employee engagement

Employee Engagement for You: September 2020 Edition
Employee Engagement for You: September 2020 Edition 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Employee Engagement For You

The honeymoon is over.

That’s actually both a terrible and perfect way to describe where we are right now. The past six months haven’t felt anything like a honeymoon, but they may end up feeling that way in hindsight someday.

When everything changed in the spring, we buckled down and adapted because we had no choice. We dialed up safety precautions. We closed offices and sent people home.

And then the waiting game started. It’s only a matter of time before this is over, we thought.

We are still waiting. And it’s looking like the wait might not be over for a long while. While we wait, the strain of this new working world is starting to break us down.

Employees, who largely stepped up in the early days of work from home, are starting to feel the fatigue and strain. I spoke to an HR leader yesterday who said they’ve seen productivity start to fall and more people calling in sick than ever before.

The challenge of managing and engaging a remote and distributed team is not going away. It’s a reality we must not only face but embrace.

The good news is that the fundamentals are the same. The bad news is that we often weren’t great at the fundamentals before this happened.

If you want to take steps to ensure your employees stay engaged, here are the two actions to take now.

  1. Ask employees about their experiences (through surveys, focus groups, conversations, etc.), listen intently for what they need, and where there are gaps, fix them. We don’t need to guess about what employees need to feel more engaged—we can just ask them.
  2. Ensure manager/employee one-on-one meetings are happening with frequency. There is no more powerful tool for employee engagement than an effective one-on-one meeting. A great one-on-one is scheduled, frequent, and valuable for the employee. Put a focus on appreciation and coaching to maximize the value.

If you do nothing else, put your energy behind these two things. This journey is far from over. Stay focused and keep going. You matter.

Until next time,

Jason

P.S. What is the biggest challenge you are facing with managing remote employees? Hit reply right now and tell me about what you’ve found the most difficult.

Stuff You Should Read

If you want a condensed, useful article with some good advice for how to manage remote teams, here’s one I recommend. Lots of good advice in a small package. Read: 12 Tips For Managing a Remote Team (And Loving It).

This past week, the ADP Research Institute, which is in part led by Marcus Buckingham, released some new data on workplace resilience. The full report breaks down how they measured workplace resilience (including the 10 factors that their research suggests are drivers of it) and the key findings of this research. It’s a unique and interesting perspective on the topic with some surprising findings. Read: Workplace Resilience Study.

My advice lately has been to avoid jumping to any conclusions about what work is going to look like post-pandemic. We are apt to misinterpret signals and assume greater significance in some trends than they deserve. This brought to mind one of my favorite business books of all time, The Halo Effect. It will change how you think about business (and how you read business books) forever. Read: The Halo Effect.

stuff you should hear

What if we randomly selected who we promoted into management? That’s the question I was left Headphonespondering after listening to this recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It will challenge you to think differently about a few things. Proceed with caution. Listen now.stuff you should watch

You know that interview question, “What three people, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?” This month, I got to have a conversation on my webcast with one of the people who is on my list, Gary Hamel. It was a highlight moment of my career and he really delivered the goods in our conversation. Watch: My Conversation with Gary Hamel.

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Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me
Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me 1000 555 Jason Lauritsen

I thought I was doing pretty well.

When our lives (and my business) got turned upside down in March, I hunkered down. I’ve been through some tough times before, so I knew that I could survive whatever was to come.

My wife and I figured out the “school from home” mess and made the best of it. And I went to work on pivoting my business for this new world. It felt like a puzzle to solve. While the circumstances sucked, they challenged me to learn and innovate. I even felt sort of energized at first.

I knew what I needed to do. Work hard. Focus on solving problems. Take risks. Go as fast as possible.

I’ve got this.

Then the start of the school year was suddenly upon us. Like many parents, Angie and I were confronted with decisions that felt impossible. Most critically, in-person or at-home school? We went back and forth for a while and finally made a decision.

Confronting the school decision seemed to somehow break me. I started to notice that I was exhausted all the time. When Angie would ask me, “how are you doing?” it became harder and harder to say, “I’m good.”

I started to notice that the energy I drew from “solving this puzzle” was diminished. Even the things that have always made me feel happy and joyful didn’t seem to be having the same effect. My resilience was waning.

I knew something was off but couldn’t figure out what it was. So I started doing a little reading and research. Before long, a lightbulb went on.

I’m burned out.

It’s been over five months now since the COVID bomb dropped on us. I’ve been grinding ever since. The stress and anxiety is ever present and I haven’t been doing the work I need to do to manage it.

I had plans to take some time off this summer to just hang out with the kids, but I always found work to do and suddenly summer was gone. I had a goal to meditate daily, but I let the habit lapse. Worse, I had replaced that with the comfortable numbness of a couple glasses of wine each night and whatever comfort carbs I could find.

Now that I’m aware of it, I am taking steps to heal myself. My energy is slowly starting to come back.

As I started to share this with friends and colleagues, I soon discovered that many of them were either feeling the same way or had navigated through the same challenge recently. I was surprised by how common this experience seemed to be.

Maybe you are in the same boat. Or maybe you recognize it in your partner, friend, or colleague.

This was just another reminder for me how important it is that we collectively work to support the mental health of our friends, family, and employees. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that their average weekly data for June 2020 “found that 36.5% of adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from 11.0% in 2019.” That’s a huge increase in what was already a big problem.

If we don’t care for the mental health and well-being of our employees, even the best engagement programs in the world can do little to preserve performance levels over the long haul. This may be one of the biggest challenges that lies before us.

Today at the bottom of the blog, I’m sharing some reading and resources related to this topic that I hope you will find helpful. Now is the time to lean into caring for your employees (and yourself). Things will likely get worse before they get better, so we need to be prepared.

You matter. Your work matters. Now more than ever.

