Providing a Meaningful Work Environment

by Drs. Ross Wirth & Reg Butterfield (2022)

Pain Point — dealing with recruitment & training costs for new employees and increased discontent from employees picking up the slack in the meantime

Whether you call it the Great Resignation, the Big Quit, or the Big Reshuffle, we all know that turnover has dramatically increased as COVID is winding down. Of course, high turnover is not new to the service, hospitality, and retail industries. However, higher turnover is now showing up among office workers who have been working remotely during COVID. To a great extent, this increased turnover comes after two years of reduced job opportunities for office workers combined with fear of the unknown associated with job changes. However, that fear has been replaced with a rebounding economy that is providing new job openings. Further impacting the increased rate of job changes is the personal life-work evaluations that occurred when these employees tasted the freedom associated with work flexibility and reduce commuting time when working from home.

When people can vote with their feet, how can organizations provide a desirable option when compared to other alternatives? All at a time when employee engagement surveys show dismal results — most are doing the minimum required, far short of their potential.

Many knee-jerk reactions are to offer higher pay and benefits. However, this is especially difficult when inflation is already pushing compensation rates higher. Further, many employees are not leaving for better compensation except in the traditional lower economic strata where quality-of-life is impacted by their low income. Other factors of work environment and “job satisfaction” combined with growing opportunities are triggering this movement. However, those who are leaving are often not finding what they want elsewhere — increasing mentions of the Great Regret. So, what are employees looking for and not finding? Several issues come up, few of which are top-of-mind responses of traditional management mindsets.

· Quality of work-life balance is often mentioned but this can mean many things but often comes down to flexibility and personal choices. The challenge is how to customize such flexibility and do this at scale.

· Lack of employee recognition comes up in some surveys but this goes far beyond a “thank you” for a job well done.[i] Comments after the fact relate more to the manager’s opinion of what is desired than how the employee is engaged in working toward the organization’s purpose. Being rewarded for someone else’s goals is very different from the sense of accomplishment one receives in knowing they made an impact in not only carrying out a key activity but in determining what that activity should be.

· Lack of career growth has also come up in some surveys of attrition. (The top reason in one survey of attrition.[ii]) This raises a question — what does career growth look like in a flat organization. There is still a lingering mindset of hierarchical advancement at a time when there are fewer levels and more people competing for each opportunity. However, there are deeper issues at play with career growth including recognition (see above) and compensation, which is often tied to the impact of decisions made (traditionally directly connected to hierarchical position). Shared authority for decisions among team members and recognition of those most knowledgeable in providing input for decisions upend assumptions that tie how compensation is scaled to hierarchical position.

· Also, frequently mentioned is the lack of interest managers show toward subordinates and how they are managed. The dominate industrial era model of knowledgeable decision-makers leading willing followers continues unchallenged in many organizations.

The underlying reasons for turnover mentioned above support an estimate that an awareness of these core issues could reduce 75% of the turnover.[iii] This is real pain given the time and cost of replacing these employees. Further pain comes from the added workload on others required to fill the vacancy gap.

Painless path forward — provide employees with a meaningful work environment through purpose alignment

An alternate approach to over managing is aligning employee motivations with the organization’s purpose so they can be self-managed (and not be managed by You as much). In this way the manager role shifts to coach and champion for barrier removal. I can hear you say, “but isn’t this work also?” Yes and no. Fire prevention is work but much more rewarding than firefighting when put in perspective of long-term goals. Sure, firefighting has an immediate reward of getting the fire out, but you also must consider all the damage that occurs to that point. The key is what gets you closer to your goals without adding to the pain level even more.

This requires a rethinking of how to coach someone to accomplish work versus controlling how the work is done. This is a mind-shift in how we think about organizing for work, a shift in focus toward purpose alignment through employee commitment and not settling for managed compliance. Purpose alignment is one of the Principles of Futocracy and commitment is part of DAC (Direction, Alignment, & Commitment) Leadership. More on both topics can be found at www.Futocracy.Network

[i] Schwantes, M. (2022). Why are people really unhappy about their jobs? The whole reason can be summed up in 2 words. from https://apple.news/AcaHSaToiQsmP_6sR_HSYBA

[ii] Schwantes, M. (2022). Why are frontline workers really quitting? You can boil it down to 1 simple fact. https://apple.news/AB0dK3qWIT5eSMhPdXpTOaw

[iii] Schwantes, M. (2022). Why are frontline workers really quitting? You can boil it down to 1 simple fact. https://apple.news/AB0dK3qWIT5eSMhPdXpTOaw

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Dr. Ross Wirth

Dr. Ross Wirth

Designing organizations that free people from bureaucratic controls — a purpose-driven organization that is built for operating with continuous change.