The lingering pandemic has provided plenty of time for personal reflection over the past couple of years – with people pausing to think about what’s most important in life and how to experience more of it. They proactively identify and eliminate what diminishes their sense of personal satisfaction and achievement.
When it comes to the workplace, this self-assessment is stronger than ever. Employees rate how connected they feel to the organization. They measure their sense of inclusion and belonging to their company and its culture. They want to make sure their efforts are generating the ROI they want and need.
In other words, a valid reason to be there.
Management consultancy McKinsey & Company put it bluntly: Help your employees find purpose or watch them go. If knowing what it takes to attract and retain talent isn’t already a strategic imperative for leaders, it should be.
Soft skill in demand
Social connectedness is a basic human need, rooted in our DNA. Even before the pandemic, HR and DEI professionals strategized on how to create environments conducive to belonging at work. With the pandemic disrupting traditional ways of connecting at work, employee loneliness and isolation have increased exponentially, leading to a diminished sense of belonging, purpose, engagement, and commitment.
Psychologists urge employers to address the disconnect to retain talent. Dr. Constance Hadley, organizational psychologist and lecturer in the Department of Management and Organizations at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, discusses five considerations for re-engaging employees.
Number one? Realize that loneliness is not easy.
Business leaders should ensure that people managers have the skills to engage with team members in a non-threatening manner. People managers need to be able to build trust, especially for employees who may feel disconnected and disengaged.
What do managers need to be successful? Basic skills in emotional intelligence, a soft skill providing the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Emotional intelligence enables managers to create psychological safety and foster empathy – the second and third considerations proposed by Dr. Hadley.
Naturally, generalizations may be the default in a high-pressure environment (or with lazy management). The team will never understand. Everyone hates the new hybrid work schedule. Sarah is too young for a position with so many responsibilities.
Generalizations undermine individual potential. They pollute possibility with false collectivism. For example, an NIH to study found that age-based stereotypes can profoundly “alter performance in a wide variety of domains for young and older adults”.
Generalizations and stereotypes diminish employee performance and engagement. But because age-related stereotypes impact everyone across all dimensions of diversity, their impact can be crippling.
Now more than ever it is crucial to focus on the wants and needs of the individual and not the group or groups with which they may identify. It requires a willingness to ask questions and listen with an open mind.
Put your house in order
What makes a company an attractive job destination? The reputation of being a good place to work. A referral from a trusted family member or friend. One of the best recruiting tools is the health and happiness of your employees. They are brand builders, internally and externally.
What makes employees happy? Even more than salary and benefits, it’s about feeling heard and believing that their contributions matter. When organizations look after the needs of their employees, internal and external reputation improves.
That’s why it’s essential to monitor workplace culture to make sure employees feel productive and engaged. Anonymous surveys provide a temperature check of the culture, highlighting where things are going well and where there may be problems.
Typical scaled questions may include:
1) I feel like my opinion matters (to my manager and my team).
2) I feel connected to my company’s mission statement.
3) I believe that employees of all ages have (a) equal opportunity to contribute, (b) enjoy equitable development and promotions, and (c) are recognized for their contributions. Use this question to discern feelings of fairness related to other dimensions of diversity, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, and ability.
4) I would recommend my business to a friend.
5) I feel that my contributions are recognized and appreciated.
6) I see myself here in a year, three years, five years.
The answers to these questions provide a baseline for overall workplace health. They give leaders direction and direction to attract and retain talent. With this information, it is up to the leaders to put their house in order.