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Taking the Pulse of Your Employees

Many organizations are facing a Kairos moment, a moment they neither anticipated nor planned for. Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right, critical, or opportune moment. Others might think of the Kairos as a crucible and defining moment. Over the past 18+ months, organizations have had to adapt and change quickly. Some have been successful, some haven’t, and some have had limited success, still on the journey.

When employees’ lack of voice meets head-on with a lack of trust and cynicism towards leadership, the great resignation seeps into an otherwise healthy workplace culture. We believe it is time to revisit how the pandemic has reshaped our work styles and workplaces. This survey is intended to help you identify where the pulse of your employees is healthy, and where it could use some intervention.

Pandemic Resets

Organizational constructs have been challenged. The rules of engagement have changed. The one transcendent lesson we should learn from the pandemic is empathy. Employees know they can seek different environments where they feel more highly valued. And they can be a part of change or transformation efforts elsewhere where their opinions and input are requested and respected. As it turns out, employees’ Kairos moments become the organization’s Kairos moment requiring a look inward to reassess workplace culture, processes and at the root of it all, its values.

At 2040, we encourage our clients to ask three key questions:

  1. Have you been successful with change or transformation in the past?
  2. Do you stay committed in ensuring that change or adaptations come to fruition?
  3. How many changes, adaptations, innovations, or transformation initiatives failed or became forgotten?

Often employees become less and less engaged when it becomes clear that the entrée of the day seems very much like the entrée from last year or five years ago. They do remember what happened and what didn’t result. They do remember the thoughts they had, what they attempted to contribute, and what fell on deaf ears.

Cynicism Derailment

What is cynicism? Literally, it is an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. Skepticism triggers cynicism and is the result of critical assessment and thinking. Skepticism is highly influenced by an organization’s past performance, behaviors, and leadership.

Cynicism can be insidious and an influence and belief flavoring any consideration of change, adaptation, or transformation. Cynicism suppresses creativity, open dialogue, engagement, and the support needed to make a change, adaptations, or transformation successful.

Cynicism can be unhealthy, whereas skepticism can be useful. Both are anchored in how human beings feel and observe the world around them. Leaders need to be aware that the human element influencing the achievement of strategies and goals and yes change are often overlooked. Although technology is often viewed as the silver bullet and sole solution to fix everything, it is people that really matter. Tech is only a tool and an enabler.

Nurturing and Retaining Talent

As we shared several weeks ago in Leading with Courage and the Art and Science of Active Listening, individuals and teams feel more connected and engaged when the work environment provides the opportunity to share criticism upstream and downstream, and their opinions and input is listened to and their participation is constructively valued.

Many organizations today find themselves in a bind. Talent that differentiates and has risen to ride the market changes catalyzed by the pandemic, and which are needed in organizations, are departing in droves. Workers, ever since the industrial age have been considered to be easily replaceable. In our digital/knowledge economy of the 21st century, that is no longer the case.

Employees have less tolerance than they did pre-pandemic, and at 2040 we don’t believe the tolerance and societal construct that existed pre-pandemic is ever coming back. As with any societal event — be it a war, health crisis or political/social upheaval — most any changes, as a result, are influenced by those immersed in the event and those impacted by the event.

In the event of a pandemic, individuals have had a lot of time to think, assess what is or isn’t important and reprioritize their goals and objectives. They are assessing their lives and thinking about their futures differently. When change is forced on individuals, stress, and anxiety increase; the only way out is “through.” Individuals are resilient and they can adapt. They learn from experience that they can manage their way through and come out with a new perspective and level of confidence.

Organizational leadership, particularly those who are hoping for a return to a normal that no longer exists, are being highjacked by this new “life is short” perspective and thought process among their workforces. We say this is their Kairos moment and the only way to manage this transition is to work through it.

Did the Great Resignation Take You by Surprise?

Quartz reports 4 million Americans quit their jobs in April 2021, and by the end of July 11 million jobs were open. Retaining talented employees depends on how an organization values its people. According to a Gallup poll, self-identified disengaged workers are leaving jobs faster than ever. Axios CEO Jim VandeHei says, “Engagement, not pay or perks, is the leading indicator — and chief reason — for the record turnover many companies are experiencing today.” On the flip side, Gallup reveals that “happy employees are no more likely to leave their gigs than pre-pandemic, basically 40% were open to leaving before the virus hit, and basically the same rate today.”

The pandemic has changed the dynamics of work/life balance. Axios reports, “Employees are burnt out and bummed by work-from-home mandates. And they’re isolated — scattered around the country and world in apartments, houses, and cottages.” Engagement makes the difference between staying or going. Axios adds, “Among those that are actively disengaged in their job, 75% are actively looking for new work. They’re actually making this move because any increase in pay — and sometimes even a pay cut for a change of scenery — will cause them to leave that job.”

New Work Paradigms

A PriceWaterhouseCooper report states the top changes expected in the next 12-18 months based on pandemic experience around work are led by reducing dependence on employee institution knowledge (to fill the gaps when employees leave), strategic planning for changing business conditions and a major reorganization of operating the workplace model.

