August 8, 2023
Are you enjoying your job? Probably not, according to new global research by Gallup that shows a worrying 70% of US employees are not engaged at work. Gallup CEO Jon Clifton calls it an ‘emotional recession’ on top of an economic one, with the cost of disengagement reaching almost $9 trillion a year globally.
So, what can business leaders and IT managers do to turn the tide of apathy in the workplace and improve productivity? Here are four action points that I think will help your company experience a happier workplace.
1. Providing effective ways to address stress
Having read the results of the survey, I was surprised to see the US is the worst region globally for staff having mental health problems at work. More than half (52%) of employees say they have feelings of stress A LOT OF THE DAY. The figure was even higher among women -- the worst worldwide. In Europe the figure was 39% and in Southeast Asia 26%. When asked what changes in their workplace would make it better, the most popular answer from respondents was engagement and culture (41%).
Obviously, getting to the bottom of the reason for stress is the ultimate goal. Is it a lack of flexibility, feeling undervalued, dealing with inadequate legacy IT systems, a bad manager, not enough support from colleagues, or mundane and repetitive tasks? Without genuine and honest feedback, you will never know the source of the problem and therefore be unable to address it. This is why creating an effective feedback culture within your organization is a top priority. That doesn’t mean having an annual review or yearly staff survey, you need true thoughts and opinions on a regular basis, because people’s needs and circumstances can change rapidly. Regular engagement enables earlier resolutions. And it’s not just about hearing views, it’s acting upon them.
At our company, we conduct regular employee engagement surveys that are anonymous as we recognize that some people may not feel comfortable addressing concerns to a line manager. Instead, they share their feelings anonymously through the tool. From a company standpoint, some of the issues can be common, or trends may be noticed, such as feeling isolated, or the need for better processes. We can also assess what measures are working. For example, we saw the success of introducing wellbeing initiatives and company-wide (non-work related) challenges to enhance healthy competition.
2. Assessing pay and benefits
After well-being, employees rated ‘pay and benefits’ as the second most important factor for improving their workplace. Of course, the level of salary is an important factor for any worker, but priorities have changed post-pandemic.
This brings me to the question: When was the last time you reviewed your Employee Value Proposition (EVP)? Feedback from employees in the Gallop research highlighted repetitive demands for flexible working, more autonomy, subsidized childcare, training, longer breaks and more rewards and incentives for meeting goals. How many of these does your company offer? It might be time to sit down and review your EVP (probably after you’ve conducted that important employee engagement!)
3. Being more innovative
A recurring theme in the IT sector is the boredom and frustration of repetitive tasks due to a lack of investment in automation and upgrades. Legacy systems based on old technology are a huge factor for making employees disengage. Remember, IT workers are in the business because they love technology. The survey highlights this with statements from staff wanting to learn more things, lack of creativity, doing the same monotonous work. Heads of IT need to take this on board and ensure they engage teams in the actual process of improvement and take their advice on the best way to provide solutions.
There is an abundance of tools such as low code/no code applications in the cloud that are plug and play, quick and simple to implement to make life easier. Research commissioned by us revealed that 33% of employees blamed not having the right IT tools to do their job as one of their biggest daily challenges, with one in four even wanting to quit over bad processes. It’s obvious that automation is a priority for not only improving company productivity, revenue, and efficiency, but to inspire and support colleagues. The research showed that 70% of companies had introduced automation in their IT department in the last two years, with 30% saying incorporating AI resulted in attracting more employees. In addition, 39% cited the reason for installing the technology was to empower the workforce and combat burnout (39%). It certainly paid off with a massive 95% saying it improved performance.
4. Making managers better leaders
We’ve all heard the saying that people leave managers, not companies. In the IT arena that can be particularly true as we embrace changes in technology, with new projects and software being introduced to cope with increasing digital adoption and transformation. From project managers to team lead testers, the role of the IT manager can certainly be challenging and stressful, especially at a time of growing security threats and problems recruiting the right skills set. The Gallop survey pointed to management as a problem for causing employee discontent, with respondents saying they needed more approachable bosses, clearer goals, stronger guidance, more transparency, fairness, and better recognition and respect. Seventy percent of team engagement is attributed to the manager, according to the survey. However, many or most of managers are quiet quitting too.
That brings me on to management training which can often be put on the back burner due to workload. If timing is an issue, there are a plethora of courses on demand that offer flexible studying options - everything from first time management skills to strategic leadership and even an MSc in Project Management.
In addition, it’s important for managers across your company to establish a support network to share advice on common challenges such as goal setting, or quarterly reviews.
And let’s not forget about managers’ career development too. From my experience, it is essential to look at each individual’s ambitions and aspirations and how to support their growth within the company. It means putting the manager in the driving seat, rather than having a specific career development conversation or plan and policing it. It’s important to give managers the flexibility to evolve in their role while providing data and best practices as a company, along with best practices from their peers.
In conclusion, with almost half (48%) of US employees saying they are actively looking for a new job, it’s crucial that business leaders take affirmative action to ensure they won’t lose their valued colleagues to their more innovative and supportive rivals. After all, a company is only as good as its employees.
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