The end of the year is always a bit stressful. We are confronted with the pressure of finishing the business year strong while planning for a new, and even more successful, year. All this while juggling the season’s activities from mailing cards and buying presents to attending holiday events, working out who’s hosting family dinners and organizing the white elephant exchange. Wait, this year we might have to decide if we are doing any of those things. We’re certainly still experiencing increasing uncertainties. What will 2021 bring, where are we going for the holidays, and will my business be impacted by any more shut downs? All this weighs heavily on a leader, and yet much of the stress is often pushed aside while we endeavor to keep a stiff upper lip to appear positive and optimistic for the people we lead.
Much has been written about the importance of employee engagement and boosting morale. Most of the responsibility for engaging employees falls squarely on the shoulders of the direct manager. Managers and supervisors set the tone and the climate of the team – by keeping employees informed about what's going on in the business, setting priorities, and providing on-going feedback and recognition. But what happens when you, as a manager, start burning out?
Let's look at the history of employee engagement for a moment. Since 2000, Gallup has been tracking employee engagement. The metric has been relatively steady, without sharp ups and downs, until this year. The upset and uncertainty around the on-going pandemic and related restrictions, mounting political tensions, and social unrest created a perfect storm of uncertainty and fluctuating employee engagement levels. As of October 2020, the good news is that employee engagement has returned to pre-COVID levels for all groups except managers. Manager engagement has continued to decline. Why is this a critical point?
This is concerning for several reasons. Currently, 41% of employees strongly agree that their manager keeps them informed about what's going on in the organization. That's great, for now. However, managers are reporting higher levels of stress and burnout than the people they manage. High levels of stress lead to reduced engagement, a drop in productivity, and burnout. This stress, in turn, can affect approximately 70% of the variance in team engagement. In short, we're overstressed and on the verge of burnout, so it's only a matter of time before that impacts the entire team.
So, what do we do about it? As leaders, we hold the key to keeping employee engaged and productive, which means we need to make sure we are in good shape ourselves.
Managers – be sure to take a break! Need more encouragement? We've got it.
In an interview with Admiral John Richardson, former chief of naval operations, discussing strategies for leaders to avoid burnout and prevent pandemic fatigue, he notes, "the stakes are really high, and when the stakes are high, many leaders naturally tend to feel they have to be there all the time, to make all the decisions. But if you can't conserve your energy, you're in trouble." Sound familiar? Of course, it does. But remember, even military admirals must take breaks!
Admiral Richardson continues, "recovery is essential to mission effectiveness. That must include both taking time off to reenergize and to have the team and structure in place so that this time off can be protected, and the mission will continue."
Throughout the challenges this year, the front-line managers have shouldered the burden of carrying out and communicating the tough decisions businesses have made to stay afloat. We've had to make difficult decisions about layoffs, furloughs, and reduced hours. We've been uncovering new ways to get work done with fewer resources, staff, and funding.
Managers and our teams have moved to work remotely, making it harder to connect, communicate, and get work done collectively. We've had to look for new ways, through new technologies, to hold meetings, work on projects, track productivity, and communicate.
2020 has accelerated business innovations, technological advancement, and virtual communications to a degree we previously thought impossible. It's been possible, though the accelerated pace has landed significantly on leadership, and there may not be a protocol or structure to protect time off at this time. However, it's "mission-critical" to protect downtime for leaders and employees. The science proves it. In fact, before the pandemic, global surveys revealed: "burnout arguably is reaching epic proportions in many industrialized countries."
If your new strategies and structure haven't taken time off into account, go back and build it in.
It's a great time to take an inventory of your strengths and make sure you're leveraging them. If you are a hard-charging driver who is always thinking about the next hurdle, lean on your support team to be sure you are setting realistic timelines, planning the logistics and following through on the execution. Nothing will burn you or your team out faster than setting new goals when yesterday’s goals are still in progress.
The Omnia Assessment is a fast, unintimidating, unbiased, and accurate way to reveal a person's natural behavior. Understanding individuals on a team can help managers alleviate stress for everyone. While some groups have worked cohesively for years, most have not. Between average turnover rates, the population aging into retirement, and the shift to remote communications, it can be challenging to understand everything about your team.
