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What Hybrid Worker Preferences Reveal About the Future of Work

We don’t need research to tell us the future of work will be much different from pre-pandemic norms. But Covid isn’t the cause. Disruption was happening before 2020. The pandemic merely focused our attention and accelerated the rate of change. So, where is work headed next? It’s impossible to chart this course without considering hybrid worker preferences.

This is why my firm, NextMapping, recently conducted extensive research to explore factors that are redefining the workplace. The result is our 23 Trends For Future of Leadership 2023 Report, based on data from client surveys and online polls, combined with insights from McKinsey, Gartner, and the World Economic Forum.

Wellbeing Remains a Central Concern

Our analysis uncovered a single overarching theme — worker wellbeing. People want work that is flexible enough to fit into their lifestyle. In fact, they’re willing to make professional adjustments to address this priority. And because the market for talent remains competitive, employers need to make workforce wellbeing a priority, as well.

How does this translate into hybrid worker preferences? We see clear trends in how people want to work, where they want to work, and who they want to work for. There’s no doubt that hybrid work is here to stay! These data points make a compelling case:

  • 66% of workers worldwide prefer to participate in a hybrid workplace.
  • 26% of U.S. workers currently operate in some kind of hybrid mode.
  • 40% of workers say they’re more productive working remotely. However, 52% prefer hybrid work over a fully remote model.
  • People consider in-office work important for networking, team camaraderie, and enhanced relationships. They also think onsite work can improve training, learning, and knowledge sharing.
  • Remote work is perceived as helpful for including workers from various locations and completing projects or tasks with minimal interruption.

Hybrid Work is Not One-Size-Fits-All

There are multiple ways to define hybrid work, as these statistics suggest:

  • People want to structure their own hybrid schedules. Most would rather choose their in-office days, with 76% preferring to work in-office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays.
  • Workers want fewer meetings, and they want each meeting to be more effective. In fact, 66% say ineffective meetings reduce their overall productivity.
  • People prefer accessible leaders who are strong coaches. This is so important that 81% of workers say they quit a job to leave a “toxic” boss at some point in the past three years.
  • Workers want an employer that invests in their future. 55% note that their company provides learning roadmaps, growth opportunities, and succession plans.

Overall, our findings indicate that hybrid workplace success depends on leaders who are comfortable managing the unique and variable needs of people who are operating in multiple work modes. It requires flexible, agile leaders who can adapt to diverse personalities and work styles. These leaders need higher-order soft skills. I call them super crucial human skills.

How Leaders Can Support Hybrid Worker Preferences

To better understand how to lead more effectively in this new environment, let’s look closer at hybrid worker preferences:

1. More Scheduling Choice

Knowing workers want to choose the days they work on-site and offsite, leaders will benefit from conducting ongoing conversations with individual team members about scheduling that works best for them.

Some leaders have proximity bias. In other words, they want everyone to be in the office because it’s their preference. Proximity bias creates a barrier that keeps leaders from listening to employees and developing trusted relationships.

Some leaders have told me they don’t think people are working as hard when they work remotely. This, too, is a bias. Leaders can’t be effective if they base decisions on inaccurate performance data and make assumptions based on personal biases. 

2. Fewer and Better Meetings

I know several hybrid work leaders who have fallen into the trap of booking more meetings because they think this improves inclusion. But it’s time for everyone to re-evaluate meeting practices with a more discerning eye.

The rise of virtual meeting tools makes it easier to schedule more meetings. But less may be more. When does a topic or project truly deserve a meeting? Who really needs to attend? Could a modified approach lead to better results?

Ideally, every meeting has a “why” and a facilitator who is ready to make good use of participants’ time. Some creative thinking can help you build a more effective agenda and achieve useful outcomes.

For example, polling and survey tools (such as PollEverywhere and SurveyMonkey) can help you gather worker insights about subjects that require team input. This means you can sidestep some meetings intended to gather verbal input. In other cases, these tools can help you prepare an agenda that will make meetings more productive.

3. More Access to Leaders

Hybrid workers prefer accessible leaders who are great coaches with high emotional intelligence. This is an excellent opportunity for leaders who want to coach and inspire their teams more effectively. But leading with high emotional intelligence requires great skill.

The hybrid workplace has increased the need for leaders to adapt to a combination of in-office communication and virtual communication. In the past, we called these capabilities soft skills. But for success now and in the future, I think we should reframe these skills as “super crucial human” skills.

The ability to pivot and navigate uncertain waters, while also remaining open and caring is the most critical skill development challenge for leaders in 2023. 

4. Deeper Involvement in Future Plans

Lastly, workers prefer to know “what’s next” when it comes to their future. Organizations that offer a roadmap of growth opportunities, succession plans, and talent mobility enjoy higher workforce retention. These practices will become even more important, going forward.

Leaders can collaborate with their team members to help co-create a professional path that is flexible and fulfilling. When workers feel that their leaders care about their future and are invested in helping them succeed, it strengthens their commitment to their leaders, their work, and their organization.

This is Only One Leadership Priority

No doubt, hybrid workplaces will continue to shift and require everyone to adapt. But we see other important trends emerging this year, as well. For instance, automation will have an increasingly important role in helping people produce better-quality work. Also, leaders will benefit from shifting their perspective from “me” to “we.”

To learn more about all 23 trends we’re tracking for 2023 and beyond, watch our research summary video:

How Can You Build an International Workforce? Tips for Success

In the past, many employers dismissed the idea of building an international workforce. Those who could attract local talent considered it unnecessary. Others didn’t have the resources to support remote teams. No more. Why? The market for talent is vastly different today than when the pandemic began three years ago.

Welcome to a New World of Work

Even if you’ve only glanced at business news recently, you’ve seen the signs. Several rapidly changing trends are rewriting work-related behaviors, norms, and expectations in significant ways.

Employees are working from home in unprecedented numbers. And they’re quitting their jobs at higher rates, despite inflation and other economic warning signs. In fact, people are more mobile than ever, as they uproot themselves on a dime to work remotely from states or countries they find more attractive.

What’s more, these trends aren’t limited to a few isolated professional groups or locations. Now, you can see evidence of these changes in every corner of the world. So, what’s the key takeaway from all of this upheaval? In my opinion, it all points in one direction — to the rise of a truly international workforce.

Why Choose an International Workforce?

According to government statistics, roughly 75% of global purchasing power lies outside the United States. And across that global landscape, an international workforce has sprung up, filled with talented, driven people who are eager for employment.

Fortunately, many crucial technologies are now available to help employers find and hire an international workforce. For example, these tools are designed to assist with everything from identifying the right candidates and onboarding new hires to ensuring that payroll complies with regulations in an employee’s home country.

Employers with a modern, cloud-based HR technology ecosystem can integrate these tools into their existing tech stack with relatively little disruption. But whatever applications you choose should be based on a holistic talent strategy. In other words, you’ll want to develop a plan that considers all the issues and benefits associated with international expansion.

But for many organizations, the reasons for going global are compelling. Competition for qualified talent remains intense. And now that flexible work models are becoming a standard, the reasons for U.S. companies to go global are clear. It has never been easier to attract and retain the talent you need by expanding your geographical footprint. But employers who want to succeed should focus on these key steps…

How to Hire a Truly International Workforce

1. Uplevel Your Talent Acquisition Efforts

Many employers continue to act as if their sourcing efforts are still limited to a specific geography. But that’s no longer the case. Today’s qualified talent pool is global. So, if you make the most of this competitive opportunity, in no time you can expand your applicant pool.

The U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on exceptional workers with specialized knowledge and experience. Not even close. By limiting yourself to domestic workers, you also limit your company’s potential.

Obviously, a major advantage of global hiring is the ability to quickly fill high-priority roles. But there are other valuable benefits, as well.

For instance, if diversity is important to your organization, an international workforce opens the door to fresh perspectives. Embracing people with various points of view brings the kinds of insights that help businesses grow and thrive. In fact, diverse teams are 1.8 times more likely to be prepared for change and 1.7 times more likely to lead market innovation, according to Deloitte.

This also sends a powerful message to potential hires and customers about your commitment to diversity and inclusion. For example, having an internationally diverse workforce is a strong selling point for 67% of candidates looking for a new job.

2. Find Local Partners You Trust

Thus far, we’ve discussed one type of remote hiring — accepting applications for remote roles from people around the world. But there’s another type of remote hiring with massive implications. It’s when companies want to rapidly enter a new geographic market.

In the past, businesses breaking into a new country like Thailand might have acquired a Thai company to absorb its workforce. This can be slow, time-consuming, and costly. And it may even be a cultural mismatch.

Now, this process is no longer necessary. Today, through remote recruiting, businesses can simply hire the remote workers they need in Thailand, and work with them to implement a rollout in that country.

This raises a related question: How can you trust a remotely-hired partner to build your business in another part of the world? Ultimately, the answer is the same as it would be for a domestic candidate.

This means you’ll want to complete the same type of due diligence. Ask for references. Conduct multiple rounds of interviews. If possible, begin with a probationary trial period, so you can clarify each candidate’s skills and culture fit. Although hiring an international partner might seem like a bigger decision than hiring a domestic candidate, the same basic rules apply.

3. Leverage New Technology to Drive Global Growth

Certainly, global hiring isn’t simple. Setting up operations in a new work environment — with its own distinct customs and employment laws — requires specialized knowledge that isn’t readily available in most organizations.

What are the local laws around hiring and firing? What kinds of expectations do employees bring to their day-to-day work lives? What are the labor laws? How are things like cross-border compliance monitored? These are essential questions when hiring globally, and it’s imperative that businesses build their knowledge base so answers are available when they inevitably arise.

Fortunately, in recent years, many technology solutions have emerged to help businesses deal with issues like these. AI-powered platforms can readily streamline the process, integrating team members from across the globe while staying on top of compliance. In fact, platforms like these can transform the entire process, allowing companies to quickly expand into new markets and establish a local presence anywhere in the world.

Final Thoughts

At this point, the barriers to forming a truly international workforce are almost purely psychological. There is no shortage of skilled workers across the globe who are eager to make an impact at U.S.-based companies. And there is no shortage of technology-based solutions that can make it as easy to hire those workers as it is to hire someone down the street.

What corporate America does need is a psychological shift. Employers need to be willing to think beyond borders, get creative with hiring, and tap into the power that an international workforce can offer. The rewards are clear and abundant. All we need is the will.

The Serious Value of Humor at Work

I’m a fan of fun work environments. So of course, I’m also a fan of humor at work.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should all pretend to be stand-up comedians. And I’m not talking about snide remarks, disrespectful jokes, or pranks at someone else’s expense. Work is serious business. But does it really need to be so very, deeply serious all the time? I don’t think so.

A touch of humor is a natural way to engage people and lighten the mood. For instance, who doesn’t enjoy taking a moment to bond with a colleague over a funny meme?

In my opinion, sharing a chuckle or a smile with someone keeps us connected at a very human level. And fortunately, I don’t have to look far to find an expert who agrees with me! So join me for this #WorkTrends podcast episode, as I take a look closer at the special power of humor at work:

Meet Our Guest:  David Horning

Today, I’m comparing notes with David Horning, a professional comedian who took the leap from making people laugh on stage to becoming a business consultant. Now he helps others learn how to use positive psychology, communication skills, and humor to manage difficult work situations and enhance organizational culture.

Humor vs. Comedy

First, let’s talk about the word humor. What is it exactly and how is it different from comedy?

Well, humor and creativity are similar in many ways. Humor is a pattern disruptor.

