We surveyed a diverse group of workers to get the data companies will need to foster a positive culture and avoid any cultural blind spots.
Every Wednesday since we’ve all retreated to our spare bedrooms, dining tables, and other make-shift offices, Become Unmistakable has held roundtables with business leaders all across the country. We connect to share ideas about how we can adapt to what the new digital workplace will be like. A common theme I’ve heard over and over is “how do I cultivate a positive culture when the way we’re connected has completely changed?
This is a big question. And, if you’re a business owner, it’s also a scary one.
‘Culture’ is a theme that can and has been used to describe a thousand different things about the way a company interacts with itself. The word culture is often boxed into the phrase “We are the [fill-in-the-blank-with-the-company-name] family!” – the ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ equivalent of company mantras. But the successful leader sees past the mottos to the measurable impact culture has on the bottom line; that an institution’s approach to employee engagement is what drives it’s performance.
“The word culture is often boxed into the phrase “We are the [fill-in-the-blank-with-the-company-name] family!” – the ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ equivalent of company mantras.”
Well, consider this. A company’s culture is defined by the emotions it elicits from its employees. The emotions of the employees play a major impact on their engagement with their tasks, thus driving performance. The performance of the employees is the major force behind the company’s ability to provide meaningful value to its clients. And meaningful value to clients is what makes a company succeed.
The uMap™ software works because it uncovers and celebrates those employee emotions that ultimately trickle down to company success. As the modern workplace evolves through COVID, we know we need to understand what the next phase of work will be in order to guarantee a positive culture in our organizations. So, we surveyed a diverse group of people to better understand how employees are currently working to inform their employers on what their future work should look like.
Top 4 insights:
We discovered some important insights; some that could expose blind spots in your people strategy and cost you your most critical talent pool.
Team members want to hear from their managers more frequently than you might think.
Tech takes a back seat even among the ones that know it best.
Home offices are alive and well. Especially for Established Leaders, who have embraced working from home and have the technology to make it comfortable.
Positive culture is unequivocally defined by frequent communication and transparency with managers, even if it brings bad news.
We initially anticipated that generational differences would create wide gaps in communication frequency. Not so! Our data showed that employees at ALL levels want direct and frequent connection with their managers. Most prefer daily interactions and the Emerging Workforce wants to check-in multiple times a day.
At Become Unmistakable, we tackle this issue with a strong commitment to open communication. It definitely takes work, but we use uMap™ to establish a deep level of transparency and trust with each other. It grants us a platform to express how we’re feeling, what we need more or less of, and how we hope to interact with each other in the future.
Technology takes a back seat
While most of us would prefer in-person communication, we found that the generation that wants the most face-to-face time is in fact the one that many of us would consider the most tech-dependent.
Nearly 60% of the Emerging Workforce preferred in-person to other, more passive forms, of communication. That’s 25% more than Established Leaders and almost 50% more often than their Rising Manager counterparts.
The assumption that the people who never knew life before the Internet prefer to use digital tools as their primary method of communication is false. In fact, we should be finding more ways to personally engage these people in the Brady Bunch world of Zoom/Teams/Hang-outs meetings. Hoping that Cindy and Bobby can hold their own without personalizing the experience is a risky strategy that may backfire and lead to significant turnover.
Home offices are alive and well
We’ve all learned from the forced virtual office experiment that we can be productive. With a little technology and intention, our teams can be even more connected from a distance than in a physical office space. But excessive screen time and the conflation of work and home demands have increased levels of stress and risk of burn-out.
It’s no surprise that 80-90% of Established Leaders and Rising Managers report having the resources they need to comfortably work from home. What we didn’t expect was that 81% of the Emerging Workforce reported having the resources to work remotely, but 1 in 4 of them said they didn’t feel comfortable doing so.
As an Established Leader, I’m writing this from the comfort of my home office tucked nicely above the garage. I can hear my quarantined teenage and adult children from time to time, but I can confidently work with few, if any, interruptions. The Emerging Workforce, in contrast, often find themselves in small spaces – apartments, with roommates, or in someone’s basement. They need space to roam and people to learn from.
Given we’re working our way through crazy disruptive times, it’s no surprise that all groups prioritized consistent communication and leadership transparency as the top two qualities of positive corporate culture. Many organizations have furloughed employees, accepted government support, shortened planning cycles, and are in the process of executing multiple COVID-related pivots. The pace of change is brisk. Communication and transparency are critical.
“The pace of change is brisk. Communication and transparency are critical.”
Nearest to the top, 54% of Established Leaders strongly favored consistent communication over a distant second of leadership transparency (23%). This group is generally more secure in their roles and have years of trust-building under their belts. Let’s face it, they are providing much of the communication being craved. Established Leaders are also the most expensive demographic and they know it. The need for meaningful cost reduction from prolonged economic contraction may very well be satisfied from within the ranks of the established. Consistent communication about the organization’s prospects during and after the crisis will go a long way to keeping this group engaged.
