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Workforce Engagement is Sinking. How Can You Turn the Tide?

Have you noticed that workforce engagement and motivation are slipping? You’re not the only one. In April, Gallup confirmed that U.S. workforce engagement declined from a high of 36% in 2020 to 34% in 2021.

2022 hasn’t been any better. This year, only 32% of full-time and part-time employees told Gallup they’re engaged, while 17% say they are actively disengaged.

What’s happening here? Why is work engagement declining? And what can you do to prevent burnout and unnecessary resignations on your team?

Why Is Engagement In a Slump?

Every business is different. However, there are some common trends we can point to as we search for underlying reasons for decreased engagement.

Burnout, high turnover, and poor communication are among the most prevalent causes. And these problems only get worse when good employees stop caring. That’s because new team members tend to look to high-achieving colleagues for advice, motivation, and guidance.

Let’s look closer at each of these factors:

1. Burnout

While burnout can be linked to chronic hustle culture, return-to-office concerns also are playing a role. After many people were forced to work from home in 2020, they’ve grown accustomed to choosing where and when they work. Now, when called back to the office, many want to hold on to remote or hybrid work models and flexible schedules. Who can blame them?

When employees feel they’re losing a sense of choice over their work, or they recognize an imbalance in work/life responsibilities, they’re more likely to disengage or “quiet quit.” No wonder this phenomenon has been gaining traction during the past year.

2. Turnover

All this dissatisfaction naturally leads to higher employee turnover, which (no surprise) also influences engagement.

On one hand, welcoming a new coworker or manager can be exciting. However, the learning curve that comes with getting a new team member up to speed can create a work imbalance for veteran employees, even if it’s just for a short time.

This imbalance can create feelings of resentment, especially when engagement is already suffering for other reasons. As a result, more people could decide to leave. And if you don’t pay close attention, this can spiral into a very costly vicious cycle.

3. Poor Communication

When organizations try to accommodate hybrid, remote, or flexible work, it can be hard to communicate effectively. Virtual meetings provide more flexibility and enable a sense of work-life balance that many employees now prefer.

But if instant messaging or online video calls are your team’s only form of communication, this isn’t a sustainable way to work. If you don’t use these tools wisely, it puts effective collaboration and productivity at risk. For strong results, you need a plan.

How to Lift Workforce Engagement

Current engagement numbers don’t look good, but that doesn’t mean HR and business managers are powerless. Some U.S. companies have been able to increase workforce engagement despite difficult circumstances. Here are four solutions that can help you improve:

1. Create a Game Plan for Remote or Hybrid Work

Not all companies are able to offer remote, hybrid, or flexible scheduling opportunities. If yours does, then make sure you develop and execute a supportive strategy, so everyone in these roles can succeed.

As previously mentioned, flexible work opportunities are likely to create confusion among employees if work processes and expectations aren’t communicated clearly or executed thoughtfully. Core workplace principles like accessibility, transparency, and inclusion are especially important.

Talk with your managers and colleagues to get their input about remote work practices they recommend for your organization. For example, you may find that using apps like Slack, Teams, or Monday to conduct brief daily online meetings will add a layer of accountability.

2. Encourage Employees to Take Time Off

42% of U.S. employees say they haven’t taken a vacation in the past year. That’s a huge percentage. Working too long without a break will only make stress and burnout worse.

Encourage your staff to take their allotted PTO by creating a culture that supports taking time to rest and recharge. If you are on the leadership team, set an example. Take your time off and try not to respond to work messages outside of working hours.

3. Invest in the Right Tools

Another important way to prevent burnout is by investing in the right tools for your staff. Note that this isn’t just about technology. It may mean you’ll need to purchase new software or update existing technology. But it can also mean outsourcing specific activities to a specialized services provider.

Start by identifying the bottlenecks in your team’s workflows. Then consider any solutions that can reduce or remove redundant or unnecessary tasks. Think in terms of cost-effective ways to automate and streamline work activities.

4. Strive to be Approachable and Transparent

In a healthy workplace culture, communication moves freely to and from all corners of the organization. It’s not just about a top-down flow, but bottom-up, and side-to-side as well.

If employees aren’t comfortable voicing their opinions, feelings, and suggestions, they’re more likely to burn out. To lift engagement, commit to creating an open work environment that welcomes feedback and ideas at all levels.

This is less about formal initiatives and more about consistent behavior among leaders and managers. It’s about showing up every day, listening, and being responsive.

Final Thoughts

Many factors are contributing to the recent decline in workforce engagement. Although the solution may seem complex and out of reach, try some of these recommendations. I think you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes in the way employees view your company and their work.

More often than not, people want to do their jobs. But when little things like lack of information, inefficient technology, mundane tasks, lack of support, and strict schedules pile up, it’s only a matter of time before people start to disengage.

Be the boss that steps in and reignites the passion that got your employees to apply in the first place. If you keep at it, engagement is sure to follow.

Photo: Kevin Bhagat

Remote Work Leadership: What Matters Now

In 2020, our most popular blog post discussed how leaders could move forward when Covid abruptly forced many of us to work from home. I remember writing that piece, wondering which remote work leadership practices would make the biggest impact during those uncertain, turbulent, anxiety-filled days.

At that time, it was impossible to fathom what was happening, let alone how to respond. There were no experts, benchmarks, or guidebooks to point the way forward. I couldn’t predict the future any better than anyone else. Still, my message seemed to strike a chord with our community.

Fortunately, necessity is the mother of invention. And resourceful leaders persevered, relying on trial and error to navigate through those early quarantine days.

Covid CliffsNotes

Nearly three years later, we’ve all learned more about remote work than anyone could have imagined. In fact, we’ve adapted so well that many people want to keep working remotelyat least partially.

With this in mind, I decided to revisit my “early Covid” advice to see how much of it still holds true. So here’s a fresh look at 4 key points that seem just as relevant today as we continue to define new ways of working:

Remote Work Leadership Lessons From Covid

1. Be Tactful (Always a Wise Choice)

Exceptional times call for exceptional tact. I noted it then and it’s still unequivocally true. Times may not be as exceptional as they were in March 2020, but we now know that what we once considered “normal” will never return. In fact, the sudden and scary pivot to remote work turned out to be much more effective than we thought.

What changed for the worse? Among other things, stress continues to rise, inflation has risen to record levels, the economy has suffered, and employees have been resigning in droves. In this unstable environment, everyone benefits from tactful, considerate guidance.

In 2020, I encouraged leaders to give people a break when minor mishaps occur, like being late to a meeting. It seems people are now better at coping with small annoyances. (How often have you said in online meetings, “You’re on mute…” without reaching a breaking point?)

However, stress is real. It continues to mount, as mental health issues increasingly challenge many members of the workforce. My advice going forward? Remember to pair diplomacy with a healthy dose of empathy.

2. Provide Plenty of Training (But Wait, There’s More)

Training is critical. The more training we provide, the more confident and capable remote and hybrid work teams will be. Strong leaders are strong learners. And they believe in coaching and developing others. Remote work leaders that invested to help their teams learn, adjust, and grow are now operating at an advantage.

We didn’t know how well people would embrace distributed work practices and tools. But leaders with faith in their team’s ability to adapt now have another advantage: optimism and support that spread throughout their organizations. It’s easy now to see the value of doubling down on learning. But in those bleak early days, this kind of commitment was truly visionary.

The lesson here? Whatever challenges you face, make sure your people have the knowledge and skills they need to come up to speed with a minimum of friction. The sooner they can work effectively, the sooner they’ll become engaged.

But this isn’t just about ensuring that people complete a course. Smart remote work leadership combines skill development training with nudges, status checks, resources, roadmaps, measurable goals, social performance support, and open recognition.

That’s the win. Why? Because no one learns well in a vacuum.

3. Seek Frequent Feedback (Never Enough)

No doubt about it, regular input and reality checks are vital. In 2020, I was concerned that distance could widen the gap between a leader’s view of work culture and an employee’s reality. Physical proximity makes it relatively easy to close that gap, but remote work requires intentional communication.

I suggested reaching out formally to ask employees about their experience and learn what kind of resources they need to feel comfortable, supported, and productive.

Did leaders actually send feedback requests and surveys to their remote teams? Perhaps some did. But then, we became obsessed with isolation and disconnection. Soon, employee engagement took a hit and leaders started watching some of their best employees walk out the virtual door as The Great Resignation gained steam.  

What went wrong? Perhaps remote work leadership didn’t act fast enough. More likely, these managers have become just as exhausted as employees — but they’ve been overlooked. The truth is, no one is immune. In fact, recent U.S. and U.K. research found that 98% of HR practitioners and leaders are burnt out! 

4. Stay Connected (More Than Ever)

This leads to a final lesson — remote work leadership means staying connected with managers, employees, and teams. Full disclosure:  The TalentCulture crew has worked remotely since Day One. Our vision is a virtual “super team,” leveraging digital tools and processes to manage business functions and grow a thriving digital community.

I’ve always admired other leaders who take it upon themselves to reach out and be present via multiple channels. And the power of that approach became apparent throughout the worst of the pandemic.

We saw remote work leaders who stayed involved, engaged, and accessible, giving their teams a sense of alignment and empowerment. I’ve taken notes and found that their toolkits include quick video chats, daily messages, virtual town halls, and short/sweet messages.

Leaders who adhere to an open-door policy — even in virtual settings — are even more important now. Why? This behavior fosters a culture of inclusion and belonging. If you want to bring your workforce together (and trust me, you do), you’ll focus on this lesson. The more digital touchpoints you develop, the more likely you’ll reach everyone in a way that resonates, and the more “present” you’ll be for them.

Leadership Takes Heart (and Strong Nerves)

A final note:  We’re not yet on the other side of the pandemic, but we’ve learned a lot. And we know the world of work will never be the same.

I’m reminded of how far we’ve come when I recall my 2020 comment:

Peace of mind is as hard to come by as n95 masks.”

Thank goodness we aren’t dealing with a mask shortage anymore! Nevertheless, we still see high levels of stress, anxiety, and disengagement at work. And this is likely to continue for a long time to come.

Here’s where great management qualities count. Empathetic, engaged, resourceful, in-touch remote work leadership makes all the difference. It says your organization truly cares about supporting employees while getting the job done. And that’s essential, because the buck always stops at the corner office — whether it’s at corporate headquarters or at your dining room table.

People Science: A Fix for Broken Employee Engagement?

For years, organizations have invested heavily in programs designed to improve employee engagement and work performance. But despite good intentions, too many of these endeavors have fallen short. Now, some are turning to people science and coaching as a solution. Is this the answer?

What exactly is people science? How does it work hand-in-hand with coaching to drive better outcomes? And what should HR and business leaders do to implement a successful strategy?

I invite you to join me as I discuss this topic in-depth with an expert in people science on this #WorkTrends podcast episode.

Meet Our Guest:  Kevin Campbell

Today, I’m excited to welcome Kevin Campbell, a people scientist and executive strengths coach who specializes in leveraging workforce analytics with the art of leadership to help organizations strengthen work teams and improve their employee experience. Over the years, Kevin has worked with some of the most prestigious firms in workforce strategy, including Culture Amp, Deloitte, Gallup, and now Qualtrics.

Essential People Science Skills

Being an employee experience scientist sounds exciting, Kevin. But what exactly do you do?

To be effective, it requires expertise in multiple disciplines. Think of a Venn diagram with three intersecting circles.

One is people analytics, another is organizational psychology, and the other is applied practice. An employee experience scientist sits in the intersection of those three areas.

Understanding Employee Engagement

As a people scientist, what does the term “employee engagement” mean to you?

It’s important to talk about what it is not, as well as what it is.

It’s not a survey. Often, we lose sight of the fact that engagement is actually an emotional and psychological state. A survey is just a tool that helps us measure that state.

Engagement really starts with emotional commitment. I emphasize the emotional aspect because it’s about the desire to stay with an organization and help fulfill its objectives — not because you’re obligated or you feel forced to do it, but because you want to.

Pinpointing Engagement Issues

What is the most critical challenge you’re seeing right now?

Most organizations overemphasize understanding and underemphasize improvement in action.

For example, according to 2021 data, nearly 90% of companies measure engagement or have some type of employee feedback program, but only 7% of employees say their company acts on feedback in a highly effective way.

We haven’t updated that research yet, but I’m guessing it probably hasn’t improved much.

Bridging The Gap

How can employers address this problem? 

It’s important to recognize that the engagement survey or data isn’t the end. It’s really just the beginning.

To improve, you’ll want to translate results into actions that can have outsized impact on the your company culture. And the key is to use simple coaching skills.

 


For more great advice from Kevin about the art and science behind how to develop and sustain a great employee experience, listen to this full episode.

Also, be sure to subscribe to the #WorkTrends Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. And to continue this conversation on social media, follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

7 Employee Appreciation Ideas People Love

Employee appreciation is naturally top-of-mind for employers during the holiday season. But employees actually prefer recognition throughout the year. In fact, according to a HubSpot survey, 39% of employees don’t feel appreciated, and nearly 7 in 10 think better recognition would boost their performance.

So, what can you do to help your workforce feel more deeply appreciated?

Some organizations rely on standard, old-school methods like plaques. But a more personalized approach is far more effective. A thoughtful token of appreciation is worth much more than its monetary value, alone. It tells people they matter. And that kind of message lasts long after it is received.

Here are some meaningful ways to show your team members just how grateful you are for their contributions.

7 Ways to Elevate Employee Appreciation

1. Give Hard Workers a Break

When you recognize employees for an extraordinary effort on a project or success in achieving an important business goal, don’t just say thank you. Reward them with some well-deserved time off.

