On a scale from 1 – 10, how much pain are you in?
It has always been a rather perplexing question, and one almost impossible to answer objectively. Pain is subjective; that’s the challenge in measuring it discretely–and, by extension, using pain as a core measure of performance and health. Communicating pain, and about pain, is rife with difficulty because everyone has a different baseline and scale of tolerance for it. It is universal, yet divisively personal.
That is partly why doctors and nurses recently voted to remove pain as the fifth vital sign.
Historically, along with pulse, breathing (respiration), body temperature, and blood pressure, pain was a critical supplement to help caregivers evaluate patient status and inform treatment. After all, extreme pain can naturally raise heart rate and blood pressure, as well as interfere with sleep and general impair the body’s ability to heal or respond to other treatment. And even if a patient registers as “normal” on all other measures, their pain may prevent them from functioning normally.
In recent years, though, and in light of a growing national opioid epidemic, health professionals are looking for a new approach to pain management–especially chronic pain management, which has been a major source of opioid over-prescription–as well as measuring patient quality of life.
Rate Your Job Satisfaction
Workplace communication is similarly complicated by subjective things like motivation, engagement, and satisfaction. We know these things matter, and are critical to performance and organizational health–but how do we measure these things, and objectively attribute them to responsible parties?
Just like nurses asking patients to rate their level of pain, it can be difficult for human resource leaders to find a universal, objective, and accurate way to measure these indicators of “joy” among staff. Like pain in the clinical setting, these traits have direct importance to measurable outcomes, like productivity or turnover, but the inputs are harder to pin down.
As with so many workplace issues, this can largely be classified as a communication challenge. Unlike patients, who have an incentive to talk candidly about their pain without any solicitation from caregivers, employees may be more reluctant to open up about their dissatisfaction, or lack of a sense of “joy” at work. They may fear reprisals, being singled out as a complainer or “squeaky wheel,” or even feel that their input is neither valued nor likely to affect change.
These potential communication gaps are often exacerbated by technology and its role in facilitating the recording and dissemination of workplace data. Millennials are prone to rely on modern communication technology like mobile devices or chat applications at work; HR traditionalists who expect feedback in face-to-face or more formal, less digital forums will often disappoint and be disappointed by younger workers. The new generation may well equate engagement and relevance with the presence of contemporary technology and a variety of options for providing feedback or self-expression. But for HR, technology is often as much a hindrance as a help.
Near and Far
From an operational standpoint, it is not hard to identify ways in which technology has highlighted the many silos and disconnects between closely related, yet functionally isolated, areas of an organization. In fact, the uneven roll-out, implementation, and evolution of certain task-based technologies has even been responsible for exacerbating existing silos, driving wedges right into singular roles and creating complexity rather than increasing efficiency.
Human resources and payroll, rather than being drawn more closely together by digital records and overlapping priorities, can instead see their time swallowed up by repetitious records requests and communication loops. The nature of HR as a department means it intersects with virtually every other part of an organization, but its proprietary software, applications, and digital solutions can end up building walls instead of bridges.
This feeds right back into the challenge of assessing pain, and promoting joy among employees. Reliance on technology to facilitate communication is a hair’s breadth away from digitally sourcing feedback on intangible elements of joy, like how much time employees spend on social media at work, say, or the nature of their behavior and language on such platforms. Creative deployments of technology can yield heretofore unimagined troves of telling data, and inform new programs and initiatives to better serve employees and companies.
It can also obfuscate important signals of engagement and satisfaction, entrench generational divides by leaving out the less tech-literate, and even threaten to transform “human resources” into a department ruled by data management and digital resources. HR, like the healthcare industry, must still sort out what questions to ask, and what feedback to rely on to better serve its constituents.
How Are You Feeling?
When caregivers were surveyed on the use of pain as a fifth vital sign, they didn’t roundly reject pain as being of clinical importance. Rather, they tended to recommend substituting patient functionality–which can be measured objectively–as a proxy for pain, and by extension, quality of life. Rather than asking patients to self-assess pain levels, they wanted to focus on things like mobility, dexterity, ability to concentrate or even communicate. Body language, facial expressions, and other signals could substitute for the old, laughably unreliable numbered pain scale.
For HR professionals, it is similarly important to distinguish, definitively, which employee “pain” points matter, and which are beyond their influence. Engagement and employee satisfaction is important, but HR obviously can’t take responsibility for every “pain” point that threatens their happiness at work. Attentiveness to these needs and challenges can improve retention as well as performance, if attention is paid strategically, consistently, and with an emphasis on where performance and attitude intersect. That is the essence of measuring and tracking joy in the workplace.
How this looks will vary according to the mission and the industry of any specific organization. Regardless of how this vital sign for organizational health is defined, the important thing is communicating about it: how it will be measured, why it is important, and especially that HR staff and management are genuinely interested in keeping track of it. When staff, like patients, witness and experience that their personal joy matters to supervisors and caretakers, they are already on their way to improvement.
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