Basically, it is an internal process that lets us be okay with holding two competing thoughts at the same time. Humor allows us to connect those dots in new ways. It connects different ideas. And it also connects similar ideas in new ways.

So basically it disrupts preconditioned thought patterns and introduces new possibilities. Think of it as the crack in the door that allows us to see beyond a circumstance, a challenge, adversity, or even trauma of some sort.

Why Workplace Humor Matters

Do you think humor is playing a more important role in work culture?

Oh definitely. It’s catching on, and with good reason.

Studies show that CEOs prefer employees with a sense of humor. In fact, if you display your sense of humor at work, you’re perceived as being more intelligent, more likable, and CEOs think you’re doing a better job.

Not only that, but employees prefer bosses who don’t take themselves so seriously.

What If You’re Not Funny?

Some people just don’t have a funny bone in their body. What do you tell them when it comes to humor as a vital skill?

Actually, you don’t have to be funny. That’s the great thing about incorporating humor into the workplace. You can appreciate it in others.

Celebrate people who are bringing sunshine into the office – people who are surrounded by laughter – your more creative thinkers.

You can be the most analytical person in the world, but anybody can develop an appreciation for humor, for laughter, for comedy. We all have that capability. All you really need is to give yourself permission to think outside of the box, to think beyond the strict labels we tend to give things.

How Leaders Can Support a Culture of Humor at Work

What advice do you have for a manager who’s unsure about supporting humor at work? 

First, if you’re nervous about it, don’t overwhelm yourself. But keep in mind that when humor is used in the workplace, it should be consistent with your organization’s values.

For example, if respect is one of your values and a joke you’re about to tell isn’t respectful, pump the brakes. Using those shared values as your baseline is a great place to start.

 


For more excellent advice from David about how to tap into the power of humor at work, 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.

Are You Cultivating a “Culture-Add” Talent Strategy?

In recent years, I’ve been encouraged by a groundswell of employers that are choosing to embrace “culture-add” people practices. In fact, several months ago, I wrote about it in a Sage Masterclass article.

Because this concept is central to the future of work, I’ve continued to ponder, read and discuss culture-add issues with others. Now I’m convinced this topic deserves much more than just one blog post. So let’s explore it further here. I hope this underscores the need for a shift to a culture-add recruitment and retention mindset. But more importantly, I hope it inspires constructive change.

What Does “Culture-Add” Mean?

The term “culture-add” speaks to a paradigm shift beyond traditional “culture-fit” talent strategies. On the surface, the culture-fit approach seems appealing. However, it ultimately leads to one-dimensional groups, teams, and organizations. And history tells us homogeneity can have dangerous consequences:  blind spots, groupthink, and poor decision-making.

In contrast, a “culture-add” approach actively seeks people with diverse perspectives that enhance teams and organizations. As we learn more about the significant benefits of a diverse workforce, culture-add hiring is emerging as an important way to strive for differences that make a positive impact.

As I noted in my previous article:

Most of us know that employees who align with a company’s values and fit into the culture generally have higher job satisfaction, improved job performance, and frankly, stick around longer. However, we are resting on our laurels if we use this as our rationale for continuing to use the culture-fit model.”

Embracing Organizational Change

We all know humans tend to resist change. In fact, the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” was suitable for a long time. It still holds some merit, so let’s not dismiss it completely. Tried-and-true processes can potentially save us from all kinds of turmoil — emotional, logistical, financial, and more.

However, if we want to innovate and grow, we must also be able to adapt. No doubt, changing an organization’s cultural fabric can be daunting. But it is necessary for long-term viability.

As Stephanie Burns says in a 2021 Forbes column, Why Evolving Your Business Right Now Is Critical:

Anyone who has wanted to cling to how things were will be in for a surprise this year, as COVID-19 entirely shifted the original paradigm. However, it’s also presented an opportunity for businesses and individuals to evolve into new ways of being.

COVID hasn’t just turned the world on its head, it’s accelerated trends that were already happening, such as the shift to remote work and the collective desire for more convenience…

Still, some founders don’t want much change. This could be due to fear of the unknown or fear that leaving their old business model, which had worked so well for so long, could be catastrophic. However, we’re reaching a critical impasse where businesses that don’t evolve may very well fade out of the picture. Evolution is a natural part of all of our lives, and our businesses are no exception.”

Leaders would be wise to heed this important advice, even if it seems overwhelming. It’s time to change. Our work cultures are constantly shifting. We, too, should remain prepared to embrace new ideas, processes, and people who can make us better.

Culture-add hiring can support this process by inviting more diverse minds and voices to the table as we dream up fresh ideas and orchestrate change. This reminds me of a related term — new blood. We need new blood to thrive.

Connecting Culture-Add and Diversity

This conversation leads us directly to the benefits of diversity. There’s an excellent article on the NeuroLeadership Institute blog, Your Brain at Work: Why Diverse Teams Outperform Homogeneous Teams. The entire piece is worth reading, but here’s a noteworthy excerpt:

Diverse teams are particularly good at exposing and correcting faulty thinking, generating fresh and novel ideas, and accounting for a wider array of variables in planning.

Part of the reason this happens is due to what scientists call cognitive elaboration — the process of sharing, challenging, and expanding our thinking. In essence, diverse teams compel each other to think more deeply about their reasoning and interrogate the facts more objectively.

They share counterfactuals as they go, they don’t take things for granted, and there is minimal ‘social loafing’ — or just accepting things at face value. In short, diverse teams tend to come to better conclusions because those conclusions have been road-tested more thoroughly.”

The science of diversity in teams is truly fascinating. It tells us that recruiting and hiring leaders can help by feeding teams with talented people who can accentuate the benefits of diversity.

Of course, diversity and inclusion don’t end with hiring. The next step is fostering a workplace that makes a wide variety of people feel valued. This is not an easy task. However, it is essential. So let’s look closer at what to consider…

Tips For Building a Culture-Add Mentality

1. Actively weave a sense of belonging into your workforce

As you build a more diverse organization through culture-add hiring, don’t be surprised if cliques and segmentation develop based on geographical, cultural, and other distinctions. That’s natural! But challenge your people to also learn and share what they have in common with others. Allow space for these common interests and goals to surface.

The Why Diverse Teams Outperform Homogeneous Teams article offers a compelling reason to make this a priority:

The benefits of diversity aren’t likely to accrue if we simply put together a team of diverse individuals and assign them a task. The environment in which they’re working should be inclusive — one in which all members feel valued and as if they have a voice.

In that inclusive environment, the benefits of diversity are far more likely to materialize. If not, employees will leave the organization, or worse, stay but not contribute. Diversity without inclusion only creates a revolving door of talent.”

Vigorously work on building a sense of belonging so people of different ages, backgrounds, and lifestyles feel celebrated for their differences. After all, you’ve brought them in to add to your culture, so allow them to shine.

2. Prepare to fully retrain your recruiting and hiring staff

This tip could stand alone as an article, white paper, or college thesis. But to be brief, let’s use an example to illustrate how deeply culture-add hiring upends the traditional approach:

Previously, when Bob hired someone at XYZ insurance company, he considered a candidate like Stan an excellent fit. That’s because Stan lived in a similar neighborhood, was married to a well-liked woman, and had kids who were high achievers. If Stan also golfed on the weekends and enjoyed a steak dinner, even better! He’d fit right into XYZ Insurance and would have a fulfilling career.

As mentioned previously, this model once made a lot of sense. Cultural similarities and a genuine “he’s one of us” mentality created a comfortable atmosphere where longevity was often the result. Unfortunately, homogeneous organizations were also the result.

Today’s businesses face new challenges that require a different approach. Your talent acquisition team can start by taking the initiative to reassess the criteria they use to find people (where, how). Then you can reframe the recruitment conversation from end to end.

Instead of looking for people to fit a standard outdated profile, allow questions and conversations to emphasize and embrace differences in candidates. What can they add versus how do they fit?

Begin by asking yourself and others in your organization to talk openly about how hiring is being handled, and what kind of outcomes this approach is creating — for better or worse.

If a culture-fit model still drives your talent decisions, don’t be ashamed to admit it. But if that’s the case, you’ll want to start making changes soon. Because I assure you, your competitors are already moving toward culture-add for the win.

7 Employee Appreciation Ideas People Love

Content Impact Award - TalentCulture 2022

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.

How Social Background Checks Preserve Work Culture

Sponsored by: Fama.io

Every employer wants to provide a safe, supportive environment where people can do their best work. That’s a key reason why social background checks have become so popular. But many organizations don’t talk openly about how they make this happen.

I get it. This can be tricky to manage. But workforce wellbeing and your brand reputation are on the line. So, it’s wise to include a strong social media screening solution in your HR toolkit.

What kind of services are leading the way? And what should you consider when seeking a provider you can trust? Join me as I explore these questions on the latest #WorkTrends podcast episode.

 

Meet Our Guest:  Ben Mones

Today, I’m speaking with Ben Mones, Founder and CEO of Fama.io, the world’s largest provider of social background checks, and a leader in applying artificial intelligence technology in workforce screening services. As an expert in this process, Ben is an excellent source of advice for HR practitioners and business leaders.

Linking Culture With Social Background Checks

Ben, welcome! Let’s dive right in. How do you see social background checks tying into the employee experience?

Too often, employers don’t talk about background screening because they think it’s a “dirty” job at the front of the candidate funnel or during the onboarding process.

But that’s not what we do. We look at publicly available online records to detect behavioral patterns associated with intolerance or harassment. We look at things that, if left unchecked, could find their way into a company culture and create some damage.

Remote Work Raises the Stakes

Many of us work virtually now, so the stakes are higher. I mean, how are we getting to know people?

Agree. We often meet our coworkers by friending them on Facebook, following them on Twitter, or exchanging DMs on Instagram. So, if we’re interacting in these digital spaces, the importance of digital identity naturally follows.

Digital Screening Adoption Rate

How many companies are screening candidates or employees?

CareerBuilder and SHRM say 70% of employers perform some sort of social media or online profile check before bringing people on board. For example, they may be Googling someone before hiring them.

Risks of Social Background Checks

Compliance is a big concern with this process. What are the risks?

I think the risks of doing it yourself scare people away.

For example, you could be exposed to things you shouldn’t see. If a recruiter does this internally, they’ll see a person’s gender, ethnicity, pregnancy. You’ll see all these protected classes.

EEO says you can’t unring that bell. You can’t unsee that information. So because bias naturally occurs within all of us, you consider these sorts of things in your hiring process.

Avoiding Compliance Pitfalls

How can employers deal with these risks?

Managing the process through a third party helps squash those risks because you can configure the solution to filter only for job-relevant information.

This means you’re blind to all the protected class information you’d see if you were conducting social background checks on your own.

Key Screening Factors

What core behaviors do you look for in social screening? 

Here’s what we don’t do. We don’t do a yes/no recommendation on a person. Instead, think of flags for things like intolerance, threats, harassment, violence, crime and drugs.

 


For more advice from Ben, listen to the full podcast. And for detailed information about how your organization can benefit from social background screening, visit the Fama.io website, where you’ll find benchmarking reports and other resources for employers.

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.

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.

Work Culture Lessons Learned from the Space Shuttle Columbia

Leadership plays a significant role in work culture and organizational strategy. Yet many who are in charge seem unprepared for the responsibility. Seventy-six percent of employees agree that management sets the tone for workplace culture. But 40 percent say that managers fail to engage them in honest conversations, 36 percent say that their managers don’t know how to lead a team, and 58 percent cite their managers for their reasons for leaving their jobs, according to SHRM’s 2019 Culture Report.