In going above and beyond, employees often put in extra hours working on weekends, at night, or in the wee hours of the morning. Along the way, they’re likely to lose precious sleep or family time. By letting them redeem some of that time you can help them relax and recharge after an intense work effort. Even one day away can make an impact.

Providing time off is easy. And if you toss in a bonus gift card or cash for these employees to spend on activities they enjoy, that break is likely to be especially memorable.

2. Spotlight Your Stars on Social Media

Want people on your team to feel like stars? Showcase top performers on social media for the world to see. Share photos or video clips of them on your organization’s accounts and express your gratitude for their unique contributions in an uplifting caption.

Invite your leaders and others to congratulate featured individuals in the comment section. Your “stars” will love the attention as it spreads across social media for others to see. These interactions also increase visibility for your business in all the right ways.

This kind of public recognition is personalized, community-minded, and compelling. Above all, it can boost an employee’s pride, confidence, and morale in ways that private recognition can’t touch. 

3. Create Customized Rewards

Are you thinking of giving top performers a framed certificate, a trophy, or maybe a cash reward? Instead, why not appeal to their particular interests? How do they spend their free time? What hobbies or passion projects matter most to them?

For example, do you have fitness freaks on your team? Reward them with a gym membership, a network pass, or a subsidy.

Maybe some of your people are into group activities. Why not share experiential rewards with them? For instance, you could arrange an outing at a local bowling, bocce, or Topgolf venue.

Or for those who love outdoor adventures like hiking, fly fishing, or river rafting, you could go all out and book a fun vacation package like this: White Water Rafting Montana.

Imagine how thrilled people will be with rewards that fit their interests. Whatever your budget, this is a highly effective way to keep employees motivated and reinforce your relationship with them.

4. Treat Your Team to a Tasty Meal

Everyone loves to eat. And there are endless ways to show employee appreciation with the gift of free food. You could send each employee a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Or to celebrate as a team, why not organize a surprise lunch out?

If your people work remotely, you can arrange to have a meal delivered to everyone’s door at the same time on the same day. Contact a restaurant each employee loves and order their favorite menu item. Or send a gift card to everyone in advance. This is an easy, cost-effective way to bring people together for a casual meetup. And don’t forget to send a heartfelt thank you note to each recipient, as icing on the cake.

5. Celebrate Everyday Efforts

To build and sustain a thriving workforce, look for ways to celebrate individuals and teams on a frequent basis. Ask for your workforce to be your eyes and ears to nominate people who deserve recognition for everyday accomplishments, little wins, and hard work, as well as big achievements. And encourage everyone in your organization to celebrate others, as well.

Genuine, ongoing praise is a powerful employee feedback tactic that drives engagement and job satisfaction. It also models the kind of spirit you want to see at the core of your culture.

Also, don’t forget opportunities to celebrate birthdays and other personal milestones. Let your employees know these aren’t just “checklist” items, but heartfelt gestures. You’ll see them smiling more often and sharing appreciation with peers.

6. Highlight Employee Excellence in Internal Newsletters

Internal newsletters and intranets are great for informational updates, but they’re just as powerful for employee appreciation. It pays to think creatively about how you can acknowledge your best performers through these channels.

You could dedicate a regular column in one of these vehicles to highlight stories about the hard work and accomplishments of top performers. These stories are an excellent way to boost morale and inspire top talent to remain engaged and keep aiming high.

7. Make The Most of Anniversaries

Some organizations treat anniversaries as just another day. But wouldn’t it be great to work for a company that celebrates every year of your employment as an important milestone?

The average employee turnover rate remains 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels. In this tough talent market, why would any employer let an anniversary go to waste?

Each year matters in the life of an employee. Whether they’re new to your organization or they’ve been on board for a long time, every member of your team deserves a celebration dedicated to their service. This kind of recognition can take many forms. But whatever you do, be sure to sincerely acknowledge people for their loyalty and their role in helping your organization advance its mission.

Final Thoughts

Great companies embrace employee appreciation as a crucial way to boost motivation, minimize turnover, and set their organization apart from competitors. Appreciating employees doesn’t need to be difficult, but it should be timely, sincere, and relevant.

Even if your budget is limited, there are endless ways to acknowledge people while reinforcing your organization’s goals, values, and culture. Why not think outside the box and show your appreciation in a truly unique way? All it takes is your commitment, consistency, and some thoughtful planning.

Why Great Leaders Express Gratitude at Work

As social beings, many of our relationships are based on reciprocity. At work, we’re often involved in transactional behavior, where we expect to receive at least as much value as we give. But our deepest relationships are usually driven by higher motives like gratitude. A thankful mindset benefits our relationships with others, even if we don’t expect anything in return. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to express gratitude at work.

Research shows that people who practice workplace gratitude help foster more compassion and consideration among their colleagues. For example, the University of Central Florida recently conducted a study among employees from various professions, asking them to journal about work gratitude for 10 days.

This simple act led participants to demonstrate more respect, politeness, and self-discipline. And this is only one of many studies underscoring the power of thankfulness. Bottom line ⁠— if you want to improve your company culture, it’s wise to focus on gratitude.

How Workplace Gratitude Works

Practicing gratitude at work is easy. It’s about recognizing good things that happen throughout the course of a given day. You can focus on an employee’s notable achievement, a coworker’s warm response to a challenging customer, or the arrival of a new coffee machine in the break room. The possibilities are endless.

Here are three types of work gratitude that directly influence employee experience:

1. Episodic Gratitude

This is tied to specific positive events you’ve encountered. For instance, you may be offered a new assignment you’ve been eyeing for a while. Or colleagues may jump in to help you meet a tight deadline. Or your employer gives you time off to deal with a serious illness in your family.

There is a strong correlation between expressions of gratitude in specific situations and positive organizational behavior. In other words, by practicing episodic gratitude over time, you can form a healthy habit that benefits you and your colleagues, alike. And ultimately, it can elevate your company culture as well.

2. Persistent Gratitude

When you consistently tend to feel thankful in a particular context, that is persistent gratitude. People with persistent gratitude are more likely to notice the good in other people’s actions and be thankful for them.

For instance, say your colleague fixes some basic errors in a document you’ve drafted so you don’t have to spend more time revising it. Some people may expect this as a normal part of a colleague’s job. But if you embrace persistent gratitude, you’ll be thankful for that effort to improve your document.

So, why is persistent gratitude important at work? When people feel good about what they do for a living, it leads to better overall well-being. Persistent gratitude leads to positive work-related emotions like enthusiasm and happiness. It also helps form stronger relationships, which in turn can strengthen your organizational culture.

3. Collective Gratitude

This is a feeling of thankfulness that stretches across an organization. It means you have a culture where people openly appreciate each other. With collective gratitude, employees feel free to express gratitude to colleagues, superiors, and clients.

A work environment where you’re appreciated and your efforts are celebrated sounds like a dream. As mentioned previously, persistent gratitude nurtures happiness and stronger relationships, so imagine what this ethic can accomplish when organizations fully embrace it. That’s why highly effective leaders foster a sense of collective gratitude.

Building a Culture of Gratitude

How can you help employees feel valued, recognized, and appreciated at work? Here are some proven ways you can encourage more gratitude throughout your organization:

  • Respect employees and colleagues by consistently seeking their input and listening to their ideas.
  • Take time to celebrate individual and team successes.
  • Believe that even a simple verbal or written “thank you” can go a long way.
  • Tell people exactly how they make a difference to you and others, so they believe your comments are genuine.
  • Don’t hold back. Share positive feedback whenever you see an opportunity.
  • Ask people how you can help them grow or rise to a new work challenge.
  • Be available to help when others are struggling through difficult times.
  • Hold periodic recognition ceremonies where employees nominate colleagues for awards like custom trophies, personalized keepsakes, or other customized items that strike a meaningful chord.
  • Publicly thank those who’ve helped you at work so people will be encouraged to offer assistance to others, as well.
  • Reward your team with fun group events that can also strengthen bonds. For example, you could host informal offsite trips, game nights, picnics, happy hours, and team lunches.

The Many Benefits of Gratitude at Work

When you express gratitude as a natural habit, you’ll begin to notice that it improves your attitude about work. And eventually, that genuine sense of gratitude will spread to others around you and benefit your culture in multiple ways. For example, in organizations where gratitude is a priority you’ll find:

  • Less job stress and more satisfaction
  • Better coworker relationships and friendships
  • A happier, more collaborative atmosphere
  • Heightened morale
  • Better employee self-esteem, mental health, and confidence
  • More energy and enthusiasm
  • And even improved physical health

A spirit of genuine appreciation can fill work environments with positivity. And when employees feel good about their work experience, a better customer experience and increased sales are likely to follow. It’s an all-around win-win.

Final Thoughts

Leaders typically don’t express gratitude as often as employees wish they would. But if you’re a leader, it’s your responsibility to keep your workforce engaged, connected, and optimistic. Consistently acknowledging others can showcase your professionalism, improve your business relationships, help you stand out as a true team player, and lift your workplace culture.

It may not cost anything to be outwardly appreciative, but developing a habit of thankfulness can make a massive difference. You have nothing to lose. So why not give it a try?

Leadership Done Right: Yes Elon, Empathy Works

Some conversations stay with me. It could be something about the subject, the wisdom of the person I’m talking to, or the timeliness of the discussion. And sometimes, a random event triggers my recall. Case in point: The world recently watched a sad spectacle, as half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees lost their jobs when new owner Elon Musk stepped into his CEO role and promptly went on a firing spree. Apparently, he hadn’t received the memo from other successful executives that empathy works as a leadership style.

Twitter is obviously grappling with numerous business issues. But it’s stunning to think this company’s future depends on a singular person in a position of great power who simply decided to slice the workforce in half. And that was only his first week on the job.

Why Empathy Works

This behavior reminds me of a #WorkTrends podcast discussion I had with Gary DePaul, a brilliant leadership consultant, researcher, and author. We spoke in June 2021 — more than a year into the pandemic — when everyone was grappling with workplace challenges. The Great Resignation was gaining steam, and leaders were scrambling to redefine work life and organizational culture in ways that would keep talent onboard.

Over the course of our conversation, Gary explained what makes leaders effective in the long run. Among the qualities that give leaders staying power is (you guessed it) empathy. Seems like the opposite of Elon Musk’s approach, doesn’t it?

Whatever you think of his business acumen, Elon has never been an empathetic leader. It doesn’t seem to be one of his goals, to put it mildly.

This posture is already damaging his relationships with employees. And it doesn’t seem to be garnering trust among Twitter’s business partners, either.

Days into this acquisition, major advertisers like GM decided to put their Twitter budgets on hold and marketing strategists began advising clients to spend elsewhere. It seems Elon’s lack of empathy is already costing him dearly.

Empathy Works Because it Builds Common Ground

Will an empathy void ultimately matter to the success of this $44 billion deal? It probably depends on your view of the people/profits equation.

In our podcast interview, Gary made it clear where he stands, and I’m inclined to agree. Empathy is absolutely crucial for leadership. It’s also a necessary through-line for every organizational tier. Whatever your title, you won’t win the hearts, minds, or cooperation of your team members unless you make a genuine effort to connect with them on a human level.

Gary said that openly acknowledging your weaknesses as well as your strengths is a powerful way to break the ice. It doesn’t need to be complicated. For instance, at your next Zoom meeting, when you ask everyone to introduce themselves by sharing a bit of personal information, don’t skip yourself.

Empathy Also Builds Alignment

Self-awareness leads to humility, which in turn, leads to empathy. When you honor others’ right to be at the table, you can expect a better response from them. That’s the reason why empathy works.

Think about it. When you make an effort to connect with others, pay attention to them, and factor their input into your decisions, others will be drawn toward you.

But when your actions make it clear that your business revolves around you, why would your team sign-up for that? When you send a message that says you make decisions in a unilateral, top-down way, you inhibit the free exchange of ideas where engagement and innovation thrive.

No wonder we see phenomena like “quiet quitting” eroding modern work cultures. When people feel like it’s not worth the effort to work hard or go the extra mile, why should employers expect that kind of commitment?

The Elon Musk Twitter story still needs to unfold. But I think we’re already learning some valuable lessons. I believe Gary DePaul would agree.

Authority is best served with warmth. In other words, leaders should be willing to admit they’re going to make mistakes. They should also be willing to admit they’re on a learning curve — particularly when they’ve just taken over a company.

Anyone in charge of a team can and should work on their leadership style and recognize the importance of communicating with different types of people on their terms. (Hint: Maybe email isn’t the best way to deliver life-altering news.)

A Key Takeaway from Gary DePaul

Studying leadership is Gary DePaul’s career passion. When we spoke, his latest book was What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?  It speaks to these core questions:

  • What does it really mean to lead?
  • What does this job really require?

Gary’s bottom line:  Leadership is a continuous, ongoing vocation. So if you’re heading into the corner office (metaphorically or not), don’t assume you’ve arrived. You’re just getting started.

 


EDITOR’S NOTE:

For more insights on leadership and other work-related topics, explore our #WorkTrends podcast archives. You’ll find a treasure trove of great guests and ideas.

Also, be sure to subscribe to Meghan M. Biro’s LinkedIn newsletter,  The Buzz On Work, her personal take on what’s happening at the intersection of people, tech, HR, and work culture.

What Helps Women Leaders Move Up, Not Out?

Currently, women account for nearly 48% of the global workforce. This seems like progress for gender equality and inclusion, right? But the picture isn’t as rosy as you might think—especially for women leaders.

