Microsoft Probes What Makes Employees Thrive
Written by Sue Gee   
Thursday, 21 July 2022

Microsoft's People Analytics Team has moved from conducting one lengthy annual survey that tracked "employee engagement" to shorter more focused surveys every six months. The results of the first one reveal what it takes to make employees thrive.


Rather than a formal research report, Microsoft's new approach and its finding are outline in an article in Harvard Business Review authored by Dawn Klinghoffer, Head of People Analytics at Microsoft and Elizabeth McCune, Mcrofoft's director of employee listening systems and culture measurement. The research itself was done with the employee success platform Glint.

Motivated by needing a new approach suited to the hybrid world patterns become the norm in post-pandemic times, the idea is to:

stay closer to employees’ feedback and take clearer and more immediate action in response. 

The definition of "thriving" adopted by Microsoft is:

“to be energized and empowered to do meaningful work”

and it scores were calculated using 5-point scales in which "strongly disagree" equated to 0 and strongly agree to 100. 

According to the article, thriving averaged, 77 across the company and when broken down into its three components "meaningful work" (79) and "empowerment" (79) both scored higher among employees than "energized" (73).

There was however more to be learned using the open-ended reponses to the survey and these were use to explore three key themes.The first was "culture", a term used both by employees who were thriving an those who were not thriving:

Thriving employees talked about a collaborative environment and teamwork with colleagues, an inclusive culture with autonomy and flexibility, and well-being support. These comments reference examples such as being able to have honest, non-judgmental conversations on difficult topics, with a focus on finding solutions.

Employees who weren’t thriving talked about experiencing siloes, bureaucracy, and a lack of collaboration. In these comments we hear a lack of agency and a sense for being a cog in a machine. In other words, the opposite of being empowered and energized to do meaningful work.

The importance of managers was the next theme to be investigated. Across the organisation the statement:

“My manager treats me with dignity and respect”

scored a 93, meaning almost every employee selected “strongly agree”  and there were also high scores in confidence in manager’s effectiveness (87) and managers’ support for careers (85), indicating that managers are helping their teams succeed at the company. Commenting on this Klinghoffer and McCune state:

While we see these scores as strengths, they’re strengths we want to keep building to ensure a positive lived experience for all employees. 

They go on to distinguish "thriving" from work-life balance which they note also reflects employees’ personal lives. The finding here was less positive in that employees rated their satisfaction with work-life balance as a 71, a score that hadn't recovered to pre-pandemic levels. To investigate further, a comparison was made between the 56% of employees who said they were thriving and reported higher work-life balance to the 16% who were thriving but had lower work-life balance scores:

By combining sentiment data with de-identified calendar and email metadata, we found that those with the best of both worlds had five fewer hours in their workweek span, five fewer collaboration hours, three more focus hours, and 17 fewer employees in their internal network size.

Interpreting this - to attain high scores on both thriving and walk-life balance employees should not just work fewer hours but eliminate some collaborative work hours in favor of once where they work on their own on key areas or work. In addition they should interact closely with fewer people.

Putting this finding in context, Klinghoffer and McCune state: 

This reinforces what we know from earlier work-life balance research and network size analysis, which showed us that increased collaboration does have a negative impact on employees’ perception of work-life balance. It also confirms that collaboration is not inherently bad — for many employees, those times of close teamwork and striving toward a common goal can fuel thriving. However, it is important to be mindful of how intense collaboration can impact work-life balance, and leaders and employees alike should guard against that intensity becoming 24/7. 

For example, while employees scored “I feel included in my team” highly at 86, by far the most common thread among those who were not thriving was a feeling of exclusion — from a lack of collaboration to feeling left out of decisions to struggling with politics and bureaucracy. We’ll continue to focus on ensuring inclusion is felt as part of our culture across all teams and orgs.

Klinghoffer and McCune and committed to using their research to ensure that Microsoft employees thrive and feel that the written responses hold the key. They note that while the overall score for the statement:

 “I feel included in my team”

was high at 86, the common factor among those who were not thriving was a feeling of exclusion, from a lack of collaboration to feeling left out of decisions to struggling with politics and bureaucracy and they resolved:

We’ll continue to focus on ensuring inclusion is felt as part of our culture across all teams and orgs.

More Information

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 21 July 2022 )