What's ahead for talent management, the employee experience, and the world of work? Whether it was Kyte Baby-gate, the continued belabored debates around productivity and return-to-office, artificial intelligence, or the childcare crisis, we know one thing — expect an organization's ability to consistently deliver an employee experience that earns engagement and a sense of belonging to become even more critical to results and the ability to secure and retain talent.
Specifically, engineering a work experience that equips employees with autonomy in how they work divides companies and has the potential to be a key differentiator. Let's talk through what we read and talked about this month and what it says about engagement, belonging, and the employee experience.
Inclusivity in Leadership: Recognizing the Quiet Strength of Introverted Leaders
The Wall Street Journal kicked things off sharing how the quiet strength of introverted leaders has become a strategic asset. Especially in a post-pandemic workforce, introverts may have an edge in thinking about how change will affect teams. While extroverts tend to react more in the moment, introverts take an intentional and reflective (think: more listening) approach to leadership, which can be particularly effective in times of crisis or complexity (think the past few years).
This article connects with peer-reviewed research we're familiar with suggesting that introverted leaders often excel in environments where they are allowed to pause and think before acting, and have the resources to act proactively. Side note: this may explain why my time as a young person in frontline service work didn't go so well.
This maximizes an introvert's tendency to listen and process information before acting supporting them in delivering their best selves. Clearly, this runs counter to the stereotype that effective leaders must be extroverted, underlining the value of diversity in leadership.
The Wall Street Journal article on introverted leaders also resonates with the shift in organizational culture post-pandemic, where reflective and adaptive approaches to leaders are most often. This not only affirms the effectiveness of introverted leaders in certain contexts but also provides a blueprint for organizations to leverage the unique strengths across the spectrum of individual differences in? their leadership development programs.
Opportunity, Engagement, and Belonging for Remote, Hybrid, and In-Office Workers
Nearly four years since the onset of the pandemic, and several years since the beginning of return-to-office arrangements, we're beginning to see data on how these arrangements affect career trajectories. Another WSJ article in January shared findings from larger-scale studies that virtual and remote workers could be missing out on promotions. The question of where we work, and our actual compared to our perceived productivity, continues to be explored by leaders and individual contributors on every possible side, but are these significant decisions based on factual performance differences, or merely perceptions?
Our take: the how of work that's most effective depends on the company and its culture, but as leaders, we neglect employee autonomy and flexibility at our own risk. This gap presents an opportunity for intentional people practices and leaders with the drive to make them happen.
Workplace research shows us that lack of physical presence can impact the perceived productivity and promotability of employees, potentially disadvantaging remote workers with similar performance. This reinforces the need for practices that develop equitable performance evaluation criteria that account for remote work dynamics.
Other studies highlight the complexities of the relationship between remote work and performance, emphasizing the need for effective communication, work-to-life flow and integration, and the maintenance of strong core values and shared beliefs around culture in hybrid and virtual settings. What if the promotion gap is not only because of proximity bias but also a connection to the culture?
How does culture connect to how you define performance? Learn how in our concise guide to culture.
Much like what we shared about introverted leaders, these studies underscore the importance of adaptability and tailoring the employee engagement strategies in virtual first (our preferred term over remote) and hybrid work environments. Further, dialogue of the challenges remote workers encounter in gaining promotions sheds light on potential biases in traditional promotion practices.
The science of work urges us to rethink how we assess and recognize employee contributions in virtual or hybrid environments. This could involve evaluating communications across teams, leaders, and their direct reports, and finally building a system for objectively evaluating performance. In short, we expect organizations seeking to earn a reputation for human goodness and excellence will focus on delivering a remarkable employee experience, regardless of their location. That ensures everyone has equal access to developmental opportunities and fair evaluation of their contributions.
On that note, why has defining and measuring performance become so confusing lately?
If we think about work, our roles and contributions vary not only in what we do, and the competencies behind them, but also how easily we can create objective criteria for evaluating performance.
Case in point: most individual contributors report being productive, but only one in ten managers in a recent Microsoft survey shared that same confidence. With a gap of such magnitude, can we be confident we're making accurate and fair performance and promotion decisions, as we shared above?
This Bloomberg article also brought up a fascinating difference in our definitions and norms around performance. If CEOs are looking at presence (enter the presenteeism we talked about earlier) or lagging indicators of performance (financial outcomes) and employees view productivity as a feeling of accomplishment, we're set to suffer from a major gap and frustrating confusion.
