An interesting piece of research landed on my desk. Commissioned by HR consultancy DDI, the study found that a worryingly large number of employees feel under pressure to put on a corporate mask when they come to work and play a part in order to fit in.
Almost half of UK workers admitted to leaving “part of their true selves at their front door when they leave for work in the morning” and 30% said they felt under pressure to “conform to the corporate mould”.
This matters, because employees who felt able to be themselves at work were on average four times more likely to be motivated than those who weren’t.
Consciously or not, it suggests that many organisations are sending out signals that there is one, right way to be to get on in the company.
This is unhealthy for more reasons than I have space to list, but it clearly does nothing for diversity, and certainly doesn’t promote the kind of voluntary, discretionary behaviour on the part of employees that adds competitive edge.
As with most bad things in business, this problem is transmitted by managers, more than 40% of whom say they have to put on an acceptable face in front of their teams.
Nearly a third add that “being professional all the time gets in the way of being themselves”.
Contrast this with the winners of this year’s People Management award for innovation and excellence in HR, which was announced at the end of last month. The winner - North Liverpool Police - faced strong competition from blue-chip companies such as Compass. But it blew the judges away with what it had achieved.
The North Liverpool Police area covers the city centre, both Everton and Liverpool football grounds, and some of the most deprived places in the country. Local villains carry machine guns, and three police stations were car-bombed back in the summer. It’s no exaggeration to say that the police officers there are heroes and heroines.
But until a year or so ago, it was a grim place to work because the managers didn’t know what was expected of them. That changed when a new management team put in place a culture change programme based on empowering ordinary coppers and teaching their sergeants and inspectors how to lead, rather than just manage.
Now the rank and file decide where resources should be allocated, based on their intimate knowledge of the local area. They get to use their initiative without looking over their shoulders to see if they are going to get blamed for stepping out of line. This summer, for example, a temporary police station was set up on the Grizedale estate, with a 24-hour police presence, on the recommendation of a couple of constables from a local station who had been listening to residents’ complaints. The results were spectacular - as they have been across the area.
Burglaries have now fallen by 56% and robberies by half. Performance improvements and better attendance have saved £3.3m from the force’s budget, all of which has been ploughed back into tackling crime. And instead of having a waiting list of officers wanting to transfer out, there’s now a queue of would-be recruits.
A huge part of this is down to the quality of management in the force. The proportion of staff who say their managers set a good example, give them support and are sensitive to their needs has doubled in the last four year, and now stands at 90%. With management like that, employees don’t need to hide behind a mask.