HR News May 2022 Featured Article: Shed Your Organization’s Old Baggage to Journey Into the New World of Leadership Development

We are dangerously close to letting a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our work lives pass us by. We should be catapulting into a new era when our careers bring us fulfillment instead of exhaustion, opportunity is no longer shackled by inequity and work-life balance is the rule rather than the exception.

Yet, burnout has not just stuck around, it’s gotten worse. The American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey revealed 79 percent of employees experienced high levels of work-related stress. More recently, Gallup reported on March 18, 2022, that just 24 percent of workers believed their employers cared about their well-being. And women continue to make up too small a percentage of C-suite leadership, with women of color coming in at just 4 percent.Goldberg-May22-Image

It is no wonder Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found 44 percent of workers are actively seeking new opportunities, or that 11 million U.S. job openings were unfilled during March 2022.

With the Great Resignation going strong, it is time for employers to shed their baggage. To do this, those in charge need to embrace the reality that what needs to change is not the workforce—it’s them. The sooner organizational leaders shift their focus from trying to “fix” employees and look inward, the sooner they will move the needle on retaining talent and driving the outcomes they want.

Three places to start are diversifying leadership, updating professional development programs and making leading with compassion a mission.

What to Do if Your Baggage Is That All Your Managers Look the Same

Establishing clear and equitable pathways for employee advancement is paramount. From vague job descriptions to opaque opportunities for growth, the promotion process at most organizations is shrouded in ambiguity and boils down to knowing the right people. This severely disadvantages employees of color, who continue to be underrepresented at senior levels of leadership.

In our new world of work, everyone should have a fair shot to perform their best and advance in their careers. Ample research shows that lack of career development is a main driver of attrition across all types of employers, and the price organizations pay is high. Gallup researchers estimated in 2017 that disengagement arising from employees feeling unseen or undervalued cost employers between $483 billion and $605 billion each year.

To correct course, organizations need to ensure their employees have clear and attainable paths to growth and leadership. Those paths must also be fair and equitable. Unsurprisingly, leveling the playing field and ensuring no employee has a leg up based on who they know or how they grew up leads to higher levels of staff retention and satisfaction.

Opening pathways to leadership also requires employers to step up and ensure everyone has the opportunity to safely show up as their full selves. This means implementing antiracist practices and policies before a situation arises. It means collaborating with working mothers so they do not leave the workforce due to family care responsibilities. It means making sure that as some workers return to in-person work, employees who stay virtual by choice or necessity are given the same meaningful opportunities for development.

Taking these steps can result in significant gains for employers, especially in terms of retaining underrepresented employees. In 2021, a Catalyst survey revealed 57 percent of white women and 62 percent of women of color would be unlikely to consider leaving their current employer if they felt their circumstances were respected. A separate study by Salesforce Research found that employees who feel heard in the workplace are nearly five times (4.6) more likely to feel empowered to do their best work.

What to Do if Your Baggage Is That Your Professional Development Doesn’t Meet the Moment

Recognize that as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, we are in the midst of a raging mental health crisis and workers need help. No amount of team building and no number of virtual happy hours can remedy the fact that workers are putting in more hours, struggling with the blending of their work and home lives, and figuring out how to navigate the next phase of hybrid work or a return to the office.

One of the most powerful supports for employees is professional coaching. Coaching targeted to building employees’ emotional intelligence and resilience is especially welcome, as those two traits have been found to be key in reducing burnout and mitigating rising stress levels.

Of course, emotional intelligence and resilience cannot be taught overnight. However, acquiring other skills like time management and work-life balance, which can be learned through practice or repetition, can produce a more immediate, but still significant, impact on the employee experience.

From delivering coaching sessions for clients, coaches with Ezra found that work-life balance and time management skills can improve over a matter of just a few months by, respectively, as much as 75 percent and 40 percent. In addition, research reported in PLOS on Jan. 11, 2021, and in Nature on May 18, 2017, documents the ways in which providing employees with the tools they need to reduce anxiety in the workplace and avoid work-related stress and depression increases productivity and feelings of well-being.

What to Do if Your Baggage Is Leading Without Compassion

It is time to leave outdated management thinking behind. While high-control, high-demand leadership has long been regarded as a strong way to manage, successful workplaces of today require leaders to prioritize heart skills such as compassion, empathy and care.

While putting purpose and meaning above performance objectives could be a foreign idea to executives, taking this approach has been proven to spur innovation, improve the employee experience and significantly improve an organization’s bottom line. A Catalyst report titled The Power of Empathy in Times of Crisis and Beyond cites data showing that leaders who practice empathy have more engaged and higher-performing teams.

For the past two years, employers around the world have talked about how to strategically navigate the new normal. Now, it is up to each organization’s leaders to push the bounds of what the future of work can be. As workers continue to quit their jobs in historic numbers and the worst of the pandemic appears to have passed, we must seize the opportunity to shed the old and antiquated ways that workers are rejecting and build stronger, more inclusive and more empathic workplaces for generations to come.

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