In fact, recent research reveals that as women move up the management ranks, they’re actually less likely to be promoted to each successive rung on the corporate ladder. No wonder women executives are quitting their jobs at a record pace!

What will it take to remove these obstacles so more women can reach top management positions?

With stellar talent in short supply these days, this topic has never been more important for employers to address. So I invite you to dig deeper with me on this #WorkTrends podcast episode.

Meet Our Guest:  Todd Mitchem

Today, I’m speaking with author, consultant, and leadership development expert, Todd Mitchem, EVP at AMP Learning and Development. Todd is a future-of-work visionary who helps individuals understand and embrace the process of professional disruption and reinvention. And today we’re tapping into his expertise on key trends involving women leaders.

Work, Women, and Power

Welcome, Todd! Tell us, how can women leaders step into their power?

I teach presentation, communication, and executive presence skills for employees, often at large companies like Microsoft. And I would say about 98% of the participants are women.

Often, when I tell these women to step into their own their power, they’ll ask, “Well, how do I do that? I don’t want to seem too aggressive, or too bossy, or…”

My response is, “When you are in a room presenting, you’re there because someone believed you deserved to be there. You just need to own that. You need to step into that power.”

And the next piece is to lean on what you know, lean on what you’re good at, and step into that strength.

Executive Presence is a Skill

How are women leaders applying these lessons to engage their power?

Well, executive presence is a skill. People aren’t born an executive leader. It’s a skill.

So, if you teach them this skill, it’s amazing to watch what emerges from the process.  Because it frees them to bring out all the things they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

It’s powerful. But it’s skill-based. Once you learn the skill, your intelligence, your wisdom, your knowledge all emerge, almost naturally.

Women Can Lead With Their Strengths

You say women leaders need to realize they deserve to be in the position they’re in and should claim it. But what do you really mean by this?

I think society tends to make women think they’re supposed to act like their male counterparts who are successful but may be aggressive or overly dominating.

But in truth, if women just lead with their knowledge, instead of trying to outmatch the egos of their male colleagues, they’ll find they’re in a better place. That’s because they have much more confidence.

How Men Can Help

Todd, you’ve helped thousands of women claim their power and step into their roles more fully. As a man, how can you do this?

It’s not as if the corporate world is now magically wonderful for women. It isn’t. That’s an illusion. But women are evolving at an incredible pace, and men need to help step that up.

As women step into their power, men need to step up and check our egos at the door.

Resistance, or fear, or an unconscious belief structure will destroy you. The ego’s fight to win is about wanting to be right, instead of getting it right.

But the best thing to do for the future of work is to embrace the power we have as a unified group—men and women working together.

 


For more great advice from Todd, listen to this full episode. Also, be sure to subscribe to the #WorkTrends Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. And to continue this conversation on social media, follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Job Design: Is It Time to Rethink Your Approach?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last article in a 4-part series sponsored by Unit4. The series outlines a new approach to talent strategy for people-centric organizations. This final post looks at why and how employers should rethink job design.


 

As we close this series about how employers can reinvent their talent strategy for the future of work, we turn our attention to one of the most important ways to attract and engage the people your organization needs to succeed. Namely, we’re looking at why this is the right time to revisit your approach to job design.

For most of the past 100 years, employers have used the same techniques to scope job vacancies, write job descriptions, and hire employees to fill roles. But these classic job design methods aren’t particularly efficient or effective.

In fact, only about 50% of interviewed candidates who receive a job offer actually become employees. Plus, the talent acquisition process, itself, is expensive. This means the perceived cost of a “bad hire” is so steep that decision-makers often become paralyzed. And that inaction forces organizations to offset costs by relying too heavily on long tenure.

It’s not an ideal solution by any measure. But focusing on the 4th talent strategy pillar can help you address these issues. How? Read on…

Reworking Job Design: Where to Start

Employers can no longer afford to ignore the need to address ever-changing talent rosters. Average employee tenure is decreasing, even as demand for future-ready skills is increasing. This means leaders must fundamentally rethink the way they structure jobs.

Here’s a good starting point: Design new roles based on the assumption that whomever your hire will stay onboard for 2-4 years. Then work backward from there.

In this game plan, onboarding and robust initial training are especially important, so you can ensure faster time-to-value from new hires. In addition, jobs designed with shorter tenure in mind will benefit from being supported by onboarding and “bedding in” processes that are much more tightly controlled.

This means that skills mapping, employee learning, and professional development will need to become a more prominent part of the HR function, along with talent pipeline development. It also means that the skills you expect to develop in employees should become central to the benefits you offer candidates.

Reframe Benefits for Shorter Job Cycles

In addition to packaging skills as benefits, you’ll need to reorient benefits so they’re compatible with shorter terms of service. Rewards for time-in-role or time with the company are relics that don’t make sense in today’s workplace. They need to be replaced.

For better results, focus on performance-based incentives for contributions to specific projects and programs with more clearly defined targets and expectations.

What Does This Look Like? An Example

One way to illustrate this new approach to job design is through the rise of the contractor. This increasingly popular option is a way to tap into skilled talent on a temporary basis. It helps employers find and deploy people more quickly, while simultaneously reducing operational overhead and risk.

At the same time, contractors benefit from more options in today’s predominantly hybrid working environment. They also benefit from a faster learning curve that comes from working on a more diverse portfolio of projects over time.

Reliance on contractors has increased dramatically—but not at the same rate in every region. For example, in the U.K., contractor usage has grown by about a third since the 2008 financial crash. By comparison, in the U.S., it has surged by the same proportion since only 2020.

Nevertheless, the shift to a contingent workforce shows no sign of diminishing. And many organizations still struggle to find permanent employees in today’s tight labor market. So the advantages of hiring contractors make project-oriented hiring a highly attractive option.

Repackaging Jobs to Attract Top Talent

In your job descriptions, do you still use this kind of phrase?

“The successful candidate must be willing to…”

If so, prepare to leave that kind of thinking behind. Instead, think in terms of asking this question:

“How do you want to work for us?”

In other words, you’ll need to let new hires determine some of the terms of their engagement with you. This makes sense because it encourages deeper ownership of the role’s success. Besides, if you’re designing jobs around shorter “tours of duty” with specific goals and objectives, why not configure these positions so they can be performed on a contract or project basis?

This model offers multiple benefits:

  • You can more accurately assess jobs and redefine them so they deliver the most value to your organization.
  • You’ll be better prepared to tap into a much larger talent pool. (After all, the huge increase in today’s contractors is coming from somewhere. That “somewhere” is the rapidly growing segment of the working population currently seeking greater flexibility in how they market and sell their skills.)

Where to Find Help

This blog series may be over, but your job restructuring journey is just beginning. For an in-depth view of our insights into this and other future-minded strategies for people-centered organizations, download our white paper:

Rebuilding Talent Strategy: Finding and Retaining People in a Changing World.

Also, as you consider technologies needed as the backbone of a reimagined talent strategy, we invite you to take a closer look at our ERP and HCM suite of solutions. These advanced platforms can provide the advantage your business needs to stay at the forefront in the future of work.

For example, you’ll be better equipped to:

  • Audit and map workforce skills
  • Target and deliver timely, relevant learning and development programs
  • Take the pulse of workforce engagement
  • Increase pay equity and transparency
  • Provide people with seamless connections to colleagues and resources in hybrid work settings.

In combination, these capabilities can help you build sustainable business value, going forward. To learn more about how Unit4 solutions can make a difference for your organization, book a demo here.

 


Related Reading

For other articles in this series, check the following links:

Part 1:  Reimagine Talent Strategy: Make Development a Core Part of Your Business

Part 2:  Commit to Careers

Part 3:  Engage in the Employee

 

How to Motivate People With Better Performance Evaluations

When someone says it’s time for performance evaluations, what happens? You can almost hear a collective groan ripple across an organization. Reactions run the gamut, from indifference to full-on dread. 

It’s not just the idea of a performance review that makes people so uneasy—it’s also how the process is handled. Although employees tend to agree that performance evaluations are beneficial, too often, the way employers conduct and use reviews leaves a lot to be desired. 

We’d like to dig deeper into why performance evaluations stir up so many less-than-positive reactions. But first, let’s look briefly at how they became a standard business practice…

A Short History of Performance Evaluations

Appraisals were first developed during World War I. Back then, they had little to do with helping people improve and move forward in their careers. Instead, military leaders used appraisals to determine which personnel had the skills to qualify for a promotion when openings became available. They also used appraisals to identify and dismiss underperformers, so they could protect their ranks from harm or inefficiency.

The practice of workplace performance evaluations didn’t gain a firm foothold until the 1960s. But since then, reviews evolved in two sometimes conflicting directions. One rationale focuses on assessing current talent. The other emphasizes talent development for the future. However, as employee reviews have become more widespread, so have their scope and complexity. No wonder this topic makes so many people groan.

Why Employee Reviews Are Often Loathed

Today, many executives, managers, and employees agree that the traditional performance review system is no longer practical or effective. This is primarily because reviews are usually conducted on an annual basis.

Experts agree that an annual review cycle isn’t frequent enough to change behavior. Instead, managers should ideally offer feedback or guidance soon after an issue arises, not months after the fact.

Also, with a year’s worth of activity to evaluate, an appraisal can become an intense, high-pressure process, charged with the fear of being reprimanded or fired. In addition, an annual cadence tends to put an organization’s interests first, while undervaluing the employee experience.

Even so, most companies haven’t figured out how to replace or adapt that traditional review process with something better. How can we redesign performance evaluations to more closely meet the needs of employees, managers, and the organization? Let’s start by clarifying those needs.

The Benefits of a Better Review Process

For employers, a strong review process helps people apply their skills and experience to support organizational objectives. Clearer priorities, fewer mistakes, improved performance, and a more united team all contribute to a more profitable and sustainable business.

For managers and other leaders, a strong review process is efficient and effective. It provides timely direction, re-energizes people who have been disengaged, and makes the whole team more eager to deliver high-quality results.

For employees, a strong review process provides a clear picture of their current skills and proficiencies, while offering useful guidance on how to improve. It makes people feel more connected with their role in the organization and more supported in their specific work goals.

What’s at Stake

By relying on these various interests as a blueprint for improving the review process, organizations can achieve measurable gains. For example, a more productive, supportive form of evaluation can be a highly motivating process. Ideally, it creates an opportunity for meaningful dialogue that builds people up, rather than tearing them down. That can make all the difference for organizations that recognize the business value of employee retention.

On the other hand, choosing not to invest in an effective evaluation process brings significant downside risks. For example, people tend to become disenchanted and disengaged when they’re expected to work without constructive feedback, clear goals, or meaningful career paths.

In fact, one survey indicates that 85 percent of employees would consider quitting if they felt they received an unfair performance review. Imagine the impact if that happened in your organization!

Designing Better Reviews

The key to designing effective performance reviews is to recognize that this is a process, not an event. So many of our negative impressions of performance evaluations come from worrying about a single, looming “judgment day” when we wonder if we’ll be praised, criticized, or perhaps even fired.

For a better experience all around, try these approaches:

1) Start with a Different Mindset

The point of a performance review is to measure performance. However, evaluations don’t need to be limited to numbers and volume metrics.

This is an opportunity to think holistically about an employee’s overall connection with their team, and with your company’s culture and values. It’s also a chance to consider qualitative factors that affect an individual’s mental and social well-being.

2) Co-Create the Review

Gone are the days of top-down leadership and authoritarian work atmospheres. A performance evaluation should be a two-way experience.

It’s helpful for managers to work with employees upfront to co-create the goals that will frame their performance evaluation. Goals that align with key business objectives will serve the organization’s interests while giving an employee a sense of autonomy, purpose, and direction.

3) Increase Evaluation Frequency

You may think fewer evaluations are better. But a once-a-year trial builds unnecessary pressure. Distributing all of that annual review energy across more frequent cycles is a much smarter option.

In fact, according to Gallup, employees who receive daily feedback from managers are three times more likely to be engaged than those on an annual review schedule. To encourage professional growth, consider adding monthly progress checks or weekly one-on-one meetings, focused on development.

4) Lead with Recognition

Motivating employees is not always complicated, and we don’t always need expensive perks to do it. Simply acknowledging someone’s work and effort can go a long way to making them feel engaged and connected to their goals.

A whopping 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt recognized. Let that insight inform your review structure. By leading with acknowledgment—communicating first and foremost what an individual has done successfully—you lay a foundation of trust and validation that can lead to further dialogue.

5) Communicate Changes Clearly

Many performance evaluations focus on a salary increase or a title promotion. But even long-awaited good news needs to be delivered in a way that’s clear and motivating.

For example, with a salary change, what new responsibilities are expected? What new objectives come with this role? Use these shifts in position as an opportunity to have an open conversation about career growth and planning for future skills development and upward mobility.

Final Thoughts

It’s no secret—performance evaluations are a challenge to manage. And improving your existing methods may seem like a thankless task. But many employers are discovering that it’s well worth taking the time and effort to ensure that your process is truly effective.

Any investment you make to improve feedback and communication has the potential to strengthen the sense of connection people feel with their job, their team, and your organization. Ultimately, those kinds of benefits can lead to a significant impact on your ability to retain talent, enhance work quality and improve your bottom line.

 


Matt Romond is an HR business partner at Jotform. He’s passionate about collaborating with teams to help them do their best work. Outside of work, Matt loves spending time with his family and adventuring in the mountains.

Alexis Russell is the U.S. HR business partner at Jotform. Based in San Francisco, she is the point of contact for all things HR and recruitment at Jotform.

