A positive work environment is seen as a positive in an age where work culture is emphasized. Despite its importance, there would be a few discrepancies about whether it is the most important thing to employee experience.
United Minds investigated the best way for companies to retain employees in an effort to drive great employee experience across the world, spot common themes, and help companies improve.
After surveying 2,800 global employees the answer was clear; having a positive working environment.
On the back of this finding, UNLEASH was keen to speak to Stephen Duncan, executive vice president EMEA at United Minds, to find out more about the study, employee experience and the challenges companies face in the ‘Great Resignation’.
Duncan has been involved in employee engagement for over a decade and, before diving into the study, we were keen to get his insight into how this area has changed.
He explains that although in the mid-2000s employee engagement was beginning to gain traction as a topic, when he began speaking about employee engagement “you had to spend hours justifying why employee engagement is important”. Fast forward to the 2020s, “people just get that intuitively now”.
Now “companies get if they do things that are right for their employees”, then that benefits their bottom line.
In the study, United Minds CEO Kate Bullinger noted: “Our research shows employees want a fair deal. They want a culture that’s inclusive and safe. And they want agency to do their work on their own terms.”
Naturally, it is important to get an understanding of what fair, a term that may immediately resonate but is undoubtedly difficult to define, means to a company and its employees.
Duncan notes that to provide a fair deal for employees, companies need to give people security and recognize “what are you, as an organization, doing that will give people that sense that the job they have today will be there tomorrow.”
Additionally, he comments that employees need to be able to see that “you, as a leadership team, are taking steps and action that will give everybody in the organization real security for the long term”.
“In terms of, what does a fair deal look like that probably will be a little bit different” for each employee, adds Duncan.
However, an organization “has to be seen to be acting in the best interests of everybody in the organization.”
Duncan explains: “The challenge for any organization is his actions need to match up with words.
“So saying you’re going to do things and then not delivering on them can very quickly undercut your credibility.”
“If their actions as an employer don’t match up to what they’re seeing publicly, the people that are going to know that first are the employee,” notes Duncan.
The internet and the ability for employees to express their opinions adds to the pressures on company’s to fulfill promises: “In a world where aspects of an organization’s behavior are open to scrutiny from Glassdoor or Indeed […] the truth will come out.”
Companies need to be cautious that these issues don’t go noticed as it will impact current staff and “potentially future employees’ perceptions view of you as an employer.”
Inclusion and safe spaces
When it comes to creating a space where employees can feel comfortable, Duncan references Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson and the idea of psychological safety. He firstly recommends that businesses read her work and learn from her approach.
Duncan adds that: “If you create the conditions for psychological safety, then that will create an environment where that kind of unfair treatment will not be tolerated by the organization.”
Although “most organizations have policies that stop that happening,” Duncan notes that unfair treatment still happens.
He suggests: “If you’re an organization that takes this issue seriously, you [must] do that in a way that enhances the degree of safety that people feel they’ve got their ability to speak up [and] hopefully, avoiding ever happening in the first place.”
Another issue in the workplace is exclusion; Duncan notes that this is amplified as people return to offices. He states that there is a risk of “creating whole new categories of exclusion” based on the location where people work.
Adding that he is concerned for those “who are not able to return to the office or are not ready to return to the office” as they may be excluded from decision making, social interactions, and relationship building.
There is good reason for this concern, as the likes of Slack have reported that workplaces will become dominated by white males to a greater extent than 18 months ago.
Nonetheless, Duncan remains positive that benefits could be achieved: ”I think there is a real potential positive in this [hybrid working].” This is because those who have struggled with childcare responsibilities or disabilities may have found hybrid working has made life easier for them.
Burnout and the need for good managers
Even when safe spaces are created, burnout can still happen. Duncan partly attributes the rise in employees feeling burnt out to the meeting schedule that remote working has facilitated.
He notes that back-to-back meetings without breaks can lead to fatigue, particularly as meetings used to require a degree of movement to attend which would facilitate some downtime.
On top of that, the last 18 months have been stressful and Duncan encourages organizations to empathize with staff.
Burnout is unquestionably a factor in the large churn rates that are now labeled the “Great Resignation’. As we go through this difficult period, Duncan calls on managers to step up.
Duncan comments: “This is where the role of managers is really important, we need to enable managers and equip managers to manage people during hybrid working, and it’s something that we need to be very intentional about because this is here to stay.
“The people that are managers today have gotten to those positions because they were good at managing the way that we’re used to be.
“We need to invest time and effort and energy into equipping managers to actually be comfortable managing teams that are now hybrid.”
Duncan adds that the skills required to thrive in a hybrid environment can be learned, but managers need to work on these areas.