As we approach the end of 2021, I reflected upon my working years, what engages, excites, motivates and ultimately gets me up each day (with a smile). Coupled with changing jobs as a result of COVID, seizing upon Inopportune Opportunities, and ensuring the latest challenge would support my passion for Experience, I embarked on a voyage down workplace-happiness-and-engagement-memory-lane.
First, let’s acknowledge that much of the world is struggling to make just enough money to get by, covering the basics like food and lodging. This majority are hardly in a position to choose their workplace based on positive company culture, fulfillment and perks. This is a luxury afforded to the very few of us who are earning salaries beyond what’s required for day-to-day necessities. I’m very fortunate and thankful to be in this latter group. And for those of us that are, now is an ideal time to rethink why we work, what’s important, and ultimately how we can align ourselves with caring organizations who support our quest to derive greater meaning from our 9-5.
As we grapple with the continuing challenges of life and work in the COVID-era, thoughtfully intertwining our needs as workers with those of our employers, rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive, is where the future of work is headed. The rules are currently being reimagined and rewritten. And much like unions fought for increased employee rights during the Industrial Revolution, we now have the opportunity to shape and influence where, when and how we will work in the coming decades. What an exciting time to be in the workforce!
The ‘Great Resignation’ as it’s being called is misdefined. Fundamentally most people still need to earn a living, yet many now want to pursue a meaningful professional purpose larger than themselves. What this would be better defined as is the Great Reimagining, saying “no” to the traditional Mon-Fri, 9-5, in-office business model, that we’ve been raised to believe is the only way. Working remotely since Q2 2020 has shown that most people, the ones you’d want to employ, have an ability to self-manage, be productive, reimagine collaboration, while living more flexible, fulfilling lives. But that doesn’t mean everyone needs to be remote all the time (or that they want to be). It does mean that options and flexibility should, and will likely become a prime requirement for job seekers, particularly those working in knowledge and service-based sectors.
Prospective employees are more frequently in the driver’s seat when interviewing. A salary, office pingpong table and free coffee likely isn’t what’s most important anymore. People should be asking: “What’s your company’s ‘why’?”; “How do you contribute to society?”; “How will I positively contribute, learn and grow?”, along with many other employee-centric queries. Smart companies have, or will soon get their Employee Value Proposition defined and live it loud. As a job-seeker, if it’s not firmly in the spotlight, ask, set expectations and ensure your boxes are being ‘ticked’. Both sides stand to win when alignment is achieved at the outset.
Working in an office is not the enemy. Collaboration and personal connection is arguably best done in person, and a majority of workers likely want to spend some time in an office, but not everyday just because that’s what the traditional rules say. Having the ability to manage one’s schedule, hit the workday without losing time commuting when one plans to, cranking out quality, undisturbed work on those remote days is both highly effective and empowering. You’re also able to manage your personal life in a more effective manner that employees have grown to appreciate and now expect in a COVID-era. It’s time to stop writing the rules for the 2% who break them and start doing so for the 98% who follow them. People can waste eight-hours at an office desk just as easily as they can at home. If tasks are getting done in a timely manner, strong team communication is maintained, and business needs are being met, then work’s happening. Trust then is key (and earned on both sides).
We spend at least one-third of our lives working, so treat that situation like any important relationship in our lives, seeking out the elements that allow us to perform, succeed and be happy. Align yourself with that professional-partner who helps you be and bring your best. A 2017 Harvard Business Review article, The Neuroscience of Trust, shows how effectively cultivating trust in an organization can reduce stress by 74%, resulting in 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days and 76% more engagement. That’s something both partners should be working towards and getting behind.
Having a boss that encourages and empowers you to be in the driver’s seat of your day-to-day is where true fulfillment is at. Dan Pink hit the mark in his seminal book Drive, when he cited Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose as the three elements that truly motivate and inspire high-calibre workers, rather than traditional ‘carrots and sticks’. Put them on your professional map.
Well-Being & Clarity
Feeling comfortable to share ideas, speak out, and be yourself is paramount to successful teams according to Google, who concluded in their landmark Project Aristotle study that Psychological Safety is the number one element contributing to successful teams. Imagine not feeling you’ll be laughed at or punished for making a mistake, asking a non-traditional question or sharing that ‘crazy’ idea. That’s the team you want to be on. Get your jersey.
Acknowledging that employees are people, who have good days and not-so-great ones, and affording greater leeway for not being ‘on’ every working hour will gradually become standard practice. Promoting and supporting employee well-being is bound to become part of the ‘new normal’. And if it isn’t where you are, jump ship. Companies who avoid it will soon be an entity devoid of meaningful culture, talent and ultimately customers. And successfully doing so doesn’t need to be expensive. Rather, it requires some time, empathy, truly caring about your teams and can come in many forms:
- Access to an employee assistance program
- Promotion of exercise and workplace proximity to green spaces
- Coaching conversations between employees and bosses and/or peers
- Leeway for a personal day off here and here
- Flexibility to work when it makes the most personal sense, while still meshing with and supporting a team’s cadence
- Positivity as the social norm (healthy teams have at least 5 positive interactions for 1 negative one)
- Facilitating many personal connections (the more connections one has at a company, the happier and more engaged they tend to be)
- Help team members have a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities and how they’re being evaluated
- Provide easy access to examples of how to complete tasks
- Regular feedback and mentorship
- Water cooler and casual chat
- Understanding and living of company and personal values on a regular basis
- Effective cascading of company strategy, goals and how your role contributes
But how do we find that partnership, chart our ‘new normal’ path, or create the corporate home that people will want to thrive with? There’s no one way or perfect formula. And that’s what’s ideal about right now. The rules are waiting to be written, and not just by employers. Employees are positioned to play a more powerful role than ever before, setting expectations, taking on more personal responsibility, and charting a more effective, engaging and successful working model for all.
One interesting model to zero-in on and consider as you chart your course is Chip Conley’s Relationship Truth Pyramid, from his insightful book Peak, which strives to align Customer, Employee and Investor interests for a triple-win. At the center is an inverted heart-pyramid of goals, coupled with the objective of attaining and aligning: Unrecognized Customer Needs – Company Legacy – Employee Meaning. If you can pull-off this masterstroke of alignment, everyone wins. This is one model worth studying for both employees and business leaders, with strong ties to workplace happiness and engagement.
So find and define your Golden Circle. Make incremental changes. Write the rules. And live, while working.