Maybe it’s not them…maybe it’s you.
I’ve heard it from leaders of small to large organizations – the struggle to find and keep staff for their businesses. “Where are they?”, “How can they afford not to work?”, “When I was young…”.
So, I have one question for you, dear leader, have you taken a look at your own culture, hiring practice, employee engagement, compensation, and expectations? I’m not trying to be harsh, but maybe the problem is not “them.”
As an executive leader of a team of more than 100 employees at a Fortune 500 company, I had the worst engagement rates, the highest turnover, and nearly the lowest customer satisfaction scores in the nation. There was almost nowhere but up; however, the pressure was real to change the tide, and change it we did. By more than 30% in two years – we shifted the satisfaction scores to some of the best in the nation, reduced turnover, and improved employee engagement by more than 36%.
So, if you’re looking for a list of how to improve engagement and satisfaction scores, I’m sorry to disappoint. The truth is that every organization is different, and every team, community, leadership, and customer base requires an approach unique to them. So, a list of “tactics” is not following. However, some key underlying principles apply to today’s workforce and leading your internal teams well.
1. The grind culture is over.
Check your organizational structure and leadership expectations. Employees, by and large, are no longer willing to work harder and longer, especially Gen Z and Millennials. Work is not the end in and of itself but is a means to an end; a happier, more balanced life. Burnout is not a badge, it’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed with compassion and empathy. If you have leaders, or perhaps you can’t understand that, then here is some great reading from a recent Gallup State of Workplace study that outlines what is important to workers today.
2. Empathy and compassion are required leadership skills.
Employees are, first, HUMAN. These humans have experienced a lot of stress in the past couple of years. In fact, during and following the pandemic, more than 44% of workers report feeling a lot of stress, worry, sadness, and anger each day. And it’s not just work. Families, life, politics, health, children, work, etc., all play a part. As a result, they are making changes to find a life and work structure that fits their overall needs. When you can lead your business by acknowledging that employees are not machines and that they may have good and bad days, or need rest, support, or grace, you will go a long way in understanding and supporting a workforce who will return that loyalty. That doesn’t mean more snacks and parties or lessened loads. It means leading with empathy and support to your team, not harsh edicts that are meaningless or disconnected from the purpose (see point 3).
3. People want to contribute to a culture and business that has purpose.
By and large, employees want to see, hear, and understand how their work makes a difference. They want to spend their working time contributing to a cause, purpose, mission, or impact they believe in. If your company is built on the focus of profit only, you will find an erosion of loyalty and trust over time. If you don’t know what you stand for or why it’s essential, here is some more reading for you to consider.
4. Team members need to know you will keep them safe or care about them.
Let’s face it, all of the snacks and breaks in the world will never make up for the ability to demonstrate security and safety for our teams. Whether that looks like honoring employees of every race, ethnicity, gender, relationship status, choices, or identity, or if it literally means taking measures to protect their physical safety. Employees need to know you have “got their back.” Maslow’s hierarchy comes into play here. If our basic needs aren’t met, we will be less likely to focus on other things. So, how are you demonstrating (not just words) your commitment to inclusion, a culture that welcomes everyone, and a compensation and support structure that honors everyone with equal opportunity? How are you taking care of the needs of your employees – physically, emotionally, and personally?
Now, you may not agree with these principles (and many don’t – see this article here), and that’s okay. At its root, the shifts in employee mindset about the grind, working, schedules, remote flexibility, etc. are based on a difference in how we see things. Maybe your perspectives are based on when you were younger, how you used to do it, or how you were taught. Perhaps they are found in your beliefs of how to succeed. That’s not good or bad. That’s the way you see it.
But the question for you to ask as a leader isn’t, “is it right or wrong?” but “why are employees leaving MY business?”
As an enlightened leader and business owner, can you open your mind and see things differently? Can you listen to and seek to learn from this new generation of workers? Perhaps there is a way forward based on consideration and acceptance of one another. And that…that is a terrific foundation for employee engagement.
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