Books in Brief

Creativity at Work; more

By Mike Frost Mar 1, 2003
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HR Magazine, March 2003 Creativity at Work

By Jeff DeGraff and Katherine A. Lawrence
Jossey-Bass, 2002
220 pages List Price: $24.95
ISBN: 0-7879-5725-9

Creativity isn’t just the province of artists, writers and musicians. It’s an important business commodity, the spark that enables companies to launch or improve products, services and processes. In Creativity at Work, authors Jeff DeGraff and Katherine A. Lawrence write “You must handle each new endeavor differently, selecting an approach to creativity that appropriately matches the situation.” DeGraff, a professor at the University of Michigan Business School, and Lawrence, a doctoral student at Michigan, contend that the challenge is matching creative personalities to desired outcomes.

There are four basic kinds of creativity, they write:

  • Imagine. This is the type of creativity associated with “breakthrough ideas.” They describe individuals with this creative profile as “generalists or artistic types who enjoy exploring and easily change direction when solving problems.”
  • Invest. Workers with this kind of creativity think in terms of short-term results, rather than the big picture.
  • Improve. People with this type of creativity tend to be systematic and practical, their creativity aided by planning and compliance.
  • Incubate. Individuals with this type of creativity are “committed to their community, focusing on shared values and communication.” Indeed, HR and training professionals often possess this kind of creativity.

You may find each kind of creative profile in your workforce, and, at some point, you will need each kind of creativity. To maximize creativity, managers must “blend” the creative types represented on their team. The authors outline a three-step process:

  • Setting a direction, “accounting for the inherent tensions that exist between profiles.”
  • Creating an action plan that integrates creative practices appropriate to the team’s objectives.
  • Developing creative ability by identifying strengths and working on weaknesses.

Creativity at Work includes inventories and worksheets that help managers draw creative profiles for members of their teams.

Responsible Restructuring

By Wayne F. Cascio
Berrett-Koehler, 2002
125 pages
List Price: $27.95
ISBN: 1-57675-129-5

As the nation’s economy continues to struggle, many companies have two choices: increase revenue or cut costs. When it comes to reducing overhead, many organizations resort to downsizing.

But, says author Wayne Cascio in Responsible Restructuring, layoffs are often counterproductive, resulting in distrust between workers and management, poor morale, sloppy work and unwanted turnover, among other problems. Cascio, a professor of management at the University of Colorado-Denver and past-president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, conducted an 18-year study of Standard and Poor’s 500 companies and found that firms that downsize are no more profitable than companies that don’t.

Organizations that increase their profitability rely on what Cascio calls Responsible Restructuring: “planned changes in a firm’s organizational structure that affect its use of people.” The objective is not merely to cut payroll, but rather to “improve financial performance through increased productivity and efficiency.”

Practices associated with Responsible Restructuring include:

  • Skills training and continuous learning.
  • Increased employee participation in the design and implementation of work processes.
  • Flattened organizational structures.
  • Labor-management partnerships.
  • Compensation linked to employee skills and organizational performance.

Cascio profiles nearly two dozen companies, showing how their attempts at Responsible Restructuring boosted their bottom line. These include:

  • Minnesota-based 3M, which minimized layoffs by “providing other opportunities within the company for employees affected by restructuring”—what Cascio calls “redeployment.” In 3M’s case, “when business lags at one of the company’s 49 divisions, excess workers are employed at similar work in another division.”

  • Acxiom Inc., an Arkansas-based database management company that avoided layoffs by asking workers to take voluntary 5 percent pay cuts in exchange for shares of company stock. The company anticipated that 10 percent of its workforce would take it up on the stock offer; instead, 35 percent agreed to the reduction.

  • Louisiana-Pacific Corp., an Oregon-based building products supplier, which in 1998 announced it would close its plant in Chilco, Idaho. Workers began re-engineering work processes to increase efficiency. Within six months, the facility had become so profitable that the company decided to leave it open and invested nearly $15 million in modernization.

HR practitioners must be involved for Responsible Restructuring to succeed, Cascio says. They can enable the organization to engage in workforce planning based on changes in business strategy, market and economic conditions; to recruit effectively; to create effective appraisal and compensation systems; and to manage labor conditions.

HR also can help the organization understand that employees are “assets to be developed rather than costs to be cut.”