Moreover, businesses lost nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars over the last five years due to employee turnover triggered by poor work culture and bad managers. With these stats in mind, if organizations want to stay afloat, they can’t wait on making improvements to work culture and organizational structure.

Our Guest: Dr. Phillip Meade

On the latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Dr. Phillip Meade, co-owner and COO of Gallaher Edge, a management consulting firm that applies the science of human behavior to create highly effective cultures. Dr. Meade has led teams and organizations for 25 years, serving at various levels of management. Following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, where the shuttle broke up as it returned to Earth, killing seven astronauts, Dr. Meade developed a plan for the organizational and cultural changes necessary for return to flight and create leadership behaviors to drive sustainable change.

In the case of the Space Shuttle Columbia, I wanted to know: What work culture influences played a part in the accident, and what was done afterward to pivot to a more functional organizational structure?

“Part of the issue was overconfidence. We thought that we were safe after we got up into orbit. Also, many felt that we couldn’t raise questions or talk about problems,” Dr. Meade says. “We had, for so long, this deep ingrained ethos that failure is not an option. And there were a lot of people in key leadership positions that believed that there was no way to fix the problem on orbit, even if we discovered it. And so, there was a resistance to even look and see if there was a problem.”

When he was asked to lead the work culture change, he noticed that many were highly dedicated individuals who wanted to be at work. It was then that he realized the difference between an effective organizational culture, and what’s merely a good organizational culture where people are happy, or enjoy working there.

“A truly effective organizational culture also drives the strategy of an organization. In the case of NASA, that means driving organizational safety and leads to high organizational effectiveness. So, that was one of the big keys to solving and changing the organizational culture.”

Changing Organizational Structure: Key Takeaways

So, when it comes to changing organizational structure, one of the key takeaways, according to Dr. Meade, is that organizational work culture is an emergent property of a complex adaptive organizational system. This means that it’s a combination of beliefs and behaviors of employees within an organization.

“While leaders are responsible for the organizational culture, it still lives between the ears of the employees. This is why we say that we use the science of human behavior to really work on and affect organizational culture because that’s where it lives,” Dr. Meade says. “It starts with the self, with the individual and it starts from the inside out. And so, I think that that’s one of the main keys about working with organizational culture.”

Another key takeaway, says Dr. Meade, is that the culture must align with an organization’s business strategy. It isn’t just about creating the happiest place on Earth to work. Sure, it’s great if you can achieve such a feat, and high employee engagement has been shown to increase productivity. However…

“If you’re increasing productivity towards goals that don’t align with your strategy then, there’s no point to it,” says Dr. Meade. “You want to make sure that the organizational culture you’re creating drives business results and aligns with your organizational strategy.”

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends. You can learn more about organizational strategy and the Space Shuttle Columbia accident by reaching out to Dr. Phillip Meade on LinkedIn. You can also find Dr. Phillip Meade’s book titled “The Missing Links: Launching a High Performing Company Culture” here. 

Image by Siri Wannapat

5 Ways to Incorporate Employee Recognition into the Flow of Work

While countless aspects of daily work have changed over the past year, one thing remains the same across most organizations: Employees value recognition. In fact, now more than ever, employees want their efforts to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. And with the job market heating up, if employee recognition isn’t consistently present, your top talent will go elsewhere.

Nearly 6 in 10 employees (58%) rank culture – including employee recognition – ahead of salary when it comes to what they want from a company.

So the stakes are higher than ever when it comes to recognition and retaining top talent. For companies hoping to thrive as hiring returns to normal, recognition must be a part of every leader’s responsibilities. And it must be incorporated into the flow of work to keep it top of mind and authentic. Yet, according to a recent survey across CXOs and HR leaders, only 36% see recognition as a top priority for 2021.

Employee Recognition: The Difficult Work Lies Ahead

Even for those leaders who acknowledge the need for incorporating recognition into the flow of work, the difficult work lies ahead.

For starters, know that recognition feels more natural and is more successful when leadership fosters a culture built on connection. When it comes to applying connection to recognition, repetition certainly helps. Today’s recognition technology empowers leaders to determine how each employee prefers their shoutouts and communication. For example, a recent study found that 54% of employees prefer a verbal thank-you, while 31% prefer a written note. Only 7% prefer celebration and gifts. As any successful leader knows that recognition is not one-size-fits-all, and it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it initiative.

Putting authentic recognition in the flow of your organization’s work can feel daunting. But leaders must make this a priority and set it as a part of their daily intentions. Let’s discuss five ways to incorporate recognition.

1. Acknowledge specifics

Anyone can hand out a generic “great job.” Such blanket statements feel insincere. Instead, focus on the specific contributions individual employees are making to create heartfelt praise. This will require more involved leadership and higher emotional intelligence than simply offering impersonal, inauthentic gestures of appreciation.

2. Embrace social recognition

Like it or not, social media is a big part of our lives. With remote work so prevalent now, we rely on online communities and interact via digital communication tools most of the time. Incorporating recognition into all of your employee communication tools, including social channels, ensures recognition is timely, visible, and in the flow of work.

3. Schedule virtual events

Team lunches, scheduled times to touch base, and other virtual events deliver two benefits:

  • They allow you to stay connected with your employees.
  • They provide a natural forum for recognition and communication.

Because remote work can leave employees feeling isolated, it’s important to schedule these virtual touchpoints to ensure a sense of community and connection. You can also let employees select the themes of the virtual events or choose activities (e.g., a virtual painting class or a yoga class) as a part of their recognition. That way, employees feel engaged and rewarded.

4. Make it meaningful

Let’s face it: Some daily tasks feel tedious and thankless. Put meaning in “the little things” — show the impact an employee has, even if they don’t see it themselves. One way to do this is to tie recognition of the smaller tasks to values, mission, or even larger themes within your organization. This lets employees see how their success maps to something greater. This is especially important now because being dispersed often distorts the bigger picture or impedes an employee’s visibility to larger goals.

5. Incorporate variety

Just as you incorporate variety into your messaging, variety is essential when it comes to message delivery. Think outside the box: handwritten notes, a customized gift, a video message, or a delivery of their favorite treat. If every attempt at providing recognition looks the same, employees will undoubtedly start to feel the message is increasingly less special.

The Connection Between Recognition and Results

Providing recognition is not the final step. It’s important to measure your recognition results to ensure program ROI. By infusing analytics into the process – tracking and measuring your recognition strategy’s effectiveness – you can determine which areas might benefit from optimization or where something isn’t working. You need to make sure what you’re doing is having the desired effect. You’ll also want to ensure that your company is getting the most from your recognition investment. Analytics will also help ensure that your programs are positively impacting the behaviors you want to target.

Data and analytics can provide the necessary feedback and a road map to ensure your organization stays on track now and in the future. Keeping an eye on the road ahead not only includes measuring ROI but also retaining your top talent. Ultimately, employee recognition provides the validation, appreciation, and culture to drive retention.

So, don’t let recognition be just a passing thought or a tool that sits on a shelf. Incorporate it daily for your workforce to feel genuinely valued. After all, we endured in 2020. So who doesn’t deserve a shoutout for the tenacity and resilience they’ve shown?

 

Photo by Yurolaitsalbert

How to Provide Constructive Feedback That Improves Performance

For previous generations of workers, employer feedback too often consisted of some variation of “Don’t screw up!” But in today’s workforce, employees need and want a lot more detail. They seek constructive feedback that helps them correct their weaknesses and further prepares them for long-term professional growth.

However, not all feedback is created equal. There are significant differences between destructive and constructive feedback, but they aren’t as apparent as you might think. Some managers believe constructive feedback means sugar-coating while destructive feedback means blunt rudeness — neither of which is correct. It’s difficult to say why this misconception persists, but HR teams need to reframe that line of thinking.

Constructive Feedback and Performance

When you know how to provide useful feedback to employees, you create the conditions for higher engagement, satisfaction levels, and performance. Destructive feedback has the opposite effect; according to one TriNet study, destructive performance reviews cause 1 in 4 Millennials to call in sick — or look for a new job.

Traditionally, consistent feedback occurs when employees and employers meet for annual performance reviews. During those reviews, the two sides discuss everything from the employee’s performance throughout the year to raises, promotions, or even demotions or termination. The employer would then wait another year before giving the employee additional feedback, and the majority of those meetings would focus on critical evaluation.

Today, more routine and consistent feedback loops have become the norm. Employers maintain open lines of communication and set clear expectations for feedback. They also encourage employees to provide feedback freely and confidently, with some managers holding monthly meetings designed specifically for this purpose.

But these measures alone aren’t enough if employees don’t receive constructive feedback from managers throughout the process. A recent Gallup poll found that only 26% of workers strongly agree that manager feedback on employee performance positively impacts future outcomes.

Useless feedback is as bad as destructive feedback, and it can be demoralizing. This takes a toll on the team and the company, causing employees to lose motivation or leave. Constructive feedback builds up employees instead of bringing them down, and it helps them identify performance gaps in a positive way that doesn’t cause them to feel personally attacked.

Feedback is essential, but it matters how you provide and facilitate that feedback.

HR leaders can use the following tips when coaching management on how to give feedback to employees constructively. The goal: To help them grow and become even greater assets to the organization:

1. Put Feedback on the Schedule

Leaders should not isolate opportunities for feedback, and they shouldn’t blindside employees when those opportunities do come. Some employers offer feedback sessions monthly; others hold them every week. By creating a consistent feedback schedule, you can ensure your team understands and is prepared to meet timelines and expectations.

For example, at the end of 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg livestreamed a one-on-one with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. During the stream, Sandberg revealed that weekly feedback sessions were essential when she began working at Facebook in 2008. Since then, the two C-suite leaders start and end each week with a one-on-one.

2. Uncomplicate the Process

In most businesses, things happen much more rapidly than they did generations ago. This has been especially true over the past ten months or so. Having frequent, regularly scheduled constructive feedback sessions gives managers and employees the chance to get on the same page, even as things change. However, more frequent feedback can also become more complex, and employers will do well to keep the process simple.

HR teams might lend managers a hand by creating a simple online form that employees can use to quickly and easily submit answers. Much like a customer satisfaction survey, completing it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Then, managers can generate a report based on those form answers to share and discuss during the next feedback meeting.

3. Find the Right Cadence

After setting an initial feedback schedule and simplifying the process, HR teams might look at each employee’s desire for feedback to determine individual cadences. Managers in every industry have strayed from the once-a-year performance review model; employees have responded positively to the increased feedback, but not everyone needs to meet every week.

When employees feel micromanaged because evaluations come too frequently, that feedback loses its usefulness. Everyone might agree on weekly feedback sessions at first. But you might consider shifting to biweekly or monthly check-ins if they start to feel like a burden. Work with your team to find the most productive cadence, and be agile enough to change things up.

The distinction between destructive and constructive feedback is in the results. Knowing how to provide effective feedback to employees consistently helps ensure that it’s helpful, engaging, and empowering.

With these tips, HR leaders can help managers draw that distinction more clearly while guiding employees in their growth — and improving their performance.

 

Photo by Genitchka

Are Your Employees OK? Creating Sustainable COVID-19 Remote Work Policies

Are your remote work policies sustainable? Is your company culture still viable? Are your employees really ok?

Over the past few months, many experts (hundreds!) have written articles about COVID-19 workplace policies—especially the work-from-home versus onsite work dilemma we face now and in the future. I should know. I’ve written a couple myself! Yet, in all of the debates about the benefits and detriments of working from home versus in the office, I question whether there has been enough focus on the long-term effects on staff. I also wonder about the long-term impact on company culture.