Mental Health Reading and Resources

  • As you strive to support not only the mental health of your teams, but also their overall wellbeing, there is perhaps no better resource than the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). I’m sharing a page here where they provide access to several free resources related to mental health in the workplace. Resource: Mental Health at the Workplace
  • The most powerful thing we can do throughout this time for one another is to develop our empathy. This short post is a good reminder of how easy it is to assume we know what others are going through and, in doing so, miss an opportunity to really connect and help. Now is a time to use our natural curiosity to check in on those we care about. Read: Empathy Starts with Curiosity
  • Mental health isn’t a new challenge, but it’s becoming a more widespread and urgent one. COVID just poured gasoline on the fire. Now is a good time to get educated on mental health and why we’ve struggled with it traditionally. This can help us navigate a path to finding real solutions and support through work. Read: We Need to Talk More about Mental Health at Work
work from home
No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home
No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home 1080 599 Jason Lauritsen

A lot has changed over the past several months at work. This virus showed up and lit the status quo on fire. A majority of office workers now work from home. And we’ve been scrambling ever since. 

The most intense disruption has been felt in jobs and work that once happened in an office setting but is now happening outside the office, primarily in what we call “work from home” (WFH). 

According to data published by Stanford in late June, 42% of the U.S. labor force is working from home full time. When considered against the fact that 33% of the labor force is unemployed, that’s a huge share of working people now doing it from home. And it’s a reality that was almost unthinkable six months ago.  

As a result of this major shift, there’s been a wave of articles and proclamations made recently that “the future of work is here” and that the move to WFH is here to stay. 

In the words of the great Lee Corso, long-time college football analyst and coach, “Not so fast, my friend.”

In the midst of a whirlwind of change and uncertainty, it’s natural to grasp for certainty. It’s also natural to want what’s happening to somehow be the end of the changes. We are all craving some normalcy and a world that slows down a bit so we can start trying to make sense of it again. 

But it’s far too early to start drawing any definitive conclusions about how the way we work is going to look when this pandemic is finally over. Given that even the most optimistic experts suggest that early 2021 might be when things begin to turn, we’ve got a long journey ahead of us yet. 

It’s more useful to step back and consider what we know and what we’ve learned. These insights can then guide us as we try to prepare our organizations for what lies ahead. 


On the other hand, the necessity of survival forced changes that were long overdue. 

  • Employees who had been told for years that their job couldn’t be done remotely were equipped to do so in days. 
  • Employees not only demonstrated an ability to work from home, but in many cases their productivity has actually improved
  • According to many I’ve spoken to, projects that would have taken years to complete in the past have been completed in months. 
  • The artificial barriers between “work” and “life” were broken apart as the new workplace involved bedrooms and living couches shared with children, spouses, and pets.  

As the proverb says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” 

There has been more disruption to the way work gets done in the past few months than in the previous decade. This virus forced us to cut through bureaucracy, red tape, and old school management practices to find a way to survive.  

And yet, both Gallup and Quantum Workplace have reported data that shows a dramatic improvement in employee engagement trends during the pandemic when compared to past years. 

What do we really know for sure at this point? 

We know that remote work is more viable and feasible than most expected. And we know that the reason we had not been allowing remote work in the past had little to do with it being possible and everything to do with management’s distrust of employees. 

We know that employees are far more resilient, resourceful, and committed to their jobs than most organizations assumed. Even in some really challenging situations (i.e. childcare, school from home, partner conflict, etc.), employees found a way to maintain productivity and get their core work done. 

We know that we are properly motivated, we can get things done and make things happen, even big complex things, a lot faster than we thought. Our slow, political, bureaucratic processes have been like anchors holding us in place. The bigger your organization, the heavier that anchor. 

What don’t we know?

The list of what we know is short. The list of what we don’t know is very, very long. That’s what makes jumping to any conclusions at this point dangerous. 

For example, we now know (and more importantly our employees know) that a majority of jobs can be done remotely. What we don’t know is whether they should be done remotely? Or if they should be done remotely all of time, some of the time, or none of the time. 

We have only been in this new reality of remote work for less than six months. We don’t really know yet how employees and their feelings will evolve.  When I started working from a home office, it took me years to fully make the transition and to learn how to be most effective in this setting (and I have the advantage of an actual home office). 

Some recent research from Quartz and Qualtrics revealed that “55% of people who switched from working outside the home to remote work at home said they prefer working from home when polled in early June.” But when you dig in deeper, the number is higher for those who work at a big company and lower for those who work in a small company. 

That data is from early June, before employees spent another few months isolated from colleagues and confined to their homes. We can only speculate at this point how employees are changing in both their attitudes and capabilities through this experience. Our workplace is going to emerge forever transformed. So too will our workforce

We don’t know yet the true impact of a fully distributed workforce. How could we? The fact is that we are running a giant remote work experiment during a pandemic. For me, working from home in the past was a combination of being in my office, on my couch, walking outside, using a conference room at a co-working space, and spending hours and hours in coffee shops both alone and in conversations with others. And that’s when I wasn’t on the road traveling. 

Today, employees are confined and limited to where and how they can work remotely. Work from home means “stuck at home” in a lot of cases, and it also means supervising children’s schooling, sharing space and duties with a spouse or roommates who are also stuck at home, etc. When the pandemic is over, a lot of variables will change and that means that some of what we think we’ve learned about how to shape work in the future may not be as valid as we think. An employee might come to hate working from home during a pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want to do it under different circumstances. 

What should you do now? 

Given all of this, how can you prepare your organization for a new reality of work that hasn’t fully arrived yet?

