“Find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Any one who’s actually worked at a job knows this is only partly true. And that’s the few of us who are engaged in the work we do.
A lot of us do work that we like. And yet, we quit.
In every job, there are aspects of work we truly enjoy. Even so, there are other aspects that make us wonder why we put up with it day after day.
According to Gallup, most workers say they love or like their jobs (91%). Conversely, again according to Gallup (recognized experts in employee engagement), a staggeringly low number of people (21%) are engaged in their work. The number of workers who report being emotionally detached (60%) from their jobs, or even miserable at work (19%) has us scratching our heads and wondering how people can like what they do, but not where they’re doing it.
Certainly, this dislike of the workplace is, at least in part, responsible for the Great Resignation we saw in 2021 and ’22 and the “Quiet Quitting” we’ve heard so much about recently. We also know that compensation plays a role, what with the skyrocketing effects of inflation.
Given that so few of us are engaged in our work, and given that engaged employees are more productive, take fewer sick days, have fewer safety incidences, and are more likely to stay at their companies, there is a real dollars and cents benefit to focusing on making our workplaces better.
Chief among those things we don’t like about our jobs is our manager. Managers are responsible for 70% of their team’s engagement, and they are most often the reason people choose to stay in their jobs, or quit. So, it makes sense to devote resources to making managers better at their jobs.
Good managers are crucial to productive and happy workplaces. They can build a foundation of productivity by establishing expectations and setting clear goals. They can greatly improve workplace culture by communicating (i.e. sharing information AND listening) with employees.
We really do need to start listening to employees. So often, what people truly desire is to be heard and understood. When they are listened to, understanding occurs and managers will gain the information they need to support the people on their teams.
Let’s look at an example:
Katrina is often late for morning huddles. She comes in the door, flustered and apologetic, about 5 minutes into the meeting, disrupting the flow and drawing negative attention. Her manager has grown tired of the constant tardiness and demands Katrina either finds a way to come in earlier or find another job. This conversation then becomes not only a line item on the annual performance review, but also a source of great stress to Katrina. She leaves the conversation worried about losing her job, and her manager leaves the conversation satisfied with the hardline approach they’ve taken in “dealing with the problem”. The resulting stress felt by Katrina has her keeping her head down and doing only exactly what she is supposed to do, dodging the manager throughout her workdays and terrified to take any creative risks for fear of, again, stepping out of line. She also starts looking for a new job closer to home.
Now, what if the manager had taken an approach of respect and assume good intent instead? Were the manager to approach the discussion with an air of understanding, they may have found out that Katrina has to drop her child off at a daycare which opens at a time when it makes it very challenging to get the bus that will allow her to get to work on time. Since Katrina has shown herself to be an otherwise good employee, it would be far more in the interests of the company to show her a little grace, allowing her to come in a few minutes later and then make up the time by leaving a few minutes later.
You could argue that you can’t do this without expecting other employees to want to take advantage of the same thing. But, you might be surprised. Not everyone wants the same thing from their workplace. Listening to employees as individuals will show you that some need scheduling flexibility in their start time, while others might like something else entirely. The key is to get to know them as individuals and learn what they each need from work. You’ll be amazed at how much harder employees will work when they feel they are appreciated as individuals.
Speaking of appreciation, it’s important that all people leaders remember that employees are the company. So often leaders will say their employees are their most valuable assets. Yet, the pervading workplace culture says the opposite. Showing you appreciate the work they do is imperative for creating a supportive and engaging culture. The person who influences this the most is, you guessed it, the manager.
Companies may show appreciation through recognition programs, but it’s the managers who have the personal interactions with employees that really communicate appreciation. Simply showing employees gratitude for the work they do gives them a sense of being valued.
The cost of replacing full-time employees is steep—upward of 50% to 60% of their salary—so retaining good employees makes sense financially and productivity-wise. Employees who feel valued and appreciated are more productive and loyal. But, thanking them every now and then isn’t quite enough. To begin, gratitude must be sincerely given, and not just be the occasional nice comment doled out in an email. Again, managers are the best people to provide this type of appreciation to employees. After all, they are closest to the action when it happens and can use that advantage to respond, in a timely fashion, and give credit and thanks when they’re due. And, having a relationship with the individual employee will provide the information needed to make the thank you personal and impactful.
Okay—that’s enough for the preamble. Now let’s turn our attention to what to do:
Institute a policy of regular, frequent, and consistent one-on-one conversations between managers and those who report to them. These conversations will lead to understanding and respect for the individual and what they do.
Mandate this policy across the organization for all people leaders. Hold them accountable and make this something they are evaluated on in their performance assessments.
Don’t forget, most senior leaders have reports as well, and they need to be held to the same conversations as the organization is asking their mid-level managers to carry out. Anyone with reports must make one-on-ones part of what they do.
If you’re not sure how to begin with this, here are some thoughts:
Invest in training for your people managers. Seek out the kind of training that will teach them the importance, to workplace culture, of communication, including listening and understanding. Most managers are put into leadership positions with little or no training, and they struggle with what to do. Soft skills training will really help.
If training isn’t in the budget, maybe some good management books could be. Find one that will serve as a valued resource for the management team.
Schedule one-on-one conversations and stick with them, even if it feels awkward. In time, everyone will become accustomed to this new process and communication will begin to flow.
If you’re not sure what to say, or how to begin, download my template. It will serve as a jumping off point for conversation.
Employees who feel valued and respected are generally the ones who care about the organization and are invested in its success. They care more and they work harder. They like their jobs, so their work feels less like work and more like what they love to do.
Laura Sukorokoff is passionate about making work a great place to be. She knows the key to this lies with managers, who are so important to employee engagement and workplace culture. Through soft skills training, Laura is helping to change work and make it someplace people want to be. Reach out to Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org to book training for your management team.