CMI Asks Professor Cary Cooper

On the 15th September 2011, Professor Cary Cooper joined CMI for a live question and answer session at the CMI Management Book Club.  You can see the transcript of the session below.

CMI: Hello all and welcome to this CMI Ask the Expert feature with Professor Cary Cooper.

CMI: We'll be kicking the session off at 10.30 on the dot, so you have a bit of time to make yourself a cuppa and settle in for what should be a fascinating hour.

Prof. Cary Cooper: I am on air from 10.30 am GMT

Mike: Hello professor Cooper, looking forward to the session, should be interesting

Nicola: Hi all, good to be here. Got my question lined up when we go live :)

CMI: Hello to Mike and Nicola, I make it 2 minutes to go until we kick off. Keep that powder dry for a little longer.

CMI: Ok, lets get started. Firstly a big thanks to Professor Cooper for joining us for the next hour, it should be a great session.

CMI: We have the first question here from Nicola.

Nicola: Does performance related pay work or are there better ways of motivating staff?

Prof. Cary Cooper: Hi Nicola, I suspect that performance related pay can work in some contexts but might be counter-productive in others. The worry I have about it is that it can cause conflict amongst staff. If it is going to take place, it should be team-orientated. But there is no substitute for managing people by praise and reward rather than just money, or by EMI schemes for all and not just managers!

CMI: That's right. I wrote last year about a simple 'thank you' often being the best reward a person can ask for. The simple things are often the best.

CMI: Interestingly though, research by i4CP in the States suggests as many as 90% of companies tie pay to performance.

Prof. Cary Cooper: I agree...the problem in many work environments is that we don't have enough of socially and interpersonally skilled managers!

CMI: Ah yes, social skills. That brings me nicely onto this next question from Mike.

Mike: I read recently that most companies in the UK want employees with no life outside of work. Why do you think that is?

Prof. Cary Cooper: Hi Mike, For some reason, some senior managers associate performance with long hours at work. They assume if a person comes early and stays late they are productive. The truth of the matter is that the science tells us that consistently long hours damages people's health, their relationships outside and increasingly their performance. Not long hours in any one week but consistently being 'present' is counter-productive to the bottom-line. We need to change this assumption in senior manager's mindset.

CMI: Nice add-on to that line of thinking from Tom

Tom: I've read that volunteering helps productivity, all to do with broadening horizons and taking the mind off of work I suspect. How long before we see such enlightened thinking becoming the norm though?

Prof. Cary Cooper: Hi Tom, I totally agree, volunteering is a very positive activity, not just because it ticks the appropriate corporate responsibility box, but because it broadens your own life and contextualises your work and life problems into a bigger picture, particularly if you volunteer to help those less advantaged than yourself.

CMI: It's almost an extension of the 20% time employed by the likes of Google isn't it, but rather than working on independant projects one works on charitable endeavours.

Prof. Cary Cooper: Yes, it is...we all gain from helping others, not only the person involved but the company by making people feel they are doing much more than earning a living but contributing to those less able to help themselves.

CMI: CMI has been in the news a lot recently over the issue of equal pay, which leads us nicely onto this question from Terry about pay transparency.

Terry: There is a convention in the UK of being secretive over personal pay/rewards not found in many Continental cultures. Is this healthy for open work relationships? Or is it a suppressive management tool to avoid potential claims by better informed employees?

Prof. Cary Cooper: Hi Terry, In principle, I am for more openness in the workplace, and would love to see these issues more widespread. As a psychologist, however, in the context of the UK, I suspect it would cause enormous conflicts and problems unless handled in a very sensitive way. People's self image and esteem are so tied up in their status, role and renumeration, that an honest openness around the pay issue might create real interpersonal difficulties, unless at the outset it was agreed by all that this would happen and that all had an input into determining pay levels!! Great in an ideal world, but if not done with well, highly risky!

CMI: Yes, I first read about it being done at Semco, but suffice to say they remain the exception rather than the rule.