Fostering Friendships In the New Remote Workplace

Friendships are an essential aspect of work life. But friendships among remote employees aren’t the same as relationships among people who spend time together in an office.

In office environments, extroverts usually do the heavy lifting needed to encourage social bonding. But now, team members often work from different locations. Getting remote team members to feel comfortable just talking with one another is hard enough—let alone convincing them to interact socially the way friends do. Nevertheless, the effort can pay off in multiple ways.

What can employers do? One of the best ways to strengthen relationships in the new hybrid work environment is to plan regular opportunities for informal interaction during the business day. Any company can benefit from encouraging stronger relationships among employees, whether people are located onsite, offsite, or both.

Building Remote Social Ties: My Story

As the Founder and CEO of a high-growth company, I’ve experienced the benefits of making space for social events, first-hand. During the pandemic, I started hosting virtual office hours as a forum for anyone to drop by and ask questions about business goals or discuss ideas. Initially, most of the folks who participated were managers with whom I worked directly.

Then I hosted a team escape room game and a margarita mixology class. That changed everything. I saw an increase in the number of new employees who felt comfortable attending. As particiption surged, I could tell this was a good move. Now, people from all over the organization join our group conversations and bring valuable insights to my attention. 

But of course, all relationship-building opportunities are not equal. Some simple guidelines help. For example, at Elevent, we’ve found that participation is highest when a social event has a specific start and end time during the work day. This means employees aren’t forced to sacrifice family time so they can bond with co-workers.

Also, you’ll want to identify these events clearly as social. Don’t just vaguely schedule a “hang-out” session or a happy hour. Instead, plan a specific activity. Invite people to build a desktop garden or sample some unique ice cream flavors. Create interest with a focal point that brings people together around a shared common experience.

Why Work Relationships Matter

Gallup research says work friendships are a key employee engagement indicator. But this metric is sometimes overlooked when measuring productivity because it is often accompanied by hard-to-quantify levels of employee happiness and work satisfaction.

Stronger friendships can also lead to better communication, which improves business effectiveness and innovation. This helps organizations identify and resolve issues that could otherwise erode employee trust and retention.

Surveys continue to indicate that positive social environments help anchor individuals during times of internal or external stress. Friendships help provide paths for ongoing growth, even during difficult challenges. They also offer the support people need to come forward when they experience problems, so they can resolve issues and learn to perform more efficiently and effectively.

Friendship as a Productivity Metric

After an extensive multi-factor analysis, Gallup has developed a tool that diagnoses workplace health based on employee responses to 12 simple statements. Statement 10 is: “I have a best friend at work.” That’s because strong friendships are associated with a deeper work effort. So, how does Gallup interpret these results?

Specifically, when 20% or more of an organization’s employees agree with this statement, workplace engagement is considered “good.” That’s the current level of U.S. engagement. But Gallup estimates that when employers move this ratio to 60%, they can significantly improve results across several business parameters:

  • 36% fewer safety incidents
  • 7% more engaged customers
  • 12% higher profit

Furthermore, when friendships are strong, employees are less likely to seek other job opportunities and more likely to feel comfortable taking innovative risks.

So essentially, friendships help people enjoy working, which means they dedicate more creative time and energy to their work. They also mention problems when they happen so employers can resolve issues quickly, rather than waiting to react to unwanted resignations.

Bottom line: an open-door policy makes sense. You’ll find plenty of advice telling leaders to seek input from employees and reward people who speak up. But communication won’t improve if your policy isn’t backed by a culture of trust.

On the other hand, if you encourage stronger social connections across your teams, you can create the kind of “speaking up and speaking out” environment that is likely to make a real business impact.

Real-World Views: Workplace Social Bonds

With scheduled meetings centered almost entirely on work, organic interactions usually suffer. And with online meetings, screen fatigue is always a factor. So it’s important to treat employee attention as a finite resource. Start by assuring employees that both are important, and provide a framework for people to engage in both. Here’s how several companies view this need:

Ally Financial

One notable example is Ally Financial. Shortly after COVID-19 changed the way many of us work, Ally changed its employee support model to a remote-first approach. This meant Ally had to consider multiple employee needs that didn’t exist before March 2020.

The company made a commitment to demonstrate care for employees holistically. To increase wellbeing and social connection, Ally launched new services, experiential modules and group challenges geared toward physical, mental and financial fitness.

Virtual fitness and meditation classes can easily become group activities that prioritize social fun. This means simple events like comedy shows, group trivia games, and “Family Feud”-style team battles can become useful tools to improve workforce friendships and happiness.

Deloitte

Another well-known company focused on the communal aspects of the employee experience is Deloitte.

The company’s analysts looked deeply at how the pandemic tested the limits of employer-employee relationships, concluding that the future of work is likely to feel more like a team than a family. However, Deloitte cautions that if organizations move dramatically toward impersonal work models, employees may feel replaceable. If they sense this kind of threat, they could react by competing with colleagues, rather than working together toward common goals.

This is why Deloitte underscores the need for sustainable strategies. For example, one way to demonstrate this kind of commitment is to host ongoing virtual events. By dedicating time to a bi-weekly or monthly cadence, employers can ensure that employees have the time and support they need to cultivate stronger relationships.

Final Thoughts

Companies that treat virtual social events as an integral aspect of workforce engagement and retention are fostering essential social bonds—regardless of where employees are located. When people feel welcomed, comfortable and supported while spending time together in casual activities, they can develop friendships that ultimately improve individual productivity and happiness, as well as organizational profit.

Digital Employee Experience: Do You Measure What Matters?

impact awardSponsored by: Ivanti

You’ve heard the adage “measure twice, cut once.” It’s good advice from the sewing world. The idea is to encourage people who want to achieve an excellent outcome to be precise and cautious before they act. If we’re supposed to be that conscientious about measuring a piece of fabric for a sewing project, why would we be cavalier about measuring something as critical as the digital employee experience?

Nevertheless, that’s what countless IT and business leaders around the world are doing by default. They’re implementing employee engagement programs based on what sounds right or feels right. They’re not relying on data-driven intelligence to make decisions about these programs. And they don’t know in advance if these programs will actually produce the outcomes they want.

Here’s the truth: If you don’t carefully measure and re-measure your digital employee experience, people will cut themselves right out of your organization. Even if you’ve been using classic employee experience measurement tools—such as an annual survey—that’s no longer enough. Today’s organizations require more complete insights focused on the digital employee experience.

Why Is This Digital Shift So Vital?

The remote and hybrid work landscape (what we call the “Everywhere Workplace”) has forever transformed work life and organizational culture. Now, a vibrant work experience is no longer about departmental happy hours, unlimited free soda, pizza Fridays, or a ping pong table in the employee lounge.

Instead, it’s about what happens in the flow of work. It’s about communicating and collaborating through tools that are smarter, easier, and more effective. It’s about seamless accessibility, usability, security, connectivity, and the ability to do your job without navigating frustrating obstacles or jumping through endless hoops.

Of course, HR teams still focus on employee experience. But now, IT professionals are just as deeply focused on this, as well. Why? The traditional employee engagement survey—once conducted and managed by your HR department—isn’t designed to capture the nuances and critical insights associated with hybrid work environments. If you want to gain useful intelligence, you’ll want to get IT specialists involved—and the sooner the better.

It’s no longer enough to assume people have what they need to be connected, productive and comfortable as they navigate the Everywhere Workplace. You need to know where the connections are working (or not). That means you need to measure what’s happening. Not just once, but over and over again.

After all, if you don’t know where you stand, it is impossible to move forward. Both HR and IT leaders need real, meaningful, actionable insights into the digital employee experience as a process. It deserves a commitment to continuous improvement. And that means you need to understand where it stands now, and how it is evolving over time.

Criteria For a Digital Employee Experience Survey

What should you include in a digital employee experience survey? To glean useful insights, you’ll need to go far beyond limited indicators like post-ticket surveys. To measure and improve the digital employee experience, you’ll need a holistic picture. For instance, consider the value of knowing answers to questions like these:

  • How are people accessing information?
  • What do they think about that process?
  • How many steps must they move through to accomplish these tasks?
  • How often do they run into trouble?
  • How much time do they spend trying to securely access information, tools, and resources they need to do their jobs well?
  • Do they even have access to the right information, tools, and resources?
  • Are they able to connect and engage with colleagues?
  • How effective are these communication channels, in their view?

Post-ticket surveys don’t capture any of these things. And yet, these factors can make or break a digital employee experience. They can spell the difference between an employee who is highly productive, happy, loyal, and engaged—versus one who is forced to waste time on logistics and is likely to be frustrated. Perhaps even frustrated enough to leave.

How to Measure Digital Employee Experience

If you think this isn’t an issue for most employers, consider this statistic:

30% of IT leaders currently have no process or metrics in place to evaluate the digital employee experience. And among the 70% who do, few have established the kind of robust metrics and evaluation strategy today’s Everywhere Workplace demands.

Clearly, the stakes are high. Many organizations assume that measuring digital employee experience in a holistic way is expensive, overwhelming, and resource-intensive. Sometimes it is. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What’s the secret? Automation.

By automating digital employee experience measurement, leaders can laser-focus on KPIs that matter most to the organization, without bandwidth and expertise from HR or IT—and without badgering employees for manual reports.

In other words, you can automate the collection and reporting of data about issues that commonly impact productivity, especially issues that traditional reports don’t easily track. For example, automation can help you monitor, quantify and evaluate slow devices, outages in network connectivity, where and when apps crash, and other problems that are difficult to capture accurately in a survey.

Of course, it’s important to gauge employee-generated insights as well. But automated, granular, data-based insights can round out the picture with a comprehensive view of what’s happening with digital workflows and how they impact engagement and productivity. Plus, with automated data collection and reporting, continuing to measure key factors over time is much easier. That’s essential to understanding your organization’s progress and how it maps to employee feedback.

Final Thoughts

“Measure twice, cut once” works well for sewing. But it’s not the answer for a modern enterprise that embraces the Everywhere Workplace. Instead, think about measuring once, and then measuring again and again. That’s how you can gain valuable insight into experience indicators and trends that will help you develop and sustain a happy, loyal, engaged, productive workforce.

 


EDITOR’S NOTE: What’s the current state of digital employee experience in organizations around the world? Find out now >> Download the 2022 Ivanti Digital Employee Experience Report.

How to Launch Sincere DEI Programs

The working world has spoken: Employees want to be part of organizations that value and support diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). But they won’t accept lip service. They want employers to put actions behind their words. And they want DEI programs that make a real difference.

Of course, this makes sense. When DEI programs aren’t genuine, they won’t have merit or promote lasting change. But with a sincere, consistent effort, organizations can expect to see plenty of benefits.

The Benefits of Effective DEI Programs

Companies that make a conscious effort to recruit a diverse pool of qualified candidates tend to attract more applicants, overall. In fact, Glassdoor research says two-thirds of job seekers actively look for potential employers that encourage workforce diversity.

What kind of signals matter? For example, consider the proportion of top performers on your staff with diverse backgrounds. When that proportion is high, it indicates that diverse representation will rise to leadership levels in the future. This sends a clear message that opportunity is open to current and potential employees.

A thoughtful, transparent approach to diversity has other benefits, as well. For instance, individuals can see how colleagues are helping their organization grow from within, both formally and informally. Through employer-sponsored professional development programs, employees from diverse backgrounds can learn and apply new skills that will help them take on more responsibility. Along the way, they can contribute to cultural change and even help the organization better align its products and services with evolving market needs.

The Challenges of Establishing DEI Programs

Many employers want to construct a welcoming culture that feels inclusive and equitable for all. So, why aren’t more DEI programs flourishing? What’s getting in the way? Too often, companies make bold statements about their DEI intentions. Then when implementing those plans, they stumble.

One reason DEI initiatives falter is that employers want this process to be intentional, comfortable, and intuitive. It sounds reasonable. But the road to understanding and building better bonds with many types of people sometimes means addressing pain points head-on.

When business leaders are concerned about stretching team members beyond their personal comfort zones, they may simply define the DEI outcomes they want to see. However, they don’t go further because they’re unclear about how to help employees be authentic—or how to help them support one another without bias or hesitation.

Although this may seem like a huge obstacle, it doesn’t need to be. Sometimes, what it takes to get started on firm footing is simply the will to implement several pointed strategies. Here are four suggestions:

4 DEI Implementation Pillars

1. Research DEI programs at successful companies

Figuring out how to design your DEI efforts doesn’t have to involve recreating any wheels. It’s easier—and more practical—to find out what others are doing well. Then use that knowledge as a springboard.

For instance, consider Mastercard. This company has been very intentional about expressing a desire to diversify its workforce. Our team at LaunchCode partnered with Mastercard to help the company find candidates from previously untapped, diverse talent pools. Doing this has connected Mastercard with top talent.

To ensure further progress, Mastercard holds regular meetings to discuss hiring efforts that support its corporate DEI goals. The company also sponsors a Women+ program, providing funding for free technical education and career pathways for women.

2. Sponsor on-the-job training about DEI

More educational experiences can help increase awareness, appreciation and adoption of organizational diversity. For example, you could develop training focusing on understanding and managing unconscious bias. Conducting regular DEI training gives people a chance to step back and consider their frame of reference. This can help people identify and let go of their cultural biases, so they can move forward.

