Workplaces are phasing out of the transformation that began during the pandemic, and leaders are aiming to understand what’s next. We’re all searching for new ways forward so that we can create innovative and engaging workplaces in today’s new normal.
A March 2021 Microsoft study revealed that high productivity is masking an exhausted workforce. Over 40 percent of global employees are considering leaving their employer this year, a trend that we’re seeing called the Great Resignation in the media. Nearly one in five of their survey respondents say their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance, 45 percent feel overworked, and 39 percent feel exhausted. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. Resignations peaked in April and have remained abnormally high for the last several months, with a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs at the end of July.
Given these issues, the most prominent challenge managers and leaders are facing nowadays is how to recruit talented employees and how to engage them and retain them. This is especially the case in high-tech companies offering to their employees more perks than every before, such as Amdocs’ new unlimited vacation policy.
The question that arises around this appealing offer is whether it is the right approach to deal with the increased stress, burnout, and resignation levels we’re facing. We might wonder whether it is yet another manipulative way of engaging employees that has the opposite effect of its intent: will employees actually feel comfortable taking unlimited vacations, or will there be tacit pressure to resist this offer? This is a situation where, paradoxically, the company’s control over their employees’ time management could increase burnout and stress, because people won’t take time off for vacations for fear of seeming lax in their duties.
Overwork will continue to take place unless leaders address the heart of the issue. It is not enough anymore to rely on external rewards and perks. These simply gloss over the real challenge: the need for compassion and fulfillment in the workplace.
Mindful leadership engages employees from a deeper place, a more compassionate place, and enables them to fulfill themselves and feel purpose, meaning and connection in the workplace. It allows employees to have a sense of autonomy and mastery. There is a need to create a mindful culture that supports various perks more profoundly and allows employees to use their bonuses and external rewards in a way that will support their authentic wellbeing.
So how can managers better engage their employees, and what are the right ways to deal with these emerging challenges?
Create an agile and flexible culture
A thoughtful approach to hybrid work will be critical for attracting and retaining diverse talent. People want to have autonomy over their time and find the right balance and integration between work and personal life. In the pandemic era, we learned to work remotely. People can work hybrid, and from different places in the world, in order to find the right balance for themselves. What we’ve managed to mitigate over the last two years presents organizations and employees with a unique opportunity to learn how to build an agile culture in which employees at all levels of the organization feel empowered to respond and adapt more efficiently to any emerging changes.
As part of this orientation, the new 4-day-week global community movement reveals that 63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with a 4-day work week. 78% of employees with 4-day work weeks are happier and less stressed. Also, the open talent economy is creating new pathways for employees to work in more than one company according to their talents and their personal desires. For employees, these arrangements promise to facilitate work-life balance by providing greater control over how they allocate and spend their time at work and in their personal life.
Create a culture based on trust
Leaders need to create an empowering culture in which employees manage themselves and their relationships based on trust. Self-management allows employees to work together in groups without a lot of oversight. High levels of autonomy have been found to correlate with great efficiency and high levels of personal motivation. But to do this well, areas of responsibility and priories must be clear, well defined, transparent, and well communicated. People want to feel that they have an impact, and they need power and freedom of action to make this work. In addition, authority needs to be informal and based on the leader’s ability to make connections, persuade, and motivate others and to create relationships based on trust. In order to create relationships based on trust, we need to see and empathize with others, be it your college, employee, or your boss. Then, we need to have the courage to commit ourselves fully, show up authentically, and be vulnerable.
As a leader, if you want to address an unsolved issue in the workplace, dare to create a dialogue space. This requires at least on person to hold space for uncertainty, and invite people to offer their insights, viewpoints, and experiences regarding the issue even if uncomfortable feelings arise. Allowing for uncertainty requires the ability to share our perspective but then to put it aside, and create space to listen deeply to with an open mind, open heart, and open will, and enabling new and creative ideas to emerge. To succeed in creating this dialogue space, we need to create trust within ourselves, show up authentically and be vulnerable. Trust in the workplace and within ourselves is important, but few understand what this means. When we are trusting, our intuition, thoughts, and outer actions are in accord: We live in harmony with ourselves, others, and our environment.
This also means that there has to be enough psychological safety for employees to trust that the group won’t use their vulnerabilities against them, so that the right solution will emerge.
Create a sense of community
People want to feel meaningfulness in their day to day; part of what’s creating meaning is the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves and connection. Enabling and making deeper connections beyond their day-to-day work enables meaning, self-transcendence, and relationships based on empathy and compassion. As leaders and managers, how can we support and encourage a sense of community?
Leaders need to look for opportunities to explore non-rational learning experiences based on emotions and emotional cconnections between people. Allow people to know each other more broadly and prioritize feelings and emotions. Invest time and effort in creating events that enable employees to connect together on a deeper level than the work itself. Informal meetings in which there is time dedicated for small talk, when someone brings in treats or shares a personal success, can lead to bonding. Lunches can be scheduled with new employees and the CEO, or leaders can create time for people to share information about their hobbies or pastimes, enabling deeper acquaintance and connection on a personal level.
Create time for flow
Another thing that creates meaningful work is our ability to grow and evolve, fulfilling our own desires. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “flow” is a mental state of functioning in which a person is completely immersed in a sense of energy, focus, engagement and enjoyment of a creative process. In order to foster an engaging workplace in which this is possible, get to know your employees and who they are, as well as who they want to be. Be attentive to their needs, and explore their different motivations, and the areas where they want to develop and grow their own skillsets. For example, an employee who feels underutilized and wants to develop in another area could be provided with a new job description or set of project goals aligned with their growth potential and personal aims. This will allow them to find their flow in the workplace, and feel more content in their day-to-day work.
The Covid-19 pandemic caused people to pause and ask themselves tough questions. Is my day-to-day work meaningful to me? Do I invest my time in the right place so that I can fulfill my goals? Do I have an integration between my personal and professional life that works for me? When employees feel that their working life meets these needs, and leads to a deeper sense of connection and self-actualization, they will want to be part of your company.
Written by Dr. Keren Tsuk.
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