The Omnia Assessment breaks this down into easy-to-read, easy-to-interpret graphs focusing on four behaviors: assertiveness, communication style, pace, and structure. For example, if you know who's fast paced and big-picture focused, you can pair them with someone more cautious and systematic to ensure tasks are completed but also proofed for accuracy. Understanding people's natural abilities can take years; with The Omnia Assessment, it takes less than 10 minutes.
Let's go to back to stress and burnout. How can we protect managers and, by extension, all employees? Here are a few strategies other companies have employed:
Leaders need to conserve energy and take care of themselves. Review the five strategies above; the first bullet is on us. Set and enforce work boundaries, including taking time off. Then, lead by example. Our mental health and well-being are our responsibilities. Snap out of the martyr mindset. We aren't helping our teams by exhausting ourselves, and we aren't earning badges for the number of hours worked. It's time to reevaluate how we approach work. It's time to replace "busy" with productive and healthy, and 2020 may have given us all the opportunity to make that shift a reality.
A multitude of unforeseen changes have occurred in the last 6-8 months, many that are here to stay. One adjustment is the move from a physical office environment to virtual teams. Even with some workplaces reopening, it's clear that virtual teams are here for the long term.
As leaders and employees continue adjusting to this evolving reality, there are ways to work more effectively and gain a momentum people can live with. We may not be in the same room for a while, but if we can find our footing, we can still stay together on the journey.
In previous articles and webinars, we've discussed why leadership is essential in a crisis, what employees, clients, and stakeholders need from leaders, and how to use emotional traits and behavioral tendencies to your advantage. As we continue to manage through crises, other strategies, such as best practices for virtual mentoring, utilizing behavioral assessments, and motivating teams from a distance will help you keep things contained and on track.
Effective leadership creates the infrastructure to help people participate efficiently. Leadership is about harnessing vision, balancing responsibilities, and creating a framework that clarifies how to reach set goals. Effective, and yes courageous, leadership is about creating processes that improve people's understanding of changing circumstances and enhance their ability to swim with the tide.
For over 35 years, Omnia’s vision centers on maximizing people-performance through the power of insight. We understand people power businesses, and through The Omnia Behavioral Assessment, we identify the strengths, challenges, and motivations of the people who make up your companies.
Right now, it's essential to identify who is comfortable with rapid change and who may need more steady guidance. No matter how technical you are, how long you've worked remotely, or how comfortable you are with change, you're now working with people who are new to things like remote work and virtual meeting platforms. We know that changing work routines to accommodate innovative technology and norms is challenging at the best of times. Leaders (of organizations, teams, and projects) have to get everyone rowing in the same direction.
"Now is the time, as you reimagine the post-pandemic organization, to pay careful attention to the effect of your choices on organizational norms and culture," Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, and Mihir Mysore at McKinsey remind us.
Below we've captured some of what we've learned at The Omnia Group about how leaders can make a difference to the team's sustainable success through connection, priorities, and pace.
Leadership connection is about actual, direct time with people. Connecting with your team to understand them individually and as a group will enable you to better diffuse fears, anxiety, disengagement, and pessimism when it appears.
Through every crisis and work challenge, there will be change. For example, with the move to virtual teams, we no longer have the opportunity to walk by the water cooler and engage in spontaneous business conversations. As a result, leaders need to carve out time to attend meetings regularly with other managers, direct reports and cross-functional teams.
What is regular? Is it every day, every week, once a month? Honestly, that's up to you and the people on the team. Some people will need more direct time with you, some people will need more time to quietly process on their own. Those at Omnia who worked virtually before COVID hit say they are actually seeing a lot more of us now than they were before "everything went virtual."
Recently we shared a webinar about Courageous Leadership featuring Ernest Shackleton and his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914 - 1917). During this exploration, his ship, Endurance, became trapped in pack ice and was slowly crushed before the parties could reach land. Shackleton faced a life-or-death crisis. His leadership, connection to his team, and understanding of the human condition resulted in this crisis becoming known as "an epic feat of endurance."
Shackleton insisted on the men eating the evening meal together and socializing afterward. In a virtual office, those connection points can be team meetings, lunch and learns, sales huddles or anything that makes sense in your culture.
There is absolutely nothing more important for any business in terms of effectiveness than working on the right things at the right time. Think about what's suspended, what's changed, and what's urgent.
