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Motivating employees: A Q&A with Adam Grant

In episode 91 of HR Break Room®, Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of Option B, joined us to talk about creating a resilient workplace in 2021 in the midst of burnout and fatigue.

Throughout the conversation, we received questions from the audience that only Grant could answer. In episode 92, Grant returned to discuss how HR can lead engagement initiatives to help motivate and retain employees in today’s digital reality.

Spotting burnout

2020 created hardships for some businesses, and as a result, employees could be dealing with burnout. How can leaders motivate employees and help alleviate it?

Grant explained the predictors of burnout fall into three categories: demand, control and support.

Demand results from employees having too much to do and not having enough time to complete their tasks.

“The first antidote is, obviously, to do what you can to reduce demands,” Grant explained.

An employee’s ability to cope with demands depends a lot on their sense of control and if they have the freedom and autonomy to tackle their responsibilities. If you aren’t able to reduce the number of demands, Grant recommends giving employees a little more control.

People also need organizational and social support in order to thrive.

“Build a culture where if people are struggling, they can say, ‘You know what? I feel overloaded right now,’ and know they might get some help and understanding,” Grant said.

Overcoming communication gaps

With employees working in multiple environments, some companies have noticed communication gaps that need to be addressed.

Grant recommends watching out for communication silos. He explained that in a digital environment, people tend to stay in touch with their immediate team, direct reports and managers. But communication between more distant colleagues can fall by the wayside.

“That’s a problem,” Grant said, “in part because weak ties tend to give you better information than strong ties do. Strong ties know a lot of the same people and the same things you do. That means they give you redundant knowledge. Whereas weak ties travel in different circles, they learn different things, they meet different people and they can more efficiently open up a novel of information for you.”

One way Grant recommends solving this? Implementing group or leadership office hours.

“It’s giving you access to senior leaders’ thinking,” he explained. “It’s allowing some peers to connect and maybe build a relationship or have a conversation that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Improving employee processes

Striking a balance between challenging employees to improve while being empathetic to the stresses of uncertain work environments can be hard.

Grant found that effective leaders normalize vulnerability. And that means going beyond the usual “Let me know if you need anything; my door is always open” rhetoric.

“We found what worked much better was for leaders and managers to actually share what they themselves were struggling with,” Grant explained.

He recommends saying something like, “I am really struggling with multiple kids in online school at home and trying to concentrate on my work at the same time. Here are some of the practices I’ve implemented to try to set some boundaries. Let me know what’s worked for you; I would love to find out.”

According to Grant, letting people know you care about their well-being and their job performance is a great place to start the conversation.

For even more insights from Grant, listen to episode 92 of HR Break Room®!