New Thinking for A New Time

So how, in this chaotic response to the coronavirus pandemic of moving employees offsite—ensuring they are connected properly to work from home—do we ensure the side effects of remote work don’t cause long-term damage to your staff and your long-term strategic plans?

Here are some thoughts on what to look out for:

1. Culture

Culture (defining, creating, sustaining) has been one of the top business issues for the last 20 years. Tech companies spent big bucks trying to positively influence their corporate cultures (ping pong tables, beer taps, etc.). They tried to build a culture that would help entice employees’ top echelon when talent was tight. Today, though, COVID-19 is the immediate buzz kill for cultures across the spectrum. All the money and time built into an organization’s culture now has limited value.

When I started out of college at a Tier-one consulting firm, I loved going to work. I also enjoyed the evenings as people I worked with would socialize after work. It was great. If COVID-19 had broken out then, a major reason I appreciated the firm would be gone (as it is for millions of people now). I’d be working in isolation and not interacting (or socializing) with my peers. I can’t predict that I would like the firm. In fact, A friend recently told me her daughter loved work at her company in Silicon Valley. COVID-19 hit, though, and she went remote. She quickly realized she hated the work, but she loved the company’s culture and people. Soon after this epiphany, she left to look for another job.

As a result of COVID-19, the existing culture of an organization may have become dismantled. Companies have to work differently if their employees are going to be working remotely. Today, to have any relevance, we must rethink and rework the employer brand and focus that drives high-end talent to a company.

2. Loyalty

The most powerful talent retention strategy is the loyalty or commitment your employees have to your organization or its mission.

How have you addressed your employee retention strategy in light of your remote working policy and COVID impacts? There are so many different surveys related to the top 10 reasons top employees stay with their employer. But there are consistent themes. The most obvious? “Salary and compensation” is never number one. In fact, the highest “salary” appeared in a recent review of top 10 lists was fourth!

The consistent reasons employees stayed included:

  • Culture
  • Liking the people they work with
  • Good bosses
  • Enjoying the challenge(s)
  • Learning new things

In many Top 10 lists, these reasons come before pay. Yet in a COVID-19 world (and potentially post-COVID-19 for companies that remain remote), most of those reasons either go away or become harder to make relevant. Culture is more difficult to develop; working with people becomes less pertinent when dealing with them exclusively over Zoom or MS Teams. Learning new things also becomes more difficult when you are not in the office. After all, you have less exposure to what’s going on throughout the company; it is harder to get on new exciting projects. Invariably, once those top three to five reasons become less applicable, their salary climbs closer to the top of the list. When that happens, pay is often – and sometimes easily – improved by job-hopping.

3. Mental Health

Working from home can be a dream come true—or a nightmare. It depends on who you are, what type of work you do, and your company. But let’s keep it on an individual level.

Let’s start with the personality of the employee, specifically extroverts versus introverts. The saying goes that extroverts gain their energy from being with people and introverts exhaust their energy from being with people. COVID-19 may seem to be a dream for introverts (and a corresponding nightmare for extroverts), but it goes deeper. Many studies (yes… science!) point to an innate human need for social connection. I am an introvert, but an “extrovert wannabe” (my life’s tag line). This is hard for me. Before COVID-19, I may have had a week of meetings and evenings filled with networking events. If I have more than two evening networking events, I can guarantee that I will be canceling anything over that amount. Now? I’m craving even one networking event!

Even as an introvert, I find that there is only so much TV I can watch before I feel my brain cells begin to disintegrate! And I am lucky; I am at home with a partner (though eight months into isolation, I would guess he may not be feeling as fortunate) so I get some social interaction. People who are isolated and are in their homes 24/7, however, can be at risk.

Think about it: what do they do to punish someone in prison? They put them in isolation.

Mental Health: Avoiding Isolation Prison

This may not be the best thing for some employees. And in the short-term, the situation isn’t going to get any better: Those company holiday parties and outings have all but disappeared. Have you thought about ways to help your employees feel more engaged?

Here are some ideas to implement today:

  • Reach out and check on them
  • Send small gifts or have an online game night
  • Do you offer an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to your employees? If so, reacquaint yourself with its offerings (making your staff aware it exists could be more important now than ever).
  • Can you positively influence their off-hours time? (We bought our staff access to Master Class as a way to keep them mentally stimulated with things other than work.)

Working where you live eliminates that daily connection many of us took for granted. Yes, some of your employees may thrive within this new environment. But understand that many may not.

What are you doing for those individuals?

4. Physical Health Issues

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people were able to work out (gym, outdoors, etc.) more frequently. Unfortunately, working out from home is not for everybody.

The term “couch potato” often brings up the image of those sitting in front of the TV on the weekend. For many, that image is now our reality – seven days a week. And we’re working longer hours (thus the excitement of companies seeming an increase in productivity) while sitting in front of the computer! Physical activity studies recommend walking 10,000 steps a day. Most of us are lucky if we get past 1,000! Less physical activity leads to more physical problems, which leads to more money spent on health care (on top of the obvious costs associated with COVID-19).

It may not seem to be a problem now. But long term, inactivity is bound to be an issue.

Your employees must take some time for their physical health each day. Something as simple as standing up at the top of the hour and stretching can help. Standing desks have also shown significant benefits. Whatever message you can convey to your employees to move around a little each day, step outside on their front porch or in their back yard. And if they have stairs at home—encourage them to walk up and down a few extra times during the workday.

Remote Work Policies: Prepare for the Future

Today, many companies are touting increased productivity due to remote work policies. But when something looks too good to be true, it often is.

Companies need to be looking at the long-term effects of remote working on their employees, their company culture, and their differentiators in the marketplace. After all, short-term gains (like increased productivity) don’t always turn into long-term strategies.

If people are working harder at home, has your company assessed its sustainability? Once life returns to normal (and it will), how many people will be willing to work the same hours while watching reruns of “Friends”? Most importantly, what issues will we need to anticipate, given the strain the pandemic has caused on your employees’ mental and physical health?

Create sustainable remote work policies now.

Better to look at ways to address the not-so-great aspects of working from home, and your COVId-19 induced remote work policies, now — pay now or pay later!

 

Photo by Damedeeso

How to Empower Employees Around the Holidays — And Why You Should

When the holiday season hits, businesses and workplaces can sometimes get especially busy. Even worse, with all the craziness of the season they can fall into a holiday slump. But even if the holidays have thrown people off, you can still empower employees to be balanced and productive. And, in the long run, it’s better for everyone if you do.

So how do you maintain your business’s health and employee consistency? You empower everyone in your workplace to make the schedule changes and project decisions required to reach their end-of-year goals. This empowerment can be a tremendous motivating factor. It also makes everyone feel more fulfilled, helping your workplace genuinely thrive.

Here are a few ways you can make empowerment happen, and a few reasons why you should.

More Freedom

One of the best ways to encourage your employees to be productive and get things done is to offer more freedom with their schedules and hours. Though this may seem like it will let employees slack, it can actually empower them to get more done and fit work in where they can. Additionally, allowing more leeway around remote working can have the same effect.

Self-Determining Performance Goals

Another great way to empower employees to achieve more around the holiday season is by allowing them to set their own performance goals so they can manage their expectations according to their capabilities.

This autonomy allows more leadership opportunities in your workplace, as employees can encourage each other and self-motivate. This way, people can move at their own pace and perhaps achieve even more than you may have anticipated.

Team Meetings and Connection

Some of the best devices to motivate people and empower them as a team offer connection. Meetings, mixers, and team-related activities can bring people together and remind them of the communal spirit your workplace fosters. It doesn’t even have to be all business — some fun perks can go a long way, as satisfied employees tend to work the best.

Regardless of what you put together, remind people they’re a part of a team, and focus on your collective goals — not just individual objectives. In addition to establishing a focus on purpose, this approach enables a motivated workforce.

Recharging

Another excellent reason for why and how to allow some leeway and freedom during the holidays is enabling your employees to recharge and find some balance between their work and personal lives. You may wonder how encouraging employees to take time for themselves results in better outcomes.

The answer is quite simple. When employees have time to recharge, they produce higher-quality work, and they do it more efficiently. They can re-energize themselves, which means they come back with a better work ethic than someone who feels burnt out.

Consistency

Another reason to empower employees is that it helps maintain consistency — both within their work schedules and for your workplace as a whole. While some workplaces get into a holiday slump and then have to ramp up again in the new year, you can remain consistent. This means no slump over the holidays. And, just as critical, there’s no need for a correcting crackdown in January.

Your End-of-Year Bottom Line?

Encourage your employees to find balance and take control of their goals and workplace performance. You’ll see better results during the holidays – and beyond. And by doing so, you’ll create a healthy, consistent work environment full of individuals motivated to get the job done.

 

Photo by Milkos

4 Effective Ways to Execute 2021 Employee Training

There is no doubt employee training boosts motivation and reduces turnover. But did you know that training also provides employees greater direction, purpose, and peace of mind?

According to a recent report, 94 percent of employees say they would stay with a company longer if their employer invested in their learning. The report also found that heavy learners are 47 percent more likely to find purpose in their job. They’re more likely to know the direction of their career. And they’re 47 percent less likely to feel stressed at work.

Ongoing employee education should be a top priority for every organization. Unfortunately, the abrupt shift to remote work sparked by the pandemic forced many companies to push training to the back burner. As companies reexamine their 2021 budgets, many HR and training professionals seek smarter ways to invest in and execute employee training in 2021.

Here are four tips for getting the very best training for your employees — even if you have a smaller budget:

1. Ask Managers and Employees to Help Identify Gaps in Knowledge

According to a recent McKinsey memo, CFOs budgeting for 2021 should be looking to unlock more profound value from every investment. That includes employee training. Of course, for some companies, maintaining certifications will require training. In other cases, you may be completely clueless about the gaps in employees’ knowledge.

To ensure you’re investing wisely, talk to department managers and employees about what type of training would be most beneficial. Their knowledge and support will be helpful if you have to make a case for the investment. Plus, employees are likely to get more out of training they’ve already identified as needed.

2. Invest in Private Group Training

The pandemic may have disrupted your training in 2020, but that doesn’t mean 2021 should be a lost year. You can set up private group training either on-site or virtually, depending on current COVID-19 restrictions and your organization’s comfort level. Private group training gives you ultimate flexibility on scheduling, and the instructors come to you.

Private group training is an excellent investment, in part because you can tailor training to your company and employees’ needs. For example, IT training solution provider IBEX offers a customized curriculum to ensure the training aligns with your organization’s goals. They also incorporate your internal processes and terminology into the curriculum. Plus, educating an entire team or department is more cost-effective than training individuals.

3. Set-up Video “Lunch and Learns”

Executing employee training isn’t just about giving your team the technical skills they need to level up. It’s also about igniting their curiosity and creating a culture of growth. Of course, this idea gets a little nebulous when your team is remote. After all, where does that spirit of inquiry live when your employees are working from home?

One way to keep this growth mindset during a lockdown? Coordinate virtual “lunch and learns.” You’ve probably heard of TED Talks, but now you can get customized video recommendations based on your interests with TED Recommends. Pick a new video every week, and then discuss it as a team via Zoom. Not only will this help spark curiosity and innovation, but it will also give your team some much-needed social interaction.

4. Book Virtual Conferences Early

As COVID-19 cases surged, many organizers canceled major 2020 conferences. It’s unclear if big festivals such as South by Southwest will have physical events in 2021, but many are planning online events. While digital experiences don’t bring all the excitement of in-person events, there are certain advantages to booking online conferences.