Of the groups, the Emerging Workforce was the least concerned (only 35% listed it as a top priority) about consistent communication, favoring in-person connection to their managers and mentors over broad communication from leaders on-high. While transparency (26%) came in second, 23% of the Emerging Workforce want to leave some gas in the tank for socializing and having fun with extracurriculars coming in at a close third. Remember, some are wrapping up college experiences, joining intern pools or joining a brand-new social fabric and need to break in and feel comfortable. It may seem trivial in the current environment, but employers ignore it at their peril. Now is not the time to reduce investment in engagement. It’s time to double down.
Perhaps most interesting, Rising Managers place almost equal importance on consistent communication (39%) and leadership transparency (38%). Finally hitting their stride and stepping into meaningful roles, they’ve been cut off at the knees by COVID. They are carefully watching senior leadership and judging their performance through the crisis. If leaders handle their business and provide a clear path for Rising Managers to continue their ascent, all will be good. If not, they are planning their next move as we read.
“If leaders handle their business and provide a clear path for Rising Managers to continue their ascent, all will be good. If not, they are planning their next move as we read.”
We asked employees in each category how much screen time they’ve been booking, followed by how much they felt was healthy. The results were backward in my mind, but when taken in context told a consistent – and cautious – story.
Our youngest colleagues are spending less time on-screen than anyone else. Only 51% of the Emerging Workforce reported 6+ hours of screen time compared to 74% for Established Leaders and 91% for Rising Managers. Only 35% of Emerging are spending 8+ hours versus 57% and 51% for Rising and Established, respectively. This connected bunch is actually doing it right as 55% of them believe that 6+ hours is too much. When taken in context with their desire for multiple in-person connections each week, this makes sense. Not as many Zoom meetings, more heads-down work, more social interaction, nap time. Take your pick, but these younger workers are nothing if not consistent.
On the other end of the spectrum (surprisingly), Established Leaders are booking the greatest number of hours on-screen, and they’re fine with it! While more than half are spending more than 8 hours of screen-time, only roughly a third thought that was too much. What’s more, almost 40% felt that any amount of screen time was just fine. Established Leaders, our GenX’ers and Boomers, will just get the job done whatever it takes.
That brings us, once again, to our Rising Managers. Their screen-time is the highest and they are the least happy about it. Fifty-seven percent of Rising Managers reported spending 8+ hours on-screen while 88% of them felt that was too much. Those balancing work and home life in the virtual world are doing so in a perfectly imbalanced way. It’s simply not sustainable.
So, what have we learned?
Our Emerging Workforce is feeling deeply insecure and is not prepared for a highly virtual experience going forward. At this stage, they crave direct connection with managers who can nurture their young careers and help them develop. They are the least interested in screen-time and least comfortable with remote work. Most important, they are feeling highly uncertain about their jobs in the COVID era and beyond. Having watched their parents take the hit through the Great Recession, they want a good job that pays well and can provide security. When the opportunity presents itself, they will seek the opportunity that meets this deep need.
Given the responses of Established Leaders, they may not see this coming. While they agree with their youngest colleagues that in-person interaction is best, they are perfectly fine working apart. Their more established home offices with space to work, fewer distractions and comfort with booking long hours in front of the screen, may be a blind spot for these leaders (note to self).
Another potential blind spot – optimism. Established Leaders may feel overly secure in the current situation given they have endured economic hardship in the past and lived to tell the tale and even thrive
Rising Managers represent our biggest challenge. The survey tells they are the most uncertain about their futures. They are seriously out of balance with their workload and screen time. They are the largest and most mobile segment of the workforce. They are highly productive, affordable and have a long runway of career remaining. They are critical to every organization.
When I was among the Emerging Workforce (many years ago), I was young and ambitious, even impatient. Sensing my impatience at 24, an early mentor of mine told me, “Take your time and learn. Most of us don’t begin to understand where our careers will lead, what our potential really is, until we hit our early to mid-30s.” Looking back, I know he gave me good advice. Today’s Rising Managers have recently hit that point of their careers. Pre-COVID, they were eyeing that first meaningful leadership role or had just stepped into it only to be cut down at the knees by the virus. Now, they stare into uncertainty over the next twelve months. They are deeply mired in the execution of our organizations (ours included), driving strategic pivots and carrying a heavy burden of hours and screen time with no end in sight. They are seriously out of balance.
And balance is what they require. Before, during, and, of course, after the virus passes they will still value work-life balance over any other benefit a company can offer. Each of them is watching the Established Leaders, gauging culture, assessing whether their opportunity is greatest in place or elsewhere. And they will vote with their feet. The next decision they make will define their careers. It’s a careful choice that may lead them away from your organization, and I’m betting you don’t want that.
Thank you for staying around to read this long – but hopefully helpful – post. When we founded Become Unmistakable, I had no idea we were going to move to this digital workplace. However, I did know that no matter where and how you work, employee engagement will always be one of the most important factors in your company’s success. Please feel free to connect with me directly and I’d love to see how we can help you succeed.