Sponsoring topical employee resource groups (ERGs) can also be a useful approach. Starting one of these committees can be as simple as inviting individuals to speak about their experiences and suggest actions they’d like the organization to pursue. Of course, it’s important to host these discussions in safe spaces, whether it’s online, in person or a combination of both. Plus, leaders must do more than just support these events. They must be present and participate. Their visibility reinforces the fact that this isn’t about checking DEI boxes. It’s about transforming the entire organization at all levels.

3. Hire for diversity in leadership

If people at the top of an organization aren’t diverse, employees assume the company must not be committed to DEI. Workers from underrepresented backgrounds may go one step further and assume they have no future with your organization.

This isn’t an uncommon scenario. In fact, in a recent study, more than 75% of people told Harvard Business Review their employer doesn’t have diverse leadership representation. This means there’s an enormous opportunity for most organizations to make fundamental changes to better align their top positions with desired DEI objectives.

Although it may be impossible to change senior leaders until positions become available, an organization can diversify leadership by adjusting representation on its board of directors (or advisory board). It can also be intentional about seeking clients, suppliers and business partners from different backgrounds and experiences.

4. Evaluate pay equity

As of 2021, women were on average, still earning 83 cents for every $1 dollar men earned, according to the  American Association of University Women. And Black male workers make 87 cents on the dollar when compared with their white male counterparts. These gender and racial pay disparities reveal that more work lies ahead for those who want to achieve a more equitable work environment.

However, it’s a general “best practice” for human resources professionals to evaluate pay grades across-the-board. After all, employers are expected to pay wages fairly and equitably. DEI can and should be folded into this process.

The objective for pay equity conversations should be to ensure that wages are based exclusively on merit. If you’re unsure how to move the needle on glaring wage gaps, it can be helpful to work with a consulting firm that specializes in this.

The Bottom Line

Above all, it’s important for DEI to mean more than just putting people in seats based on their demographic profile. It is not just a one-and-done “program.” At its best, DEI is a values-based, purpose-driven process that comes not from the top or the bottom, but lives in every layer of your organization. And when everyone genuinely feels ownership of DEI, you’ll begin to see just how powerful it can be.

We Surveyed 100+ HR Leaders on Driving Business Value in 2022

Sponsored by: ThoughtExchange

For several months, we’ve been sharing insights from our partner ThoughtExchange. They’ve done some fascinating research on Gen Z employees, employee experience, boosting retention, and driving business value. They’re an essential tool for leaders across departments and industries looking to align and engage their workforces.

We finally got the opportunity to use ThoughtExchange to consult our network of HR and Talent professionals, and you shared some great insights with us and each other. 

We asked:

As HR and Talent professionals, what areas are you focusing on at your organization to increase retention and drive business value?

With anonymity, anti-bias technology, and automatic translation capabilities, ThoughtExchange makes it easy to gather diverse perspectives and have equitable discussions.

What We Heard

Using ThoughtExchange’s tools, we analyzed the thoughts you shared to identify important themes and actionable insights. It’s an efficient way to hear from large groups of diverse people, particularly in a remote setting.

First, we looked at the Summary—an AI-generated snapshot of the top-rated ideas:

Onboarding and orientation – new hires should be set up for success from the start. Effective employee retention improves the productivity and performance of a company. Personal and professional mental health – a toxic work culture can really hurt productivity and business value. Pay equity. Personal wellbeing – avoid burnout.

Overall, you’re recognizing that business value is heavily impacted by employee experience, and you’re focusing on providing a healthy, productive workplace. 

Ideas That Rise To The Top

Next, we looked at the highest-rated answers. ThoughtExchange’s Thoughts tool shows each thought’s rating, and also how ratings change by role. These were the top-rated thoughts for each of the different roles:

Talent Acquisition: Leadership Development. Leaders need to role model behaviors to scale change.”

Recruitment: Employees’ aspirations for career development. These days I noticed fresh graduates and junior employees are switching their careers for any salary variation. Career development enables employees to be competent and get expertise for their future career.” 

Training & Development: Performance appreciation and reward. By acknowledging good work done, it drives up their productivity.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Personal and Professional Mental Health. A toxic work culture can really hurt productivity and business value.”

HR Leadership: Employee wellbeing. This helps the employees stay fit mentally, emotionally, and socially.”

What was particularly interesting is that, of the top thoughts for the entire group, none of the top thoughts by role were included. 

  • (4.2*) “Focus employer branding efforts on values and vision. Ensure you can articulate clearly how your company is making the world a better place. People in a group desire belonging. These factors serve as unifying tools and help employees feel that the work they do is not ‘just work.’”
  • (4.0*) “Onboarding and orientation. New hires should be set up for success from the start. Your onboarding process should focus on employee guide to thrive and culture.”
  • (4.0*) “Skills, skills, skills! We want to attract skilled talent, but we need to keep investing in their skills, so people want to stay and grow with us! Caring about the future viability of your workforce means business sustainability. Plus, it’s good for employees, too. Everybody wins.”

The variation in how thoughts are ranked demonstrates how ThoughtExchange can identify team or departmental priorities, but also surface common ground.

Where You Disagreed

It wasn’t all common ground. ThoughtExchange’s Differences tool shows the rating patterns for different groups and finds the polarizing ideas.

In our Exchange, compensation and pay equity was an area of contention. Group A (in blue), mainly HR Leadership, assigned high ratings (in the 4* range) to these thoughts:

Group B (in green), consisting mainly of Recruitment, Training & Development, and Talent Acquisition folks, gave ratings averaging 2*. This may indicate a difference in priorities between HR Leadership and those responsible for hiring and upskilling employees.

The Differences tool doesn’t stop there. It also finds thoughts that Group A and Group B both rated highly. Both groups agreed that employee wellbeing and engagement are top priorities. Holding space for both sides of an issue is vital, but identifying where those two sides agree helps build a strategy everyone supports.

Areas Of Focus

To understand the discussion’s general themes, we used the Theme tool to categorize thoughts into Culture, Performance, and Strategy. 

Thought Exchange Themes

Deeper analysis shows which issues are the most pressing for our community, and identifies actions to improve retention and drive business value.

Areas to Action:

  • Company Culture: clarify organizational values, define employer brand, and consult employees on improving their work experience. 
  • Skills Development: provide employees with skills, career, and leadership development opportunities.
  • Performance Appreciation: improve morale and productivity by rewarding high-performing employees.

What You Told Us

You’re invested in improving and streamlining every stage of the employee lifecycle. You value organizational culture and recognize the importance of robust onboarding and career development. You care deeply for the wellbeing of your employees and want to foster a more supportive workplace.

For us, this Exchange showed how valuable an inclusive, unbiased discussion platform is for identifying team and organizational priorities. 

We can see how ThoughtExchange brings immense value to different kinds of leaders looking to innovate tactics, align on strategy, improve business efficiency, and engage employees.

Want to see how ThoughtExchange can give you mission-critical insights to make better decisions and transform your discussions? Talk to one of ThoughtExchange’s Talent & HR experts today.

Why Employee Engagement is Upside Down

impact award
Leaders and managers frequently refer to the famous Albert Einstein quote when something in their organizations isn’t working after repeated efforts. I wonder what Einstein would say about employee engagement?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

For two decades, the benchmark of benchmarks for employee engagement is Gallup, a world-class research organization. In the past 10 years, the percentage of engaged employees in Gallup’s research has fluctuated. From a low of 30% to a high of 36%.

Much ado was made about the uptick in engagement over the past decade before the pandemic reversed the direction of the numbers.

I’m pretty sure Einstein would agree with my old boss at Cisco. Former CEO John Chambers, who famously described missed expectations at Cisco as:

I never get hard work confused with results.

Moving up just six percentage points over a decade. From such a low number to begin with, is indeed a lot of “hard work” and little enduring results.

The Decline of Engaged Employees

The most recent 2022 Gallup numbers show the percent of employees engaged is down.  U.S. companies are down 32%. It was 30% in 2002 and 2012.

I’m not sure how many billions of dollars were spent on employee engagement measurement and programs during this time, but it is clear from this data it was not a productive investment.

The inertia reflected in the engagement data reflects what I’ve heard over the past three years talking to hundreds of HR leaders about what works and what doesn’t in employee engagement.

Most of the feedback is best paraphrased as:

We are not learning anything new from our employee engagement data.

Competition vs Collaboration

I’ve been lucky to work with hundreds of companies and their leadership teams. Especially after I wrote The Collaboration Imperative, which shared the best practices used at Cisco in its transition from a culture based on internal competition to one based on internal collaboration.

From these listening sessions, I’ve come to believe that certain ideas exist in organizational thinking in the absence of hard evidence. I don’t know how these ideas got started. I just know the ideas are entrenched.

For example – the way leaders and managers think about employee engagement today. It reminds me of the way organizations think about career planning. That it is the responsibility of the employee, despite overwhelming evidence indicating a different reality.

If it is true that employees are responsible for their own careers, why is “my manager” the most cited reason when an employee leaves a company?

Employee Engagement is Upside Down

I want to eat my own dog food by starting with evidence. I’ve spent the pandemic sponsoring a large, real-world research study on what makes an employee want to stay at a company. I wanted to know what it would take to get an employee to recommend where they work.

Our primary research and the large collection of company data captured in the second phase of our research confirm we’ve been measuring the wrong things in employee engagement.

In fact, employee engagement is upside down, according to our research.

Instead of measuring how engaged employees are, we should be measuring how engaged leaders and managers are.

In statistical terms, our evidence-based model demonstrated a strong, positive linear relationship between the degree to which leaders and managers engage employees and the willingness of employees to recommend where they work. In other words, the more engaged leaders and managers are in creating organizational culture with their teams, the greater the likelihood of an employee recommending the employer. Our research conclusions have a 95% confidence interval.

The Impact Leaders Have on Employee Engagement

Just like career planning. It’s time to embrace the fact that leaders and managers are the reasons why people fall in love with a company and its culture — or not. Leaders create the global cultural values of an organization; managers implement those values locally.

Company values are based on human behavior, not a poster on the wall. Values-based behaviors start with role-modeling them as leaders and managers. How can we expect employees to be engaged if their management team isn’t?

If we’re going to innovate in how we think about employee engagement, I want to call upon Einstein again for help.

Einstein was famous for thought experiments.

Here’s one. Management guru Peter Drucker said you can only manage what you measure. What if leaders and managers were accountable for engagement?

What would happen to employee engagement?

8 Ways to Foster Employee Happiness

When it comes to the workplace, happiness is key. Studies have shown that happy employees are more productive and efficient. That’s why employers need to do what they can to create a positive work environment. But what does employee happiness mean, exactly?

Here are a few tips for contributing to employee happiness in the workplace.

What Happiness at Work Means to Employees and Employers

Employees may feel satisfied with their job, have a positive work-life balance, or feel like they are part of a supportive team.

It may mean increased productivity, lower absenteeism, or reduced turnover for employers. Regardless of the definition, work happiness is essential for employees and employers.

Studies have proven that happy employees are more engaged and productive. They are also more likely to stay with their company and less likely to take sick days.

Happy employers, however, tend to have lower health care costs and higher profits. They also tend to be more successful in attracting and retaining top talent.

8 Ways to Foster Employee Happiness in the Workplace

You, as the employer, can do a few things to create a happy work environment.

1. Learn More About Your Employees

Getting to know your employees personally can go a long way in making them feel valued. Take the time to learn about their interests, family, and hobbies. Doing so will not only make them feel appreciated, but it will also help you better understand their needs and how to support them.

2. Make Time for Fun

Making time for fun is just as important as working hard. It can be as simple as hosting a happy hour each week or planning activities to build teamwork. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that your employees will enjoy and look forward to.

3. Make Sure Employees Feel Heard

Employees who feel their voices are heard are more likely to be engaged and motivated at work. After all, feeling like you’re a part of the team and that your opinion matters is important to job satisfaction.

Some things you can do to ensure your employees feel heard:

  • Encourage open communication by creating an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up.
  • Make it a point to listen to your employees and take their suggestions and feedback seriously.
  • Let employees know their input is valued and that you’re working to create a happy workplace for everyone.

4. Encourage Work-Life Balance

A healthy work-life balance is essential for employee happiness and productivity. Employees who feel like they have a good work-life balance are more likely to be engaged in their work and less likely to experience burnout.

An example of this is employees being able to take advantage of flex time and set their hours.

5. Celebrate Employee Accomplishments

Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and employees are no exception. When employees feel their hard work is being recognized, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated.

One way to show appreciation for your team members is by giving verbal praise when an employee does a good job. You can do this in a one-on-one conversation, during a team meeting, or even in an email.

Another way to show appreciation is by giving tangible rewards, such as gift cards, paid time off, or tickets to a show or event.

6. Salary Increase

An employee is happiest when they get a salary increase. A raise indicates that they are doing a good job and gives them a financial incentive to continue performing at a high level.

A salary increase can also help attract and retain top talent. If your employees feel they are paid fairly, they are less likely to look for other opportunities. As a result, a salary increase can be a valuable tool for promoting employee happiness in the workplace.

7. Create a Career Pathway

Employees who feel stuck in a dead-end job are less likely to be happy at work. On the other hand, employees who feel they have a clear career path are more likely to be engaged and motivated.

One way to create a career pathway for your employees is by providing opportunities for professional development. Professional development can include anything from paid training courses to tuition reimbursement for advanced degrees.

You can also create a mentorship program that pairs more experienced employees with newer employees. Mentorship programs can help newer employees feel like they have someone to look up to and learn from. It can also help more experienced employees stay engaged in their work.

8. Offer More Benefits

Apart from a salary increase, there are other ways to contribute to employee happiness by offering more benefits.

For example, you could provide a flexible work schedule, telecommuting options, or on-site child care. These benefits can go a long way in promoting employee happiness and retention.

