Are you happy at work? Are the people you work with happy?
If morale is sinking or people are fleeing, your organization may have a leadership problem.
During the past two decades, there’s been a greater examination of leadership practices and their influence on workplace culture. It all started in 2000 when Gallup’s research revealed 70 percent of the workforce was disengaged. In the years that followed, Gallup continued to update the research and the percentage didn’t change.
Numerous workforce research studies and increased employee turnover have continued to support Gallup’s data – work isn’t working anymore. Employees are miserable. Morale is sinking and people are fleeing and it’s largely because leaders have been unable to keep pace with the changing needs of the workforce.
Why has leadership struggled to keep people engaged?
For starters, leadership as a practice has been redefined.
In the 20th century, leadership was often the equivalent of power, fueled by a top-down, ‘do-it-because-I-said-so’ approach to management. It was also a role that had to be earned over time. Few young people were given the opportunity to lead.
In its era, this approach to leadership was effective. Here and now, this approach is highly ineffective, even damaging because we now live in a world in transition.
The model of society we knew for centuries is in a constant state of flux. Businesses in every industry are responding to rapid shifts in the marketplace that would have seemed unimaginable even a few years ago. Smart technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, and driverless cars are on the verge of fundamentally reinventing the workforce and transforming supply chains.
We’ve moved out of the Industrial Era – an era driven by natural resources and supported by infrastructure and proven practices, and into the Talent Economy – an era fueled by innovation and the knowledge of the people. We can’t reverse the shift. Organizations have tried to reverse it for the past two decades to no avail.
The existing Industrial Era-designed framework – including leadership practices – will come under more strain as the world continues to change. The only option is to evolve or to fail. The skillset of leadership needs to evolve to successfully adapt to change and build cultures capable of engaging employees and creating happy, productive, and profitable workforces.
The pursuit of happiness is a very real need younger generations want to fulfill. These generations have been raised in an era where much of their lives have been influenced by circumstances completely outside of their control including school shootings, economic decline, terrorism, pandemic, political conflict, climate change, student debt, social injustices, and more.
As a result, young people are grappling with high levels of anxiety and depression. Being in an environment that brings them joy and doing work that is fulfilling is of the utmost importance. They will refuse to engage in anything negative, stressful, disorganized, or draining of their time and energy.
The need to modernize leadership practices is apparent, but pivoting to use an entirely new leadership approach is easier said than done. Many leaders combat their internal compass which repeatedly points them back to the Industrial Era practices they were raised with and are most comfortable using.
Change is difficult. Even amidst skyrocketing employee disengagement, leaders have held steadfast to outdated hierarchies and management models blamed ‘kids these days’ for their problems, and insisted it’s just a phase and everything will eventually go back to ‘normal’.
There is an antidote: collaboration.
Our fight-or-flight response is less likely to kick in when we’re supported by, and in community with, other people.
Leadership has historically been a solo endeavor. Hierarchies organized by years of experience guided organizations forward.
In the constantly changing environment that is the Talent Economy, leaders can’t rely on experience alone, nor can they walk alone. Leaders need to be able to leverage their teams and seek additional insight for the good of the organization. By bringing people together who represent various skillsets and ideas, leaders and their teams can collectively create workplaces that encourage idea-sharing to successfully change systems, work productively, and find solutions.
This is the best way not only to create change but to create a change that benefits everyone. This is the best way to make work work again. This is the best way to increase employee engagement and make people feel happy about where they work, who they work with, and the work they do.
Leadership should add value to an organization, not slow it down or kill initiative. And when leadership fails, most of the people are miserable most of the time. Ask yourself whether leadership has kept pace with the changing needs of the workforce. Consider whether the team is feeling happy about their decision to show up for work today.
If morale is sinking and people are fleeing, there’s a reason why. Look within first. If you find that your organization is in need of restructuring, we can help.