Pulse Points for a Healthy Workplace

Companies doing the best navigating through the pandemic tend to have a “higher purpose than mere profit, first-rate internal communications on a weekly cadence, and a culture with a heavy emphasis on diversity, inclusion and transparency,” according to Axios. “Employees expect you to say something, expect you to believe in something, and expect you to have and drive purpose,” Lisa Osborne Ross, U.S. CEO of Edelman, “This is an employee-driven environment.”

Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral psychology at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, has studied motivation for 20 years. She has distilled motivation to four key points:

Paying Attention Motivates Employees

“A way to support faltering enthusiasm is simply to be there for employees,” Fishback advises managers actively check in with genuine curiosity about how their teams are doing, just as when working together in an office.

Introverts and Extroverts both need Attention

“People are not good at being by themselves and working on something by themselves, or with people who don’t support what they’re doing,” says Fishbach. Parents working at home with kids in the next room may not be alone, that’s not the same as working with people who help them and notice their work, she explains, so they may as well be alone. “This is not how we evolved as a species to do work,” she says. “Your approach as a manager has to be rooted in connection, and not only in the context of ‘Let me know what you’re doing,’ but ‘Let’s meet up and let’s discuss your life, your challenges, what are you trying to achieve right now and how can I help?’” says Fishbach.

Plug into your Team Members’ Intrinsic Motivations

Fishback has found that “when you’re near the beginning of a project, it’s more motivating to highlight the work that’s already been done, to give people the spiritual fuel to keep going. Closer to the end of the project, however, it will be more powerful to emphasize to your direct reports what else needs to be done to hit the finish line. Limiting extrinsic rewards—like cash bonuses or other forms of recognition that essentially gamify the workplace experience” is also effective. She adds, “Using too many extra incentives can obscure the larger, more meaningful goal behind your team’s work.” The bigger motivating strategy is positive reinforcement.

The Power of a Virtual Coffee Meeting

Motivation doesn’t have to come from managers alone. Fishbach advises “employees to set up their own rituals, like virtual coffees where people share progress updates about their work, to give attention to each other on a peer-to-peer basis.”

A Word About Remote Work

All the current employee dissatisfaction and life re-evaluation is also related to the changes in work styles and places, onset by the pandemic. If we connect the dots, remote work may not have as rosy a future as some would like to believe. In fact, remote work may be the subversive little secret that is catalyzing the rush of employees to walk out of the door. Authors Lebene Soga, Yemisi Bolade-Ogunfodun, and Ben Laker in MIT Sloan Management Review state, “Collaborative technologies enable many benefits for organizations in a time of widespread remote work, but they also come with risks of isolation, exclusion, surveillance, and self-censorship.”

According to Axios, Brad Burns, chief communications officer at Salesforce, says “his company has added 20,000 people who have never seen the inside of an office. The past is gone, and we are operating the way we will be operating for a very long, long time.” Remote work has kickstarted a new way of managing employees, team performance and individual participation. Remote work can affect the quality of creative work since it limits the spontaneous quality of idea exchange and those random moments of collaborative imagination. We’ll leave it to the organizational experts to see if this initial observation pans out over time. The bigger issue is to master is how to simulate those in-person spontaneous encounters remotely, particularly since Gallop found that only 30% of employees want to come back full time.

There has also been an interesting side effect of remote work. Many employees feel their voices are more audible, valuable, and less subjected to the judgment of others through a screen without the group dynamics of in-person meetings fraught with body signals and unconscious judgmental reactions. In this case, the screen becomes a literal filter to objectify interactions.

A Quartz study reveals that the best companies for remote work share three things in common:

  1. It takes more than virtual meetings to make it work.
  2. PTO, personal time off, is the one benefit that remote employees need the most.
  3. ERGs (employee resource groups that are employee-led groups and formed around common interests, common bonds, or similar backgrounds) matter even more in a remote world.

When you take a deeper dive into remote work, there are some unexpected consequences.

How People Work from Home

A study by the home improvement marketing firm CraftJack reveals, “45% of American teleworkers regularly work from a couch, 38% regularly work from bed and 20% often work outside.” The study reveals home offices are a luxury. “While some workers have been able to spend hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars setting up workstations in their homes, others have struggled through the pandemic. Many remote workers, especially those living in cities, have been working in shared spaces with roommates or family members and working without desks.” There is a delineation between the haves and the have-nots in remote work. “Some tech companies like Dropbox are offering lavish WFH stipends, most employees aren’t so lucky. It’s not enough for companies to provide stipends for teleworkers to buy ergonomic chairs or desks,” Axios reports. Furthermore, “many people simply do not have the space allocated inside their homes for an office setup, and it can be too expensive to move to a bigger place.”