Moreover, you could also offer other benefits, such as health insurance, a retirement savings plan, or paid time off. These benefits may seem like a small perk, but they can make a big difference to employees.

Benefits of a Happy Workplace

  • Productivity – When employees are happy, they are more productive.
  • Retention – Attracting and retaining top talent is essential for any organization, and a happy workplace can help.
  • Engagement – Engaged employees are more likely to go above and beyond for their organization.
  • Better customer service – If your employees are happy, they will be more likely to provide better customer service.
  • Improved bottom line – A happy workplace can enhance your organization’s bottom line.

The Takeaway

Employee happiness is essential to the success of any organization. You can do a few key things as an employer to help contribute to employee happiness in the workplace.

It is vital to make sure employees feel heard. Encourage open communication and allow employees to provide feedback. It is also essential to encourage work-life balance.

Make sure employees have the opportunity to take breaks and use their vacation time. Celebrate employee accomplishments and give them growth opportunities.

Finally, offer competitive salaries and benefits. By taking these steps, you can create a happy and productive workplace.

By the Numbers: Employee Burnout, Workplace Discrimination, and the Great Resignation

Sometimes research emerges that sets a new high-water mark on a troubling trend — and it’s well worth paying attention to. That’s the case with the recent Work and Well-Being Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) of 1,501 U.S. adult workers. Conducted in 2021, it remains extremely relevant to where we are now. 

The survey reveals a strong connection between stress, burnout, workplace discrimination, and the Great Resignation. If that sounds like a topic you should know more about, we heartily agree. We also think that the fact that the research was conducted outside an HR-centric organization actually makes it all the more valuable for those of us in HR — particularly leadership.

The Bottom Line of Burnout

Here’s the bottom line: employee burnout is undeniably high. It’s clearly a major factor in the Great Resignation. It’s also affecting employees unequally: discrimination is a thru-line there. We took a closer look at some of the survey’s most telling statistics to see how we’re doing. As you look for strategies to stave off employee departures and reduce workplace-related stress, these are numbers (and issues) you need to keep in mind.

Burnout is at an All-Time High, Regardless of Profession

  • 79% of employees across all professions reported work-related stress. 
  • Nearly 3 in 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy at work. 
  • 36% reported cognitive weariness.
  • 32% reported emotional exhaustion
  • 44% reported physical fatigue — a 38% increase since 2019.

Burnout is a Key Factor in the Great Resignation

There’s a clear association between day-to-day workplace stress and the likelihood they will look for a new job somewhere else, and soon:

  • 71% reported feeling typically stressed out or tense during their workday.
  • Only 20% reported they didn’t feel that way.
  • Those who report feeling tense or stressed out during the workday are over 3X more likely to seek employment somewhere else in the next year.

Workplace Discrimination

It’s not only stressful, but employees are also sick and tired of it — and it’s making them seek employment elsewhere:

  • 68% of those who say they have experienced or witnessed discrimination in their current workplace plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 
  • Only 33% of those who say they did not experience or witness discrimination in their current workplace plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 

The Breakdown is Telling

Black and Hispanic:

  • 31% of Black and Hispanic employees say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year. 
  • 20% of White employees say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year. 
  • 58% of Hispanic and 57% of Black employees plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 
  • 37% of White employees plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 

LGBTQ+:

  • 32% of LGBTQ+ employees say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year.
  • 23% of non- LGBTQ+ employees say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year.
  • 56% of LGBTQ+ employees plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 
  • 43% of non-LGBTQ+ employees plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 

People with Disabilities:

  • 47% of people with disabilities say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year.
  • 19% of people without a disability say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year.
  • 63% of people with disabilities plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 
  • 41% of people without a disability plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 

Women and Burnout

What’s not in here: how women are faring. Women’s experience with workplace burnout is its own topic, and we’ll be covering it. There are also plenty of other factors contributing to the soaring rates of workplace stress, from overwork to not enough paid leave, to low compensation to being left out of decision-making. Look for our coverage of those as well in the coming months. (In the meantime, please read here for more on the connection between employee responses to the pandemic and workplace stress — an uneasy and ongoing relationship. And for an interesting take on overcoming burnout pre-pandemic, check out this great #WorkTrends podcast we did with a public schools counselor turned go-to executive coach. — her wisdom still holds true.)

Final Thoughts

The numbers we’ve included here paint a clear picture — and as we look for a special sauce that will slow down voluntary quits, it’s time to get back to basics. The importance of an inclusive workplace where everyone feels like they belong is inarguable — and the APA’s stats should prompt a serious re-think. Once again, kudos to them for doing such a well-considered, diligent deep dive into this important workplace topic. 

8 Learning and Talent Development Topics for Better Employee Retention

impact awardInvestment in learning and talent development is an essential ingredient of every company’s engagement and retention plans. What is one crucial topic to include in employee L&D that will lead to better employee engagement and retention?

To help you create an effective L&D program, we asked L&D professionals and business leaders this question for their best insights. From including interviewer training to developing individual talents, there are several essential topics that may help you deliver a robust employee L&D for better engagement and retention.

Here are 8 must-have topics for better employee retention:

  1. Interviewer Training
  2. Communication and its Impact on Business
  3. Feedback Delivery
  4. Celebrating Achievement
  5. Leadership Development
  6. Build Emotional Intelligence Skills
  7. Goal Setting and Performance Feedback
  8. Develop Individual Talents

Interviewer Training

A must-have learning opportunity for all employees is interviewer training. By focusing on a task and responsibility that most employees engage in throughout their careers, you simultaneously give your employees the skills to contribute to building a more successful company with the right talent. Additionally, you give them skills to carry with them wherever they go next. Interviewer training empowers everyone to become a brand ambassador. It also encourages a truly inclusive and diverse workplace and gives all employees a chance to be better.

Ubaldo Ciminieri, Co-Founder and CMO of interviewIA

Communication and its Impact on Business

Studies show that collaboration drives workplace performance. Learning the value of communication and how it impacts the business should be a priority for all employees to understand. Beginning with the “why” communication is crucial to show how it can affect and change the culture by building trust across the leadership team and staff.

In creating a high-performing, high-functioning organization, there needs to be collaboration on all levels. This means we need to communicate and over-communicate. Things change when people you work with understand what you are trying to do, the why, and how it affects them. The outcome is a high-performing team where work gets done with highly engaged staff, and the company exceeds expectations on all levels.

Denise Moxam, VP of HR and Engagement at Production Solutions

Feedback Delivery

There are countless learning topics that can positively impact employee engagement and retention. One of the areas that I believe to be crucial is feedback. To be able to skillfully provide regular, accurate, and timely feedback can improve performance, increase trust, and build relationships. All of which have a direct impact on both retention and engagement. Of course, the results are dependent upon individuals’ competency in this area. While some people may have the inherent ability to deliver feedback the right way, at the right time most of us need training and practice.

Greg Forte, Senior Director of L&D at Precision Medicine Group

Celebrating Achievement

Celebrating is a powerful skill that all leaders need to have in their toolkits to confidently & effectively lead now. When you celebrate a teammate, you are demonstrating that you see them, care about them, and value their contributions and how they show up in the world.

Celebrating is a skill, and it needs to be included in your L&D strategy. When you have leaders who properly and consistently celebrate their employees, you will see motivation, trust, connection, belonging, engagement, and retention skyrocket! Throw that confetti, leaders!

Leah Roe, Leadership Coach & Founder of The Perk

Leadership Development

While it’s not typically part of the category of employee learning, building a healthy leadership practice at all levels of the organization may be the strongest driver of employee retention and engagement. Employees need the opportunity to grow and thrive in their careers. This will rarely happen without leaders who recognize and encourage their development.

We know that most learning happens on the job and in conversation with others who already know the job. A learning function that equips front-line, mid-level, and senior leaders with the mindset, skill set, and tool set to effectively grow their employees will have an exponential impact on employee engagement and retention (not to mention business results).

Leaders who simply see employees as a means to the end of profitability, customer service, or meeting their operational metrics miss the key ingredient to meeting these business goals. They will see their employees walk away to another opportunity where they can grow.

Dave Adcox, Director, Learning & Organizational Development at Whitley Penn

Build Emotional Intelligence

By building emotional intelligence skills in our leaders and our teams, we support their ability to create an environment where employees are engaged and want to stay. Through our learning and development efforts, we can help our employees understand and manage their emotions, navigate relationships, and build trust. Additionally, we can help them show empathy, reduce stress, communicate better, and inspire others. In doing so, we create a place where our employees thrive and our business grows.

Mary Tettenhorst, Sr. Vice President, L&D of General Electric Credit Union

Goal Setting and Performance Feedback

Since studies show engagement often hinges on an employee’s first 90 days, providing new hires a supportive onboarding experience that includes context on company objectives, culture, and communication standards is critical. Supplementing this with assistance on goal setting will help level-set expectations and facilitate a growth path for the employee.

Always, make sure that your managers are equipped with the knowledge to articulate performance expectations, deliver feedback and coaching, and provide development opportunities for the employee along the way.

Glenn Smith, L&D Manager at Nextbite

Develop Individual Talents

The single most important L&D topic has to be how to effectively develop your people. Unlike a capital investment that has a fixed ROI, investing in human capital has almost unlimited ROI. Not only are you increasing the capacity and competence of your team to create value, development telegraphs that you believe in your people enough to invest in them. When people feel like valuable members of a winning team, they will provide higher levels of engagement and discretionary effort. Development creates a virtuous cycle that benefits both the organization and its people.

Thane Bellomo, Director of Talent Management and Organizational Development of MI Windows and Doors

6 Ways to Engage With Your Employees and Prevent Attrition

One of the important factors involved in running a business is finding and retaining good employees. Yet, employees choosing to leave a job due to a lack of connection and engagement has increased.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in March 2022. Known as the “Great Resignation,” this trend has caught the attention of CEOs, upper-level management, and HR professionals. So why are these workers leaving, and what can you do as a business owner to improve retention?

Let’s explore how you can improve employee engagement within your organization and hold onto the valuable members of your team.  

How to Improve Employee Engagement

The key to success is to motivate and engage your team. A team that is passionate about their work and empowered to make strategic choices will achieve greater success.

If you have noticed the level of engagement in your organization has dropped, don’t be alarmed. While the current situation is less than ideal, there are steps you can take to improve upon it. 

Below are six ways you can effectively re-engage your team.

1. Leverage Your Team’s Strengths and Passions

When considering the roles performed by your team members, pay attention to their strengths and areas of interest. For example, employees who are truly passionate about their work are more dedicated and happier to return to the workplace every day.

This alignment is also a great way to reduce stress levels among team members. While some members may thrive when faced with the demands of high-profile or VIP clients, others may be better suited for work behind the scenes. 

Identifying the strengths of each team member will not only create a happier, more engaged work environment but will also improve productivity. Support this by backing your employees with the necessary budget to complete their projects. This allowance will provide more interest and variety in the workplace by preventing them from feeling stuck on any one task for an extended time.  

2. Trust the Decision-Making Abilities of Your Team

When you empower your employees to make their own decisions throughout the workday, you demonstrate you value their work and abilities. Building trust is an important step in creating a workplace where your team can thrive. It builds confidence and encourages each team member to work to their full potential.

Rather than outlining strict operating procedures with no room for personalization, allow your employees to make their best judgment in situations that don’t fit inside the box. Eliminate potential barriers, such as access to funding or tools when needed. You may discover more effective ways to solve problems by equipping staff to tap into their unique skillsets.    

3. Regularly Check-In with Your Team

A way to show employees they are an important part of the team is to show them their opinions matter. Take the time to check in with team members regularly. This check-in includes offering clear feedback and opportunities for improvement, opening the door for them to communicate their concerns and ideas.

Employees want direction. Many companies still use the traditional annual review, but this isn’t frequent enough to help your team improve. Instead, try offering a brief weekly update to each team member. Take this time to highlight ways they have performed skillfully and to identify actionable ways they can improve.

4. Allow for Open Communication Both Ways

This improved level of communication also needs to go in both directions. First, make it easy for your team to provide their feedback, including any concerns they may have and ideas for the future. You can encourage this by implementing an open-door policy within the workplace, offering time for your employees to speak up during their weekly check-in, or providing the opportunity for anonymous feedback with employee satisfaction surveys.

Make sure you are following through on the information that you are given. Advocate for their ideas. If they continually offer their feedback and nothing changes, it will only create frustration. The goal is for your team to feel heard and appreciated, which means considering their suggestions.  

5. Offer Training and Learning Opportunities

Another way you can help your team grow and improve in their career goals is to offer skill development and ongoing education opportunities. By supporting your team in advancing their career, you will show them that the company is invested in their future. This continued investment of time and resources fosters an environment of dedication and loyalty.

Knowledge and education come in many forms, including:

  • Formal education (College and University)
  • Mentorship/Coaching
  • Certifications
  • On-the-Job skills training
  • Virtual learning opportunities  

When many industries are experiencing skill shortages, investing in your team is a way to benefit both your company and all who work for it. 

6. Show Employees You Care About Their Health

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on mental health in all areas of our lives. This renewed focus includes the workplace. Not only will access to better mental health support help to boost work performance and satisfaction, but it will also help to improve the lives of your team outside of work. 

There are many ways you can make the mental health of your team a priority.  This focus ranges from providing better mental health care in your company’s health benefit plan to allowing for more flexible work hours, paid time off, and “mental health days.” 