Our teams review priorities every day. We also have rolling 90-day meetings to discuss shifts and changes to priorities. We identify which projects should continue but at a later date and make a plan to prioritize completing those projects at a time better suited to those needs.
A leader must be clear on what the priorities are for the business so that employees can do some of that filtration themselves. How can we make sure that people know if stuff has been paused, cleared out, and then clarify what's urgent? Be clear about the things that matter most right now, and then make sure everybody has priorities.
If there isn't work for people right now, how are we addressing it? What does that look like? Some organizations are focusing on developing people through cross training, others are working on creating better internal processes, still others are using the time to document existing processes for when hiring resumes.
Pacing is the leaders' job. It's incredibly essential yet sometimes overlooked in conversations.
How fast do we go? What does that look like? Is everyone with us?
Back to Shackleton and his transcontinental march for a moment. He was in charge of a stranded 28-man team and challenged to keep them alive in the Antarctic for months. It was up to Shackleton to decide when the men would depart the relative safety of the sinking Endurance. It was up to him how long they'd huddle in makeshift camps as the ice they were on continued to drift. It was up to him to select and navigate a party in a single lifeboat on an 800-mile open-boat journey to then mount a rescue mission to save the men back at the makeshift camps, which he did, without loss of life!
What we're facing now may not be a doomed Antarctic exploration, but these are uncharted waters. It's up to leadership to determine our direction and our pace. The rest of the team (employees, clients, and stakeholders) are awaiting your call.
Being virtual can cause additional challenges. Paying attention to where people are is even more critical as there are fewer clues in the environment for people to watch and find out what pace they should work. If you're having difficulty identifying an individual's pace, The Omnia Behavioral Assessment can help. Understanding if you are working with an impatient doer or a methodical processer will help you set and manage priorities in a way that resonates with the employee.
Additionally, it's crucial to ask, "if people are behind, what's the reason for it?" Your structured, systematic employees may be feeling overwhelmed and need a more clearly delineated timeline with fixed milestones. Your fast-paced multitaskers may be trying to do too much at once and getting overextended. Each set of employees will need a different approach from you to stay on pace and meet deadlines. An Omnia assessment can provide that roadmap.
As the leader, it takes courage to roll with the punches, change course and keep everyone working towards company goals, but you can do it. Remember, stay connected, set and manage your priorities and set a pace that keeps people energized and moving forward.
I did a quick poll of my friends and coworkers, asking for bad boss horror stories. Most people had relatively tame ones -- bosses rechecking their work, being flighty or generally being unprepared to handle (and therefore explain) the responsibilities of a job. Personally, I experienced situations as strange as an upper manager named Dave who only promoted people named Dave (and one named Davena), a director who routinely made me – an administrative assistant -- smell the bathrooms (don’t ask), and a supervisor who would lose his train of thought in the middle of instructions to me and replace whatever else he had intended to say with the word “thing.” Example: “Jennifer, we have the meeting at twelve, so I need you to-- thing.”
Other people polled had more … intense… experiences: extreme micromanagement, screaming, throwing people under the bus and physical threats. Wow.
The saying goes, “People quit managers, not jobs.” According statistics compiled by LinkedIn , “Three-out-of-four employees report their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job,” and “The average organization is 50% as productive as it should be, thanks to less-than-optimal leadership practices.”
A company may be amazing, with excellent benefits, a great salary and a fun work environment, but if a manager makes life miserable for an employee, none of that matters. If that employee was talented, trained and dedicated, losing them is a loss for the whole company. The result of a bad manager: missed opportunities and financial losses for both employer and employee.
First off, it should go without saying, but I’ll say it: Nobody should be physical threatened or physically threatening on the job. That is illegal, and your HR department should have procedures in place for dealing with such threats, including involving the authorities. If you feel unsafe, extract yourself from the situation!
This extreme example aside, here are a few other bad boss behaviors that drive employees crazy (and away from a company).
Micromanaging: There is nothing that will deflate your confidence more than knowing your manager is watching every step you take, waiting to pounce on your first mistake (real or imagined).
Taking all the credit: These are the bosses who expect you to applaud while they accept awards and promotions for all of your hard work.