  1. Talk to your people. There’s been so much change and most of us have been just rolling with the punches, trying to take it all in stride and do the best we can. But it’s hard. You feel it and so does every one of your employees. Now is the time to dial up your frequency of employee communication and feedback cycles. Surveys, focus groups, one-on-one check-ins, and any other means of keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with your employees is critical right now. Ask them how they are holding up and where they are struggling. Ask them how you can help. Ask them what they need. And do something to show them you care.
  2. Treat all of this as an experiment. Things are going to continue to change, the variables are going to keep changing. So, continue to try new things. A good experiment starts with a hypothesis (what do we think will happen?), followed by a specific and intentional action or set of actions, followed by measurement. The goal of an experiment is to prove or disprove the hypothesis and then use that information to start the next experiment. In other words, keep trying new things and measuring the impact. Learn as much as you can about what’s working and what isn’t so you can build on that in the future. Take full advantage of this unprecedented time to explore and learn.
  3. Focus on enabling employee performance. Employees have proven they will rise up to the challenge of remote work, but they’ve had to bear a heavy load to do it. Figure out what employees need and make it easier for them to perform what’s expected and make it happen. If employees are working from home, then supporting them in how to make that home work for them is just as important as it was to make the “workplace” a productive environment in the past. This could mean providing stipends for office furniture and technology. It might mean new technology tools. It might mean providing support and resources for childcare.
  4. Recognize that WFH is only one version of remote working. To say, “work from home” is the new norm or that it’s here to stay is wrong. You can say this: the days of telling people they have to work from the office and that their job can’t be done remotely without providing a really clear business reason are gone. What many employees have long wanted from work is flexibility. And now they know it’s possible and they will demand it in the future. 

Focus on people, don’t jump to any conclusions, and learn as much as you can. The future is always uncertain and unpredictable. The best thing we can do is pay close attention to what’s happening and apply what we are learning as we go.  

If you like this content, then you might really like my new online Engagement Leader Community. The work of engaging employees is getting harder. If you are wrestling with how to keep your employees engaged, happy, and productive during these crazy times, you will find some answers and support here. Check it out.

Employee Engagement for You: July 2020 Edition
Employee Engagement for You: July 2020 Edition 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Employee Engagement For You

When I feel overwhelmed or stressed, my go-to strategy to find my way back to feeling calm and centered is gratitude.

That allure of comfort is powerful. But that path leads nowhere. The old normal is gone. And good riddance. We can do better.

As I write this today, I’m feeling a bit of both. And, while I’ve got a lot to be grateful for in my life, I want to specifically focus on you.

I’m grateful that you allow me to visit your inbox. I’m grateful that you care enough about making work better to spend some time reading and thinking about how to make it happen.

And, I’m really grateful for your support. It means a lot when you show up for a webcast, forward my post to a colleague, or send me back a note.

Thank you. Sincerely. I am grateful for you.

The work you do matters and I’m so appreciative that you allow me to join you on that journey.

(Yep, I feel better already.)

Until next time,

Jason

P.S. I’m doing a cool webinar series with my friends at Limeade on how well-being drives performance. If you are interested, you can check it out and sign up here.

Stuff You Should Read

starAs we attempt to navigate the possibility of permanent remote work within each of our organizations, we should understand the implications of any decision we make: all remote, no remote, or hybrid. This article from the CEO of an all-remote organization can prompt you to think about aspects you may not have yet considered. Read: Hybrid Remote Work Offers the Worst of Both Worlds

starWe must pay close attention to issues of equity and inclusion as we chart what work looks like in each organization moving forward. We have the opportunity to close many gaps but we can also make things worse if we aren’t very intentional in what we do. This HBR article highlights some examples of where things can go wrong and what to do to prevent it. Read: Why WFH Isn’t Necessarily Good for Women

starRemote work or not, the challenge to engage your employees remains. This post by Nir Eyal outlines the concept of “Unconditional Positive Regard” which resonates with me both as a good personal practice and a framework for how to treat employees at work. Read: The Surprising Benefits of Unconditional Positive Regard

stuff you should hear

HeadphonesWhat if we randomly selected who we promoted into management? That’s the question I was left pondering after listening to this recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It will challenge you to think differently about a few things. Proceed with caution. Listen now.stuff you should watch

Few things are more vital right now than trust. Trust is difficult to address both at work and in our personal lives. So, who better to provide us some clarity on the issue than Brené Brown? This video is one of the best twenty minutes you can spend to understand and take action to build trust.

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embracethesuck
Embrace the Suck
Embrace the Suck 700 468 Jason Lauritsen

Embrace the suck.

This is a familiar phrase for those who have served in the military. It’s a way to remind yourself or others that what you are doing is hard but important and that you need to keep going.

The difficulty and discomfort of the experience are a necessary part of the mission or process, so there’s no point in wasting energy complaining.

My oldest son, Dylan, served as a United States Marine. If you know a Marine, then you may have heard that boot camp is one of the most challenging experiences anyone can endure. It’s thirteen weeks of being pushed to your physical, mental, and emotional limits.

Dylan knew going in that it would be hard. He’d been given a lot of advice and guidance for how to best navigate the experience. Chief among that advice were those three words:

Embrace the suck.

Dylan didn’t enjoy boot camp, but he recognizes that “the suck” was a critically important part of shaping him into the Marine and the man who emerged on the other side of it. The struggle and unpleasantness shaped him in ways that will remain with him throughout his life.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this lately.

In almost every conversation I have right now, at some point the topic turns to the uncertainty and challenges we are all facing as we try to make important decisions day to day in the face of tremendous uncertainty. There’s a lot of “suck” to go around.

We are being forced to give up, reconsider, and change so many things in our lives that it can feel pretty overwhelming. And it’s really unclear when it will end.

On my end, the middle of March represented a moment when much of the way I make my living was put on hold indefinitely. Conferences were cancelled or postponed. Corporate trainings were delayed. And given the economic turmoil since then, there was no easy way of replacing that work.

A whole lot of “suck” hit me overnight.

Out of necessity I started experimenting and doing things that I hadn’t done in the past. I’ve helped produce and host two online conferences since April. And I launched a new employee engagement online learning community.

These weren’t things that I’d intended to do this year. And all of this has been far more difficult than I expected. Like many of you, I’ve worked harder since March then I have in a long time, partly driven by anxiety about the future and partly due to the fact that so much of what I’m doing now is new to me and requires a lot of learning.

I share this because I suspect that it’s probably similar to your own story or experience. You’ve probably had to learn to work differently and support others who are doing the same. Maybe your organization’s business was disrupted like mine and you are trying to reinvent on the fly. Or maybe you work in healthcare where you face situations daily that were unthinkable only months ago.