Prioritizing mental health is more than just providing care for mental illness. It also means encouraging a healthy work/life balance and providing opportunities to relieve workplace stress.

Improve Employee Engagement by Creating an Employee-Centric Work Environment

By creating a work environment focused on empowering and supporting your team, you open the door for your employees to perform to their full potential. It encourages trust, increases productivity, and boosts employee retention. Build a culture that leverages your team’s strengths, trusts their decision-making abilities, encourages communication, and supports the health of all employees. Taking these steps will inspire a healthy, balanced workplace for all. 

How to Help Managers Lead Gen Z Employees

The Great Resignation has highlighted the importance of employee retention, but do you know which employees you need to engage the most? What should managers do? Gen Z employees are leading the mass workforce exodus. According to a study conducted by Adobe, about 59% of them aren’t satisfied with their jobs and want to switch employers in 2022. In other words, most of your young employees are probably eager to quit.

The onus is on you to keep them engaged. However, it can be tough to understand and meet the demands, actions, and needs of the newest entrants to the workforce. Generation Z team members are redefining success and challenging workplace norms, including paid time off and emoji usage. Unsurprisingly, their willingness to push back is irritating to managers who aren’t used to such boldness. Yet it’s up to those managers to initiate the necessary changes during this transitional time.

Management Skills That Improve Gen Z Retention

To be sure, I’m not defending every Gen Z worker’s choice. At the same time, I would like to remind you that this type of generational struggle isn’t new. Millennials rocked the boat vigorously with their “every day’s a casual day” attitude. Now, Millennials are the ones in charge — and they’re encountering the same struggles they caused their managers way back when.

Your role is to help your managers be the best possible bosses to their Gen Z employees. Equip them with the tools and training they need to successfully guide the next generation of workers. It’s not reasonable to blame managers for failing to retain young talent if you haven’t given them any assistance.

How Can you Mentor Your Managers?

Strive to boost their acumen in the following areas:

1. Empathy: Look beyond the employee to discover their story.

You might expect your Millennial managers to get along with Gen Z workers because they were young once, too. But guess what? We are tunnel-visioned creatures who tend to embellish and exaggerate our memories. This kills our ability to empathize.

To counter this, remember what Mr. Rogers taught people: “You can learn to love anyone if you just listen to their story.” Your managers might never fully understand their Gen Z team members, but they can learn to empathize by hearing them out.

Will Gen Zers be willing to share their stories? You might be surprised. According to the Springtide Research Institute, many young individuals want strong, supportive mentors. They are looking for bosses who care about their lives beyond work. If your managers can forge bonds with Gen Z employees, you can avoid massive turnover.

2. Civility: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

I had an experience with a former contractor who felt like she’d been wronged. That was fine. I was ready to handle her concerns with professionalism. Unfortunately, she was completely uncivil in all communication.

People often assume that the only way they can get what they want from someone is by powering up. “Let me get mad, and then I’ll see results!” While anger can produce limited results, it’s not an emotion you want guiding your managers. This is particularly true when they’re interacting with Gen Zers. How they communicate will largely influence their outcomes.

Train your managers to assume the best of the person they might be at odds with. By working together, they have a better chance of solving the problem and establishing mutual respect. There are enough bosses on the planet whose outbursts are legendary. Equip your management team with the tools and education they need to talk to Gen Z workers respectfully and thoughtfully.

3. Stewardship: Help them help you.

Do you still use the term “our people” when referring to employees? Stop. Your employees don’t belong to you. Your business is just a pitstop along their journey. You can pay Gen Z workers a handsome salary, and they’ll still quit if you cease to treat them as individuals. Rather, encourage managers to recognize individuals’ contributions.

Promote stewardship by helping Gen Zers get what they want. When they’re successful, they’ll want to help you be successful. Focus on enabling Gen Z workers to achieve their goals. Have managers find out what each employee wants to do in the next five years, and then see how your organization can assist.

Gen Z employees appreciate this type of guidance. A report from Bellevue University shows that Gen Z places communication high on the list of appealing boss attributes. Additionally, a Randstad and Millennial Branding study reveals that Gen Z workers crave constant feedback. So steward them by having managers provide regular assessments.

Finally

Every new generation makes waves when its members enter the workforce. Rather than swimming against the tide, you can surf smoothly by helping your managers better manage Gen Z employees.

Why Employees Need Leaders to Lead by Example

We bought mental health tools, but has everyone bought in? Many companies understand the importance of promoting mental health in the workplace. As a result, they have enacted programs and policies designed to put the well-being of their employees first. A recent MetLife survey found that at least 68% of respondents working at companies with more than 100 employees report having a wide range of programs designed to prevent mental health problems. 

To make the most significant impact, a sharper focus on support should become a key aspect of a company’s culture. But cultural values, and the effectiveness of any company initiative, can only be established with buy-in from all parts of the company – management especially. So now more than ever, employers seeking to improve employee mental health must first improve their understanding and involvement in mental health initiatives. 

This article will discuss the role managers play in employee well-being and how to lead by example. First, we’ll look at how employers can impact employees, both positively and negatively. Then we’ll examine how employers can maximize their positive impact as they lead by example.

Understand the Role Managers can Have on Employee Well-being

While most managers aim to support their employees, they may not be aware of how their managerial style can affect mental health. A 2020 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, & Health found that in workforces where leaders and managers whose “quality of leadership” has higher levels of traits perceived as fair, empowering, and supportive, employees have a lower risk of reporting mental distress. Similarly, teams that embody these same traits show a more “protective, prospective effect on employee mental health.” 

On the other hand, passive leadership predicts higher levels of role ambiguity, conflict, and overload – all of which lead to psychological work fatigue and have been shown to influence overall mental health negatively. 

Without a doubt, managers play a huge and direct role in the mental well-being of their employees. However, managers also play a more indirect role. The example they set for employees may increase – or inadvertently decrease – how likely they are to engage with mental health resources and initiatives. Employers that show little buy-in to health initiatives may unwittingly diminish the perceived importance of these programs, thereby limiting employee participation. The stigmas associated with mental health mean that many employees may not be initially willing to bring mental health conversations into their workplace. They may require the encouragement of their managers before they can do so. 

Support Your Employees and Lead by Example

HR professionals are acutely aware of leadership’s important role in bolstering workplace wellbeing. According to Unmind’s 2022 Mental Health Trends Report, 76% of HR professionals believe senior leadership needs to boost their well-being IQ. To drive real, long-lasting change, workplace leaders must work on supporting the policies they seek to implement. You can accomplish this by being seen modeling healthy behaviors, creating open channels of communication, and continuing to learn.

Model Healthy Behaviors

Modeling healthy behaviors can be one of the most effective ways to show your employees your commitment to mental health. Unfortunately, according to a recent MetLife survey, only 1 in 3 employees believed that their organizational leaders lead by example when it comes to mental health. This included sharing their difficulty with stress, burnout, depression, and other mental health problems. While it can be difficult to talk about personal mental health challenges, doing so is one of the best ways employers can continue to destigmatize mental wellbeing. 

Modeling healthy behaviors such as those described above, in conjunction with others such as establishing breaks, encouraging time off, and creating divisions between home and work can underscore leadership’s commitment to inclusivity and communication. Most importantly, doing so may give employees the push they need to open up about their issues, thereby allowing managers to help them or guide them to the resources they need. 

Create and Maintain Channels of Communication with Employees

Opening up about personal mental health is only one part of the solution. Managers must also strive to create and maintain open communication channels with their employees. This will help them feel comfortable sharing and ultimately resolving their challenges.

Encouraging discussion and openness is a critical component of supporting employees. But unfortunately, not everyone feels comfortable or has had a positive experience opening up.  A recent survey by Mind Share Partners found that less than 40% of employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work to other colleagues, their managers, and HR. Furthermore, only about half of the respondents (49%) described their experience as positive.

Managers must assure their employees that opening up about mental health will be met with support and care.. Letting them know that leadership is an ally in combating – rather than a contributing factor – to workplace stressors. The Mind Share report also found that employees who did feel supported by their employers were twice as likely to talk about their mental health at work. In addition, employees reported higher job satisfaction and were more likely to stay with their company. 

Keep Learning

Unfortunately, the ongoing shifts in workplace dynamics suggest that mental health in the workplace will only continue to garner importance. Despite this, most managers lack formal training on mental health issues, which means that even though employers might be willing to help and support employees, they may be unable to do so. 

Formal training sessions and making mental health support resources available to all levels of leadership will help employers deal with employee mental health more effectively. Training and support will also tell employees that their issues will be taken seriously.

In leading by example, employers are taking on a more dynamic and effective role in supporting employee wellbeing. While it may not always be easy, doing so is the best way to drive real change and create an open, healthy workplace where employees can thrive. 

Mentoring and the Employee Connection

Podcast Sponsored by: Together

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, experts believe that high levels of loneliness and disengagement at work caused by the pandemic could be addressed by mentoring. Additionally, surveys have shown that more than 90% of professionals who work with first-generation college students through mentoring and career development programs believe their experience as a mentor has helped them become better leaders or managers at work.

Our Guest: Matt Reeves

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Matt Reeves, CEO of Together, a software platform focused on enabling companies to run best-in-class internal mentorship programs. Together Software helps organizations run internal mentorship programs that intelligently match every employee with the best person for them to learn from. We asked Matt to tell us what a mentorship program is. He explains:

A mentorship program within an organization is where you’re pairing two colleagues together, usually a more junior employee who’s the mentee with a more senior employee who’s the mentor, for career development and career guidance. Typically, these employees meet on a particular cadence like once a month over a year or even more.

Mentorship programs are becoming more and more in demand by employees who crave a better employee experience and career guidance. In addition, mentorship programs can help companies with employee retention, which helps drive bottom-line results. But, programs are evolving as the workforce changes. Matt:

We’ve seen companies breaking the mold and experimenting with different types of mentorship programs with the common thread being helping their employees learn from their colleagues through conversations.

The Flavors of Mentorship

There are different types of mentorship approaches. Some are more traditional, and some are more out of the box. The best match for a company depends on the needs of the employees.

The traditional approach is a one-on-one program. You have a more senior mentor mentoring a more junior mentee for a specific period. Certainly, peer programs are very common, as well as reverse programs where you have a less senior employee who’s perhaps more experienced in a particular topic mentoring a more senior employee. And then where we see many organizations have a lot of success in breaking the mold is on the duration piece of the program and adding flexibility for the participants.

Benefits for the Mentor and Mentee

Both mentor and mentee have different reasons for wanting to participate in a mentorship program. Matt explains:

I think most people understand why a mentee would want to participate – to learn, develop and progress in their career. I think they want to participate on the mentor side because they are more senior. When you’re more senior in an organization, you are expected to be a people developer and culture carrier.

This is also something participants can bring to performance reviews and use in conversations around promotion and compensation as part of a company’s overall performance assessment of their employees.

Technology and the Mentorship Experience 

Our final question to Matt – we asked him his thoughts on using technology to keep mentors and mentees connected. He answered:

From an administrative standpoint, it significantly reduces the workload. From the employee standpoint, there is a much-improved employee experience. For example, a manual program can take time to match mentor and mentee. Not a great experience if you’re paired with someone who has left the organization. Something easily avoidable if you’re using technology.

I hope you found this recent episode of #WorkTrends informative and inspiring. For tips and ideas on what a mentorship program could look like for your organization, go to togetherplatform.com.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

The Urgency Epidemic – Prioritization & Productivity

When was the last time you were placed in a situation at work where the sense of urgency to complete a project was overwhelming due to unreasonable timing and expectations? Yesterday? The day before that? This scenario is way too common in today’s workplace. In this episode, we will be discussing a common phenomenon that businesses across all industries are struggling with currently — the urgency epidemic.

Our Guest:  Brandon Smith

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Brandon Smith, an expert in leadership communication and a curer of workplace dysfunction. Brandon is a sought-after executive coach, TEDx speaker, author, and award-winning business school instructor. He has been featured in the Wall Street CNN, and many other publications for his expertise. His book, The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time, helps readers master urgency, so they can more effectively lead others.

The most precious resource in the work world today isn’t money, it’s time. When everything at work is “always urgent all the time,” it can create, in Brandon’s words “a Petri dish for anxiety.” If employees and managers aren’t careful, it can lead to a decline in the overall efficiency and quality of work over time. Due to the continued disruption of the pandemic and current inflation, time management has become even more of a critical challenge for companies and organizations of all types. 

As Brandon states:

“So overall, if I had to put my stake in the ground and say, ‘What’s my purpose in life?’ It is to eliminate all workplace dysfunction everywhere forever. That’s my purpose. So I’m gainfully employed with plenty of job security. The reason why I wrote this book was because this was one of those many flavors of workplace dysfunction that everyone I was talking to was feeling. It didn’t matter if they were working. They were just dealing with this sense of hot sauce being poured on everything. Hot sauce is the analogy I use for urgency. And so I wanted to try and write a book that would be at least somewhat of a help, somewhat of a cure for that particular dysfunction.”.

When Does a Sense of Urgency Become A Problem?

Most managers use urgency as a motivator. Teams can collectively and quickly align toward a common goal in order to reach a business benchmark within a short timeline. But if urgency becomes the daily standard, this can lead to an environment of workplace chaos. This can result in serious missteps or worse. Brandon states:

A little bit of urgency is a good thing, we need urgency. Urgency motivates us. So urgency can motivate us just like hot sauce. A little bit of urgency, a little bit of hot sauce gives focus, gives flavor, creates priority. It’s a good thing. But just like hot sauce, if there’s too much urgency, I mean if everything that comes out of the kitchen is doused in hot sauce, the appetizer and the salad and the entree and the brownie, we’re going to be curled up in a ball wanting relief. We won’t taste anything. So a little bit of it using the right doses and the right times is a really healthy thing for us. It keeps us moving forward. But too much does the exact opposite effect, overwhelms us, confuses us, and that can lead to burnout.”

