2020 was a lot to process. Run a quick test to assess your team while apart.

Pillars of employee wellbeing surveys that are effective, bias-free, and safe.

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Do you have concerns about the tools used to measure well-being? You’re right, you should. Managers are responsible for caring for their team’s well-being and tackle it with a safe, impactful, and non-invasive approach. Next, we will go through the most frequent questions that team leaders have when dealing with the choice of well-being and mental health measurement tools.

1. Where do I focus? Burnout Risk and Work Engagement

If you’re the kind of leader that likes to keep their team motivated, it’s probably useful for you to keep an eye on their levels of enthusiasm and emotional connection, as well as their levels of emotional and energetic drain. Part of your responsibility is to catch burnout early before it becomes a problem. If a team member leaves because they burned out, it’s too late.

There are many mental health variables that you can track in teams, Yerbo chooses to narrow those down to Work-Engagement and Burnout Risk. Sometimes it’s hard to define something without also thinking of an opposing idea, that’s the case with burnout and work engagement. Either as opposite ends of the same spectrum or as completely separate entities, these two concepts work hand in hand, with work engagement representing the positives, and burnout the negatives. If you want to learn more about check this out.

Work Engagement is the experience of being highly motivated to work. It’s characterized by its high levels of vigor (energy, stamina), dedication, and absorption (cognitive focus) towards tasks. When a person feels engaged they can get better results–more creativity leads to more productivity and less turnover–than when they don’t feel engaged.

The variable that best represents the absolute loss of motivation at work is the burnout that comes as a result of the chronic stress that people suffer due to occupational difficulties. Some of the main characterístics of this phenomenon are:

a) Loss of value or meaning in the task.

b) Lack of energy (the ability to make an effort).

c) Interpersonal difficulties or social conflicts.

d) Loss of self-confidence to do a good job.

It’s important to tread lightly when choosing to use these factor-measuring questionnaires as talking points with team members, being careful not to use the information to label or diagnose anybody. Using Yerbo is a way to be cautious, and talk about Burnout Risk when you see that someone is scoring high in the items that relate to burnout.

2. Setting an environment of safety

Another important component is psychological safety; only when the environment feels safe to talk freely and honestly, you will be able to discuss these measurements with your team in honesty. In fact, having these conversations–and actually taking action to change the course of what’s currently happening in trouble areas will be your main tool to prevent burnout risk. In most cases, it can be valuable to start with anonymous conversations.

Generally speaking, the initial trust levels towards these types of tools can vary, but if there’s an existing culture of psychological safety it can definitely run smoothly from the get-go. However, if that’s not the case, the emotional approach should be done gradually, and move forward as resistances die down as a result of seeing the benefits of using the tool.

Yerbo, for example, aims to build trust through these strategies:

a) For team members

b) For team leaders.

c) For the company.

2a) Safety for team members (information confidentiality and protection of privacy)

A few useful strategies are guaranteeing anonymity (e.g. by showing aggregate data so there’s no way to tell who responded), users being able to validate whether they belong to a team or not; and also be able to choose whether to share their data anonymously or not–and when to do so.

As long as there’s a trusting and safe space where to do it, it’s quite valuable for end-users to see that their direct leaders openly share their own data and their experiences, showing vulnerability and proving that there are no negative consequences when doing so. This, in turn, eliminates any messages of guilt/blame when any red flags, lack of engagement, or critical problems arise.

A great practice that helps people come out of their shells and talk about any issues they may be experiencing is to generate ad-hoc channels where users can share accomplishments or learning experiences. By watching others do it, and seeing the positive impact of those actions, more and more users will start participating.

2b) Safety for leaders (data quality and trust)

First, it’s important to find spaces where leaders can share what they’re doing to care for their teams, as for themselves as well. When companies experience hypergrowth there’s a common theme that arises: the feeling of “betraying” **your colleagues when you share that your efforts and energy are going somewhere that’s not strictly business-related. Peer support in these issues is of paramount importance in order to trigger a larger cultural shift in the company.

Second, it’s recommended to approach leaders so they can understand in which cases team members can take agency of their own challenges, and when it’s appropriate for them to step in and help. At the same time, it’s also important to educate everyone on the possible solutions that can come from different kinds of problems.

Third, we recommend creating a shared language, terms that team members can use to reference these issues, so they can communicate within a framework that shows the short-term evolution of the variables. Words and concepts the whole team can get behind, something that can go beyond just calling it burnout.

Fourth, it’s important to mention that higher management has the ability to point out which red flags are opportunities to empower middle managers and highlight the fact that there’s no one to blame if these issues arise.

2c) Safety for the company (data policies, and leadership culture)

Companies deem the use of these tools safe when:

a. They help identify problems in a preventive way, where each layer can intervene to provide solutions, as opposed to only building a message that promotes problem scale-ups.

b. They make it easier for everyone to share the same framework, all across the company.

