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WorkHuman Live 2023 Recap
Working hard and being thanked for it is appreciated by the recipient. Working long days, over and over again, even though thanked, is not a long-term employee engagement strategy. Employees don’t only want to hear “thank you” and certainly, their mental, physical and emotional health matter much more to them than appreciation. And if the 4.2 million people quitting their jobs per month don’t convince, then likely, not much else will.
At WorkHuman Live this year, there were many discussions around gratitude. WorkHuman is known for its commitment to appreciation and recognition of the employee contribution in the workplace. But the conference kept the conversation pointed to other areas of health and engagement. Specifically, in a panel hosted by Enrique Rubio of Hacking HR, the focus was about the human condition.
“People have become more comfortable in speaking about their mental health,” shared Michaela Leo. “The access to technology designed to break down boundaries in asking for help is as robust as it’s ever been. But there is still a challenge with having someone working from home all day. Some are finding that they are working much longer than they might if they were in an office location or worksite.”
The panel discussed the consistent problem of policy creation for such a dilemma. “It’s difficult to make a policy directing people who need to be in the office and those who never want to be in the office,” said Donna Louise Fitzpatrick from WorkHuman. “Whose policy preference wins?” And what does that do to the overall camaraderie of an organization when an “us vs. them” division is established? Clearly, the human resources department cannot wrangle this caste system by merely writing a one-pager for an additional staff email communication.
Knowing that there are organizations that have a mix of always onsite, hybrid and completely off-site personnel, the encouragement of the panel was to make strides in employee connection. There is not a window into seeing what each person is doing for staff. Even different departments ran into each other when working in an office suite in the past, but today’s challenge may not allow for such interaction. “The naturalness of seeing work that others are doing and then commenting in real time is lost when we don’t see each other,” said Fitzpatrick. And that is only getting more complicated when we onboard employees who have never spent anytime onsite (think pre-pandemic) and will never spend anytime there either. Where can those windows of observation be opened?
An initial suggestion is one of a mental framework. “Give yourself grace and space,” said Leo. “Without an understanding that there cannot be a one-size option for each contributor and that one team can’t have the solution for each employee’s desires, then pressure mounts and poor decisions are made.” The willingness to enter into collaborative discussions, focus groups or light surveys to find solutions begins to show the thoughtfulness of the organization.
“And don’t be distracted by the sea of innovation opportunities coming at you from business journals, magazines and web publications,” encouraged the panel. “All of those ‘best of ideas’ won’t work for every company.” Know what you need and why you need it. The influence of your staff should sit in a primary position as an organization decides how to create transparency and to remove roadblocks.
The mental strain that many staff, from the bottom to the top, are feeling is real. But if an organization is, also, committed to psychological safety, then we can fail without fear. Try some of the ideas gathered. Assess what’s working and what’s not. Use metrics to assess where the company has been and where it’s going with a clear basis for measurement. Failure is not to be feared; inaction is.
A final consideration from the panel is to be active. Fostering these conversant collaborations and then not acting upon any part of it shows the company to feign innovation. Talk is cheap and employees know it. Instead, use this opportunity to foster healthy work environments to, also, empower the human with transferrable skills for both work and life outside of work. The more a person is invested in holistically, the more likely that person will be to stay with the organization. That helps HR move beyond writing a policy and hoping it handles a situation to creating a coaching environment of sharing ideas, growing skills and fostering creativity.