So much “suck” is all around us. Discomfort and struggle have come to feel like the norm. This is where I keep coming back to those three words that helped Dylan get through boot camp.

Embrace the suck.

None of this is fun. I’ve not struggled and failed as much as I have recently in a long time. It doesn’t feel great. But that’s only part of the story. When I step back and try to see the bigger picture, there are a few things I keep reminding myself.

This won’t last forever.

Another piece of advice that my wife drilled into Dylan’s mind before he left for boot camp is also relevant right now. She told him that no matter how bad things got or how much he felt like he wanted to quit, to remember and repeat this phrase to yourself:

“This too shall pass.”

We are in the thick of it right now. These times are calling on everything we’ve got and everything we’ve learned along our journey to this point. We’re being pushed in ways that we’ve probably not been pushed in a long time. And while that doesn’t feel good in the moment, it is reshaping us.

It’s sort of like doing an intense full-body workout. It’s not very pleasant while it’s happening and it can be really tempting to just give up when it gets really hard. But then it’s finally over and you are relieved. And while you may be a little sore for a short time, the experience makes you better in ways you probably won’t recognize until later.

When we finally arrive at the other side of these current crazy times, we will emerge transformed. I’m betting that much of it will be for the better.

We are learning, growing, and getting stronger.

When we are faced with new challenges like those we are wrestling with today, we have no choice but to learn quickly. We ask new questions, we seek out new insights, we experiment to see what works. In other words, we develop our knowledge and skills at the pace of change because we have no other choice. I’ve had to do more focused learning in the past few months than in the past few years.

A lot of our learning is being forced upon us by external factors and changes. Some of it is also a response to our own failings. Regardless, when we learn, we grow. This push to learn and grow is like the resistance in our full-body workout. It doesn’t always feel good or comfortable, but it makes us stronger.

Progress is being made.

Just like with our workouts, it’s not always easy to see progress on a daily basis. The result of the “suck” of workouts only comes over time. I am confident that we are making some progress in ways we may not understand yet.

As I’ve talked with people over the past few months, I’ve been encouraged by the stories I’ve heard of leaders who have stepped up to communicate with their teams in ways they never have before. I’ve heard about innovative programs that have been rolled out to support employee’s well-being through the pandemic. And we’ve made a decade of progress on flexible work arrangements in just weeks.

There’s some evidence that engagement has actually improved during the pandemic. Josh Bersin highlighted this in a recent post you can read here. While this may seem strange given the historic levels of unemployment, I actually think it makes some sense. Many of the things I just mentioned align with what we know fuels engagement: communication, care about employee well-being, flexibility, etc. Plus, those who still have a job are likely to be a bit more grateful today given the current circumstances.

Despite all the discomfort, there is progress being made. And I am confident that much of this progress will be lasting–even once the virus has finally be defeated.

Embrace the suck. 

Things aren’t going to get comfortable or less uncertain in the foreseeable future. To get through it and emerge stronger, we need to lean into the discomfort and the stretch we are making to survive. Everything we experience and learn along this weird and unexpected journey will make us better and stronger in the long run.

Perhaps you and your teams can channel a bit of inspiration from those Marines who face down things far worse than this on a regular basis. Use their inspiration and strength to propel you to the other side.

I’ll meet you there. Stronger. And ready for a real vacation.

If you like this content, then you might really like my new online Engagement Leader Community. The work of engaging employees is getting harder. If you are wrestling with how to keep your employees engaged, happy, and productive during these crazy times, you will find some answers and support here. Check it out.

Employee Engagement For You: The Latest News June 2020
Employee Engagement For You: The Latest News June 2020 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Employee Engagement For You

Do you feel like you are standing at a fork in the road?

On one path, we attempt to circle back to return things to normal. We seek the comfort of how things used to be before COVID. Before George Floyd. Before everything changed.

That allure of comfort is powerful.  But that path leads nowhere. The old normal is gone. And good riddance. We can do better.

The second path is to recognize the opportunity in this moment. In the current disruption and chaos is the chance to shape a better future and leave the past behind.

To accomplish this will require more of us…

  • To learn and grow faster.
  • To ask bigger and better questions.
  • To unite and stand up for what really matters.

We can reshape work to finally work better for the humans who do it.

This is our moment and we must not miss it. If we work together, we can emerge from this time into a better, more just, more fulfilling future at work and beyond.

I’m taking the second path. I hope you will join me.

Until next time,

Jason

P.S. Thank you for the interest in my new Engagement Leader Community. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I’d invite you to take a peek and let me know what you think. The good news is that I’ve extended the introductory pricing. It’s a new way I’m hoping to help you amplify the impact of your work as we move forward.

Stuff You Should Read

starWhat will the post-COVID workplace look like? This question is perhaps one of the biggest we are all grappling with as we think about the path forward. This article from the NY Times provides a look into how Salesforce is preparing to bring people back to the office. It’s another reminder that normal as we knew it is gone. Read: Farewell to Gummy Bear Jars

starAs the U.S. experiences ongoing protests and calls to address systemic racism and injustice, employers and leaders are rightly being called upon to step up and take action. This HBR piece provides some helpful guidance on what that can look like. Read: U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism

starA lot of people, perhaps you are one of them, are going through some really hard times right now. I’ve always struggled with knowing how to be supportive in the right way to those in crisis. This article describes how to use Susan Silk’s Ring Theory to guide behavior to provide support to those who most need it. I found it really helpful. Perhaps you will too. Read: 10 Tips to Offer Comfort to People in Crisis

stuff you should hear

If you haven’t discovered the Michael Lewis podcast, Against the Rules, today is your lucky day.work is a relationship icon It is currently in season two, which explores the rise and importance of coaching in all areas of our lives. It’s both entertaining and enlightening. Enjoy. Listen now. 

stuff you should watch

Since everything has been pretty heavy lately, I thought I’d end with something lighter. One of my favorite discoveries of the past few months is the Holderness Family on Youtube. Their parody videos are a way to find some real humor and joy in the weirdness that is our lives right now. This video, in particular, really nails a lot of what’s happening at our house this summer.