First, many conferences are making their panels and keynotes available on-demand. This approach allows for greater flexibility and means your team can be sure not to miss the most relevant sessions. Second, these virtual events enable HR and training professionals to score tickets for a fraction of the typical cost. Tickets to SXSW usually cost upwards of $1,700, for example. But early-bird tickets for the virtual event are going for just $149. Plus, your company won’t have to foot the bill for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

Now more than ever, the future is uncertain; no one has any idea how 2021 will look.

The one thing we do know? Ongoing employee education provides enrichment that boosts job satisfaction and morale. Training is also an investment in your human capital that pays dividends for years. So as you look ahead to 2021, pay extra attention to how you will execute employee training for your company.

Photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh

Employee Mental Health Needs: Everyone Loses with A Reactive Approach

It’s now starkly obvious that the coronavirus pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives — not the least of which is the mental health of our employees. Rates of anxiety, stress, and depression are all up. The good news is that many companies have responded by increasing investments in their existing well-being programs.

A recent survey of 256 companies by the nonprofit National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions found that 53% now provide special emotional and mental health programs for their employees.

Some of these programs have garnered media attention:

  • Starbucks began providing access to 20 free counseling or coaching sessions, which can also be accessed by family members, at no cost.
  • Unilever launched a 14-day mental well-being resilience program for its employees.
  • Professional services firm EY now offers live daily workouts online to help reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Goldman Sachs now gives employees an extra ten days of family leave annually to take care of personal needs.

Missing the Mental Well-being Mark

Offered by four very employee-empathetic brands, those types of initiatives are valuable — as far as they go. But here’s the unfortunate reality: Most of today’s mental well-being solutions:

  • Have no underpinning in clinical psychology
  • Often focus solely on treatment
  • Fail to be proactive or treat the whole employee

In other words, the common wisdom around employee mental well-being is both backward and ineffective. In the end, these programs are band-aids. They don’t help sustain and nourish every employee’s total well-being — including their mental health. These programs also fail to help build your company culture and employer brand.

Why don’t they work?  Because they don’t empower employees to proactively identify and prevent mental distress and ill health. You see, it’s not enough to give employees the kinds of tools and programs that will support and potentially help them mend when the going gets tough, and their mental health suffers. You need to get ahead of the game.

Mental Health Needs: The Bigger Picture

Step back and consider this: Everyone has mental health all the time. Everyone, every day, is somewhere on the spectrum of mental health wellness.

Yet, our current mental health programs are nearly exclusively treatment-based. They’re designed and built to support the 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. who annually experience some form of mental health illness. Workplace mental health programs are no different.

The mental health of those 1 in 5 shouldn’t be the only ones considered during a pandemic — or at any other time.

After all, you don’t expect your employees to wait until their teeth are rotten to start brushing or getting regular cleanings, do you? To avoid developing severe problems down the road, they brush every day (you hope!). You also hope they see the dentist at least now and then.

It’s time to start treating your employees’ mental health the same as their dental health — proactively, holistically, and with tools and wisdom from trained professionals.

The Best Approach to Mental Health Needs

To fully support mental health, you, of course, first need an approach that mitigates the stress and anxiety we see today. But, going forward, you also need a proactive approach to supporting well-being. (By the way, only 6% of workers use the employee assistance programs provided to them, so there’s not much help there.)

Next, you must realize that employee health isn’t one-dimensional, and successful well-being programs can’t be one-size-fits-all. The answer is a whole-person, whole-organization approach that:

  • Applies preventive mental health strategies that affect change in any individual’s psychological, physical, and social well-being (the three spheres of the human condition)
  • Is individualized for each employee

The Wrong Approach to Mental Well-Being

Let’s face it: Perks like a limited number of coaching sessions, more flexible work schedules, and mindfulness apps can be helpful. But they assume your employees know precisely what they need at any given moment. They also believe employees understand where they are on their mental health journey.

Lastly, it’s essential to understand that most of today’s mental well-being solutions didn’t start from a clinically proven mindset. This means they don’t address the whole person — psychological, physical, social (maybe you’ve heard this as “mind, body, heart,” or similar). Neither do they address the seven aspects of daily life that nourish and support mental well-being:

  1. Happiness
  2. Sleep
  3. Coping
  4. Calmness
  5. Health
  6. Connection
  7. Fulfillment

You can take significant steps to prevent mental unwellness by nourishing those seven aspects of daily life. You’ll also improve your company culture and improve your employer brand. After all, employee mental health is out in front of everyone today.

Today’s Mental Health Reality

Compared to the start of the pandemic, a recent Qualtrics and SAP study of over 2,700 employees across more than ten industries found:

  • 75% feel more socially isolated
  • 67% report higher stress
  • 57% have greater anxiety
  • 53% feel more emotionally exhausted

The effects of 2020 will undoubtedly continue to impact the mental health of your employees. It’s cold comfort to note that the pandemic has opened employers’ eyes to what has been silently occurring below the surface for a long time: Their employees’ mental health, just like their physical health, is always in need of support. It can’t be ignored, and it certainly shouldn’t be. Unless, of course, you want to see the financial impacts of a workforce that’s left entirely to its own devices and is wholly unsupported.

Seek out a proactive, preventive, and clinically based mental health platform that addresses the whole employee. Don’t settle for one that can’t ensure the health and well-being of the whole person and your whole organization.

You can improve employee mental health. Start now by focusing on ways to help employees be healthier, more resilient, and more productive for whatever the uncertain future brings. 

 

Luis Tosta

Here’s Why Today’s Leaders Should Choose “And” Thinking

To the detriment of talent development and work cultures everywhere, we most often employ “either/or” thinking. Let’s talk about why today’s leaders should more often choose “and” thinking….

So many important aspects of human capital are nuanced and interrelated, yet seemingly polar opposites. For instance, recognizing the individual performer or recognizing team efforts. Showing respect for each person or showing respect based on performance and rewarding managerial-style performance or rewarding leaders.

Some organizations state only half of these pairs as desired values, hence the “or” between them. This is a mistake because when we see these values framed as either/or choices, we miss the synergy from leveraging the best from both sides. We cause harm from overfocusing on one value to the neglect of the other. After all, many values are interdependent, and ideas we think might be opposites are both highly desirable. The misleading part about this is that they need to live in tension with one another over time.  These pairings can be called paradoxes, wicked problems, or polarities that require “and thinking.”

“And” Thinking Versus “Or” Thinking

Both inside and outside of work, complexities exist that require us to think about these tensions between seemingly opposing pairs, rather than choosing A over B. For instance, one critical thinking point for leaders is the push-pull between continuity and transformation.

Those business leaders often find themselves executing complex change initiatives that enable their companies to compete better. At the same time,  they must create and maintain consistent foundational cultures employees can lean into – no matter what. All too often, when the message is only why complex changes are necessary, without acknowledging what has been going well (and what needs to remain in place), even the best plans blow up.

Everything done “the old way” is now wrong. Right?

This pervasive contradiction lowers morale and confuses, thereby sabotaging the energy and focus needed to implement the change.

Centralized Versus Decentralized Coordination

One of the biggest derailers for employees is the pendulum swing between centralized coordination and decentralized coordination. Organizations are frequently in a seesaw around this polarity. It’s as if one is better than the other, so they over-focus on one at the expense of the other.

For instance, a new chief executive officer is instituted and says: “We’ve lost the entrepreneurial nature of this organization, and we must decentralize and give control to each of the business units.” Because centralization and decentralization are interrelated, people complain there is no coordination and little ability to share services effectively. That causes the next CEO to say: “We have to centralize; everything is all over the map. Nobody knows who’s on first.” After finally getting used to the new structure, it whipsaws back to some version of the old one. With the average tenure of CEOs being three-and-a-half years, organizations must simultaneously focus on centralization and decentralization.

The Solution: Mapping Versus Gapping

One way around this conundrum is to institute a mapping process…

 

polarity map

 

Instead of executing a gap analysis, which is how most people approach change, we think about the upside and downside of their preferred value or pole in the polarity equation. We then do the same for the countervailing pole.  Then, as the diagram illustrates, we outline action steps for gaining the upsides from each pole. We also design strategies for avoiding the downsides of each if we over-focus on one pole to neglect the other.

That is “and” thinking.

Once we get the tension right between the different energetic poles, my clients find themselves comfortably resting in a virtuous cycle. They begin to get the best of both options, no matter how opposite those options seem. For many leaders, this comes as such a relief. Because those leaders, rather than focusing on the power of both – the “and” – tend to over-focus on one side of the equation. They then find themselves in a vicious and contentious cycle that isn’t good for them, their fellow leaders, or their teams.

Harness the power of both poles. Expand your thinking to “and.” You’ll soon create a virtuous cycle that will enable your organization to thrive, freeing your teams to unify under healthy “and” tensions versus the opposing camps that can form from “or” decisions.

 

Photo by Chris Montgomery

How to Create an Emotionally Comfortable Remote Working Environment

How can companies create a remote working environment that is both productive and emotionally comfortable?

With offices forced to close for long periods due to COVID-19, many people have adapted well to remote working. They have found working from home offers benefits from more flexible working hours to fewer distractions. However, working solo can also make employees feel more isolated; they may struggle to separate work and home life. This can leave workers less motivated and affect their overall wellbeing.

Read on to discover four ways to create an emotionally comfortable remote working environment that supports your team while helping keep them focused.

Establish Boundaries Between Work and Home

Remote working often means more flexibility in working hours and no time spent commuting to and from the office. However, it can also make it harder to establish boundaries between work and home life. Employees might be tempted to work longer hours to maintain their productivity. Or they might feel like they need to be available at all hours of the day so can’t switch off.

It’s important to help remote workers establish a clear boundary between their working day and free time. Otherwise, their mental well-being may suffer. At the very least, their stress levels will likely increase.

Outline the hours, or at least the number of hours, staff should work. Even if an employee is flexible with their actual working hours, encourage them to not work beyond a certain time in the evening so they have a proper break.

Also, suggest ways in which they can keep work and home separate. For example: Setting up a dedicated office space away from where they would relax in the evening. Or switching off the computer at the end of the day and over weekends. And suggest they not check emails before their agreed-upon work-day begins or after it ends. Finally, share useful information about staying motivated when working from home like this post from the Productivityist blog.

And, of course, encourage people to take their annual leave. Even if they don’t have any holiday plans or the pandemic continues to make travel difficult, it’s important to take time off. And it’s crucial that every team member feels they deserve a break.

Ensure a Productive Home Office Setup

Even though we’re several months into the pandemic, not everyone has a perfectly productive space at home for remote working. But it’s important to do everything you can to set them up with a productive-as-possible workspace. Treat their home space the same way as you would getting someone set up in your office building. After all, space and equipment impact their ability to focus well enough to do their job well.

When possible, provide W-2 employees with all the equipment and furniture they need. From a technology perspective, provide a laptop, screen, keyboard, headphones, cell phone, and any job-specific equipment. Also, ensure they have a proper desk and an ergonomic good chair. To identify and resolve any issues, share a workstation evaluation checklist like this one from OSHA with all remote employees. Also helpful, StarTech has some useful guides sharing tips for ensuring fast internet connections, reducing eye strain, and creating a comfortable set up. Once an analysis is done, you can then send employees any extra equipment they might need such as audio cables, adaptors, wireless devices, and laptop stands.

Set Clear Expectations

When you’re working in an office, it’s fairly easy to have a quick five-minute catch-up conversation or ask questions about your work. You can spontaneously talk through projects and assignments. While face-to-face, it seems easier to provide a detailed handover of work.

