The pace of change is faster and more noticeable than ever and organizations are scrambling to adapt and evolve. Times of significant disruption can lead to feelings of uncertainty which make it difficult to retain and engage your workforce. If managed correctly, however, these circumstances can present an opportunity to inspire and stretch your people to new heights.
As the nature of work evolves, so does the relationship and the expectations an employee has with their employer. In the past, employers and employees were concerned with loyalty. Employees expected an employer to take care of them over the long term, and in turn, employees would stay and perform. We then saw this dynamic evolve over the most recent 25 year period to where employees sought to be psychologically committed to their work and their organization. Employers worked to “engage” their workforce by ensuring essential needs were being met such as a sense of achievement, camaraderie and equity. The future promises to push these concepts even further.
We have been studying engagement for over 45 years at Mercer | Sirota. We typically find very similar factors that influence engagement in our research. The extent to which an employee feels a sense of trust with their senior leadership, feeling a sense of accomplishment for the work they do, working in a climate of trust, and feeling like they have a career path are common factors to emerge. More recently we have found a strong relationship between high levels of engagement and 2 additional factors. Authenticity and feeling energized. Employees that feel they can bring their whole selves to work and who are feeling energized by their work, are more likely to have high levels of engagement.
Leaders are now faced with the challenge of embracing their employees for who they are, and finding ways to inspire them during times of uncertainty and change. The goal is not just to engage your people but to genuinely help them “thrive.” Employees who are thriving are constantly growing and finding new ways to contribute to the organization. They are empowered to find ways to deliver exceptional results and they are connected to the right people within their organization to make that happen. They are also healthy from both a physical and mental standpoint, which allows them to sustain high levels of performance. And they are continually energized and excited about what they are doing, which unlocks innovation.
So, what can leaders do to help employees thrive when the future of jobs is changing and career paths are unclear? Here are some suggestions:
- Start with the basics – Employees will still have psychological needs that need to be met in the workplace. They need to feel a sense of achievement for the work there are doing and understand the impact of their job. They need to have positive relationships with those around them and they need to feel as if they are being treated in an equitable way by their organization, which includes being compensated fairly.
- Accept people for what they bring – As mentioned above, people want to bring their whole selves to work, meaning, they do not want to have to pretend to be someone different in the workplace versus outside. Most organizations need to have certain limits on things like dress-codes in order to portray a desired image to their customers. However, to the extent possible, allow people to express their individuality and be aware of inadvertent signals that may put pressures on individuals to conform. It is also important to allow people to show their true strengths in the workplace, which may involve more flexibility in the way in which the work is accomplished.
- Leverage change into inspiration – Uncertainty can lead to fear if not managed correctly. Leaders must ensure they communicate about change in way that generates excitement and is focused on new and better possibilities for the future. Try to paint a picture about what might be possible. Help people see the potential for their organization and their own jobs in a new and different way. While we may not know exactly how all these changes will impact every single person’s job, we can still paint an exciting vision of tomorrow in which people can be more successful and energized.
Thriving organizations have redefined success for their business and for their people. They are resilient, agile, and have a positive impact on society. Thriving workforces are diverse, adaptive, inclusive and growth focused. And they are committed to the overall well-being of their employees. Now is a critical time for leaders and organizations to begin preparing for a different way of managing their workforces and engaging their people so they can thrive in this new world.