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Keeping Employees Connected (Without the Terrible Virtual Happy Hours)
Keeping Employees Connected (Without the Terrible Virtual Happy Hours) 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Whether it’s because your workforce is newly remote or because you can’t hold in-person meetings right now, you are probably worrying about how to keep your employees connected. This has been a common refrain in the conversations I’ve been having lately.

I’m excited that this is a top concern for organizations and leaders. It’s overdue. Even before the pandemic, it was debatable whether our employees were that connected. A move toward greater connection is a positive one that will yield benefits far into the future for both employees and employers.

Yours is probably like most organizations and has turned to technology to find solutions. Zoom meetings, virtual team huddles and happy hours, and video leadership briefings have all become routine. The good news from my seat is that it appears that employees, managers, and leaders are meeting more than ever.

But there’s some question about whether or not all of this meeting is translating into a true feeling of connection. In fact, the term “Zoom fatigue” has become pretty common. And it’s a real thing.

If you want to foster and accelerate a feeling of connection for employees, you can boil the secret down to this: meaningful activity.

When it comes to connection for employees, meaningful activity is crucial.

Let me back up for a minute to explain. In 2012, I published my first book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, which I co-wrote with my friend and collaborator, Joe Gerstandt. We wrote the book to equip people with the insights and tools they needed to build networks of authentic relationships as a pathway to achieving success.

Our journey to write the book began because people started asking us how we’d each cultivated such a big network of relationships. At first, we weren’t sure of the answer, but we were curious enough to try to find it. This led to years of work deconstructing our own experiences and comparing that against what research suggested about how relationships form.

In our research, one of the most powerful insights came from the book Achieving Success through Social Capital by Wayne Baker. Despite the sexy title, this is a powerful book. The big idea that stuck with us from this book involved meaningful activity.

First, I need to explain social capital in case you aren’t familiar with the term. Social capital is the value that we have access to through our relationships with others. This value can be both tangible and intangible. Being friends with the neighbor who owns every tool on the planet and will loan them to you because of your relationship is a tangible example. Another example right now might be knowing someone who has access to surplus hand sanitizer.

Intangible examples involve things like trust or support. Being able to reach out and ask someone for a favor or help, and knowing that they are likely to say yes, is a form of social capital. Having someone in your life who will always take your call and listen when you need a sympathetic ear is also an example.

Social capital only exists in relationships where people have created some real connection to one another. They have some level of familiarity, trust, and often shared experience. The more robust the connection, the richer the relationship likely is in social capital. But without that connection, social capital doesn’t exist.

For example, you might have a thousand friends on Facebook or followers on Instagram, but would any of them show up to help you through a crisis or to help you move? Maybe. But unless you’ve invested in building some real connection in that relationship, probably not. Social capital is what differentiates the kind of relationships that help you survive and thrive in times like these.

Here’s the catch that Wayne Baker highlights in his book: Social capital is an outcome. It’s not something you can grab or create directly. It’s like happiness in this way. Happiness is something we value and desire, but we can’t buy or create happiness directly. It’s a by-product of doing things that make us happy.

Social capital, according to Baker, is the by-product of participating in meaningful activity with others.

Social capital is the by-product of participating in meaningful activity with others.

This insight rang true for us at the time, and I’ve seen it work over and over for the past decade since. When we come together with others to do something we mutually care about, relationships naturally form.

If you’ve ever volunteered or served on a board or committee, you have experienced this. As you do the work, you come to know the other people through their work and commitment. You spend time with them and create a shared bond, often before you even know much else about one another. These shared experiences and mutual interests bond you together and create a strong connection.

The same thing can happen with a variety of types of meaningful activity from working together on a project at work to coaching your kids’ sports teams. Shared participation in meaningful activity is one of the most powerful ways we have to cultivate connection that will not only help get us through the pandemic but will last far into the future.

How Can We Use Meaningful Activity to Help in Keeping Employees Connected?

As we think about how to keep our employees connected in this more distributed working world, the magic ingredient is to add meaningful activity to social interactions whenever and wherever you can. Instead of just trying to create more opportunities for people to gather virtually, create ways for them to gather with purpose.

The more that purpose is connected to an outcome or to making meaningful progress toward a shared goal, the better.

To get your wheels turning, below are a few examples to consider.

Life-Hacking Groups

Many people are struggling with how to work most effectively from home. Some are wrestling with their health while others are struggling with focus. Some are having relationship challenges while others are trying to balance parenting with working. Each of these people is likely struggling to figure things out on their own, searching for helpful resources, and experimenting to see what works.

You could create some groups around these issues where employees could meet to discuss their common challenges and what they are finding most helpful. Perhaps you ask or challenge them to capture the best three to five ideas from each discussion to be written up and shared on the company intranet with all employees.

Creating groups around specific issues employees are experiencing can help them figure out what works.

Problem-Solving Teams

If yours is an organization where work has been disrupted in a way that leaves people with some slack time in their schedule, consider applying that time toward tackling organizational challenges. Look at the issues that are known problems but which never get addressed because of a lack of time and resources. If you aren’t sure what they are, send out a short survey to employees or just start asking questions. Soon you’ll have a bigger list than you can tackle.

Prioritize the problems and ask employees to volunteer to be part of a temporary team to discuss, research, and propose solutions to these problems. Employees of all levels can both find and add great value in a process like this. This approach likely requires some facilitation to ensure that the group is focused and that everyone has the chance to participate. You need to be committed to taking some action as a result of the recommendations. If there’s limited budget or resources, ensure they know that upfront so they can use that in their process.

Shark Tank-Style Innovation Challenges

Much like the previous suggestion, if there’s slack time to be used, put it to use finding and pitching new products or services. Employees closest to the customer often have a clearer sense of their needs than anyone and are passionate about solving for them. Give these employees the freedom to explore and propose solutions. By having them pitch the solutions at the end creates a competitive energy that will bond the teams together.

