An opportunity exists for leaders and organizations to gain a performance and competitive advantage if they can win the war for talent. A recent conversation I had with Jon Clifton, CEO of The Gallup Organization, reinforced my long-held position that the x-factor in talent acquisition, employee engagement, and employee retention is connection. Fostering an environment in which workers feel connected to the organization, their supervisor, their colleagues, and the work they are doing will enable those organizations to pull further ahead of organizations that lack great jobs.
What constitutes a great job? Having a paycheck and steady work of at least 30 hours a week is a “good” job, Clifton explains in his new book, Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It. To be considered “great,” it also needs to be a job in which you are engaged and thriving. In a great job, “[workers] can use their strengths, their opinions count, and they have a manager who cares about their development.”
What struck me anew is that it is the leaders and organizations that are cultivating great jobs that have these clear and considerable advantages:
- They are winning the war for talent at a time when talent is in short supply.
- They are engaging people to do their best work at a time when more workers are losing their motivation to give their best efforts.
- They are retaining talented employees at a time when many people are seeking to leave their current employer.
And here’s sobering news that Clifton shared with me: only 10% of the jobs in America (and 9% of the jobs globally) are great jobs.
According to Gallup’s research, 70% of employees are “struggling or suffering” from chronic negative emotions including stress, worry, sadness, and/or anger. Those negative emotions infect not just the workplace. Gallup has found that “fifty-nine percent of miserable workers say that in the past months they had three or more days when the stress of work caused them to behave poorly with their family and friends.”
It’s no wonder then that over recent years we have seen large numbers of Americans quit their jobs. Add to that the number of people who are “quiet quitting,” a relatively new term for staying on the job but adopting an attitude of doing the bare minimum to get by.
The current state of work culture is contributing to negative attitudes toward corporations and capitalism. Earlier this year, Gallup found that 74% of Americans are dissatisfied with the size and influence of U.S. corporations, 64% think corruption is widespread in U.S. business today, and 43% think some form of socialism would be a good thing.
What can be done
Given this current state, leaders and organizations that account for the 90% of not-great jobs would be wise to take the following actions or they will continue to lag behind.
1. Listen to employees.
According to Gallup, 25% of employees report being totally ignored at work. Clifton recommends that organizations systematically listen to all stakeholders by surveying them. When surveying employees in particular, I advise leaders to use a scientifically-validated employee engagement survey that allows respondents to add comments. These surveys are one way to give workers a “voice” and for leaders to listen to their concerns.
Employee engagement survey results also serve as an important tool to help an organization identify which leaders and managers are creating and maintaining healthy work subcultures that engage people and which leaders and managers are consciously or unconsciously causing disengagement and need help in order to change. An example of a leader who took this seriously is Doug Conant. As president and CEO of Campbell’s Soup Company from 2001-2011, Conant strategically used Gallup’s employee engagement survey to help turnaround Campbell’s performance.
2. Train leaders and managers to develop relationship excellence and encourage friendships at work.
According to Gallup, “70% of what determines an employee’s emotional attachment to their job depends on their manager,” including whether the manager cares about an employee as a person. The Gallup research clearly points to the need for organizations to train managers on how to effectively connect with employees and develop relationship excellence among the people they lead. Clifton contends that the best bosses function more like coaches and they make listening a priority.
In addition, Clifton cites compelling research that workplace friendships improve employee wellbeing, employee engagement, and productivity. Yet, only 15% of people report having a “real friend” at work. Clifton points out that many organizations wrongly believe friendships don’t belong in the workplace. A shift in attitude is needed.
These two data points really stood out to me about the value of friendships: 1) having a friend to talk to once every two weeks increases your chance of thriving by 50%, and 2) six hours of social time a day with friends doubles your chances of thriving and reduces your chances of suffering by 50%. Given the amount of hours we spend working, it’s not reasonable to think those social needs are going to be totally met outside of the job.
3. Care about employee wellbeing.
According to Clifton, “Workers who strongly agree their organization cares about their wellbeing are 69% less likely to actively search for a new job, five times more likely to strongly advocate for their company as a place to work, and 71% less likely to report experiencing a lot of burnout.” Despite these significant advantages, Gallup has found that only 24% of American workers felt their employers cared about their wellbeing.
The wealth of data and insightful analysis in Blind Spot on global unhappiness and the subjective feelings of work wellbeing, financial wellbeing, community wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and social wellbeing help clarify the reasons for concern that many people have today for the future. Clifton observes, “One of the most significant sources of global misery comes from work.”
In treating one another in ways that strengthen positive connection, we can each play our part in reducing misery at work and moving more jobs into the category of great. Listening to one another, training leaders and managers to develop relationship excellence and promote friendships at work, and caring about employee wellbeing are actions that will give organizations an edge in getting and keeping the best people for the work they do, bringing out the best in them, and maximizing the organization’s performance.