Musk’s harsh words for remote work, how to retain top employees as the workplace changes

Plus, the empathy gap between employees and leadership.

Greetings, comms pros! Let’s look at some news stories from this week and see what lessons we can learn from them.

1. Musk calls remote work “morally wrong”

Twitter CEO Elon Musk has had some … let’s call them interesting … things to say since he’s taken over as head of the social platform last year. Now he’s opining on remote work, and he doesn’t have anything flattering to say on the issue.

According to CNBC:

“I think that the whole notion of work from home is a bit like the fake Marie Antoinette quote, ’Let them eat cake,” Musk said. “It’s not just a productivity thing,” Musk said. “I think it’s morally wrong.”

Musk referred to tech workers as the “laptop classes living in la-la-land,” telling Faber it was hypocritical to work from home while expecting service workers to continue to show up in person.

“People should get off the goddamn moral high horse with the work-from-home bulls***,” Musk continued.

While it’s not surprising that Elon Musk isn’t a fan of remote work (he banned it at Tesla and later Twitter), he’s missing a big point here. Remote work isn’t done simply because we want to work from the confines of our homes. It works because it allows people individual freedom to handle parts of their daily lives such as childcare while giving them the mental freedom to focus on their roles. One-size-fits-all approaches to remote work aren’t the way to go in this respect — when we use our communications skills and instinct to figure out what employees need, we can help cater our remote work policies around those needs to keep culture strong and retention high.

2. How to retain your top employees in today’s workplace

The uncertain economic headwinds we’ve been facing as a country have led employees to rethink what their priorities might be. But for employers, this has also forced a rethink of the things they value and what keeps them moving forward.

According to Inc:

Company values should be durable and built for good and bad times. If you properly anchor your values as your Northstar, you’ll have an unshakeable culture because most everyone is bought in and able to navigate together. Values are a large part of a company’s brand and employee value proposition.

Companies should protect and continually strengthen the values in words and in actions — if not, your existing employees, and your highly talented folks could become attrition risks. There are companies to this day who due to their culture and inconsistent application of values still suffer to attract talent and even see their stock prices underperform due to lingering negative perceptions.

Organizations need to take care to ensure that culture building is an active process, not just something that’s talked about during onboarding. By making folks feel like they’re not just a part of, but integral to the process of a company’s culture construction, organizations are much more likely to keep their employees happy and within their ranks. In a world of work that’s changing so quickly, this is something companies can’t afford to look past.

3. The growing empathy gap between employees and companies

As communicators, we know how important empathy is when it comes to communicating internally. If you don’t know how your employees think and feel, it can be tough to reach them in a genuine way. According to a recent survey by Businessolver, there’s a big gulf in how employees and leadership view empathy.

According to Fast Company:

The study surveyed 1,000 employees, HR professionals, and CEOs across six industries about the behaviors and benefits that make them feel like their workplace cares about them, and how they thought their employers were doing in that regard.

Employee perceptions of empathy in the workplace are at an all-time low. In 2018, 78% of employees thought they worked in an empathic workplace; this has dropped to 66% in 2023. Additionally, there’s a large gap between how CEOs perceive reality versus how employees do. While 67% of CEOs see themselves as more empathetic than they were before the pandemic, only 59% of employees would agree — a 10% drop from last year.

As is typical with many things we talk about here at Ragan, it all comes down to communication. Leaders should keep an eye on what their employees need and take care to try to actually understand what they’re dealing with. An empathetic culture is a strong one, and companies that don’t root their culture in empathy risk a high attrition rate.

4. How about some good news?

Have a great weekend comms all-stars!

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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