Peer Coaching/Mentoring

The idea of peer coaching and mentoring might be a new one to you; it’s an idea that is relatively new to me. But it seems like an idea that is ideal for this time where people crave both connection and support. In short, the idea is that two coworkers are paired together and asked to complete a series of conversations together. Each person asks the other a series of questions, documents what they hear, and feeds that back to them with some thoughts or suggestions. Then, they switch roles and do the same thing over again.

I came to learn about this approach through my colleague, Aaron Hurst, who’s company Imperative provides a platform to facilitate peer coaching. With or without his tool to help, the process is one that is rich in meaningful activity. The peer coaching process fuels the need for connection, learning, and problem-solving. You could use a simple version of this to facilitate weekly one on one chats for those on your team. All people need is the questions, some basic instructions, and the time to do it.

You can read more about peer coaching here.

Sharing Meaningful Activity Is the Key to Building Connection

My focus right now is to find and highlight the opportunities within the chaos that has been created over the past few months. One of those is that our collective desire for connection has never been more pressing or urgent. If we meet that need with the right kind of opportunities, those fueled by meaningful activity, the connection created in your team and organization will build a foundation that will impact your organization positively for years to come.

 

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Our Crisis of Trust at Work
Our Crisis of Trust at Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

As I’ve talked to leaders and managers over the past weeks, the two biggest issues on their minds have been supporting remote work and the “return to the office” plan. The general feeling I get from most I talk to is that they believe remote working is temporary, and they are expecting (or at least their leadership team is) to simply roll out some kind of plan that brings everyone back to the office relatively soon. A nice tidy return to normal.

Not.

Going.

To.

Happen.

The past two months have changed things more than you think. It’s laid bare some major issues that were already present in most workplaces, simmering just below the surface.

A storm is brewing. And I think it could be a pretty big one.

When offices started shutting down, it caused all kinds of chaos–particularly for managers and leaders who were firmly in the camp of “remote work could never work for us.” There was great concern about how to supervise these newly remote employees in order to make sure they were doing work.

Sure, there was also some concern for the employee’s wellbeing, but the broader concern was about productivity. People made jokes about employees watching Netflix, doing laundry, or parenting their children instead of working. Some organizations started making people log their hours. Others started hunting for ways to monitor if, when, and how much employees were working at home. They rationalized this as management and supervision necessity.

Thing is, none of this is about productivity. It’s actually about trust.

Trust at Work–Or the Lack Thereof

If your management team has spent much time worrying about if your employees are putting in enough hours or if they are actually working at home, you don’t trust your employees. If you did, you’d realize that they care about their jobs, and despite a bunch of new challenges, they are finding a way to get their work done. It won’t look like it has in the past, but they are getting it done.

Based on what I’ve been hearing from employers, that’s exactly what’s happening. Regardless of how well you are or are not supporting your remote employees, they are getting work done, often while caring for and educating their children and dealing with other big challenges.

The truth is that your ability to make remote work successful has less to do with technology or policy or process than it does how much you have trust in your people. Managers who assume the worst of employees and who have grown up in the “butts in seats” model of management are struggling mightily right now. Their employees always knew they weren’t really trusted but it’s now more painfully obvious than ever.

Managers who assume the worst of employees and who have grown up in the “butts in seats” model of management are struggling mightily right now.

Trust is always important to a successful working relationship, but it is vital when the relationship is “long distance.” If your organization had behaved in a way to earn employees’ trust before you sent them home, you are likely doing just fine with remote work. If you are struggling, that’s not good news when it comes to trust.

And the news gets worse. They probably don’t trust you either.

Up until two months ago, a lot of organizations had been telling employees that working from home, even for a day or two a week, was simply not possible. There were a lot of excuses made: security, technology, etc. It didn’t matter how much working remotely would improve the work-life for the employee.  The answer was always the same.

No.

Then along came a pandemic and within days, what was once impossible became possible. Remote work was enabled out of necessity and the charade was over.

Employees now know that working from home is not only possible but that they can make it work even when they are confined to their home or apartment with partners and children, even when charged with schooling their children at the same time. On top of that, they have learned that they may even enjoy working from home and find they actually be more productive over sitting in a cubicle.

Working in the office wasn’t exactly a paradise for everyone.  Remember, Gallup tells us we were only fully engaging about a third of our staff before this all happened. Being out of the office for a few months may have been a welcome respite for some.

You can’t blame the employee for being skeptical. If remote working is so easily possible despite being told the contrary for so long, what else isn’t true?

When their leaders send out the message suggesting it’s time to “come back to work” in the office, there will be skepticism and uncertainty. When the organization assures them that it’s safe and that they are taking every precaution, it would be hard to blame the employee if they don’t believe the message and push back.

From their perspective, leadership may feel less trustworthy than ever and they know that working remotely works. Why would they be asked to put their lives and safety at risk for no apparent reason other than “getting back to normal”?

A standoff is in the making. It’s a standoff born from our crisis of trust. 

Management doesn’t trust employees to work from home. And employees don’t trust management enough to come back to the office. Sure, employees can be forced to come back, but at what cost?

I am aware that this scenario is cynical and doesn’t represent every case. There are companies out there who have done a great job building and maintaining trust throughout this pandemic. For example, Twitter just made a big move to allow employees to make the decision about coming back to the office (maybe never). This is what trust at scale looks like.

But there are many more examples of the contrary. The violation of trust around the viability of remote working feels pretty minor compared to things like Uber using a 3 minute Zoom call to tell 3,500 people they no longer have jobs. Jobs are being slashed to save profit margins, inequity is being amplified, and people are watching. If trust wasn’t already lacking in these organizations, it is gone now.

This didn’t happen overnight. Trust has been on the decline around the world for several years. A scan of the Edelman Trust Barometer research reinforces that this isn’t a new issue.

Trust has been on the decline around the world for several years.

And the really inconvenient truth is that trust takes time (months or years) to build and seconds to break.

What Does All of This Mean About Trust at Work?

There are so many things happening so fast, that it’s been hard to know where to focus. My goal in writing this post is to help you focus on what really matters. If you aren’t talking with managers and leaders about trust and building trust with employees right now, move it to the top of your list.