Supporting the Unique Experience of All Employees: Childcare and Parental Needs
The ability to support and create opportunities for flourishing among all employees, across life's journey and stages, was something that drew me into organizational psychology, and even our broader team into their passions within our team. While I'm not a (human) parent, the contributions of parents both to our collective workforce and to the greater good are immeasurable. It's hard to see how an organization can deliver a remarkable employee experience while neglecting the needs of parents. Such benefits are not just perks; they're strategic tools for attracting and retaining top talent. Indeed, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas shared in a report last month that, “access to affordable childcare remained a key barrier to parents’ participation in education and the workforce."
We hear a lot about parents opting out of work, but a recent study by Care.com, found over a quarter of working parents have reduced their hours to accommodate childcare. As leaders continue to maneuver in a tight labor market across industries, this simply compounds the problem. If we think about the ability to staff and grow for companies across industries with roles as wide-ranging as the skilled trades, hospitality, software development, and restaurants are diminished by limited and costly childcare.
Peer-reviewed research in organizational psychology further supports the bottom-line return-on-investment of child and family-friendly policies with researchers finding policies like childcare benefits, are linked to improved job satisfaction, innovation and productivity, stronger work-life integration, and (last but definitely not least) lower turnover.
Engaging Employees Through Experiencing Failure
Moving on to what we listened to this past month, Dr. Amy Edmondson's episode on Punk Rock HR with Laurie Ruettimann had us thinking about the opportunities that pass us by to engage employees through failure. We should probably explain.
We know intuitively that failure is core to our professional and personal growth, but how often do we think about maximizing our returns on failure? When it comes down to it, we shouldn't reframe our relationship with failure, but maximize failure to reach success. If asked, you could probably think of setbacks that led you to victory, but do we discuss, teach, and coach how we make that happen? As mentors, leaders, and peers, how could we better guide others through those journeys? There's a giant gap in psychological safety at work and, unfortunately, we can't get very far with embracing failure without that bedrock in place.
We also loved the parameters Dr. Edmondson recommended putting in place to build psychological safety (which can seem like a fluffy or soft concept); specifically, a clear discussion where risks are consistently communicated to build shared understanding and a stable journey through failure on the way to success. Whether you're a formal leader, in HR, or operations-focused, this is worth a listen.
As a side note, we're psyched to attend Transform in Las Vegas in March 2024 where Laurie will be speaking.
Improving the Experience of Anxious Achievers
The last recommendation we have is uniquely from me. I've managed my anxiety since middle school and earlier, but it was only then that I was able to give it a name. Meanwhile, over the years I've followed the journeys of others realizing an often (wrongly) stigmatized quality they thought was a setback brought considerable strength. Since graduate school I've read about, and applied in practice, how trauma can spark growth (i.e., post-traumatic growth), and more recently how people struggling with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have realized that their ways of working can provide both strength and challenge.
However, it wasn't until I delved into Mora Aarons Mele's book, The Anxious Achiever: Turn Your Biggest Fears Into Your Leadership Superpower, that everything clicked into place.
Mele beautifully illustrates how anxiety lives within leadership itself. It's not a flaw or weakness, but rather a tool that heightens awareness and sensitivity to the environment and the emotions of others. This heightened awareness fuels my empathy and ability to act with intention and purpose as we talked about earlier around introverted leadership. Anxiety leads me to anticipate the needs of my team, navigate complex emotional landscapes, and grow our culture in ways that are supportive and understanding. Furthermore, my self-driven introspection from anxiety propels my personal growth and resilience.
Of course, there are highs and lows. However, even as an organizational psychologist and consultant, I was energized by the deceptively simple strategies we can overlook such as how to practice mindfulness as an anxious person (something I struggle with!), how to communicate more candidly and openly, and capture the best of my anxiety as a driving force for preparation and excellence. I recently wrote about authentic leadership and reading Mele's book while writing and thinking about authenticity as a leader made me realize the importance of embracing this part of me not as a barrier, but as a catalyst for doing even greater things.
The Challenge of Engagement
I'm looking forward to continuing this monthly review of our what we're reading, listening to, and thinking about within the ever-evolving world of work. What have you been following this month? I'd love to broaden the conversation.