Prof. Cary Cooper: By the way, I think that some managers have always used pay as a vehicle to get people to do what they want, nothing has changed there!

CMI: A question has come in that is close to my own heart from Colin

Colin: Should the use of the Internet be 'policed' at work?

Prof. Cary Cooper: Hi Colin, I worry about policing the internet at work for several reasons. First, as people work longer and longer hours they will need to deal with personal issues at home while working beyond the 9-5! Second, it is a trust issue. The more we police people, the more we symbolically say 'we don't trust you'. On the other hand, people gambling or accessing pornography sites online should not acceptable behaviour. I would think that organisations should provide rough guidelines about what is acceptable use of the internet, and then trust people to follow them. However, if an organisations hears that a person is abusing this trust, then the organisation does something about it.

CMI: Trust is a huge issue, and leads onto the next question quite nicely, as it's probably not possible to have this without trust.

Sandra: How can I promote flexible working?

Prof. Cary Cooper: Hi Sandra, With all the demands on people in their private lives of child care and elder care, and the advances in all sorts of ICT technologies, there are many people in a variety of roles who could work more flexibly. The evidence as well is that it produces benefits not only to the individual and their family but productivity benefits to the organisation, particularly if it is open to all and not just employees with children. The way to do it is to convince senior management by showing them the evidence that it delivers to the bottom-line--check Working Families research, the government's Foresight project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing, etc. Many top executives think this is a soft issue, a 'good to have' during good times but not in our current economic circumstance. They are proundly wrong, and the evidence shows that.

CMI: That's it, there's a general fear that people working from home shirk their work, but evidence suggests that they actually work longer hours than those who travel into the office each day.

Prof. Cary Cooper: Totally agree. People who work from home feel so guilt that they tend to work longer hours, but they do it with less downtime of commuting and in more beneficial environments.

CMI: I'm conscious of time, but we have a good question here from Mary on the merits of employee engagement.

Mary: Employee engagement has become a bit of a management buzz word in recent years but the subject has also generated a fair degree of cynicism. Here is a quotation from a recent posting on our management forum: "We hold on to the illusion that we can motivate others. We can't. We can only motivate ourselves. When managers realise that what they can actually do is stimulate and influence others through the relationships they create, we will then get better and more effective management practice."

Do you agree? Or can you cite some positive examples of engagement programmes?

Prof. Cary Cooper: Sorry Mary my screen froze. I agree with most of the quote, that we have been here before, we had participative management or autonomous work groups,etc. Employee engagement won't solve all our HR problems and to think so is naive. We can however train people to be more inclusive, involving, etc, but basically we need to select the right people in the first place. We need managers who are more socially skilled, who manage people by praise and reward rather than fault-finding, who involve them in decision making and provide them with all relevant information, etc. Selection is a better way in the long run to get engagement, training will help some and not others. Unfortunately it has become a tick the box exercise in many companies.

CMI: One final question before we end the session, this one from Terry, following up his earlier question with one on the importance of happiness at work.

Terry: In a similar vein, happiness is touted as an important factor in many areas of life. Is it important at work?

Prof. Cary Cooper: Hi Terry, Wellbeing or happiness at work is important. Why? Because most of us now spend more of our waking hours at work than we do with our families! We derive our status, potential satisfactions and the like from work, so what happens to us at work is fairly fundamental. Should work be so central to our self image and happiness than the community or our family is a different question. But while this state of affairs continues, let's do what we can as managers to help those we work with to enjoy and grasp as much happiness as we can create.

CMI: Well hopefully the last hour has made some of you a bit happier at work, it's certainly been fascinating. I'd like to extend a huge thanks to Professor Cooper for giving us his time, I feel like we could carry this on for another couple of hours.

Prof. Cary Cooper: thanks I have really enjoyed the questions...

CMI: Our next session is due to be with the legendary John Adair on the 6th October. Stay tuned to the CMI Management Book Club for more details.

Thanks again for all of your time, see you again next time.