Taking none of the credit: You feel like you might as well just stay under the bus for all the times a manager like this throws you there. The successes are theirs, and the failures are someone else’s.
Being brutally honest – with an emphasis on brutal: Somehow, this extreme honesty never extends to compliments. These bosses throw performance feedback at you like a brick and believe that any kind of praise will make you too complacent.
Making people scramble: Tight deadlines and changing procedures are part of most jobs and businesses these days. But it’s the boss’s job to try to mitigate these stressors, not make them worse.
Lacking empathy: Now more than ever, it is abundantly clear that life happens, and we can’t be prepared for everything. Having a manager who lacks flexibility and understanding can add to already intense life pressure.
Employees: what can you do if you find yourself working for one of these characters?
Managers: What can you do to avoid becoming one of these characters?
Being a strong leader and manager takes time and ongoing effort. Unfortunately for everyone, it is more noticeable and difficult when a manager slips up than when one employee does. When you can, use these slip-ups as a learning opportunity. And finally, most importantly-- thing.
People likely feared it after watching movies about it - but deep down never imagined it would truly happen. Even when it started to happen, a lot of people were saying “not us” or “not here.” Boy, were we wrong! COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and the world, as we knew it changed.
Business leaders had to quickly adapt. Teams that had never worked remotely were suddenly quarantined at home and forced to figure it out on their own. Employees looked to their leaders for guidance in this unprecedented time, many feared they’d lose their jobs, and for many that fear also became reality. Over six months, more than 60 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance — that's more than the number of claims filed during the 18-month Great Recession. (Business Insider October 8, 2020)
Difficult and painful as it has been, tough times make us grow and learn. Here are some of the biggest lessons leaders have learned through the pandemic:
Many leaders dismissed the idea that remote work would be sustainable. They weren’t convinced that people could get as much done at home as they would in the office. They knew that if their employees went remote, they wouldn’t be able to micromanage them the way they would in the office.
A lot of leaders had to give up that control, in a sense, when COVID struck. Happily, most leaders found that, when push came to shove, their employees stepped up and worked beautifully at home. This had a lot to do with employees being less stressed. They didn’t have to spend time commuting, and they could be close to their loved ones. Leaders were also pleasantly surprised to discover that they could effectively manage a remote workforce.
It’s great news that this new way of working is working, because for many we aren’t going back to our former office environment anytime soon – possibly never. (NYTimes.com October 13, 2020)
Leaders have also learned that transparent communication and emotional intelligence are more important than ever. When you don’t have your team working right in front of you, it’s critical to be more open about what is going on. This includes updating the team on company numbers so that they truly understand how things are going within the business.
Additionally, during meetings and one-on-one coaching, it’s now clear that asking how an employee is doing is truly important -- not just a formality. Leaders don’t need specific details, but if their employee is having a hard time, then they need to be aware. That way, they can figure out a way to help. This not only protects the team’s productivity, but it also makes the employee feel cared about, important, and heard. As a result, that employee will be more engaged and loyal in the future.
While work at home has offered more flexibility – studies find that this pandemic is wreaking havoc on stress levels caused by concern for our families, managing class work while our children learn online at home, and we juggle competing schedules with our new home office mates. While we’re all doing all of this juggling, we’re also working longer days. (Harvard Business School September 14, 2020)
Checking in regularly with your employees and making sure they are “OK” goes a long way. Empathizing with your remote worker’s unique circumstances is more important than ever. Help your employees by focusing on output rather than number of hours worked and be sure to coach and recognize work quality, rather than the time taken.
Take time to laugh over our humanness and celebrate our imperfections. Since everyone is at home, leaders and team members alike are learning about each other’s lives outside of work. Sometimes, video calls can result in embarrassing or awkward moments. Anyone who has had something go “wrong” on a Zoom video call can relate. Babies cry, dogs bark, and cats will walk right in front of the camera. While folks may blush for a moment, it’s not a catastrophic event. Now, most people just ignore these minor distractions. We’re all human, and we’re all giving each other some grace.
In the past, some companies would roll out new technology slowly. The process would include extensive beta testing and troubleshooting. Those times are gone. Now, leaders need to take quick and decisive action.
