In a market where employees have the
upper hand, facing that truth and redesigning
how we work is crucial
Many organizations are responding by offering more flexible schedules and work-from-home options.
But this is only part of the story.
By Kimberly Paterson, CEC
Last Friday night, I was watching House Hunters International on HGTV. Two episodes featured Americans in the prime of their careers with school-age children, looking for full-time homes in warm sunny climates.
Both couples planned to continue in their current jobs; they just wanted a lower-stress environment and a better quality of life. These weren’t high-tech people, freelancers or consultants who have long had the freedom to choose where they work. Interestingly, one was an insurance professional who handles large employee benefits cases.
It made me think about how much our work, and our beliefs about what we need to do to advance our careers have evolved.
People’s lives and priorities have changed in dramatic ways. A recent McKinsey study showed that well-being, flexibility, and work-life balance are top of mind. A survey that Microsoft conducted last year indicated that 41% of the global workforce would consider switching jobs in the next year, with 55% noting that the work environment would play a role in their decisions.
Many organizations are responding by offering more flexible schedules and work-from-home options. But this is only part of the story. Today’s expectations of the work environment are far more profound than when and where we work and what we’re paid.
Building a better work environment
The work environment is comprised of all the elements that affect your day-to-day productivity, including when, where and how you work, relationships with co-workers and managers, support for your growth and success, and how the organization’s values align with yours. There has never been a more critical time to step back and assess the quality of your work environment in the context of changing attitudes about work. Here are six ideas to consider.
- Connect your people to the work they love to do. The ADP Research Institute recently conducted a 50,000-person study of working populations around the world. The study revealed that the most potent predictors of retention, performance, engagement, resilience, and inclusion did not include pay, liking one’s colleagues, work location or even a strong belief in the organization’s mission. While these factors had some correlation, none was as significant as these three items:
- Was I excited to work every day last week?
- Did I have a chance to use my strengths every day?
- At work, do I get a chance to do what I’m good at and something I love?
The ADP data clearly shows that people who love what they do and can use their strengths every day are far more likely to be productive, remain with their organization and be resilient in the face of challenges. If you think that sounds good but that it is totally unrealistic for people to love everything they do, don’t despair. It turns out that a little bit of love goes a long way. Data from the Mayo Clinic suggests that 20% is a useful threshold. Its research into burnout in doctors and nurses indicates that if 20% of your work consists of things you love to do, you are far more resilient and less likely to experience physical and psychological burnout.
One way to help people connect to strengths is to identify clear outcomes for the jobs they do. When outcomes are carefully identified and calibrated, employees can pinpoint the activities they love and be helped to find their path toward those outcomes.
- Use the full power of teams. The ADP Research Institute study also reveals the importance of teams. Respondents who felt that they were part of a team were twice as likely to report a strong sense of belonging to their organization, 2.7 times as likely as others to be fully engaged, and three times as likely as others to be resilient in the face of challenges.
Yet, in many organizations, the value of teams is underutilized. Typically, teams are viewed as a structure rather than a way to capitalize on the collective talents of individuals and give people the flexibility to do what they love and what they do best. For example, service teams are typically organized around an alphabet split of customers. One person performs all the service functions for that customer.
What if the team was structured around its members’ strengths? The team member who loves working with people would handle customer service. The technical expert would handle policy design. The person who loves negotiating would work with markets. People would enjoy their work more and the customer experience would likely improve.
- Check-in rather than check-up. Check-ins are a powerful tool forfosterng connection, building trustand improving performance. Research shows that leaders who check in weekly with their team members increase team engagement by 77% and reduce voluntary turnover by 67% over a six-month period. However, it’s crucial to differentiate between checking in and checking up. Manager check-ups are often seen as micromanagement or a lack of trust for people who have grown accustomed to the autonomy that working from home affords.
On the other hand, check-ins are an opportunity for an open two-way dialogue, aligning priorities, ensuring that the employees spend sufficient time on what they love and do best and, most important, showing your support. Make weekly one-on-one check-ins with team members a ritual.
- Reconsider the purpose of the office. All indications are that a hybrid model will be a reality for the foreseeable future. Most people don’t want to come to an office to sit in a cubicle, stare at a screen, and complete tasks they could just as easily do at home under conditions that better support their lives. As convenient as working from home may be, the office has advantages. Think of your office as a place to create an environment that can’t be replicated at home. It’s a space for collaboration, creativity, and learning, where an employee feels nurtured and has a sense of belonging.
You can get started by prioritizing a few projects that involve people working closely together and are likely to be engaging for your team. You can also consider redesigning your workspace based on how the office will be used. Salesforce, for example, reduced its desk space by 40% and chose a floor plan that features more team-focused work areas and gathering spaces. You can start small by repurposing a conference room, removing a few cubicles and creating a lounge area or transforming your breakroom into something that feels like everyone’s favorite coffee bar.
Stay mindful that people’s number one motivation for coming back to the office is socializing. Consider stepping up opportunities for casual get-togethers with activities like catered breakfasts, volunteer days, book clubs, bring your dog to work day, potluck lunches, a pop-up food truck event, or learning days.
- Give people the chance to grow. Prioritizing learning pays. First, employees want it. A LinkedIn study shows that 94% of employees would stay at an organization longer if it invested in their career development.
Second, companies reap the benefits. Organizations with strong learning cultures are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes, are 52% more productive, 56% more likely to be the first to market their products and services and are 17% more profitable than their peers. Their engagement and retention rates are also 30% to 50% higher.
Make learning part of your culture. For example, one organization has a program called “Drop Everything and Learn,” or DEAL. Every month, at a designated time, employees drop whatever they’re doing and take an online class—in anything they want.
LinkedIn sponsors a program called InDay, where one day per month is set aside for employees to focus on “themselves, the company, and the world.” Each month has a theme, and employees are invited to participate in whatever way works for them through scheduled activities or on their own. One component these programs have in common is that they go beyond technical training and focus on the whole person.
- Create a healthy stress level. The right level of stress is healthy; it keeps us alert, engaged and doing our best work. But there’s a tipping point where it starts working against us and everything goes downhill. Even though stress is a highly personalized phenomenon, three working conditions will burn out even the most resilient people.
- Employees get overloaded with too many activities, and with today’s lean organizations, they lack the resources to get them done.
- Multi-loading. People are asked to handle too many different kinds of tasks. They lose focus and, ultimately, so does the organization.
- Constant loading. Employees can tolerate a lot of overloading and multi-loading if they believe it’s for a finite period. But when there is no end in sight, people lose hope and will conserve their efforts whenever they can.
Evaluate the stress level in your organization. Is it one that helps people perform at their highest levels, or is it putting people and productivity at risk? With more opportunities available, good people are far less likely to stay in positions that compromise their quality of life.
For most organizations, reverting to the status quo won’t be an option in a labor market where employees have the upper hand. Talented people who have choices won’t be ordered back to the office. Jobs that fail to offer sufficient autonomy and the opportunity to do work that people love will have little chance of attracting and retaining quality individuals.
The good news is that those employers who successfully reshape what work means in their organizations will gain a hard-to-replicate competitive advantage.
Kimberly Paterson, Certified Executive Coach and Master Energy Leadership Coach, is president of CIM (www.cim-co.com). CIM works with organizations and individuals to maximize performance through positive lasting behavioral change. Her clients are property and casualty insurance companies, agencies, and brokers. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Kimberly on www.linkedin.com/in/kimberly-paterson and twitter.com/CIMChangeMinds.