To create an emotionally comfortable remote work environment, leaders and peers must ensure everyone is on the same page at all times. They must feel confident about what they are doing and who to talk to if they’ve got questions. Just as important, they need to know how to talk to people and when.

To generate this feeling of confidence, companies need to set up the right systems and procedures. It must be clear what someone is expected to do, specific tasks they need to complete, and how long it should take. Ensure you are effectively managing projects — provide clear, detailed briefs for work that covers everything they need to know and when it’s due. In all cases, expectations around deadlines must be properly set.

You can create a document management system by following the steps in this post from The Balance. The key: Keep documents stored in one easily accessible place, and establish a procedure for creating, organizing, and sharing documents or projects.

Maintain Regular Communication

Another important part of creating an emotionally comfortable remote working environment is keeping in regular contact with everyone. Your goal: To stop people from feeling isolated or alone. Remote workers can struggle to feel like they are still part of a team. Isolation can cause a loss of motivation, which may lead to a less engaged employee.

Use daily meetings to catch up on work progress. Arrange regular video call drop-in sessions where your team can talk about non-work related things and catch up. Also, add an extra five minutes at the start of scheduled meetings for everyone to chat a bit.

Every month or so, arrange a well-being check-in with individuals to see how they’re doing and to give them a chance to discuss any challenges. Regular staff surveys are also a useful way to connect and check-in with employees. You can use this survey template from SurveyMonkey to determine how your team is coping and the steps necessary to improve their remote working environments.

Create and Maintain a Comfortable Remote Work Environment

Overall, creating an emotionally comfortable remote working environment relies on maintaining contact between everyone in the business. It also means checking in to see how people are doing.

To successfully make it through the COVID pandemic, it’s important to make people feel like they are still part of a team, even when working alone.

 

Charles Deluvio

Disability Etiquette: Be Considerate, Be Inclusive, Take Action

As we close out the month of October, there’s been no shortage of topics to focus on in the workplace. But October has also been National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). So, for many in the workplace, this month has been all about raising consciousness and improving conditions for American workers with disabilities — and speaking out about disability etiquette.

Frankly, this is something we should all focus more on — year-round.

Given that we’ve been operating since March within the context of a pandemic, it’s even more important to understand the challenges employees with disabilities face. Also important: What leaders and managers can do to help overcome those challenges.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers provide job applicants and employees with disabilities “reasonable accommodations” that enable them to enjoy equal employment opportunities. But accommodation is not just about access — it’s also about empathy and consideration. This is especially true since disabilities may include a whole range of impairments that aren’t immediately obvious. In fact, in many situations we may not realize the extent of existing conditions. So, it is wise to not make assumptions or place individuals in stereotype buckets.

Here are some pointers for improving disability etiquette in your workplace — remote, blended, or on-site:

Mobility Impairments

It’s important not to assume the extent of mobility based on the use or lack of assistive devices, such as walking assistants or wheelchairs. After all, it’s highly possible a mobility-impaired employee may not use them. They still may need accommodations, however; for instance, they may be unable to walk long distances or stand for long periods of time.

To accommodate these needs: If you’re a remote workplace, schedule video meetings with extra time for people to get situated. If onsite, provide accessible parking and ADA-compliant accessibility. Two other simple ways to help: Clearing pathways and making sure most everything is reachable from a wheelchair. Also, ask what is in the way and what can’t be reached, then act on the answers. Particularly during social distancing, but also in general, don’t touch canes or reach out to “help” move a wheelchair or other assistive device without permission. And certainly don’t push a wheelchair or move a cane or walker to the side to “get it out of the way.”

Disability etiquette bonus: When in a conversation with someone in a wheelchair, kneel or sit down so you’re at eye level when talking.

Vision Impairments

In the physical workplace, post braille signage on the walls and doors and ensure any signage and posters are available in an alternate forms. Keep corridors and pathways clear of obstructions and make the routes of travel clear and straightforward. And make sure all new vision-impaired employees are given a detailed tour of the workplace.

Any workplace, remote or not, should provide assistive technology for in-place systems and technologies as well as any kind of new training or communication methods. Examples include scanners or magnifiers, digital recorders and dictation devices, screen reading software, refreshable braille displays, and braille embossers. Of course, depending on the individual’s preference, distributed written materials should be available in braille, large print or audio. Again, ask then act. And it should go without saying, but service animals and must be allowed in any office.

Disability etiquette bonus: Don’t pet guide dogs without permission.

Hearing Impairments

There’s an incredible range of assistive technologies for the deaf and hard of hearing. Employers must ensure their workplaces accommodate them, and the people who use them. For an employee with a hearing issue, even something as seemingly straightforward as a video meeting can become an epic frustration. So consider an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter as well as CART (communication access real-time translation). Real-time captioning is also an option.

Accommodation, for some, may be as simple as making sure those in the meeting are situated in the best possible position to read lips. Speakers can also help in this area; encourage them not to turn away and to not put their hands in front of their mouths.

Disability etiquette bonus: Please, when talking to the hearing impaired, don’t shout to be heard. And, unless asked, resist temptation to repeat yourself.

Speech Impairments

Imagine being in a Zoom meeting and dealing with aphasia or a stutter. I was recently in a video conference where an employee was clearly struggling. At times, she needed more time to carefully articulate her points. Unfortunately, the climate of the virtual room was anything but patient.

You can help in these situations by facilitating an accommodating environment. Deliberately give each contributor room to think, and time to breathe. And if you’re not clear on what someone just said, don’t gloss over it: you may be missing a critical point. Instead, ask them to repeat it, and give them the time to do so. And please be patient enough to allow them to complete their own sentences.

Disability etiquette bonus: For some, it may simply be easier to communicate in writing — a Slack channel, for instance. Provide that opportunity before each meeting, then make sure everyone has access.

Disability Etiquette for Other Impairments

There are other impairments to consider: Respiratory impairments and chemical sensitivities (which traditional office cleaning products can wreak havoc on), for example. Cognitive and psychological impairments are becoming more prevalent; each carries its own burden and challenge for the individual.

No matter the type or severity of the impairment, it’s up to the employer to provide access and opportunity. Most important, each employer and leader must provide the previously mentioned reasonable accommodation. They must also provide understanding, education, and awareness among those in your workforce. To that end, consider including issues of access and interactions in your next employee engagement survey.

For employees with disabilities, October is only one month out of a lifetime. We’ve come so far this year, and this is one more way we can evolve. A truly inclusive workplace that accommodates and welcomes everyone leads to far greater productivity. Data also shows inclusivity boosts employee morale and brings teams together in ways that supercharge creativity and innovation.

Welcoming everyone, regardless of apparent and not-so-obvious impairments, is good for everyone. And that’s good for business.

 

 

SevenStorm

[#WorkTrends] Company Culture: The High Cost of Misalignment

Among remote work teams, how common is misalignment with company culture? And what is the cost?

All over the United States, cases of COVID-10 are once again spiking. We’re setting records again — and not the good kind. Daily, it seems, we see and hear grim reminders that this pandemic maintains a firm grip on our country, and our psyche.

For many of us, returning to the office about the same time as kids returned to school seemed possible. Not any more. And for many companies — especially those that have enabled a loose operating system around remote working, it’s time to tighten up. Of course, we all did what had to be done to keep our employees, customers, and vendors safe. But long-term social distancing comes with a cost. And often that cost comes in the form of misalignment to company culture.

So now, 8+ months into the pandemic, it is time to revisit our core values and purpose. Just as important, now is the time to once again encourage our employees to factor those core values into our daily work habits and to refocus on our purpose.

Our Guest: Natalie Baumgartner, PhD Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers

This week on #WorkTrends, I welcomed Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, to talk about the challenge of aligning today’s remote workforces to company cultures. Our timing couldn’t be better: Based on their recent survey of over 1,100 people around the world, Achievers’ Workforce Institute just published its 2020 Culture Report.

As Natalie said at the beginning of this episode, the survey asked respondents about culture alignment — both before and during the COVID-19 crisis. Specifically, Achievers sought to measure the extent to which an organization understands its values — and then aligns everything the company does to those values. Also included were questions related to engagement, recognition, and the voice of the employee. The answers to those questions, according to Natalie, were revealing.

“We found culture alignment dropped significantly during COVID-19. In addition, organizations found themselves less able to align decision making to company values. That’s not really a surprise, though. After all, there was no forewarning. We didn’t understand the massive impact this pandemic would have on business. So organizations have been in crisis-management mode.”

After telling Natalie I also wasn’t surprised, I shared that to me, and perhaps to many of our listeners, hearing this provides just a little bit of comfort. It helps to know nobody’s alone in this; we really are in this together. There’s also comfort knowing we can work toward a solution, together. Natalie agreed, and injected a distinct sense of urgency:

“It’s true, and now we can step back and see everything organizations have had to manage around the world, and in short order. But we also know there’s a very strong correlation between culture alignment and employee engagement. And when we see this dip in culture alignment, we know it is going to negatively impact employee engagement, and very soon.”

Company Culture Misalignment: Communication as Part of The Solution

After so clearly stating the challenge, Natalie began to talk about the solution: “The good news is there are simple ways to foster and maintain culture alignment. We’re not talking about massive overhaul initiatives, which are impossible and unpalatable while still in the midst of a pandemic.”

I asked if clear communication, which can have such a key role to play in terms of alignment, is a major factor in realigning company culture. Natalie responded: “What’s most important, regardless of the type of culture you have, is clarifying and communicating what your values are. Make it simple. Focus on four to six values, then make sure those values are clear to everyone. If you do nothing else in terms of culture alignment, that is most important.” Natalie added:

“You must say, ‘This is who we are. This is how we want to do business.’”

Natalie and I went on to discuss many other communication-based solutions to misalignment of culture, including CEO-led virtual town hall meetings and open recognition of a job well done. Of the latter, Natalie says, “Recognition is, objectively, the single, most powerful driver of engagement.” I couldn’t agree more!

I invite you to take in this inspiring and timely interview with Natalie. Grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the listen!

#WorkTrends Twitter Chat: Wednesday, November 4th

I also invite you to help us extend this conversation on Wednesday, November 4th at 1:30 pm Eastern. Natalie will be there to further discuss company culture, engagement, and inspiring remote work teams. She’ll also help provide answers to these questions:

  • Q1: Why do organizations struggle with communicating core values? #WorkTrends
  • Q2: What strategies can help boost alignment? #WorkTrends
  • Q3: How can leaders boost alignment? #WorkTrends

Natalie and I will see you there!

 

Find Natalie on LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

This podcast was sponsored by Achievers.

 

Editor’s note: Have you checked out our new FAQ page and #WorkTrends Podcast pages? Please do, then let us know how we’re doing!

 

Nataliya Vaitkevich

More Employees Want Remote Work, But Do Yours (and Why)?

In a recent remote work survey of some 1,200 office workers, PwC found that in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic 77% would like to work from home at least two days per week. Most (83%) want to work from home at least one day per week. That’s a lot of employees wanting to get out of the office and onto their computers from home.

Months after the pandemic hit, teams are still adapting to this new remote-first world—it’s the latest organizational buzzword. But let’s hold the phone just a second. What might this desire to get out of the in-house work environment really mean?

The question isn’t whether your people will be able to work remotely over the long-term. We have the communications and collaboration technology to make it happen. The real question is whether your company can survive a sustained remote environment.

Business leaders need to begin this evaluation of remote vs. in-house work by asking themselves a really difficult question:

Why don’t your people want to come back in and work together?