Essential employees on the front lines need to trust that everything is being done to prioritize their safety and the safety of customers. They need to trust that you care about them more than a couple of extra dollars.

Work-from-home employees need to know that you trust them to figure out how to get work done. And that you wouldn’t ask them to put their lives or wellbeing at risk unnecessarily. Remote working isn’t going anywhere. It appears that we may be dealing with this virus into 2022. Even if it is resolved sooner than that, remote work isn’t going anywhere now that the people know what’s possible. A recent IBM study of 25,000 people revealed that 54 percent of those surveyed want remote work to remain their primary way of working. And 70 percent want it to at least be an option for them in the future.

It’s never too late to start building trust. Now is the right time.

While I’m not going to try to give you a comprehensive class on trust-building here, I’ll point you to one of the best resources available: The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey. This book provides some of the most actionable insights into trust building that I’ve found including a list of behaviors that build trust.  Below are a few to help you get started.

  1. Clarify expectations. Uncertainty is everywhere right now. One way to remove some of that uncertainty and foster trust is to work with employees to outline and document crystal clear expectations for their job performance. Make sure your employees can clearly articulate not only what work product is expected of them, but also “how” you expect them to work in the home environment. If you have expectations for responsiveness or availability, those need to be very clearly communicated. Even if the employee disagrees with the expectation, making it explicit and clear will help preserve trust in the relationship.
  2. Listen first. Don’t assume you know what an employee is dealing with. Coach managers to do frequent check-ins where they spend much of that time asking questions and listening actively to what the employee says. A quick way to lose trust is to jump to conclusions about what an employee feels or what they need. To build trust, ask meaningful questions and really listen to what you hear. Then use that valuable insight to provide the support they need.
  3. Extend trust. This is one of the most powerful, albeit counter-intuitive, means of building trust. When you demonstrate that you trust someone, it makes them more likely to trust you in return. This reciprocal nature of trust has been proven through research and it works. My rule of thumb as a leader has always been to trust people more than they expect. In a vast majority of cases, the person responds by being even more trustworthy than I expected.

In my opinion, the organizations that are most effective at building and maintaining trust will be those that emerge from the pandemic and economic downturn in the best shape, positioned to thrive in the future.

 

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How to Shape the Future of Work NOW
How to Shape the Future of Work NOW 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I’ve been struggling the past couple of weeks to write.

Every time I sit down in front of my keyboard, I feel conflicted. The range of issues facing people leaders and organizations varies so widely.

On one end of the spectrum are those employers whose primary challenge is supporting the employees who moved from an office environment to working from home. Their biggest issues revolve around supporting work from home, engaging remote employees, and maintaining culture in a virtual working environment.

At the other end of the spectrum are those organizations that employ those deemed “essential workers” in today’s world. Things are very different for those in this group. Issues of safety and wellbeing are paramount. While they may have a few people working from home, they have far more who are putting their health and lives on the line each day to show up to work. The problems of the first group of employers I mentioned sound like luxuries to them.

The day-to-day realities of these two groups are very different. What’s helpful to one group, sounds almost trivial to another.

So, I’ve been a bit more stuck than usual.

Then I realized there was one conversation I’ve been having over and over with people who work at organizations that exist in all areas of the spectrum. It’s a conversation about our opportunity to change the very nature of work through this moment in time.

I’ve heard people say things like “the rules are out the window” and “everything is being hacked.” These same people talk about how things under discussion for years, which would have taken months, if not years, to get done in the BC (before COVID-19) world, are now getting done in days or weeks.

Things that executives had always resisted and thought not possible are currently happening.

The common thread in all of these conversations is that a window for innovation has opened wide. How we work, when we work, what we do to support and care for those who do the work, and many other issues related to work have been completely disrupted. Those who lead and manage people are being confronted with challenges they’ve never encountered before.

New problems demand new solutions.

And while the future remains volatile and uncertain, one thing is sure: Normal as we knew it for work is gone. We can never go back to the way things were before. And why would we want to? For decades, employees have suffered through a status quo experience of work that was most commonly disengaging and unsatisfying. Why would we want to go back to that?

What lies before us, regardless of the challenges currently at hand, is an opportunity to completely rethink and reshape work in a way that serves everyone better: employee, manager, customer…everyone.

Normal as we knew it for work is gone.

But we need to move swiftly and with clear focus on what matters the most. From my seat, that means breaking and replacing inhumane processes with those designed for humans. We must take advantage of the open minds and lowered guards from those in power to usher in a new era of work that truly works for humans.

Here are a few thoughts and recommendations for where we can make the biggest impact.

The Role of the Manager

From its inception over a century ago, the role of management has been oriented toward control. Employers tasked managers with ensuring that the company was getting its money’s worth out of the dollars they paid to employees. Unfortunately, even as the nature of work has shifted dramatically over decades, the role of manager hasn’t moved with it. Historically, this has been a sticky problem. But things are different right now.

Never before have managers been forced to think about and care for employee wellbeing more than they do right now. If you manage essential employees, you have to be dialed into how safe or scared they feel at work. You have to pay close attention to how the stress is affecting them because it obviously impacts their performance. 

If you manage a newly remote team, avoiding conversations with your employees about how they are balancing their family obligations and other distractions could have significant consequences to both their work performance and commitment.

In this moment, managers must have a heightened awareness of the humans who are doing the work. Partly that’s because we are all experiencing our own human challenges. This is creating greater empathy. In addition, the consequences of not attending to these issues are highly visible. The role of the manager in today’s working world is to cultivate human performance. I write at length about this in my book, but the short version is that people have a natural inclination toward performance and growth. When we have what we need, and our paths are free of obstacles, we will find a way to succeed. 

Managers must have a heightened awareness of the humans who are doing the work.

A manager’s responsibility to her team is similar to the gardener’s responsibility to her garden: to ensure that those miraculous living things have what they need to thrive and promptly remove any obstacles that might get in their way.

The opportunity in this moment is to orient management practices around checking in with the human first. One powerful example is to redefine and structure manager checkins with employees. I wrote a post about how to do this a couple of weeks ago that you can reference for more detail. It’s also a great time to focus on the education of our managers and leaders about issues of wellbeing so that they can better provide support to employees as they need it.

