How Leaders Can Help Employees Thrive in the 2022 Workplace

03 January 2022

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For many leaders, the past two years have been a shock. Yet change is also an opportunity for excellent managers to grow and shine-- to reinforce how employees can create value.

Many professionals often joke about mediocre managers, the epitome of which is Gary Cole's character Bill Lumbergh in the movie Office Space. A nitpicky, passive-aggressive micromanager, he is the bane of his employees' lives. Unfortunately, bad managers like Bill have created a stereotype that frequently diminishes the value added by good managers.

The ongoing pandemic has many managers in administrative mode, caring more about key performance indicators (KPIs)than people. To make matters more complex, they have to deal with a host of new and existing challenges. Skills shortages still mean that in some areas, such as technology, candidates are in high demand and retaining talent needs to be a major priority. And in this competitive and dynamic landscape, saving staff from burnout is a crucial part of keeping them happy and engaged.

For many managers, it's been a shock. Yet change is also an opportunity for excellent managers to grow and shine-- to reinforce how employees can create value by first focusing on how employees can be valued by the business. And this can be done by addressing these new and existing challenges; re-inventing recruitment, retaining talent and reducing burnout to create a world-class team that wins.

The new way to recruit world-class talent.

Managers should evaluate whether their recruitment strategies and techniques are equal to the unique challenges of our new reality. Some of the changes required relate to soft skills and technical capabilities. While some may welcome the opportunity to return to in-person interviews, others will keep running the interview process virtually.

These virtual environments introduce new challenges for both interviewer and interviewee. Managers have to ensure interviewees are versed in handling completely virtual or hybrid work environments in an effective way-- a vital skill not just for the interview, but for today's distributed workforce. It's also an early opportunity to gauge increasingly necessary characteristics such as a candidate's dependability, or willingness to make themselves available (within reason).

At the same time, interviewers still want to be sure that any potential hire meshes with the company culture. A critical step to vet for cultural fit is doing reference checks, both with the provided references but also with any shared network connections. Ask if the candidate has the ability to effectively work and collaborate in a virtual or hybrid workplace.

In addition, it's important for hiring managers to understand which facets of the company to present to a prospective hire. For instance, for many recruits, the flexibility to work remotely isn't a perk, but an essential requirement. Offering remote working differentiates a company about as much as offering access to stationery. Instead show how the company culture shines through a distributed workforce, keeping employees engaged, connected, productive and happy.

Hiring managers often provide the earliest and most significant touchpoints for new talent, and first impressions count. With people's priorities drastically changing in the last two years, these first impressions can't keep working from the same old scripts. There's a real opportunity to put the company's best foot forward, aligning its values with this new era.

Retain talent by re-recruiting top performers.

Attracting talent is only the first part of the battle. In a world where top talent is extremely finite, it's equally important to implement strategies to retain employees. Any company that cares only about output and not talent will struggle with high turnover. Talent will quit out of frustration as evidenced by the number of employees leaving their employers and starting anew in The Great Resignation.

Employees with mature perspectives on their careers expect inclusion. Good managers involve employees not only in shaping a company's culture but also in facilitating their growth and development. The opportunity for employees to participate in defining company values ensures they are deeply bought into the culture. Cross-functional mentorship programs are also effective as a learning and development opportunity as they expose employees to different parts and people across the business. And of course, bonuses or other rewards for valuable contributions can show how much an employee is valued.

Do your company's recruitment and retention strategies reflect these requirements? It's up to managers to look at such questions and motivate change where necessary. In the remote work era, you should also develop strategies that reinforce community, empathizing with the isolation of remote working and the pressure of just-in-time delivery. Simply put, treat employees as your greatest asset or they will find another workplace that recognizes their talent. Create value and be valued.

Avoiding burnout.

Employee burnout is very real, to the extent that it's recognized by the World Health Organization. Today's employee needs more reassurance that they will get the support to do their best at work while managing the other areas of their lives. Unfortunately, too many companies pay lip service to this yet rarely follow through.

But the balance of power has shifted. Talent wars are raising employees' value, and the pandemic gave many that final push to look for greener pastures. The fear of losing a job has been replaced with the fear of losing out on something better. At the same time, today's employees don't necessarily want higher compensation. They want more support for their time and effort, especially if they work remotely.

Despite its many perks, remote working can also be disruptive to a company. Managers find it tougher to create and maintain team relationships. It's harder for employees to say no, and it's easier for workloads to get out of hand. Managers need to be sensitive to this and reinvent how they support employees. For managers, it is of the utmost importance to be a good human-- always.

Specifically, they should find opportunities for employees to connect and socialize with fellow workers. They should promote a focus on wellness and time to disconnect. And managers must embrace the uncertainty and constant change of the current landscape, knowing that while the company feels it, employees are at the frontline of these changes. This is really hard for managers and employees and there is no perfect approach. We need to be gentle with ourselves and create a culture that allows for vulnerability and open communication.

Good management is back and culture is living your values.

The effect of the pandemic upon workers and companies has created uncertainty. But I still believe this is a terrific opportunity for leaders to make tomorrow better than today for employees and the business overall.

Let's be honest: some management culture before the pandemic needed a reset. The last two years have exposed problems and accelerated change in areas that were recognized but rarely tackled. Now is the time to change all that. We can shift away from a world of Bill Lumberghs to a world class team in which talent is recruited, nurtured and consciously hitched to the bottom line. It's the right thing to do for your company and it makes the world a better and more fulfilling place.