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Employee retention continues to be a major concern for organizations. With unemployment at historic lows, organizations want to know that, when they hire someone, they’re going to stay. It makes total sense. And I’d like to think by now we know the way to get better retention is by giving employees the ability to do meaningful work in a workplace where they feel respected by their manager and peers.
The good news is, if you’re organization is doing just that – treating employees with respect and providing them with the ability to contribute in a way that’s meaningful – then you’re on the right track. According to WorkHuman’s latest survey “The Future of Work is Human”, the most important factor to employees is meaningful work. The second most important factor is compensation, including benefits, and supportive management. The third factor is company culture and a fun team.
I hope you’ll take a moment to download the full report for two reasons. The first one I just mentioned. Companies focused on providing respectful workplaces and meaningful work are going to see positive results. The second reason to download the report is when employees don’t feel that they’re getting the things it takes to create meaningful work (i.e. good compensation and benefits, supportive management, fun team, etc.) they have other options. And they’re not hesitant to start looking. The WorkHuman survey stated that 21% of respondents are currently looking for a new job.
Meaningful Work Isn’t a Millennial Thing
Before someone starts thinking, “Oh, it’s just those Millennials.”, let me say that I believe what we’re seeing in today’s market can’t be explained as a “Millennial thing”. I spoke to Jesse Harriott, executive director of WorkHuman’s Analytics and Research Institute, about the study and how age factors (or doesn’t factor) into the results. “We didn’t go into the research with any pre-conceived notions about age differences – although it’s well established that workplace attitudes can differ as workers age or between generations. However, we do see a consistent thread across age groups that ‘meaningful work’ is rated as most important to an employee’s career.”
The reason that creating a respectful workplace where people can do meaningful work isn’t a Millennial thing is because the barrier isn’t a Millennial thing. In the report, the reason that employees feel they can’t do their best work is because they don’t feel safe. That’s the barrier. Employees won’t feel like they have supportive management if they don’t feel safe. Employees won’t feel like they’re working with a fun team if they don’t feel safe. And organizations might offer a great compensation and benefits package, but if employees don’t feel safe, is it really enough?
Right around the time WorkHuman shared their report with me, I ran across an article from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that reported inequality ranks low on global HR’s concerns. This made me realize the trend workplaces are facing. How can employees feel safe if they don’t feel that they’re equal? I felt like this article from SHRM aligned with a few of the findings in the WorkHuman report:
- 26% of employees have felt discriminated against during the course of their career
- 50% of women reported that a manager has taken credit for their work
- 50% of women in technology said hiring and promotion decisions are based on gender and/or race
- 100% of women in the hospitality industry said hiring and promotion decisions are based on gender and/or race
- When asked why they felt discriminated against, the top responses included age, gender, race, political views, and sexual orientation.
But what might have been even more interesting than these statistics about discrimination in the workplace is that this isn’t the top reason that employees said they don’t feel safe at work. So as bad as these numbers are…it’s not the number one reason. The number one reason that employees don’t feel safe at work is a toxic work culture. I asked Harriott if they expected to see culture as the number one reason employees don’t feel safe. “It’s not surprising that employees report that toxic culture is the #1 reason they don’t feel safe. Psychological safety is critical for employees to be productive, strive for excellence, innovate and generally bring their best selves to the workplace. Toxic work cultures are a breeding ground for things that undermine psychological safety:
- Lack of recognition for good work,
- Fear of failure,
- Poor leadership,
- Lack of trust, etc.”
Civility Training Can Improve Psychological Safety
This is the hard part. Some of you are reading this and saying, “Of course, toxic work cultures are the problem. Tell me the answer.” And some of you might want to know exactly what defines a toxic work culture. Let’s start with the definition of a toxic work culture. In addition to Harriott’s comments above, think of a toxic work culture as one where people don’t practice kindness and respect. Where employees aren’t civil to one another.
Which is where civility training could be viewed as a possible solution. Christine Porath is a tenured professor at Georgetown University and the author of “Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace”. She also has a TED talk on “Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business”.
Porath shared with me some statistics on how incivility has a direct impact on the bottom-line. Some of them would be no surprise to you like 12% of employees said they left a job because of uncivil treatment. But there were a couple that surprised me. Like 25% admitting to taking out their frustrations on a customer and 63% lost work time simply avoiding the toxic person. It’s estimated that organizations lose about $6 billion a year because of workplace incivility.
When it comes to training, Porath emphasizes the need for organizations to start by defining civility. “When establishing specific principles that you want employees to follow in how they treat others, I’ve found that it’s beneficial to engage them in an ongoing conversation about what civility means. These discussions garner more support and empower employees to hold one another accountable for civil behavior. Organizations can ask employees “Who do you want to be?” And then ask what norms are right for their organization. The result is a ‘civility code’, a set of rules for which they are willing to agree upon and hold one another accountable.” This sets the stage for civility training because it raises awareness and provides skills.
Retain Employees by Focusing on Human Interactions
The key to employee retention is having a culture where employees can do meaningful work. Discrimination, toxic work cultures, and incivility are barriers to achieving that goal. Again, I would recommend downloading WorkHuman’s “The Future of Work is Human” and checking out Christine Porath’s work on civility. It can help your organization ensure that the workplace you’re creating is one where employees can thrive.
P.S. And don’t forget to mark your calendars for WorkHuman Live in San Antonio, Texas on May 11-14, 2020. Best-selling author Dan Pink has been announced as a speaker. You can get a $100 discount on registration by using the code WHL2020HRB100. The discount code expires October 31, 2019 so book now. Look forward to seeing you there!19