Last week, as a Charter Council Member, I had the opportunity to attend the Charter Workplace Summit. My goal was to help build a playbook for an agile, inclusive, and innovative workplace of the future. According to its website, Charter’s mission is to transform every workplace and catalyze a new era of dynamic organizations where all workers thrive.
Attendees of the Summit were primarily people ops and employee experience leaders and we walked away with both research and tactical best practices to apply to our organizations. And as a bonus, it just so happens that Charter’s Summit reinforces the importance of the communication principles and strategies I shared a few weeks ago at Guru’s own Knowledge Fest. As both Guru and Charter aim to prioritize and evolve the employee experience for better company, mental health, and societal outcomes, here are takeaways and reflections from the day.
It’s a matter of trust
In 2022, many leaders learned (perhaps the hard way) that employee experience isn’t exclusive to catered lunches and company swag. According to Helen Kupp of Future Forum, in addition to location flexibility, “94% of workers want schedule flexibility.”
With employee retention a priority for owners of the talent agenda, flexibility isn’t just about spacious calendars or time affluence. Kupp’s work suggests a “sense of belonging is 11% higher for flexible teams vs. teams full-time in office.”
While factors that influence employee belonging require a larger body of research, I predict these factors will move beyond “working from anywhere” to encourage other forms of employee choice.
If “flexibility is table-stakes,” according to Kupp, “what matters now is trust.”
“Trusting employees costs nothing,” shared Mai Ton, CHRO in Residence at Charter. In theory, that’s true. But a distinct lack of trust has given rise to productivity monitoring and performative work. If an organizational culture of trust is required for true flexibility and belonging, leaders and employees need to audit their reactive impulse to hoard institutional information.
Threat and attention scarcity
We know that when there’s an abundance of information, human attention becomes scarce. “The scarcest resource that we have is not money and it is not time. It is attention,” said Didier Elzinga, CEO of Culture Amp. So even though purging unnecessary meetings from our calendars is an essential step, our minds are still distracted and diffused. Said differently, we’re in a “human energy crisis,” according to Colette Stallbaumer, GM at Microsoft 365 and Future of Work.
In the age of “employee activism,” leaders are often required to share opinions on social and global issues that may have no bearing on their business. On top of that, hustle culture and always-on digital connection puts our bodies into a fight, flight, or freeze response without our consent. With leadership attention being pulled in new directions, it’s more important than ever to establish transparent and accountable communication processes (for example, sharing company financials regularly or in a self-serve manner).
These communication rituals build trust with employees over time for three reasons. First, because they don’t always include “good news.” Second, they create reliable listening systems for employees to share feedback and questions. Finally, they build trust because they evolve with a company’s culture.
Managers are your greatest burnout prevention
Leadership and manager modeling is a long-standing strategy in change management. Employees leave or stay at companies because of their managers. Yet, Charter’s Co-Founder Kevin Delaney pointed out that middle management is often the layer on the chopping block when consultants are hired.
If manager attention is divided (and threatened) and managers aren’t intentionally onboarded—and more importantly, re-onboarded—energy is depleted. When asked about sustainable growth, Elzinga believes that the heart of “companies that will win in a knowledge environment [is] culture.” The conclusion can be drawn that if organizations aren’t focusing on supporting and creating trust with managers, direct reports are impacted, and institutional culture is hemorrhaged.
As we plan workplace and people strategies for the next fiscal year, let’s pay attention to and audit our attention as well as our communication and connection processes. As hybrid work is just work, organizations need to be hyper-intentional and deliberate about how and why we ask managers to participate in our company culture.