Any company that didn’t have chat software needed to make a swift decision, implementing one as soon as their employees went remote. Businesses without cloud storage had to make that change quickly as well. There wasn’t time to make sure it was perfect. Leaders are now realizing that this is ok. Done is better than perfect (if there’s such a thing, anyway). The rapid changes also forced “technologically shy” employees to just jump in and not be coddled, which is a good thing for their growth and development.
In fact, a recent McKinsey study asked executives how long they expected it would have taken their companies pre-pandemic to digitize 12 different activities and how long it actually took them once the coronavirus hit. When it came to remote working, companies moved 43 times more quickly than executives thought possible. Technology and collaboration tools are a positive addition to our work cultures.
The choice to go remote was a tough decision, but it had to be made quickly. There wasn’t a lot of time to “workshop” the idea. Companies needed to keep their employees safe and making business operations virtual was the best way to do it in most situations. There was no time for leaders to second guess themselves.
All changes had to be made quickly -- even though not everyone was on board with every single decision. However, if changes are made with honesty and compassion, then they will be better received, despite being difficult to hear and deal with.
“Times, they are a-changin’,” used to just be something that was said, but it was never as true as it is now! Leaders must adapt or be left behind. This has been a learning opportunity for us all. We have learned how we can still work together even though we are apart. We can still be close despite the distance. Leaders have learned that teamwork, even when done remotely, still makes the dream work! There will continue to be more to learn as we figure out what our “new normal” is.
There are many things you can do as a leader to support your business needs and your employees during this unprecedented time.
Hiring, just like everything else, has changed. Let The Omnia Group help your organization hire the best talent to work remotely, lead a team through Zoom calls, and keep morale high! Our behavioral and cognitive assessments are a great way to discover the top candidates for each job opening you have. We also offer virtual workshops on hot topics in hiring and employee development that you can watch anytime! Contact us today!
Every decision made after March 11, 2020, dictated our new reality going forward. After a while, it became clear that nothing is going to go back 100% to the way it was. Things have been irreparably changed. Going forward, we all must adapt. Have you learned anything from COVID-19 about leading a team that wasn’t mentioned here?
You hire each employee to fulfill a specific role within your organization. And, with rare exceptions, most of your team members want to meet or exceed your expectations. But they also want more. Your employees yearn to feel a deep passion for their work and inspired by your company’s mission. They long to make a positive impact on the world around them.
As their leader, you should desire these things for your team. By unleashing their passion, you’ll help your staff feel empowered, fulfilled, and happy. But that’s not all.
New research shows, “71% of executives say that employee engagement is critical to their company’s success,” and, “63.3% of companies say retaining employees is harder than hiring them”. When your employees have this deep connection to their jobs, your company will reap numerous benefits. Engagement will go up. Turnover will go down. And your team will become an innovative, problem-solving force that fosters productive relationships and pursues continuous learning -- all in the name of moving your enterprise forward.
So how do you encourage, tap into, and nurture your employees’ passions? You:
Your organization has to facilitate passion. And your company culture must embrace innovation, risk-taking, and rapid adaptability. Why is this important? A major long-term study shows companies with the best corporate cultures -- those that encouraged all-around leadership initiatives and highly appreciated their employees, customers, and owners -- grew 682 percent in revenue. If that’s not incentive enough, another U.S. study shows disengaged employees cost organizations around $450-$550 billion per year.
That means that old-school, rigid micromanaging and narrow-focused supervision is out. Collaborative, flexible, trusting, and visionary leadership is in.
Your employees need to know that it’s okay to fail if a calculated risk doesn’t pay off. They also need to know that you’re not after perfection -- you’re after results. And, while today’s performance is important, tomorrow’s growth and evolution are more so.
This organizational stance has to be championed from the top down. As a leader, you need to model the behavior you want to see in your employees. Let your own passion show before you can expect your team to reveal theirs.
To be genuinely invested in and truly passionate about their work, your employees need to see that what they do matters. To help them recognize this, show them how their effort impacts their department, organization, and community. When each employee can trace their output to a larger outcome, they’ll take ownership of it and strive to improve.
Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform the best work. - Forbes
Here are a few ways you can show your employees their real impact:
When you invest in an employee’s development, you tell them that you care about them and their career. With an enhanced skill set, they’ll feel more confident navigating uncertain times. They’ll also feel more loyal to your organization.