3. Getting honest responds you can rely on

Generally speaking, the main doubts regarding how team members respond to the questionnaire are:

a. How users interpret each item.

b. What is the risk of social desirability bias (SDB).

3a. On item interpretation:

There’s a real risk that each user can interpret items in a different way. To avoid the range in item interpretation current research suggests using discrete scales, like the Licker Scale. Also, the ones that work best are those that include middle grounds in order to make it easier for the user to make a choice, without leading them to extreme values.

It’s also worth mentioning that even though interpretations are not unique, most of the time they’ll be similar within social groups that share a culture, language, similar academic achievements, tasks, etc. When using tools like Yerbo, if the same person responds to the same set of questions over time, there’s an expected level of stability in the interpretation and higher data reliability. Yerbo’s methodologies allow users to express their own takes on satisfaction and well-being, making it especially valuable since this subjective opinion is a key element in their mental health.

By being able to express their own takes on satisfaction and well-being, the user shows through Yerbo’s these key aspects about their mental health

3b. On answers influenced by social desirability bias (SDB).

This bias varies according to industry culture and company history when using these types of questionnaires. It can even vary within groups of the same company.

To avoid it, we suggest:

a. Make it clear that there are no punishments. If there are no negative consequences, this bias tends to fizzle out in most cases, and the motivation to provide honest answers increases.

b. Offer feedback and concrete actions so the team can see the value.

The SDB also changes depending on who is launching the survey. A good rule of thumb is to instruct direct leaders to show themselves open to conversations with their teams regarding factors that generate any concerns, and also for the users to understand that they have access to the data themselves.

Another good practice is getting leaders (formal or informal) to show the information–both their teams and their own–as soon as they get it. This action increases emotional openness and psychological safety because team members see that it’s ok to discuss these issues openly.

4. Making sure the questions are validated

To guarantee a positive response, the best route is to use protocols that are validated, reliable, and psychometrically stable. For example, Yerbo’s questions represent the world’s most trusted psycho-technical instruments to measure burnout and work engagement: MBI- HSS, el MBI- GS y el UWES-9i.

Yerbo selected the most representative items of each dimension (those that have the highest levels of reliability), and we’ve modified some of them in order to achieve a better user interpretation, taking into account that Yerbo’s users are mostly tech workers. We have on the works an internal paper that shows a sample of 24.000 cases, and though it’s not crucial for a team to validate things this way, using tools that are validated by someone else is a great step to guarantee their end-user engagement.

5. Avoiding self-fulfilling prophecies when you look at the results

Another common concern is that after answering these questions and getting individual feedback, you’ll be able to see problems that you didn’t use to have. That’s an effect called iatrogenesis, which is when the cure seems worse than the disease.

To avoid it, we suggest:

a) Provide, within the tool, specialized educational content since it’s quite necessary in order to define the scope of the results.

b) There needs to be an onboarding process designed to slowly immerse users in the results, without making broad generalizations at first. This way, the user can compare their periodical results and build an understanding of what this whole process is all about.

c) Be extra careful of not using clinical vocabulary or diagnostic labels, and instead just stick to behaviours that happen within work situations.

6. Setting the right cadence

Even when there shouldn’t really be any major changes from one week to the other, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep a weekly or bi-weekly cadence. When a person responds to questions periodically, it increases their self-awareness and helps develop the ability to self-reflect, which is a key aspect in taking agency of our own problems. If we’re quick to detect our wellbeing triggers, we’ll be able to act preventively instead of reacting when is already too late.

Last but not least, when you answer with honesty and commitment, your whole team will reap the benefits. Especially in times like these when your team members are riddled with surveys, they’ll only stay motivated and committed when they can see the rewards of their efforts. Also, it’s key to share results as soon as possible and take immediate action on the problems that arise, in order to keep a healthy feedback loop. How to act? Well, that’s a whole other ballgame we can discuss later, but in the meantime, you can check it out for yourself at Yerbo.

Bibliography

Chyung, S.Y., Roberts, K., Swanson, I., & Hankinson, A. (2017). Evidence-Based Survey Design: The Use of a Midpoint on the Likert Scale. Performance Improvement, 56(10), 15-23.

Campos, M. & Rueda, F.(2017). Social desirability bias in measures of organizational values. Universitas Psychologica, 16(2), 1-11.

Demerouti, E. & Cropanzano, R. (2010). From thought to action: Employee work engagement and job performance.

Veenhoven, R. (2000). Freedom and happiness: A comparative study in forty-four nations in the early 1990s. In E. Diener & E. M. Suh (Eds.), Culture and subjective well-being (p. 257–288). The MIT Press.

Salanova, M., Llorens, S., García, M., Burriel, R., Bresó, E. & Schaufeli, W.B. (2005). Towards a Four Dimensional Model of Burnout: A Multigroup Factor-Analytic Study including Depersonalization and Cynicism. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 65, 901-913.

Schaufeli, W. (2021). The burnout enigma solved? Scandinavian Journal Work Environ Health. 47(3),169–170.

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