The Urgency Trap

What worked in the past for companies and organizations may no longer apply when it comes to keeping teams motivated and effective. Cultivating a sense of urgency as a motivational tool is something most managers and team leaders have been taught they are supposed to do. As Brandon states:

“Leaders are taught really early on, yeah, if we need people to change, we’ve got to start with urgency. And there is so many organizations right now needing to go through transformations, whether it’s technology transformations or whatever it happens to be. And so what leaders are doing is running around making everything urgent and then patting themselves on their back, going back to their office, closing the door, and saying, ‘I did a great job today.’ And all they did was just create confusion and chaos because they didn’t prioritize the urgency. They just said, ‘It’s all urgent right now, go.”

Escaping the Urgency

So how do managers and business leaders prioritize projects so that everything isn’t urgent all the time? Brandon explains:

Limit what you can make urgent at a time. My recommendation is no more than five. The best teams, the best departments, the best organizations are executing off of three to five priorities. So use urgency on those things. Use hot sauce on those things, but let everything else just be relief from the heat.”

As companies and organizations are pushed to evolve in order to move forward, how will work itself change, and more importantly, how will that affect the way we prioritize projects for a more productive and focused work culture? Brandon gives us his forecast:

“The future of work is going to be a really exciting time. When I look at my crystal ball, I see it’s going to be an exciting time and place where more of our personal lives are going to be factored into the equation. There’s going to be more flexibility and I’m sure this is nothing different than what you’ve been hearing before from others. But I will say that there’s going to be a lot more burden on us to set and keep our boundaries because there’s going to be no clear breaks between work and home life.”

I hope you found this recent episode of #WorkTrends informative and inspiring. To learn more about improving time and project management at work, contact Brandon Smith on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

Why Trust and Transparency Matter in the Workplace

Many business experts champion trust in the workplace. They include the likes of Stephen Covey and my dear friend, David Horsager. (His 8 Pillars of Trust and his many excellent books should be required reading.) However, what is perhaps less well known is the neuroscience of trust. As a species, we’ve developed an array of neurochemical survival mechanisms. Employers often ignore these mechanisms, and as a result, miss the opportunity to build trust and transparency in the workplace. 

The Neuroscience of Mistrust

Let’s start with the opposite of trust. It is the “fight or flight” response we experience when faced with a perceived threat. These “threats” elevate the hormone cortisol, which narrows our focus to deal only with the immediate. The threat could be actual, imminent, physical, or merely a harsh interruption in our day. The problem is, our bodies can’t easily tell the difference.

Of course, cortisol has other important functions. Cortisol controls blood sugar levels, memory formation, and blood pressure. At normal levels, it keeps us engaged with the day’s activities. When elevated, cortisol puts us on “alert status” and makes trust a low priority.

Trust and the Willingness to Take Risks

In my book, The Velocity Mindset, I discussed how cortisol can prevent leadership teams from identifying and achieving objectives. Additionally, I highlighted the role another hormone, oxytocin, plays in velocity (speed with direction and alignment).

Trust in the workplace—and its neurochemical roots—are key drivers for business success. Compelling research by Dr. Paul Zak and others champions the well-established science around oxytocin and trust. According to one study, oxytocin “affects an individual’s willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions.” Additionally, researchers have found that oxytocin “enhances an individual’s propensity to trust a stranger when that person exhibits non-threatening signals.”

Obviously, creating artificial trust in the workplace via oxytocin injections would be a short-sighted and ethical nightmare. Nevertheless, there must be practical ways to promote trust knowing that our biology.

Fortunately, trust in the workplace can be accomplished with common-sense approaches, as Horsager and others have shown. An Oxford study summarizes the key drivers and human resource practices that develop trust. These include mutual respect, open communication, and fairness, especially in appraisals of work. The study also identifies factors which decrease trust, such as a lack of transparency in decision-making.

The Risk of Betrayal in the Workplace

Trust is the gold standard. It is the glue that makes alignment and velocity possible. The benefits of increased trust in the workplace are enormous. Over the long term, it increases individual employee productivity and engagement. To paraphrase Zak, it improves collaboration and cultivates a happier, more productive workforce. On the other hand, the consequences of breaking that trust are far worse than not having it in the first place.

Studies have shown that a betrayal of trust, whether familial, cultural, or institutional, creates high levels of long-term stress, including the release of cortisol. If such responses become ingrained in an employee’s experience and memory, the chances of returning to a state of unqualified trust are slim. Consequently, employees might resist a manager or HR professional’s efforts to right a wrong or be transparent after a breach of trust. 

Though a proactive HR team may be capable of rebuilding this trust, the effort is complicated by the very neurochemicals that make us human.

Transparency: The Path To Velocity

It is not easy to win trust and transparency in the workplace. As a result, people are taking a risk when asked to make decisions that may not benefit them. The deciding factor is often how comfortable they are with those asking the question. Transparency, trustworthiness, empathy, and understanding are not just words. They are requirements for every HR professional and executive who aspires to true leadership. 

Today, it is impossible to take a “my way or the highway” approach to business. We need everyone’s buy-in to remain focused on tasks that support a purpose. Trust and transparency in the workplace, like everything else that enables leadership, begins with an understanding of what makes us human. And most importantly, it requires a willingness to work hard to gain that trust. 

How To Find Your Leadership DNA

What is your leadership DNA? It is your authentic self. The concept of authentic leadership is often bantered about. In my experience of working with leaders from the best of the best global companies, the most impactful definition is being the leader you were designed to be. How do you do that? Find your leadership DNA.

There is no one characteristic of a great leader. There are actually millions. The best characteristics for you are already hard-wired in you.  You just need to identify, build and leverage your strengths, passions and experiences to be that kind of leader you were designed to be.

Why is being an authentic leader so powerful?

People gravitate to authentic leaders. However, so many people want to copy an admired leader. This is unlikely to work for you for your brain is not hard-wired for this style. It may, in fact, focus you on your weaknesses. 

It takes great effort to fix a weakness. Instead, take that effort and focus it on further developing your strengths. Leverage the way your brain is hard-wired.

We are uniquely created. Each of us possesses a unique set of gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses, emotions and passions. Whether it is handed down to us though our parent’s genes, taught to us as we are raised from childhood to adults, or bestowed upon us from a higher power; we are who we are. There is a reason why we act, think and feel the way we do. Who we are is hard-wired into our brains.

In “A User’s Guide to the Brain,” Dr. John Ratey writes: 

“The brain is not a neatly organized system. It is often compared to an overgrown jungle of 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons…The neurons form an interconnected tangle with 100 trillion, constantly changing, connections. The connections guide our bodies and behaviors, even as every thought and action we take physically, modifies their patterns. Our neurons are constantly competing to make connections and these connections are what make us who we are.”

If you want to be average, focus on fixing your weaknesses.

When I was a child, I was poor in math. My parents did what most Asian parents would do: they got me a math tutor. Every night with my tutor I went through hell. After three months of working hard, night after night of feeling stupid, I was able to take my math skills from poor up to… slightly above poor. 

Then I got into the business world. The end of the year performance appraisal surfaced that I was weak in my analytical planning. So, week after week, month after month I worked on it. I was able to get my analytical skills up to average.  

What am I becoming? Average.

Now, there is nothing wrong with average. If you want to be average, this is a good approach. However, many of us want to be exceptional at something. If you want to be distinctive, an authentic leader, you need to identify your strengths and leverage them by focusing on developing them even further. If your organization provides a training budget for you, sign up for training courses to enhance your strengths. 

McKinsey’s study on centered leadership shows: 

“Of all the dimensions of centered leadership, meaning has a significant impact on satisfaction with both work and life; indeed, its contribution to general life satisfaction is five times more powerful than that of any other dimension.”

Leverage not only your strengths, but also your passions. These combined with your experiences are a powerful combination. 

How to find your leadership DNA?

1. Identify your strengths and passions.

There are many tools out there that can help you find them. Here are a few to check out:

2. Drill down for specificity.

Whatever tool you use, it’s important to drill down to more specifically determine the who, what, where and when for each. This brings more clarity and breaks things down into bite-size, actionable pieces.

3. Take action, now!

In his book “Smartcuts”, Shane Snow writes about the power of the “Big Mo” (momentum). Momentum is key! 

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile has found that the answer is simply progress. A sense of forward motion. Regardless of how small. Amabile found that minor victories at work were nearly as psychologically powerful as major breakthroughs. And momentum isn’t just a powerful ingredient of success. It’s also a powerful predictor of success.

Small steps add up! Use the power of compounding. One step forward brings you joy, especially if that step allows you to work on the things you are good at or love doing. One step forward gives you a sense of accomplishment and a positive feeling that you are getting closer to your goal of authenticity.

Get on the path of being an authentic leader, more of who you already are by taking action now, and moving down that path.

5 Ways Leaders Can Create a Successful Work Environment

impact awardWhat is a great “place” to work today? With many abandoning the office tower or business park cubicle office, we’re increasingly emerging from an era of great workplaces to the new territory of worker-centricity. While some thought the great place to work was about amenities (commuter buses, reduced or free food, and onsite everything), we’ve known something else all along–supportive leadership in the work environment is key. 

Executives in great organizations believe that every employee benefits from outstanding leadership. Engagement is dependent on leadership, as Gallup’s research consistently reports that nearly 70% of employee engagement is within a manager’s control. Managers who prosper in today’s hybrid work environment will boost engagement with the five core leadership practices.

1. Building and sustaining trust.

The core of the coming modern enterprise is an authentic leader’s ability to gain and establish trust. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed declining confidence in social institutions and organizational leaders worldwide. The world’s two largest economies, China and the U.S., showed significant decreases in the trust of both politicians and corporate executives. Employees who trust their leaders demonstrate greater satisfaction, loyalty, and involvement, all antidotes to undesirable talent drain and loss.

Trust fuels the teamwork and progress that leads to innovation, a key determinant of long-term growth and survival. Managers erode trust when they are not honest and truthful, and trust is difficult to regain. Trust erosions lead to decreases in integrity, and we don’t fully engage with those we don’t trust. Successful leaders engage and enroll people in goal-driven missions that spark collaboration leading to improved teamwork and productivity. 

2. Leading from values.

When was the last time you considered what your team or company holds in high regard? Typically, we keep our values in the highest regard and build reward and consequence systems that reflect leaders’ values. Engineers and scientists, for example, are recognized for their accomplishments with honorific titles or other expressions of acknowledgment. At the same time, sales and marketing professionals might reap great expense-paid prizes. The more selective the set of values, the more they shape performance.

Values help people connect to organizations and the world in ways more significant than individual accomplishment and effort. For example, if a startup values frugality, people will likely be encouraged to monitor capital and resource consumption. When a manager recognizes effort routinely, the manager demonstrates care and will actively bolster employee satisfaction and engagement. Values guide the decisions we make and the actions we take. Leaders gain faster results and build better relationships by consistently articulating and aligning colleagues to shared values.

3. Creating communities.

While there is truth in the observation that culture eats strategy, growth businesses are now shifting to community thinking within the work environment. A community invites deeper levels of belonging and commitment, while culture implies one-way approaches. While leaders will never underestimate the influence of culture on work processes — or how things get done — they will invest in creating communities where the practices of improvement and resilience thrive. 

Communities, not cultures, pay attention to wellbeing, commitment, innovation, and revenue. As they do, expenses and problems decrease along with skepticism and stress.

Managers and leaders who succeed facilitate employee involvement in decision-making and product and service delivery. Managers expand their capacities for including and involving others and encourage broad knowledge and skill sharing. When managers lead the way in strengthening the bonds, performance vitality and output increase. Employees improve their connections among their colleagues and partnerships between leaders and their teams thrive. 

4. Growing transition readiness.

Most people can let go of the past and successfully embrace a new order or a different future. However, the time between a specific history and an unpredictable future creates and powers uncertainty. In the face of not knowing, we fill in the gaps to reduce the psychological tension that arises with an unknown future. The remedy to not-knowing is to equip a generation of leaders with the knowledge and skill to navigate uncertainty successfully.

A manager successful at helping others through transitions possesses self-awareness and openness to change and growth through learning and development. These managers refuse to see opportunities and people as problems but rather as contributors. When work is perceived more like an invitation than a requirement, an organization’s esprit de corps positively changes.  Improvements measured by meaningful metrics rise.

5. Maintaining a Customer-First Work Environment

When employees can connect their experience and employment to a paying customer or stakeholder, the commitment to excellence thrives. People want to do their best to deliver a quality product or service to those they feel connected to. Customers and new markets are eternal sources of inspiration when we successfully recruit and involve employees in a customer-first mission. A team’s connection to a customer contributes to the motivation for peak performance. When we care, we act in a customer-first way.

Managers and leaders improve organizational energy by harnessing a customer-first spirit across the enterprise with both customers and employees. When colleagues treat each other as customers, it translates to appealing work environments. A standard of care and excellence replaces indifference created by the isolation many experience in today’s hybrid workplace.

To reawaken work and succeed in the new world of work, we must put these five practices into place to boost engagement. Leadership growth in these action areas contains the kernel of power to transform careers, lives, organizations, and the communities we serve. Begin the journey to building teams and communities on the path to personal and organizational prosperity.