How to avoid a summer of discontent


Business owners are facing a summer where relations with staff will decline as inflation continues to rise and the employment gap continues to widen.

Many businesses emerged from the pandemic with teams that were feeling under pressure and running short on motivation. A situation compounded by a shortage of people to fill vacancies and high staff turnover.

The pandemic provided a moment of reflection for many employees, which is driving ‘the great resignation’, where a survey by accountants PwC found that 18% of workers said they “are very or extremely likely” to switch jobs this year.

However, it seems that few management teams also took the opportunity to reflect on how they could do things differently to provide their employees with a better way of working.

A fundamental change is needed to the relationship many companies have with their people. Only by creating more empowering and engaging places to work can businesses hope to retain staff and attract new talent.

Now is the time to make a fundamental change. There is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the workplace for the better before life snaps back to pre-pandemic norms.

The separation between management teams and employees should be banished to history. It’s an approach that will have a direct benefit to recruitment and retention of staff, alongside a more strategic approach to managing pay disputes.

A study by the Social Market Foundation found that happy workers are up to 20% more productive than unhappy workers. As the economy recovers from multiple lockdowns, employee satisfaction is increasingly important. The argument is a simple one - organisations thrive when their people are happy.

We can define a happy employee as someone who believes that they matter in their role within a company and their work has an impact. People also need to know they are making progress against a defined career path and they feel supported in their jobs.

Too often, companies focus on outputs rather than outcomes and reduce people to roles rather than individuals with dreams and a passion for their work. Yes, job security and financial stability remain important to job satisfaction, but it’s a far more complex equation.

A strategic response to covid and the business challenges of today is required. One that recognises that employees and customers have new expectations.

There are several steps that employers can take to change their relationship with their teams that will not only create happier and more engaged employees but also increase productivity.

  1. A common vision - In any change programme, it is vital to start with an endpoint that everyone shares. Start by engaging teams in defining the common purpose. It will power a new, improved service culture. The aim is to arrive at a universally successful destination.

  2. It is vital to understand and genuinely respect people’s views and recognise them as the most valuable asset and primary source for future success. In addition, it changes the leadership style, planning and management from top-down to a more collegiate approach.

  3. Recognise that the people best positioned to rethink the current business are those closest to the processes and experiences that most need improvement.

  4. It’s a two-way street. Talent wants to be part of the future success of their business and have the trust to express their ideas, criticisms and feelings openly and safely without judgement. They also have the maturity to grasp this new responsibility enthusiastically and seriously.

  5. A leadership that wants to listen and is prepared to change. They want to know – good and bad – how their people feel and what they think. They are keen to prioritise and enact their new ideas.

The economic case is a compelling one. There is a clear danger to businesses if they fail to retain existing staff and attract fresh talent over the next few years. To achieve this goal, companies must become an employer of choice where happy and engaged workers are their biggest advocates.

With the correct approach, it can be a transformative process for any business that aligns the business and people plans to drive growth and commercial success.

In addition, according to a large study by the Oxford Said Business School on happiness and productivity, happy people are 13 per cent more productive, so investment in people will quickly pay dividends.

The bottom line is that people need to continue to grow in order to remain engaged and productive, and companies across the sector have to change the way they operate to ensure this happens.

Author: Matt Thompson is a founder of the management consultancy Potentuel.

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