Employees want to know they matter. Employers need to show they care. Why is this simple concept so hard?
Some level of attrition is inevitable, and even desirable, but with nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers looking for a new or different job, we are nowhere near the end of “The Great Resignation.” Although there are a number of explanations about why so many people are choosing to quit right now, including the shock of the pandemic, social upheaval and the need for higher pay due to inflation, I believe it’s something more fundamental to workplace culture.
Over the past several years, employees have made it clear that they value purpose, well-being, passion, and flexibility in their jobs, and the opportunity to bolster their careers. They want respect, trust, empathy, transparency and recognition from their leaders. There’s a natural hierarchy between employer and employee, and far too many leaders are stuck in the command-and-control, low-trust traditions of the past, to their detriment and their company’s.
There’s no arguing that change is hard, but the onus is on leaders to rethink their management style and workplace culture to meet employees where they are today. They must “dare to care” for their most valuable asset, their people—and dare to change the status quo. Following are five ways leaders can become more people-centric, creating an exceptional employee experience that attracts top talent and makes them want to stay.
1. Show respect.
Show interest and respect for employees’ thoughts and feelings by asking questions, listening, and acting on what you hear.
Ask questions, such as:
- Why did you choose to work here in the first place?
- What’s working for you now and what’s not working?
- Why do you choose to continue working here when you have many other choices?
- How can we make our company a community where people want to come to work every day and others seek us out?
Listen patiently, and without judgment, in an effort to truly understand what workers want.
Finally, act. There are few things more frustrating than speaking out and never seeing any follow up or change. Execute on the suggestions where you can, and communicate your appreciation and the results.
2. Actively build trust.
Trust is a two-way street. If you believe that trust needs to be earned, or that people need to be micromanaged, you’re wrong.
Build trust by empowering employees to make decisions and give them the flexibility to work remotely, whenever possible. Giving people even these basic levels of trust helps build mutual faith, stronger relationships and deeper connection.
An employee who feels trusted also feels valued. As a result, workplace satisfaction and productivity increase.
3. In every decision, prioritize empathy.
Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s place to further understanding. It’s about forgetting “you” and focusing on “them.”
As a leader, it’s not about sugar coating, jumping into problem solving or having to agree. It is meeting people where they are now, listening, and providing what they need in that moment. If we want to connect with people on deeper levels, we must shift from a total focus on what people do into understanding why they do it.
4. Be transparent.
Many of us have been taught to leave our personal lives at home.
As leaders, we can model something different through a willingness to be both vulnerable and transparent in sharing who we are. Your people want to know leaders are human. Get comfortable having open conversations with your employees to gain understanding of new people and check in with those who’ve been with you over the long term.
People choose to work with people, not companies. People-centric leaders understand that we are whole people and cannot separate ourselves into parts. Your willingness to consistently share is essential in breaking through stereotypes of traditional employee/employer relationships and building trusting ones.
5. Consistently recognize and praise your employees.
One of the top reasons people leave companies is because they do not feel fully appreciated.
If people don’t get recognition from you, they will leave and find it elsewhere. Recognition can range from simple and low cost to extravagant, depending on the reason for it and your budget. Pair recognition with something tangible. Words are great, but they do not last and can quickly be forgotten. Find unique, personal and fun ways to let employees know they matter, and demonstrate that their thoughts, opinions and contributions are valued.
Change, whether good or bad, is never easy. Leaders don’t have all the answers, and that’s OK. Be gentle with yourself, and make sure your people feel heard and supported. You’re not building a company; you’re building a community where people want to work more than anywhere else.
Kathleen Quinn Votaw is the CEO of TalenTrust, a strategic recruiting and human capital consulting firm.