February 22, 2023
Increase Engagement With Personalized Support
For the past two years, employees have slowly, sometimes reluctantly, returned to their places of work. Leaders have tried to imbue a sense of normalcy within their organizations, even as their teams grapple with new and ongoing challenges. COVID cases persist. Inflation is hitting everyone’s pocketbook. Americans are warily eyeing the health of the US banking sector. Major legal precedents have been upended.
It should come as no surprise, then, that employees may often seem distracted. Whether they’re dealing with challenges within the workplace or otherwise, workers often need support — and expect it — from their employers.
Today’s workers expect more from their employers than just generous healthcare plans and remote work stipends. They’re looking for professional guidance. They’re looking for the flexibility not only to work from home, but to attend to family matters when that’s what must take priority. They’re looking for transparency and feedback from employers that will help them thrive, in their professional and personal lives.
From Quiet Quitting to Conscious Quitting
The tumult of the past few years led everyone to re-examine professional norms. For the first time, workers were openly asking, “Do I really need to commute 15 hours a week to sit under a fluorescent light when I can get more accomplished working from home?” “Is my employer giving me what I need to excel at my job?” “Is my current job personally fulfilling?”
The Great Resignation gave way to the trend of “quiet quitting,” with workers refusing to do more than their job description required of them. By the second half of 2022, “quiet quitters” made up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce, according to Gallup.
Not all dissatisfied workers, however, can remain quiet for long. “An era of conscious quitting is on the way,” former Unilever chief executive Paul Polman recently concluded. Polman commissioned a survey, called the Net Positive Employee Barometer, which found that the majority of employees in the US and the UK aren’t satisfied with corporate efforts to improve societal well-being and the environment. Nearly half of respondents said they would consider quitting if an employer’s values didn’t align with their own. One third have already resigned for this reason, the survey found — with figures higher among Generation Z and Millennial workers.
Younger workers feel that if their company is not adhering to specific values, then they have a right to question their commitment to the organization. Generation Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, are digital natives who are also very socially aware — and by 2025, they will make up almost 30% of the global workforce.
Meanwhile, Boomers and Generation X workers are also questioning workplace norms, although they are less vocal about it. These workers were raised with the “dress for the job you want,” “go above and beyond,” and “always be respectful” mentality. The younger generations have normalized the idea that workers can make demands on their employers.
What we are seeing is a natural demographic and generational transition, super accelerated by COVID and the resulting Great Resignation. Workers are challenging the status quo, shifting responsibility to the company to meet them where they are and give them what they need. And the onus is on the company to realize that engagement is not one-size-fits-all; there are multiple generations (at different points in their careers) to think about.
Engagement Starts with Trust
When workers are tuning out, the company needs to drill down to find out why. First, organizations must provide the employee with the resources, culture, and environment within which they can perform at their peak. If an employee is performing at 85% capacity, is it because the role is not a fit? Is the employee going through a personal crisis, such as a divorce? And is the employer creating an environment that promotes work-life integration and thus, inspires maximum employee engagement? Work-life integration, unlike work-life balance, considers the holistic version of the employee (not just the 9-to-5 version). This means an employee can run an errand or tend to a family member if they need to during the workday. Meanwhile, the employer trusts the employee to get the work done.
For that work to get done, HR and company leadership should be clear about employee roles and responsibilities — along with larger company objectives. Do you have specific company goals that cascade down showing how each role (and its associated responsibilities) maps back to the larger objectives? Are you listening to your employees? Do you have an understanding of the morale, mood, and experience of employees?
During the Dips: Stay Flexible, Listen, Observe and Offer Support
It’s also important to remember that engagement is not something that is perfectly consistent. In any given year, you must assume that some of your team will have “blips” at one point where their engagement dips — and this is even among high performers. Part of this could be attributed to the work environment or personal issues, such as caring for an ill parent. It’s important to foster a work environment that is open, honest, and provides enough elasticity to account for these blips. Also, a person’s peak can evolve and change over time with their role — the peak of someone who is two years out of college may look different than someone with 20 years of business experience.
If a dip in engagement does require intervention, listen to employees to get to the root of the problem. Many times a waver in engagement can be traced to an energy drain in the environment. Is an employee’s valuable energy being spent on the wrong things? Are employees being required to do focus work in a noisy, chaotic office or while drilled with non-stop Slacks? Are there low performers or people who are creating a dysfunctional team dynamic?
Related Reading: Resist the Quiet Firing Trend
If a vocal person is suddenly quiet during meetings, take note. If someone stops volunteering for projects, take note. If someone is less responsive than usual, take note. A core group of people including an employee’s manager, the HR team, and co-workers can provide a microcosm view into an employee’s contribution to the company and can shed light on their interpersonal connections within the organization.
Once you have diagnosed disengagement, you need to take a direct approach to treat it. Earlier I mentioned keeping a pulse on the employee experience within the organization. One-to-one meetings between an employee and their manager are key. The manager can say, “I’ve noticed a change, and that you’ve been difficult to reach during the last few weeks. Is there something going on?” Can the organization take steps to help the employee re-engage? If not, does it seem that the person no longer believes in the company’s mission and doesn’t want to contribute? Is there a team member causing team conflict? Once you know the answers to these questions, you must address the issue at both the leadership and employee level; the worst thing you can do is nothing at all. Issues tend to occur in pockets and the resulting negativity can be contagious throughout a company.
The future of work requires a greater buy-in than ever before. Workers want to feel good about supporting their company’s mission, and they want to feel that their company supports them in return. Taking a holistic approach to the employee-employer relationship will earn you that buy-in that helps workers stay engaged and motivated.
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