I’ve written and re-written the introduction to this blog post at least 12 times. I feel compelled to begin a “2021 outlook” piece with a reflection on 2020, but I just don’t want to do it. Even though I have high hopes for the 2021 employee experience, the fact of the matter is that we’re all still healing (and reeling) from this dumpster fire of a year, and I’m not ready to relive it yet.
I’ve definitely uttered the phrase “onward and upward” in conversation about the new year, but it feels presumptuous, because we’re still working pretty hard to douse the flames. (I’ll do my best to carry the dumpster fire metaphor throughout this piece. Stick with me.) So I’d like to formally request that we approach 2021 with a commitment to healing.
At home, healing probably looks like self-care and quality time with family and friends. In the workplace, healing looks pretty similar. It’s a prioritization of mental and emotional wellness for your employees, a support structure for the entire organization, and full immersion into a culture of caring and empathy. In essence, it’s a workplace that reduces the external stressors that prevent employees from doing their best work.
When we spoke with Forrester analyst David K. Johnson, he shared that employees want, above all else, to feel that they can make daily progress on meaningful work.
The best thing you can do in 2021 for your business and your employees is to enable them in every way possible so they’re set up for success. Here are some ideas.
Prioritize mental and emotional wellness
Historically speaking, wellness programs typically equated to gym membership and weight loss program discounts. After the hot garbage known as the year 2020, wellness programs are getting a new look. According to workhuman, businesses are expanding and experimenting with new wellness-related ideas. In terms of benefits plans, many are incorporating mindfulness programs for stress management, mental health advocacy initiatives, and paid sick days for mental illness in addition to physical illness.
Some of the other ideas in the same article are ones that we at Akumina have shared as well: a strong employee recognition program, consistent communication from leadership and management, and virtual celebrations for momentous life events.
The saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” has never been more applicable than it is today. As an employer, you have the opportunity to fill your employees’ cups, and they in turn will be more able to make progress in their most important work.
Build your village
Have you ever seen a 5-alarm blaze and just one lone firefighter casually spraying a garden hose at it? NO. Because it’s not possible for any single human to tackle a challenge that big.
In all its raging glory, 2020 is the trash can fire we all need to be putting out together. I recently wrote about some of the truly inspiring things that happened during the year, and I’m reminded of how much those small events meant to us in the moment. Our own customers were gracious enough to put together a video thanking us for providing the technology that has allowed them to better support their employees.
The unifying thread in all of these uplifting stories is partnership and togetherness. One of the most important messages we’ve shared in recent months is that, while employees exist at the very center of every business, their success is dependent on the cooperation of three key business groups: HR, IT, and Communications. Your IT team implements and maintains the technology that you’ve purchased, and the HR and Communications teams use it to inform, engage, and support employees. Without one, the others cannot be successful. If I have one hope for the coming years, it’s that we continue the trend of collaboration and support both inside and outside of the workplace. Remember, it takes a village.
Create a culture of empathy
Positive workplace culture can no longer be secondary to sales or profit or budget or anything else. It needs to be valued equally for its potential impact on talent acquisition and retention and employee engagement (and, subsequently, each of the things I listed in the previous sentence).
The Center for Creative Leadership calls empathy, “a key part of emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness,” and indicates that demonstrating empathy “improves human interactions in general and can lead to more effective communication and positive outcomes.” Empathetic behavior in the workplace may include awareness of and respect for colleagues’ workload, an interest in teammates’ personal lives, and compassion in times of need.
Lest you believe that developing an empathetic culture won’t directly contribute to the success of your business, here are some interesting statistics. According to a frequently-cited article by Businessolver, “77 percent of employees say they’d work longer hours for an empathetic employer, and 60 percent say they would take a lower salary from an empathetic employer.” Those are bold statements.
I think I speak for the entire Akumina team when I say that, just as people are the heart of our society, employees are the heart of a business. When we take care of each other and make thoughtful decisions with an eye toward compassion both inside and outside of our workplaces, we will persevere.
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