Technology by Design

Soga, Bolade-Ogunfodun, and Laker say, “The ubiquity of collaborative technologies throughout the pandemic has amplified the push toward virtual work, by allowing teams to collaborate even when physical offices are closed. The market for collaborative technologies grew nearly 25% in 2020 alone, and with continued growth and demand expected, experts predict it will be a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.” They caution that as the proliferation of collaborative technologies increases, “organizations risk developing a blind spot to the impact they have on relational dynamics between managers and employees. When managers narrowly view collaborative technologies, such as Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams as mediators, they’re assuming that the technology is passive and only a tool for working with employees. Our research suggests that these technologies are not only mediating tools but active participants in the relationship in subtle ways that influence all parties.”

Communicating solely online has several inherent risks: isolation, exclusion, and self-censorship. They say that an overdependence on technology creates conditions for increased isolation between managers and their employees. Generational differences may inhibit full participation in organizational life for all employees, despite the best intentions of collaborative technologies for virtual teams result in a risk of exclusion. Risk of self-censorship can occur within the openness provided by collaborative technologies by easily texting, calling, or noting calendar availabilities Soga, Bolade-Ogunfodun and Laker found that “this openness also may make some people feel they will be judged if they say the wrong thing. An employee may be willing to contribute her thoughts in a recorded online strategy meeting only when she’s confident about sounding intelligent. That’s self-censorship.”

Cybersecurity

Remote work for the long term has some real cybersecurity implications. Bryan Walsh, the author of Future Correspondent for Axios, says, “The pandemic-driven shift to remote work has been accompanied by a rise in cyberattacks on corporations — and that’s not a coincidence. With remote work likely to stay — especially with the surging Delta variant — companies need to prioritize and retool cyber defense for a more distributed working world.” The threat is real and present. “Between 2019 and 2020, ransomware cyberattacks rose 62% worldwide and 158% in North America,” according to a recent report by the cybersecurity firm SonicWall. Walsh says, The FBI saw cyberattack complaints rise nearly 20% between 2019 and 2020, while the collective cost of ransomware attacks reported to the bureau rose more than 200% in 2020 to roughly $29.1 million.” What’s the cause of this rise in crime? Walsh explains, “an estimated 90% of cyberattacks are caused by human error, often non-IT employees who unintentionally expose their company to bad actors. When employees primarily worked in the office, IT departments could build a fortress that could protect workers — and the data they needed — from themselves. But now that they’re working from home, they’re connected to a highly untrusted network.”

Accountability

There’s another futuristic but realistic aspect to remote work: The risk of surveillance. Soga, Bolade-Ogunfodun, and Laker caution, “Collaborative technologies create surveillance power for companies and managers through the transparency they enable. Remote work technologies generate information about employees that can be used in organizational decision-making. For example, an individual’s performance and engagement with the technology may serve as an unintended evaluative tool.” Ironically, employees may become more accountable as AI systems record how much time they spend online, what they are doing and where they visit. Some organizations require that employees keep their screens on to validate they are actually working online. Privacy issues aside, remote work may prove to change the measure of accountabilities than work in the office.

Hybrid Work

Companies around the world are responding to telework by transitioning to a hybrid of in-person and remote work. According to Erica Pandey, author of What’s Next, that model is inherently flawed. “Employers haven’t been clear with their definitions of hybrid work — whether it means the workforce is hybrid or the workweek is hybrid — and that hasn’t allowed workers to make the big changes to their lifestyles that flexible work should allow,” says Pandey. McKinsey reports that 52% of U.S. workers say they want hybrid work and 45% of U.S. firms say they want to pursue such a model, according to a CNBC survey.

We are in a transitional time, as there is undefined anxiety among some employees about what the ultimate plan will be because without clarity, they can’t make long-term plans. Pandey adds, “Different models of hybrid work include asking employees to come into the office for part of the week or letting some employees be fully remote while others are working in person. But companies haven’t yet figured out what hybrid work will actually look like for their workforces.” McKinsey says 68% of firms don’t have a clear hybrid plan in place yet.”

Vague hybrid plans put pressure on employees to live within commuting distance and the need to find childcare for the days they have to work in the office. Leaders also need to find ways to keep the workplace culture functional and inclusive in a hybrid environment.

Design a New Workplace

Employees may not be able to design their own jobs, but there are ways to work in teams with managers to design an adapted workplace that fosters a person’s long-term career aspirations. This is especially critical as we navigate through the ongoing pandemic to address individual needs and avoid the cynicism that can easily lead to disengagement and resignation. We have referred to our business environment as weathering the perfect storm of the health crisis, financial disruption, and civil unrest – leading to the need to transform any business model. At the root of these changes is the need to practice empathy and help employees design a customized career journey.

At 2040 we work closely with clients to help design workplace models that resonate with each organization. We have helped our clients rethink their models to adapt to the changes activated by the pandemic. We encourage you to look clearly at your own organization and take an open-minded attitude about the opportunities presented during this Kairos moment to reinvent, reinvigorate and reengineer your own model.

Get in touch with us!

2040 helps organizations navigate the sea changes of finding their new normal. We offer actionable expertise in the strategy and operations of digital growth and engagement, empowering an empathetic workplace culture, strengthening your value proposition and driving revenues.  We’ve been in your shoes and we know what impedes transformation … and what unlocks it.

Onward and upward from the 2040 Team

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