by Shazre Quamber-Hill, Director, Network Strategy and Impact, Resilience First

It is no secret that the political, social and economic uncertainty of the last three years has taken its toll on communities and businesses alike. With a security crisis in Europe that shows no signs of coming to a conclusion, rising inflation and the trauma from the pandemic still impacting most of our daily lives, it comes as no surprise that year on year, Gallup has been reporting higher levels of workplace stress amongst employees since 2019. Amongst those surveyed in the ‘State of the Global Workforce Survey 2022’, ‘60% report feeling “emotionally detached” while at work, and 19% consistently feel “miserable”.’ Not quite the sentiments that inspire images of a thriving work culture.

It is no wonder then, that 2022 also saw the now infamous ‘quiet quitting’ trend, hot on the heels of the previous year’s ‘Great resignation’ that continued to create a fast-moving talent market. While the resignation theme is self-explanatory, pundits and executives alike waxed lyrical about what does or does not constitute ‘quiet quitting’. However you define it, the general sentiment remains the same. Employees, whether actively looking for other roles or not, refusing to put in any level of discretionary effort to their jobs. After decades of being told that productivity = every employee going above and beyond their contracted job, it was enough to make any executive look at their bottom line in fear. 

In an effort to capitalise on the great disengagement and fuelled by inflation, recruiters began to offer ever higher pay checks to try to lure in talent to empty seats. But with a recession looming, most companies won’t be able to afford competing on salary alone for much longer. And while pay is often effective for getting people through the door, it doesn’t solve retention issues or address the root causes of disengagement. What then, should leaders do to create a thriving workplace that people will not only want to join and stick around in, but that will inspire creativity, innovation and high performance?
The answer lies in putting people at the heart of the business strategy – leaders that recognise the power of social and emotional wellbeing, and strive to embed a culture of resilience and adaptability will be able to create high-performing teams that can not only navigate the challenges of a constantly changing world, but thrive in it.

team meeting

Leverage the workforce ecosystem and the benefits of hybrid working 

If your business was one of the thousands that had to quickly adapt to remote working at the start of the pandemic, chances are, a significant amount of resources were mobilized in getting employees setup and settled into remote working patterns. Lean into these efforts to reassess the working patterns in your team and any preconceptions there might be around specific roles, particularly when it comes to filling in vacant positions. 

If you feel that productivity is reduced by employees working outside of set hours or locations, then that is likely a cultural problem best solved by improving your managers’ skills (more on that on the next page), strengthening not just individual but also team level accountability, and focusing on outputs rather than inputs. Much has already been written about getting the balance right between in-person and remote moments. The key is in finding a balance that works for your team – allowing people to come together to build on ideas and then breaking apart to focus alone and process information- whatever that pattern may look like in your part of the business.

For employees, the benefits of choosing work patterns are well known. More control over their working day immediately reduces stress and fatigue and allows employees to balance work and other responsibilities. It is now a well-known fact that all of us have unique productivity windows –shifting your management focus to what is delivered rather than when or where allows each employee to play to their strengths and ensure maximum productivity.

For employers, hybrid working allows a business to cast a much wider net when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. Without the restrictions of physical location and set working hours, businesses can leverage the talent of the entire workforce eco-system (remote, part-time, contracting and gig-workers) who can bring valuable and diverse set of skills and experiences that you may otherwise miss out on. 

A recent study carried out by investors in people revealed that 31% of employees surveyed would prefer more flexibility over a pay rise. At a time when skilled workers are being offered higher salaries than ever, a well thought through and executed flexible working environment can give your talent strategy the competitive edge it needs to attract and retain top talent.

Make sure people aren’t leaving their managers

The old model of big-picture thinking executives stewarding a pool of ‘get it done’ managers no longer works for a disparate workforce that connects virtually more than it does in-person. As managers’ ability to monitor their team’s work over-the-shoulder declines, their skills as coach and motivator takes centre stage. Relationships within teams are closer than ever. Rather than making the ‘manager’ obsolete, this role becomes more important than ever in driving productivity and performance in the future. According to Gallup, 70% of a team's engagement is influenced by managers. The time-tested wisdom that ‘people leave managers, not companies’ has never been truer. Managers who are skilled in building relationships, developing individuals, creating accountability and communicating effectively, will be able to create a close-knit and authentically trust based, delivery focused culture that can drive high-performance without the burnout.

For leaders, this means a renewed focused in assessing the manager cohort and equipping them with the right set of skills for today’s working world will be key to delivering your strategic objectives and driving productivity. 

Rekindle and strengthen the emotional connection with work

With managers upskilled and the right policies in place, the last piece of the puzzle, and some would argue perhaps the most crucial ingredient to ensure the success of your strategy, is rekindling the emotional connection people feel with their work. 

A sense of community across the organisation is critical to improving wellbeing and building social and emotional resilience in an ever-changing world. A fundamental challenge of disparate working and remote teams is that people can begin to feel removed from the wider ‘community’ of the organisation, even as they work more closely with immediate team members. Leaders, and now managers, become even more critical in ensuring the vision and purpose of the organisation are clearly, consistently and effectively communicated, and that employees can connect meaningfully with it. 

But even the best communications plan cannot match the impact of lived experience. Internal mobility and fostering an intrapreneurial culture are valuable tools to organically create community, improve emotional resilience and drive performance. As well as engaging individuals through opportunities for growth, encouraging employees to proactively innovate and adapt nurtures agility and prepares for change. 

Work that is motivated by individual growth but underpinned by a sense of shared purpose energises, connects and engages across teams and the wider organisation. It drives the resilience needed to navigate setbacks and overcome challenges. 

If the last three years have taught us anything, it is that in order to thrive in an ever-changing world, organisations need to be proactive rather than reactive. As companies continue to scramble for top talent in a looming recession, those that can create a culture that fosters an emotional connection with work, builds autonomy and offers opportunity will no doubt come out on top. Rather than attempting to return to a pre-covid state of being, leaders and management, like employees, need to be able to be agile and learn to thrive in uncertainty.