Mental Health and Productivity in The Workplace

Edited by Jeffrey P. Kahn and Alan M. Langlieb
Jossey-Bass, 2003
618 pages
List Price: $75
ISBN: 0-7879-6215-5

While employment has sagged in recent years, productivity continues to rise. Increased work demands take both a physical and psychological toll on workers. Mental Health and Productivity in The Workplace offers 27 essays on recognizing and confronting mental health problems affecting workers, describing symptoms and suggesting how managers can intervene.

The book, edited by Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, president of New York-based WorkPsych Associates, and Dr. Alan Langlieb, an assistant professor in psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, explores issues such as executive dysfunction, organizational structure, office politics, the impact of downsizing, stress, burnout, depression and substance abuse. Essays are presented in four sections focusing on mental health in the workplace, occupational concerns, organizational issues and employee issues.

“The art of effective management always involves understanding and responding to people’s personal characteristics,” writes Kahn in his introductory chapter.

Managers dealing with a worker experiencing psychological distress may have both “a natural tendency to leave intense emotions untouched and an equally natural urge to help the employee,” writes Kahn.

HR professionals can help managers aid an employee who appears to be experiencing mental health issues, as well as navigate legal and liability landmines. Indeed, writes Kahn, “in most large companies, much of management’s attention to employee mental health problems is through the human resource department.” Not only do HR offices have responsibility for managing benefits, including mental health care coverage and employee assistance programs, they also “often play a major role in sorting out workplace problems ... and are thus often the first to be presented with a distressed employee, a dysfunctional supervisor or a problematic work area.”

HR offices can also help managers recognize when their workers are suffering from excessive anxiety, stress or burnout. In their essay on stress and anxiety disorders, Dan Stein and Eric Hollander observe that some amount of workplace stress is normal, even desirable. Stress management courses can help employees deal with these short-lived periods of anxiety, fostering constructive responses to stress.

But such guidance wouldn’t be enough for workers suffering from a psychological condition known as general anxiety disorder (GAD). Symptoms of GAD include:

  • Excessive anxiety and worry for at least six months.
  • Inability to control the worry.
  • Experience with at least three of the following symptoms over a six-month period: restlessness, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, muscle tension and sleep disturbance.
  • Significant impairment in social, occupational or other important areas.

Early recognition of such a condition and encouraging workers to seek treatment can reduce the impact and improve the prognosis for recovery. This is another area where HR plays a valuable role. One of the common barriers that keep workers from seeking psychological treatment is their fear that doing so could jeopardize their jobs.

“Employees and managers are often afraid that seeking out any sort of mental health care will stigmatize them and adversely affect their careers,” writes Kahn. HR offices can help encourage psychological treatment by spelling out benefits offered by the company and offering employee assistance plans that provide workers with access to counseling.

Double Lives

By David Heenan
Davies Black, 2002
246 pages
List Price: $24.95
ISBN: 0-89106-167-3

There’s more to life than work, but American workers often spend more than two-thirds of their waking hours on the job. In Double Lives, David Heenan says that’s why it’s important to “make sure you’re doing exactly what you really want to do,” regardless of your career stage.

That may mean reinventing yourself or finding what really inspires you, enabling you to create a second life. “Lifestyles can—and should—be elastic,” writes Heenan. However, you may not have to change careers. Sometimes, people find new direction by following what Heenan describes as parallel paths: maintaining their first careers while pursuing outside interests. Others go down what Heenan calls convergent trails, blending their professional lives and personal interests. Some follow “divergent trails,” seeking second careers unrelated to their previous jobs and training. Heenan offers profiles of 10 individuals who have done so.

For example, he describes how Norio Ohga excelled both as a musician and as a businessman. Ohga was a trained musician, but decided to set aside his musical career when he joined the staff of Sony, then a small Japanese start-up firm. Over a 40-year career, he eventually rose to the rank of chairman. “The unique thing about my life is the extent to which it took me on a path—business—I had no desire to walk.” He retired from the company in 1995 and returned to his career in music, conducting orchestras in Tokyo, Boston and New York.

His experience underscores one of 20 keys Heenan identifies for creating a double life—being willing to reinvent yourself. Other keys include:

  • Listening to your heart.
  • Defining success in your own terms.
  • Aiming high.
  • Taking one step at a time.
  • Delivering daily.
  • Learning from failure.
  • Ignoring naysayers.
  • Avoiding distractions.
  • Learning continuously.
  • Selling yourself.
  • Seeking compatible goals in your personal and professional lives.

Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.

Compiled by Mike Frost, a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.

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