For decades we’ve been told that employees want more autonomy and interesting and complex work. In the world of “enhanced work design,” more is better.
It turns out this isn’t always true. Research is consistently illustrating what’s called the “too-much-of-a-good-thing-effect” (yes, this is the name of an actual applied psychology theory).
We all want autonomy, but not everyone needs or wants extreme levels. It’s great to be able to have discretion on decisions and processes. But if there’s extreme autonomy, we’re annoyed because we don’t get any direction or we are stressed out because we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing.
Similarly, we want to be intellectually stimulated. But extreme levels of complex and challenging work lead to burnout. No one wants to feel like they are dealing with the impossible day-in and day-out for long periods of time.
The same trends are surfacing for work characteristics like variety, interdependence, and social support.
Research clearly illustrates that employees want enhanced work designs, but if we take it too far, it makes things worse.
We say it all the time - “it depends.” This is both the best and worst response to any form of inquiry.
It’s the best response because it’s true. When it comes to work at least, there is no such thing as a universal truth. The context always dictates what is ideal.
It’s the worst response because people tend to hide behind it. They claim that “it depends” but don’t dive deeper.
The response, “it depends,” has potential, but it requires work to be a high-quality response.
The next step is defining the most relevant contextual variables that might determine why or when something is ideal. From there, probabilities can be debated and worst-case scenarios can be fleshed out.
Don’t stop at “it depends.” Keep going.
We’ve all heard the adage, “you can do anything you put your mind to.” But is this really good advice?
Assuming the goal is reasonable (e.g., I’ll never be a professional basketball player), is hard work all that’s necessary for landing your dream job, switching careers, or living the life you want?
I think that the answer is yes, but there’s a catch. Everything has a cost. We have a finite amount of resources - time, energy, money, etc.
It’s about deciding whether or not you’re willing to use your precious resources to overcome the probabilities embedded within each challenge.
Are you willing to forgo time spent with family to garner new skills or moonlight in the evenings? Are you willing to risk your savings to start a new business?
The question isn’t whether or not you can do it. You can. The question is whether or not it’s worth it.
Of all the leadership concepts floating around the infosphere, there’s only one that fits the bill as a universal, leadership ideal.
It’s not transformational leadership, servant leadership, level-5 leadership, or any other leadership “style.” A specific approach to leadership that works in one context won’t always work in another.
Along those lines, the ideal approach to leadership is what’s called situational leadership. Situational leadership recognizes that there are three moving parts to any decision regarding how to lead others.
First is the leader themselves. What are the individual characteristics of the leader? What are their tendencies, values, strengths, weaknesses, etc. The goal is to act from a place of authenticity, but also get outside of our comfort zone when necessary and within reason.
The second is the followers. What are the characteristics of the individual or team that is being led? How are they motivated? What are their goals? What are their individual characteristics? Everyone is unique; therefore, it is important to flex the influence approaches that align with those individualized needs.
The third is the context. What are the contextual conditions surrounding the leader-follower dyadic interaction? Is this interaction during a time of quiet or chaos? Is this interaction taking place within a bureaucratic (e.g., the Federal government) or decentralized (e.g., a startup venture) organization.
It is helpful to understand all the different styles of leadership. But it’s arguably more helpful to think through whether and how those styles will be successful given who you are as a leader, who you are leading, and the context surrounding your leadership influence.
Many say social media is a time-waster. For me, it’s an important and enjoyable part of my job - connecting with practitioners, getting a handle on the latest trends, and finding new partnerships.
I agree that social media can be a time-suck, but only if you’re using it at the wrong time. Social media is a form of quick engagement. It doesn’t take long to read 140 characters and then like or share.
Social media is problematic when we use it during time frames that are supposed to be for deep thinking activities. Taking a social media break in the middle of putting together a detailed report, figuring out a coding mistake, or writing a novel, is not a good idea.
Breaks are only beneficial when they are as different from the original task behavior as possible. Continuing to look at a screen doesn’t have the same recovery effect.
So when should we look at social media? When we only have 2 or 3 minutes.
Waiting on someone to join a zoom? Go for it. Going to the bathroom? Why not. Walking up a flight of stairs? Perfect.
We spend a great deal of time in transitions from one activity to another. Although they might only be a few minutes, over the course of a day they add up to a significant amount of time. Try making this your social media screen time. Reserve the deep thinking time for deep thinking tasks.
It’s late, you’re tired, and your inbox is still overflowing with unread messages. This is the moment where you decide whether it’s better to power through or power down.
On the one hand, you could power through in order to stay on top of things. There is value in that approach because maintaining control limits stress. Further, for better or worse, business rewards productivity.
On the other hand, you could power down to maintain sanity. There is value here in that rest and recovery are critical for maintaining one’s well-being. Further, it prevents burnout, which is connected to major episodes of productivity derailment.
So what should you choose?
Typically, our personal characteristics drive this decision. Things like personality, motivation, and the like.
What we should be incorporating into this decision are situational elements. Can certain people wait for your response? What does your calendar look like over the next few days? How have you been doing lately on sleep, stress, and overall well-being?
When in these moments of deciding whether to power through or power down, consider the context and implications of your decision.
When it comes to leadership, we are inundated with contradicting suggestions on "what" to do.
We should have executive presence, but we should also be a humble leader. We should be proactive, but we should also have a clear goal in mind before taking action.
So which is it?
The more accurate (and more helpful) answer is that it depends on the situation. This is the "when."
Don't oversimplify. Add context. Challenge yourself to think through the when, not just the what.
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