69% of employees say they’d work harder if they were better appreciated. - Hubspot
This development can also uncover and nurture your employees’ passion. As they learn by creating and doing, they’ll realize their potential and find new ways to help your organization achieve its goals. It’s a real win-win.
According to Gallup’s meta-analysis titled “How Employee Engagement Drives Growth,” the business or work units that scored the highest on employee engagement showed 21% higher profitability than units in the lowest quartile.
For best results, provide each employee with various developmental experiences, tailored to their emerging skills and interests. Let them interact with other passionate team members across the organization to spread enthusiasm and innovation. And most importantly, give them ample space to experiment and implement what they learn.
It’s exciting to watch your team’s passion develop and deepen, benefiting each member and the firm. What if you could get a sneak peek into your employees’ strengths, tendencies, and work preferences? That insight would help you position them for success both now and in the future and determine optimal developmental opportunities.
Good news! You absolutely can get that insight anytime you want it. A behavioral assessment provides all of those details and more, helping you lead, motivate, and communicate effectively with your team. You can learn more about Omnia’s behavioral assessments here.
Remember, effective communication leads to more productive employees and a more profitable workplace. Behavioral insights can provide leadership with ideas on how to efficiently and thoughtfully communicate with each team member.
Omnia offers a variety of reports using behavioral assessment data. For example, the Team Dynamics Report provides an in-depth custom analysis of an existing or potential team. On the other hand, our Professional Development Report is an automated self-awareness report written directly to existing employees.
Passionate employees can achieve great feats for your organization. But, they must be empowered to create, innovate, and take risks. When they are, you’ll retain valuable human capital, and your company will take giant leaps forward -- both necessities in today’s ever-competitive business world.
Let's face it; sometimes people end up in a management position who might not belong in one. It happens for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, not all is lost. There are some things you can do to help a non-leader lead!
In fact, it happens all the time: You thought you had the perfect person to take charge of a team: they had enthusiastic references; they used to do the job, and they rocked at it; they managed a different department and had amazing success. All signs indicate they should be doing great, but for some reason, things just aren’t working out. You have unmotivated employees, deadlines are being missed, production is falling. What do you do?
Well, you don't have a time machine, so you'd better make the best of the situation now. It was possibly just a bad-fit hire, or maybe it was a promotion that should not have happened. Too often, top performers are rewarded for their successes with promotions to management. This may seem like the perfect prize for their contributions, but unfortunately, the qualities that make them a top performer in their current role may not be the same qualities that make a successful leader.
Let's look at some scenarios. Take Cal, a friendly, helpful, conscientious customer service rep., a top performer. As a manager, his best traits could work against him. He could be too cautious, too uncomfortable with conflict, and too uneasy dealing with situations that are not outlined by written procedures. Now take a look at Martha, a top producing salesperson who closes deals quickly and innovates frequently. In a leadership role, she could set overly aggressive goals, she may not enforce important rules, and she might not want to mentor or coach employees. While these are top performers in their fields, it does not translate seamlessly to ideal leadership.
That’s not to say top employees can never lead, or that a struggling manager can't be coached; some may need more guidance than others.
1. First off, make sure the person still wants to manage (or see if they ever did). The promotion might have seemed like a wonderful thing at first, but if the individual is experiencing daily, soul-crushing anxiety, maybe it’s time to let them step back. Make it clear that a reduction in management duties would not be a punishment, just an adjustment. And mean it.
2. Find out where the problem is. Are employees not being held accountable, is morale lagging, are people lacking direction? Observe the situation, talk to the leader, and consider having them take a behavioral assessment to identify strengths and challenge areas. Interview the staff if necessary.
3. Be prepared to mentor and coach, focusing on the biggest problem area first. For example:
4. Once you figure out the problem, create a plan to correct it based on the biggest challenge areas. Check-in regularly to make sure progress is being made.
5. Since you don’t have a time machine: Hire right the first time. Make sure you do your due diligence when selecting people to lead your teams, and offer coaching from the outset. Even natural leaders will need some time to get up to speed.
6. Find other ways to reward your best performers if they are not necessarily interested in or suited to become leaders. Offer more responsibility, chances to cross-train, or opportunities to contribute in a natural and appealing way.