Managing Performance

It’s no secret that performance management is broken. And it’s never been more clear that managing performance through a once per year appraisal is ridiculous at best. Given all the concern about maintaining performance while employees are either under duress, working remotely, or both, now is the time to introduce and bolster processes that are foundational to effectively managing performance. Start with the fundamentals.

Clearly Articulate and Regularly Calibrate Expectations 

Given how quickly things are evolving and changing right now, managers should be in an ongoing conversation with employees about expectations. Each employee needs to be crystal clear about not only where they should be focusing their effort right, but also what expectations exist about how they get their work done. The key to all of this is what I call the golden rule of performance planning: “If it matters, write it down.” These written expectations can then be validated and renewed on a weekly or monthly basis to ensure alignment and clarity.

Have Regular, Ongoing One-on-One Conversations

Managers holding one-on-one meetings with employees has always been important, but right now, it’s vital. When you don’t have the benefit of in-person drop-ins or hallway conversations, having a regularly scheduled forum to check in about performance is extremely important. Using a regular agenda of questions to guide the conversation is a powerful tool to ensure that this time is used in the most valuable way. Some examples:

  • What have you been most focused on since the last time we met?
  • What kinds of obstacles or challenges are you running into?
  • What can I do to best support you right now?
  • What are you planning to focus on over the next week/month?

Coach, Don’t Criticize

In every interaction with an employee, managers should be providing some appreciation. Everyone is adapting right now and doing their best. Finding ways to provide some acknowledgment of the effort into making this new reality work will go a long way. At the same time, be careful not to use feedback in a way that kills morale. Instead of criticizing an employee for something that may not have gone well or for a mistake that was made, try to think more like a coach. Talk with the employee to understand what happened and why they made the choices they did. Then, provide some recommendations and guidance on how to get a different outcome the next time they face that same situation. Orient coaching toward improving future performance rather than dissecting past mistakes.

If we can build these processes, approaches, and skills into how we manage performance through this moment in time, there’s a good chance these practices will become habit. They will inherently become part of how we manage going forward into whatever the “new normal” looks like in the future.

Unnecessary Policy and Practice

Given how suddenly the shift from in-person to a distributed, work-from-home work environment happened, many traditional rules and policies were relaxed or even overlooked to make it happen. The focus, by necessity, had to be on how to get the work done and how best to support employees through this transition. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that some things that used to get more attention and energy are now missing.

For example, how has expectations of dress code or working hours changed? How has the view on managing work time changed in the past two months?

Most organizations are rife with policies and practices that have no real value or purpose.

There are probably a host of ways that work is happening differently now than it was before this pandemic. The critical question to ask is “why?” Many of the policies that have gotten bent or broken in this transition may not have been needed in the first place. Most organizations are rife with policies and practices that have no real value or purpose. They were probably written into existence as a response to one bad experience (i.e., one employee showed up to work dress inappropriately, so we wrote a policy instead of dealing with the one person).

Use this time to seek out and identify the wasteful and unnecessary practices and policies that have been revealed. Pay attention not just to policy but also busywork (i.e., weekly reports that no one was actually looking at) and unwritten rules (i.e., leave your personality at home when you come to work). Now is the time to actively identify and destroy these things so as we create the new normal, it is free of this unnecessary and harmful baggage from the past.

Seize this Moment to Shape the Future of Work

While I wish the price wasn’t so tragically high, a powerful opportunity to change work for the better is at hand. For those of us who believe that work can and should be a fulfilling and nourishing experience for everyone who does it, this is a moment where we must take action. If you are a leader of people, then use this time to show what is possible. If you support those leaders, equip them with new tools to help them develop new habits and mindsets during this time.

What we do at this moment will shape work for the next decade. Let’s make it count.

 

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Employee Engagement for You: The Latest News April 2020
Employee Engagement for You: The Latest News April 2020 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

EmployeeEngagement For You

It feels like the world has been turned upside down in the last few months.

As we try to adjust to our new realities, riding the daily emotional rollercoaster that is life right now, it can be hard to stay grounded.

In the midst of all of this, there are two things I try to stay focused on.

First is self-care. Now more than ever, we need to take care of ourselves. Get some sleep. Exercise. Journal, meditate, talk to people you love—whatever makes you feel less out of control. It’s hard to care for others if we are a hot mess ourselves.

Second, move toward something positive. Throughout my entire life, one thing that has always proven true is that the best way to free myself from fear or a feeling of being trapped was to take action. Even a tiny step forward can feel like liberation.

If your circumstances are feeling daunting or overwhelming, if you feel stuck in fear, find some small thing you can do that moves you towards something better.

Action is a cure to fear. Keep moving.

Jason

P.S. If your organization is taking good care of people, you should nominate your work for an Employee Engagement Award before May 22. It’s a simple process and great recognition. Click here to learn more.

Stuff You Should Read

We are all feeling unsettled and unsure right now. Our sense of safety and normalcy has been lost. Lives and jobs have been lost. And we fear losing so much more. With loss, comes grief. Read: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

As the new reality of remote working evolves, we need to keep our eye on mental health. Even before these unprecedented times, “Freelancers were 86 percent more likely than office workers to self-report depression.” Read: The Coming Mental Health Crisis as Remote Working Surges

Crisis can reveal the best in us. And it has in many communities around the globe as neighbors reach out to support each other. Will we carry this renewed sense of community forward with us at home and work? Read: Coronavirus Reminds Us What Functioning Communities Look Like

stuff you should hear

If you aren’t familiar with Esther Perel, that should work is a relationshipchange today. She is a renowned relationship expert who has been turning her attention to the workplace. She recently appeared on Adam Grant’s podcast “WorkLife” to discuss relationships and work. Listen now.

stuff you should watch

We’ve seen some really great and really poor examples of leadership recently in business, politics, and elsewhere. This powerful TED video from Simon Sinek helps explain the difference between good and bad leadership. It feels particularly relevant right now.

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