or flight’ responses - just coming to work. Over time, these (stress) responses directly impact upon their thinking, behaviour and ultimately, well-being and performance. This can become a downward spiral for them and often people around them are impacted too.
Conversely, those with little or no role conflict report a highly satisfying workplace. Their work is rewarding, building upon their self-efficacy which leads to even greater ability and performance. This upward spiral can also positively impact others, improving morale, performance and resilience.
Remember, these people exist in the same organisation. Such is the potency of role conflict.
Why is all of this important?
Because it is neither static nor isolated; and it impacts performance and well-being. Organisations benefit greatly from implementing strategies which fuel the upward spiral and (at the same time) suffer if they ignore those experiencing the downward. Both need serious attention.
I will speak more about the dynamics of each spiral in future posts, including strategies for both.
One of the key themes of positive psychology, when applied to leadership is the concept of creating a culture of abundance - a topic I really enjoy discussing with organisations.
Let me explain why.
I have managers tell me the things that they regularly find themselves doing. This list is easily divided into fixing problems (managing deficits) and 'virtuous acts' (creating abundance).
When asked to describe how the deficit list actions make them feel, they immediately respond with: tired, drained, hopeless, angry, demotivated.
But, when asked to describe the impact of the abundance list, I literally see them lift; their body language changes and the responses are: energised, proud, motivated, humble, valuable and engaged.
What a stark difference!
Reality starts to emerge when they consider the proportion of their time that is spent on the deficit items. The most common answer I hear is … 80%! Often it is higher. These responses are accompanied by looks of despondency; as if they are stuck on a treadmill with no hope of this situation ever changing – after all, this is management.
The following question though, often triggers a change in perspective: “If you solve all of the deficit issues, will you have achieved any of the abundance items?” After a short period of reflection the response is “No”. The reason for this is that the abundance items are not simply the opposite of the deficit items; they are distinctly different.
In 2013 I attended a Positive Leadership program at the University of Michigan. A quote I heard there, by Dewitt Jones stood out for me:
"By celebrating what's right with the world, we find the energy to fix what's wrong."
Whilst this was impactful for me, sitting miles away in an Executive Residential, the challenge was how to help managers overcome the deficit management culture they seem trapped in.
Here are just two of the strategies that I have seen change the balance:
What else have you seen organisations do to break free from the vortex of deficit management? I welcome your comments.