The start of a new year is often a time to turn over a new leaf. But what kind of changes do employees actually want to see?
As we pile back into work come mid-to-end January — looking a little more relaxed and perhaps sporting a tan — our to-do lists will slowly start growing and our 2020 agendas will begin rolling out. For many leaders, that to-do list will be to build on the successes of last year and to do even better this time around.
As HR professionals often play an important role in forming these agendas, here are three things you should encourage your leaders to be thinking about.
1. Carve out time for learning
The 2018 study, which surveyed more than 5,600 executives from 48 countries, extrapolated this to 36 days. That’s ten times greater than the time it would have taken just four years earlier.
The drastically changing skills required to perform many of today’s jobs, paired with outdated, traditional approaches to training, means that global talent shortages are becoming more of a concern than ever. IBM predicts that more than 120 million workers across the globe will need to retrain or reskill within the next three years due to intelligent and AI-enabled automation.
This isn’t just a concern for employers; staff are becoming increasingly more worried about skills shortages too.
New research from the Centre of New Workforce at Swinburne University of Technology, in partnership with YouGov, surveyed more than 1,000 Australian employees and found that 61 per cent of Australians don’t think they’ve got the right knowledge and skills necessary for the next five years of work. This is a five per cent increase since 2018.
Respondents said the opportunity to learn and grow was the second highest motivator to work (34 per cent) behind the nature of the work itself (46 per cent), yet more than half said they didn’t have enough dedicated learning time during work hours and nearly 40 per cent said their organisations had ‘unsupportive environments that stigmatised learning’.
“As technology advances, routine work will increasingly be displaced. Only learning more functional skills is not enough for a worker to secure their future,” says Dr Sean Gallagher, director of Swinburne’s Centre for the New Workforce and research lead.
Gallagher says employers don’t need to send their staff to expensive external training courses and risk losing valuable productivity in the process. These skills, he says, are best cultivated in the workplace.
“Three things differentiate humans from technology. We are first and foremost social creatures, we can see over the horizon, and we can create new knowledge. By working collaboratively to solve complex problems or identify new opportunities, workers create new value. This is learning for the future of work. It is supported by online learning or more formal programs, as required,” says Gallagher.
2. Build a burnout strategy
You’ve no doubt heard the startling fact that burnout was declared an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization this year. Despite this fact, some people still place the onus on the employee to come up with a solution to their own burnout.
Workers are plagued with advice like “Learn how to say no”, “Speak up when you feel like your workload is getting too intense”, or “Have you tried practicing mindfulness?” The latter is about as effective as telling a starving person to “just eat more food”.
While individuals should absolutely take responsibility to improve their own quality of life (and yes, there is a time and a place for mindfulness), the buck does not stop with them. If 2019 was the year of finally acknowledging the severity of burnout, 2020 should be the year organisations do something about it.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, workplace expert Jennifer Moss said, “Leaders take note: It’s now on you to build a burnout strategy.”
So what would such a strategy look like?
Moss points to research from Gallup that breaks down the causes of burnout into five categories:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of communication and support from a manager
- Unreasonable time pressure
With this in mind, Moss says leaders need to start asking smarter questions around these points. Questions like, ‘Are our work hours reasonable?’, ‘Am I asking too much?’, ‘How can I make this work environment psychologically safe for everyone?’
It’s of utmost importance that these questions are asked in consultation with staff. If you don’t, you run the risk of disappointing them even further.
For example, if you notice morale is low and spend thousands on a flashy new coffee machine (the really good kind that lets you froth your own milk) as a way to try and get staff back on side, what you could be doing instead is planting a constant reminder of just how out of touch you are, smack bang in the middle of the office.
Every time Jenny walks into the kitchen that coffee machine might remind her of the end of year bonus she was denied because the company couldn’t afford it. John might see it and feel disgruntled that his request for funding for a new program was spent on a fancy milk-frothing, latte-making, ristretto shot-dripping contraption.
Of course, you can’t make everyone happy, but by taking a consultative approach you can at least make some happy.
Another tip Moss suggests is to refer to Frederick Herzberg’s dual-factor, motivation-hygiene theory when forming a burnout strategy.
Herzberg’s theory suggests that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not mutually exclusive; just because satisfaction rates increase, that doesn’t necessarily mean dissatisfaction decreases. Managers need to keep this in mind. One way to do this is by looking at your staff’s hygiene factors and motivating factors.
3. Find your business’s purpose
Organisations’ leaders are becoming beholden to the values of their staff, according to Gartner’s Playbook for a New Talent Deal. This means employers need to create a company purpose that aligns with staff’s values in order to create an emotional bond between leaders and their people.
This Gartner playbook is free to access and has plenty of informative case studies and research included. Some of Gartner’s other great research content is gated, however AHRI members received free access. Find out more here.
Importantly, purpose is not the same thing as culture, the playbook’s authors say. And it’s more than having a mission statement that sits somewhere on your company’s website. It’s something that sits behind every decision your company makes and, again, it should be created in consultation with your people.
“Energising internal and external stakeholders around a purpose creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to more rapid achievement of that purpose through unified effort. A clear purpose attracts and retains employees who are willing to go above and beyond. Employees can more readily realise their potential and drive the organisation forward,” says the report.
The report offers advice from Gartner’s CHRO Global Leadership Board members for employers who want to become more purpose-driven, including:
- Emotionally connect from the get-go. During the hiring and onboarding stages, make sure you talk about the difference they can make by working with you, not just the details around their pay and role responsibilities.
- Your purpose can’t be set in stone. It’s important to consistently revisit (and sometimes re-write) your company’s purpose to make sure it still aligns with your company’s evolving mission and your staff’s shifting values.
- Walk your talk. If environmental awareness is a strong part of your business’s purpose, for example, then that should play a role in determining the clients you will and won’t work for.
- Use your HR as PR. If your company has a great purpose-led approach to work through various HR policies and frameworks, shout it from the rooftops (figuratively, of course). Getting together with your PR and marketing team and developing ideas to share HR’s successes is a great way to attract new talent and clients that align with your ethos.
By including these three points in your 2020 agenda, you’ll ensure your company starts the year on the right foot and you’ll be one step closer to a happy, engaged and productive workforce.