Work Has Changed — People Haven’t

The thing is, people haven’t changed one bit. We’re still made of the same stuff… no one has suddenly developed a whole new set of emotions. Nope, still just the basic ones. And don’t kid yourself, emotions still drive much of what we do (and what your team does). Of course, some employees are struggling to meet the needs of children and other family members at home creating the need to work out of their homes. Others are experiencing for the first time a workspace without the commute and expensive wardrobe. And let’s not forget the very real, legitimate concerns about safety and exposure to Coronavirus.

The transition to remote work may well prove the most profitable and successful choice for some. But if you don’t have the company culture to support that shift, going remote as a knee-jerk reaction to this trend could be a massive mistake.

In fact, remote work can introduce a whole new host of problems for your people. Harvard Business Review researchers identify social isolation, distractions at home, interpersonal challenges, and reduced access to managerial support as among the top challenges of remote work.

Without the underlying culture to solve the initial set of in-office concerns for your team, how on earth are you going to combat remote work issues like that?

What we need to be doing now as leaders is asking our employees what they want.

Remote Work: What Does Your Team Need?

It’s going to be different for your team than it is for mine, and you’re going to find a whole host of diverse issues and concerns across your organization.

Company culture isn’t just a concept at the executive level—it’s the heart and soul of your company, from bottom to top and everywhere in between. People need to know that they can make a difference regardless of their job title. After all, the culture IS the people; it’s theirs. They comprise company culture. Leaders don’t dictate the culture, but rather are responsible for keeping it going strong.

You can’t just ask what your team needs and then fail to act, though. Leaders must follow through. You must be willing to listen—really listen—and act on those suggestions that are in the best interests of your company, customers, and employees.

Since you’ve asked for the truth, be prepared to hear that you and your policies may be part of the problem. That can definitely smart, but that’s just the nature of the beast. Hearing only what’s great doesn’t change anything. In fact, this kind of honest, clear feedback is part of the process of learning how you need to show up for your employees.

Ask them, and they’ll tell you if the environment has been made safe for open feedback. Hearing directly from your people what would make their work better gives you a free and concise direction on what to tackle. There is a huge bonus to this as well; when you make their needs a priority (and they trust that it’s important), they’ll show up for you in the most surprising ways.

Ask the Right Questions

If you haven’t been receptive and open in the past, you may need to work a bit harder at gaining employees’ trust. Enable employees to give their feedback anonymously. Don’t ask questions that simply confirm what it is you already think you should do; ask open-ended questions and give your people space and time to respond freely.

Ask your employees:

  • Why do you want to work remotely instead of the office?
  • Why do you want to keep coming in and not work remote?
  • What challenges do you feel are preventing you from doing your best work?
  • Which supports would make your life easier?
  • What do you feel is missing from your at-home work environment?
  • What do you feel is missing from your in-office work environment?
  • How can leadership do better?

You don’t need to run out and implement every idea that surfaces. Instead, be willing to evaluate each employee’s needs and have an open conversation about which supports you can put in place and which you cannot. Don’t make change just for the sake of change—make the right change based on that clarity about what you’re doing and why.  And then, do it all again down the road. You have to stay in touch with what’s going on, and it can change quickly.

Assume the Best of Intentions

Assume your employees have the best of intentions in sharing feedback. Don’t presume there is negative sentiment driving their input, even where a negative experience may have been shared. Show kindness and appreciation for their input by discussing it openly and sharing feedback back to the team. Stay connected, stay curious, and never lose the sense of fun and love that brought all of these people together in the first place.

The right change may be a transition to flexible hours or some variation of a remote work environment. But you might just as easily find that the solution for your people involves in-office supports you hadn’t considered, activities and programs that energize the team, incentives that help them celebrate one another’s successes or some combination of all three.

Industry trends are one thing, but the way forward comes from within. It comes from your people. They will love you even more if you’re willing to listen and make a change for them.

Now that’s magic.

 

Startup Photos

How Global HR Leaders Are Navigating the Post Pandemic Workplace

In the past six months, we’ve seen the rise of what I can best describe as ‘emergency culture’. Employees are in a constant state of high alert. “Solving the unsolvable is the new normal,” says Flóra Bondici, chief people officer at Trax Retail, a global provider of computer vision solutions. So what happens when HR leaders need to transition from this “now normal” to the post pandemic workplace?

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the world economy, putting some 3.9 billion people, or half of the world’s population, in lockdown or under stay-at-home orders for months. In April, the International Labour Organization forecasted that workplace disruptions would wipe out 6.7% of working hours globally by the second quarter. That’s the equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs. HR departments across the globe sprang into action in response to the crisis to ensure the safety of workers. Everyone did what needed to be done.

The road to recovery, however, is paved with a whole new set of challenges. Here are three key themes surrounding recovery strategies, as seen by global Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs).

Employee Wellbeing: Buzzword or the Next Big Thing?

Earlier this year, millions of people found themselves confined to their homes day after day. Ramping up remote work plans, however, turned out to be only one of the many steps organizations had to take to keep employees safe. 

“We held dozens of workshops on the challenges of remote work and made sure to invite people from different departments to each of them. We talked about work and home life and actively encouraged them to share ideas and learn from each other,” remembers Györgyi Tóth, HR Director at Deloitte Hungary. The reception was overwhelmingly positive. “For our colleagues the feeling that they’re not left alone with their hardships was the biggest takeaway from these discussions.”

Helping Employees Overcome Stress

Thanks to the advent of the digital economy and ‘always on’ work schedules, helping employees overcome stress and improve health behaviors had been a top priority in the CHRO agenda for years. And if there’s one thing the coronavirus crisis has highlighted is that it’s here to stay.   

“We also launched a ‘remote nursery’ for working parents. With the help of nursery school teachers, we set up a Facebook group. Within that group, colleagues  find and share educational videos, useful links and playful learning activities for kids of all ages,” Tóth explains. She adds that HR professionals must be vigilant in looking out for employees who are struggling with anxiety, stress and burnout while in isolation. But they should not be the only ones to do so. 

“It’s very important colleagues watch out for each other. If you see that a co-worker is having a hard time adjusting, and you have the means to help out, just do it!”

Should I Stay or Should I Go: Rethinking the Way we Work

In most countries, COVID-19 measures have been slowly lifted over the past few months. So what now? After all, the reentry struggle is real. This is especially true when it comes to safely redeploying employees, in and outside of the HR department. 

Some of the areas of greatest concern include work schedules, seating arrangements, meeting spaces and event and visitor policies. Even elevator, break room, and restroom usage cause concern. Each of these issues need to be explored as part of organizations’ reintegration strategies. Not to mention who, among the staff, wants to get back to work in the first place.

Employees Come First

Trax Retail’s policy is simple: Employees come first. 

“Our only principle is to be flexible, supportive and understanding. When people face unexpected situations, you must find ways to support them in unexpected ways. We’ve helped a colleague return to their home country for the birth of their first child, had home-cooked meals delivered to single working moms, you name it. Thankfully, we’ve been able to handle just about any ‘now normal’ scenario that’s come our way. Our people find comfort in knowing that we care,” explains Bondici. 

At technology solutions provider Continental, leaders first looked to the company’s Chinese branch for good practices. Then other branches started to chime in. “We’ve selected a best practice for each aspect of employee management. We’ve also made sure to collect employee feedback from all locations and respond to their concerns,” says Sarah Frachet, head of country HR at the company’s Hungarian subsidiary.

“Make it safe and keep it voluntary. These are the two cornerstones of our reentry efforts,” explains Tóth. An organization-wide survey has shown that one-third of Deloitte employees would be perfectly happy to continue working from home. On the other end of the spectrum, one-third would welcome the opportunity to return to the office, while the remaining one-third remain cautious. 

“We’ve decided to take a hybrid approach and let employees decide for themselves where they want to work.”

The Future is Now: What’s Next for HR?

In many organizations, the HR department has moved on from administration to strategy. In the post pandemic workplace, there were no other viable alternatives. Ultra-competitive job markets, evolving business models and a combination of rapid technology innovation and shifting employee expectations left them no choice but to evolve. Never have CHROs had to deliver so much so fast. 

But what role will HR play in our brave new post-pandemic workplace? And the world in general?

The answer, experts agree, is twofold. Human resources will definitely continue its rise as managements’ trusted ally in shaping the way enterprises create value through talent. At the same time, they must offer support on an operational level – now more than ever. With no clear coronavirus treatment or vaccine in sight and a second wave just around the corner, CHROs must work out strategies for taking extra health and safety measures, maintaining workplace morale and, if it comes to it, overseeing layoffs.

But from a much better position than in February and March, when the pandemic started to hit businesses hardest.

Moving on From a State of Panic

“By now, organizations have moved on from a state of panic to stepping up to the challenge and making the new normal work,” points out IseeQ CEO Tamás Püski. The same goes for hiring practices, too. More and more recruiters have embraced Zoom interviews and remote onboarding, not to mention the unexpected opportunities the corona crisis has brought about in talent acquisition. “There’s been a growing regional demand for local talent for months. Several companies in Western Europe who had to let go of people during the first wave, or were in the process of building new teams, are now looking to tap into CEE’s talent base.”

The Post Pandemic Workplace: Resilience in the Face of Uncertainty

In the post pandemic workplace, the most important strategic objective for any business is to build resilience in the face of unparalleled uncertainty.

Meaning that HR executives must find ways to prepare their organizations not for the next crisis – but for any crisis. And to do so, they must start thinking differently about who they hire – and why. 

“My parents would always tell me that a good education is a stepping stone to a good career. This is not exactly the case anymore,” says Frachet. Instead of looking at what a person can do during a job interview, recruiters increasingly focus on finding out what they can and are willing to learn to do. 

“Make sure you have the right people in the right places. Then make sure they never stop growing.”

Frachet adds: “Moving forward, growth is what HR must be all about.”

 

Pixabay

The Typical Work Week: Always On, Always Meeting

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So goes the saying. For American professionals, however, the work week — and work itself — tends to be all-consuming. We tend to be running from meeting to meeting. So why not make those meetings more productive?

The United States, as a nation, has become synonymous with a culture of overworking.

According to the ILO, Americans work 260 more hours per year than British workers and 499 more hours per year than French workers. That is almost 10 extra hours each work week. And while at least 134 countries have laws in place to limit the number of working hours each week, the United States has no such laws.

This coincides with the findings of Doodle’s Q2 2020 State of Meetings report. The report was based on analysis of more than 30 million meetings booked worldwide during Q2 2020. The findings: There is no time in the workday when Americans are less likely to have meetings. The one exception: At noon when there was a slight dip to 9 percent (from 10 percent at 11 a.m.). But then, the percentage of meetings jumped up to 13% just one hour later at 1 p.m. This shows a clear pattern: Americans are ‘always on and always meeting.’

The Typical Work Week: No Productivity Flow

Making themselves available (and accepting meeting request after request) non-stop throughout the workday might seem like they’re being collaborative and open to feedback. But in reality, it’s interrupting their productivity ‘flow.’ Over-scheduling their workdays with too many meetings could also impact their ability to get work done, cause delays in larger projects, and affect their individual performance.

Interestingly, just a little more than 7% of American meetings in Q2 2020 took place between the evening hours of 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. While this might seem surprising to some, I believe this may actually contribute to the country’s overworking culture. Here’s why.

Because Americans are scheduling so many meetings during the actual workday (between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.), they are likely using their evening time to catch up on work they couldn’t finish due to the excessive number of meetings booked during the workday. Essentially, they’re making up for ‘lost time’ by completing work outside of business hours. That leads them right back to being overworked, stressed and burned out. And worse yet, this meeting overload can be a major drain on employees’ energy and lead to exhaustion, stress and burnout. That’s certainly not what anyone wants or needs right now.

