The global covid-19 crisis has escalated the already significant shifts in the relationship between employees and work. Pre-covid, a 2020 Peakon survey of New Zealand employees across a broad spectrum of organisations revealed that 63% described themselves as ‘disengaged at work’. Just think about that. You have a room in your office or factory with ten employees. You have targets to meet in a fiercely competitive category. Yet at least six of that team don’t want to be there. At best, they are doing the minimum required. At worst, they are merely going through the motions. At a time when technology and changing customer needs create a constantly evolving business landscape, teamwork, collaboration and innovation may be the difference between success and failure. How prepared will your organisation be to thrive in a changing world when the majority of your workforce are only bringing a minority of their enthusiasm and creativity to their job each day? Disengaged workers drag down productivity, are less loyal, collaborate less, contribute less to innovation, and are more prone to workplace accidents. In the US, this is estimated to cost US$300 billion per year!
A number of factors drive the relationship between a business and its employees. In NZ and Australia, a 2020 Employee Experience Trends study reported that the top drivers of engagement are quality of leadership, recognition for good work, opportunities for learning and development along with support for growth. But with employee churn standing at 24% and disengagement highest among workers under the age of 30, we have some problems.
Bad leadership: traditional-style businesses still reward tenure with positions of authority. But just because someone has been a proficient accountant, engineer or process manager does not mean they are equipped to caretake the needs, interactions and development expectations of a bunch of humans. True leadership is a service role that requires a blend of authenticity, empathy and selflessness. Collaboration and the exchange of ideas works better than hierarchy and autocracy. The saying that people leave bad leaders rather than jobs is accurate!
Flexible working arrangements: another rising expectation further brought into focus by covid-19 is the need to consider versatility in how work is done. The old model of a supervised 8-hour day or shift needs to give way to more flexible thinking that supports the genuine needs of employees – as parents, caregivers, learners and people who desire their lives to have balance over feeling that they are ‘owned’ by their job.
Opportunities for personal development: particularly among millennials, personal growth and development opportunities are a major driver of engagement. Among enlightened businesses the relationship between ‘employer’ and ‘employee’ is being replaced by a shared love of growing human potential as a ‘deliberately developmental community’ over a productivity hub.
Genuine diversity and inclusion: New Zealand’s population is increasingly multi-cultural. At the same time, helped by technology, career proficiency has nothing to do with gender or orientation. To be successful and to attract and retain top talent, business has to genuinely reflect social change.
Support with wellbeing, particularly mental-emotional: our ‘modern’ civilisation is reeling from another pandemic. One that receives a fraction of the press and attention devoted to the coronavirus. Work-related stress and its associated impacts, including disrupted sleep, poor diet, neglected self-care and depression, cost business billions every year. 50% of job turnover is driven by stress. It’s the cause of more health complaints than financial or family problems. Yet Virgin Pulse found that employees who take part in company-supported wellness programmes are 49% more productive and take 31% fewer sick days.
Turning employees into partners can be the single-most effective step to preparing your organisation to succeed in today’s volatile, constantly shifting business landscape. Here are a series of steps that will drive the transformation:
Participate in creating an employee-owned culture
Your workplace culture should create a basket of belonging. It wraps around every individual regardless of seniority, experience, gender or outlook. It’s a visible ‘whanau’ that fulfils every person’s deep inherent need to belong, and to feel that their contribution is valued. In fact Deloitte tells us that 88% of workplace employees believe a distinctive workplace culture is important to business success.
Share a set of genuine behavioural standards – your values
Modelling and jointly care-taking a set of behavioural standards is a powerful way of upholding your culture and creating differentiation for your brand and business. The line between employee experience and customer experience has pretty much dissolved. Today the social values that define your business are just as important to customers as the functional value your products deliver.
Align everyone behind a motivating internal reason to do your work
Much has been written about the power of brand purpose to attract customers. But a powerful internal purpose has even greater effect. Psychologically we are all driven by the need for relatedness – for a context where by being our best selves, we make a positive impact on the world around us and feel part of something greater. An internal ‘critical purpose’ unites your entire organisation, from most senior to most junior. It creates energy and impetus and creates a pillar of resilience when times are tough. ‘Mission-driven’ companies have 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% better staff retention.
The UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit tells us in a report that ‘companies that build a wellness culture acquire a workforce that is not only more focused and engaged, but that see that culture as benefitting their careers’. Similarly a Gallup study found that businesses that focus on their employees’ holistic wellbeing see a 20% increase in both individual and team productivity. Taking an interest in your team’s wellness is a logical part of supporting personal development. It makes them better version of themselves as well as more valuable employees.
Connected, empathetic and informed leadership
This has perhaps the greatest impact on your company’s success or otherwise. Along with a constantly shifting business landscape and ever-present innovation comes a need for more human leadership – the soft skills that develop trust and loyalty, as well as encouraging workers to take on more responsibility and display more flexibility. The right kind of leader wins trust by showing both empathy and vulnerability. Their openness reduces stress across your team, encourages more honest communication, more flow of ideas, better teamwork and makes working a lot more fun!
Tickled Pink is a consultancy team that has been working closely with businesses in NZ and Australia for over 5 years. We specialise in team coaching, helping to align employees and leaders around a powerful internal purpose, then helping you translate this to a vibrant values-driven culture. We work with small and large group facilitated workshops that are interactive and fun, as well as digitally delivered programmes for geographically spread organisations. We also offer executive leadership coaching and an holistic wellbeing programme that equips employees with the tools to take better care of their mental and emotional wellbeing.