The Pandemics’ Impact on Scheduled Meetings

The pandemic certainly has also had a huge impact on how American employees are meeting with their teams, colleagues and customers. For one, time management has become much more difficult and complicated than before the pandemic. Employees are juggling working from home, while managing their families, taking care of their children and making sure their children are also getting an education. So the distractions have quadrupled from what they were for employees who worked in office environments before COVID-19.

This has led to a massive spike in the number of virtual meetings over the last few months. For example, virtual group meetings jumped up 109% compared to the previous quarter. Meanwhile virtual one-to-one meetings grew by 136% in Q2 2020, compared to the previous quarter. When you look at both of these statistics, one thing comes to the top of my mind: Zoom fatigue.

Having to be present with the video on — let alone engaging and dynamic in online meetings, is a lot to ask of employees right now. And it’s incredibly draining and exhausting, both mentally and physically.

Meetings Don’t Have to Be 60 Minutes

It’s even more draining when people choose one hour as the default duration of every meeting. People choose one hour as their default meeting duration for a few reasons. For instance, they may not want to rush participants through the meeting. If a meeting is larger in size and includes both internal and external stakeholders, they might want to give everyone involved ample time and opportunity to share their ideas and provide feedback. And then there’s the simpler reason — they want to safeguard against a shorter meeting running too long and cutting into other meetings scheduled after.

But as Doodle’s Q2 2020 State of Meetings report reveals, shorter is better. In fact, the most popular meeting duration in Q2 2020 was 30 minutes (36%), followed by 15 minutes (31%). One-hour meetings came in third place. Limiting the length of meetings to 30 minutes or less can be vital in fending off Zoom fatigue. It can help keep the discussion more focused, prevent participants from veering off-track and result in better outcomes.

Let’s face it — no one likes sitting in a long meeting that’s poorly organized, lacks a clear focus and results in confusion. Those meetings are the worst and usually require having to set up more meetings to get clarity and direction that should have been provided during the original meeting. That’s more time wasted and less productivity for you. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Keep Meetings Productive

To ensure your meetings each work week are as focused, productive and worthwhile as possible, I have a few recommendations. First, don’t invite everyone to meetings. It’s ok to be selective. Only those people who will directly contribute and make an impact are essential. Inviting people just to make them feel included is a common problem and it hinders the focus and effectiveness of meetings. Second, don’t use one hour as your default meeting duration. If you can, keep meetings shorter (no longer than 30 minutes).

Now beyond that, give people sufficient notice ahead of booking meetings. If possible, aim for 5 days’ notice, at minimum. Try to avoid scheduling last-minute meetings with less than 24 hours’ notice. That isn’t respectful of other people’s time, their workload, and their priorities.

More importantly, don’t set the meeting and forget it. As the organizer, take ownership and hold yourself accountable for the success of your meetings. Do the prep work and make sure participants have also been briefed on the overall goals, key discussion points and expectations. This will provide structure to the meeting and prevent the meeting from going off-track.

Finally, since the work week is packed with meetings anyway, make better use of time during meetings. If critical information (background, perspectives, data) is needed ahead of a meeting, then ask these questions before the meeting takes place. And if you don’t get those responses before the meeting? Chances are that the meeting will be unproductive, go off-track and be a waste of everyone’s time. And if you can include those critical pre-meeting questions in the meeting invite itself? That’s even better. And means less waste of everyone’s time.

 

 

Avonne Stalling

How to Navigate the COVID-19 Crisis: One Path Toward Change 

The COVID-19 crisis continues to have a significant impact on business, communities, families and also, most importantly, people. Sadly, as of September 29th, the world has lost over one million of its citizens to this pandemic.

The 1 million number is hard to imagine; it breaks one’s heart to comprehend. 

As the Chief People Officer of Unit4, a global enterprise software company based in Europe, people who have been impacted by this disease touch me, and my entire team. Be it by contracting the virus, losing someone to it, or suffering the repercussions of a protracted lockdown with no end in sight.

As HR leaders go, my story isn’t unique. Like me, you live it every day. Perhaps it’s playing out in different ways based on your location, industry or company size. But no one is immune; this pandemic has touched everyone. You have many of the same conversations I do with company leaders, team managers, new hires and also customers. You most likely talk often about what you’re doing to help the company and our employees navigate this unpredictable situation. In our case, we’re a 40-year-old company going through our own “people experience” transformation while the COVID-19 crisis is happening.

Business Must Go On

Yep, it’s a lot. Again, I’m sure those of you reading this piece are facing similar challenges. And yet, business must go on. Change is rampant. And every step of the way, down what seems to be an unknown path, HR is playing a central role.

I’ve taken pen to paper many times over the past 8 month on the topic of finding opportunities through crisis and how organizations, like yours, can plan for “return to work.” One thing has become evident — while transformation was central to our 2020 plan, COVID has served as an accelerant. This virus pressure tested our resolve. It has forced us to rethink how our original plans would come together. All in an environment where “return to work” remains unpredictable, often on a daily basis.

While this byline could easily become a book (and may be one day), here are the five initiatives having the greatest impact in driving our “people experience” transformation while helping us navigate our COVID journey.

1. The Workspace Experience Evolution

As a company with a long history of global expansion, much of it through acquisition, our real estate footprint is vast. It often lacks consistency or purpose. Still, those offices were the place to meet, work and to leave at the end of the day — a very utilitarian approach. Each office served its purpose, but not elegantly. 

Realizing “the office concept” would undergo massive transformation, we began having conversations with employees and colleagues at other companies. We started seeing the art of what was possible. In the end, we found our philosophy around the workspace — its’ design, mission and intent — could help to further define and then evolve the Unit4 culture. 

People First Culture

Our company embraces a “people first” culture with values strongly tied making an impact, being genuine and open, and choosing curiosity. In the new workspace, we saw an opportunity to bring those values to life through design. Collaboration areas, whiteboard walls on which to ideate, calm spaces to do “deep thinking,” and seating areas that are familiar, warm and inviting. While we’re in the early design phase, our employees are already starting to rethink what a “day in the life at Unit4” might be. They are considering how their work, relationships, and team contributions may change for the better.

2. The Decisive Leader During the COVID-19 Crisis

For any major change management initiative to stay on track and take effect, the need for leaders to act decisively and swiftly is critical. Leaders must commit to the plan. But when it comes to making organization-related decisions, we often see those same leaders hitting the brakes. Equivocation is the enemy of progress. And it can lead to doubt, within the organization, as to the validity of the plan and its intended results. With the pandemic, this has become even more important. 

HR Plays a Central Role

As HR leaders, we’re responsible for people’s well-being. As business partners, we help leaders make key decisions that drive action. Those decisions impact how people get their work done, receive timely guidance around expectations, and where they can get assistance on health and safety-related issues. This is a core element in helping steer the organization through our current sea of uncertainty. My team and I have prioritized helping our leaders manage through change, advancing decisions in a timely fashion, and driving to quick resolution through tools like status-based dashboards and leadership updates.

Given our unique role, HR will play a central role in moving the organization forward while navigating the COVID-19 crisis.

3. I’ve Got the Power! 

Once a dance club hit by the artist Snap! back in the 1990’s, this phrase is also something we tell our people time and again:

“You’re in control of your work-life balance, career, and wellbeing. Whether you feel safe in returning to the workplace, regardless of local rules, is your decision.”

That’s been a difficult concept for many to take to heart. And in some cases, what we’ve said hasn’t translated into action. Especially when local managers have said, “No, you don’t have the power.” This became a real challenge. After all, we must first ensure employees understand and are able to leverage the programs and policies put in place. Most importantly, we must ensure support of compassionate policy when no one is coming to a central office and oversight is virtual.

Training is Key

Training was key, of course. So was creating an environment with open lines of communication. A high priority: We had to help to reestablish trust where it was weak. Today, it’s something we continue to work on. For example: For people confined to a home office, programs like Fit4U, mental health workshops, and meditation sessions have become much-appreciated, and much-needed, outlets.

We also offered ways for our employees to escalate issues when they came up. Given the nature of the pandemic, people felt personally and professionally vulnerable. So our role in creating lifelines and wellness outlets helped our people find pockets of normalcy in a world that was anything but normal.

4. Employee Experience and Customer Experience: The Ties that Bind

In Blake Morgan’s Forbes article, “The Un-Ignorable Link Between Employee Experience and Customer Experience,” she emphasizes those companies with 60% more engaged employees lead in customer service. And as J.W. Marriott rightly states, “Take care of the associates and they’ll take care of your customers.” 

At Unit4, my team and I have focused on creating a commercial mindset within our own organization. That way, we can be better partners — especially to the go-to-market teams we support. As stewards of Unit4’s employee engagement program, we’ve worked closely with our Customer Experience teams to help them navigate the challenges our customers are facing during the COVID-19 crisis.

Managers Must Be Trained

Implementing training programs focused on soft skills have already had an impact. To identify issues that could have downstream impact with customers, we must ensure managers are also trained. Finally, leveraging our own in-house platform to conduct weekly pulse surveys has provided us valuable insight. We know how employees are feeling and understand their frustrations. This helps us identify ‘hot spots’ that require immediate action by the teams and their leadership.

Most importantly, these frequent touchpoints help us maintain a good experience for our employees, which benefits customer engagement and satisfaction.

5. Swatting Away the “It’s Always Been Done this Way” Gnat

You’ve seen it play out in your organizations. You onboard a group of new hires. They’re eager to make a big impact. They are ready to innovative new ways of solving problems and supporting new initiatives. A few months later, you run into one of them at a Town Hall. She looks tired and beaten down. You take her aside to ask how it’s going. Sadly, you hear a similar refrain: “Well, the project is going okay, but I’m told by many people across the company that it can’t be done because we tried it two years ago. It requires so much change to what we do today that it’s simply not worth it. And, well, from their perspective of too many, the current approach works well enough.” 

You comfort her. You tell her to keep pushing. But you know this is a problem across the organization. 

Old Way Not Always the Best Way

The “it’s always been done this way” attitude causes stagnation and also disengagement. Ultimately, your top players leave. They take their energy and passion elsewhere. To keep your transformation initiatives going and ensure key projects don’t run out of gas during the COVID-19 crisis, that gnat needs to be swatted down for good. HR can play a key role in coaching managers and checking in with individual contributors. We can sit in on project team meetings to understand the mood. In real-time, we can flag old habits. And we can help where remediation is required. Projects are successful because of the team. But when the team is thrown into the “old ways” vortex, there is little chance of success.

There Was No Playbook

Of course, no one had the COVID-19 Crisis Playbook to quickly flip open to help solve many of the challenges faced. We’re all writing that book, in real-time, one word and one challenge at a time. So, there’s so much more I could share. 

For now, let me say: We have an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again. Reshape how workspace experience can help build and nurture your culture. Drive change by helping leaders make those important decisions and drive them to conclusion. Give people the power to decide and the opportunity to thrive. And to coach managers while supporting them through this process. 

Ultimately, the people own a company’s customer experience. And valued customers are on the receiving end of disengaged employees. So, once and for all, let’s swat away the “it’s always been done this way” gnat. After all, our customers, investors, and our people deserve it. And they want to see our businesses evolve, grow and flourish. 

As HR leaders, we are in a unique position to help see our organizations through the COVID-19 crisis. My team and I are ready. Are you?

 

Editor’s Note: Lisa Dodman shared additional thoughts on how to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and more at Unit4’s recent virtual event, Experience4U. The event sessions are available free on-demand here.

This post is sponsored by Unit4.