And how to manage it to a peaceful resolution.
Within the last years, we had the opportunity to encounter two phenomena: the “great resignation” and the “layoffs.” I would only dare to provide my thoughts and analysis of the situation based on my observations as a People & Culture professional: we are experiencing an existential crisis both in teams (caused by the social dynamics of the global pandemic, which continued to be fuelled by the war and politically unstable global environment) and in our businesses (caused by the post-covid growth deceleration, energy crisis, and political landscape).
I call it an “existential crisis” because, for lots of businesses, questions that stand in front of them sound like this:
- “Will we be able to survive as a business?”,
- “Will we raise the next round of investment?”,
- “How do we keep ourselves profitable?”,
- “How do we recover our strained P&L?”.
And when speaking about people globally, their existential crisis is now more often vocalized as:
- “Do I do what I meant to do with my life?”,
- “Should I finally care about myself more than my job?”,
- “I am constantly stressed at work. Maybe I should quit or find something easier? My career doesn’t satisfy me anymore, it only brings more stress”,
- “How do I find stability in my next job but also satisfaction with what I do?”,
- “Am I working to fill someone else’s pockets, or am I creating a meaning for this world?”.
And I completely understand the business owners who have to care about their companies’ P&Ls to sustain the business profitability or fuel future growth, especially when the state of affairs is not optimistic. I also have compassion for those who are questioning their careers, want to care about themselves more, and want to spend more time with their families instead of spending 60-80 hours a week working. However, they still want a job where they can create and do something impactful.
Sometimes, even 40 hours a week is enough to drain a whole lot of energy and health from us. This crisis is not new – there were always situations when people questioned their values vs. their careers and had to shift their perspective or change their lives. But we have experienced in the last few years that Covid challenged our understanding of the value of our health and well-being. And the year 2022, which has brought a horrific and cruel war in the middle of Europe, has only contributed to our fears and raised the questions in our heads – “Is it all worth it? I can lose my life tomorrow – am I living the content life?”
So how do we deal with this? How do we help our businesses regain operational and financial health while keeping our people engaged?
First, I’d like to look into some of the dichotomies in the needs of the business and people:
- Business needs sustainable revenue and wants to avoid existential risks by the drained P&L and unstable investment environment. Therefore, the decision to cut the staff might be necessary and sounds rational. But how does it usually happen? The layoff is enforced on low-performers or newcomers, while the is a high level of interest by any company to retain its top performers and key people. Therefore, there might be a need to downsize the team that comes together with the need to retain the team (some people).
- People, on the other side, especially after being burned out, cannot regain a solid level of engagement and energy; therefore, they will be looking for a change a little later, or at least they will passively spend their mental capacity dreaming about a better job, a better leader, and ruminate about a place where they can be themselves. The dichotomy here is related to the fact that, when feeling burned out, people don’t have enough energy to change their jobs proactively. For changing a job, a great deal of time and energy investment is expected, as also – a positive attitude, confidence, and belief in yourself. You will have to go out there and sell yourself all over again! So while people might want a change, quite a large number of them, under constant stress, might be silencing themselves for quite a long time. They need some time to recover before the “big change.”
How to manage this situation
What can companies do to consider the needs of their people? How can we respond in an effective manner that will also keep the business afloat?
Listen to your people!
A lot of companies have practices in place on how to collect feedback from the team – Engagement Surveys, Team Pulse, Town Halls discussions, and the feedback people share daily. Most of the time, people tell us what they don’t like or what stresses them out. But do we actually and actively listen? When we do, do we effectively respond to that?
Design your organization smartly and sustainably: Full-time Key roles vs Contractors.
When I hear that some companies had to lay off their staff because of the recent over-hiring, I am not shocked. I am laughing through tears because of how irresponsible it sounds regarding organizational design and sustainable leadership. We should be more thoughtful and agile with the organization and job designs.
Think about which roles are critical for your business success, keep a list of key functions and assess if those roles are constantly filled with top performers. In the business units, where the operational volume might have fluctuations, implement a team of contractors and freelancers – it will make you more flexible with managing the work-volume changes.
Invest in Key people, but invest in low performers even more (at least for a while).
It is a great myth that you must invest more in top performers. What you need to do instead – is invest in your low performers. Provide them with more feedback and even more attention than top performers. Everyone who is once identified as a low performer deserves some investment from the leadership. These people need help the most to grow and shift to better scoring. Who, if not you and your business, will benefit from it first?
Trust me, an investment like this has a better ROI than you might think. While some people might be just wrongly hired or prematurely promoted and therefore might not develop into great performers over time, in my experience – more than 60% of low performers are becoming solid, if not high-performers, within 6-8 months when they receive the help needed.
Give people Meaning at work.
It is not new to us that the younger generation of professionals (those who have started their careers after studies within the last five years) are looking for a job with “meaning.” They want to create something meaningful, something the whole world will see, acknowledge, and preferably benefit from it. Imagine young people who have to spend years socializing on social media coming to work in a corporation or any size company. Those people are used to high-speed feedback and response on social media. It is how they perceive the world – you do something/create something, someone sees it, acknowledges it (likes it) – the feedback is given right away and by a vast amount of people from all over the world. Something they will hate the most – is doing a piece of work that goes somewhere without any response. Or creating a product/service without knowing “why” they do it and “who” will say “thank you” for it.
It is an example of young professionals who have grown with social media. But if we speak of someone more mature, the situation is not different! Everyone wants to do a meaningful job. Especially when you have already changed jobs and may have been burned out several times and have a family you want to spend time with. You have built your career to some extent and want to be respected by your leadership.
We need to give our people a motivating and engaging vision and mission and engage them with impactful goals. And those goals should be more than just “growing the revenue by 50%”. Because what does it have to mean to us personally or to the world?
Keep transparency at its highest level.
In the hardest of times (socially, economically, politically), what you can create in your team is a transparent and respectful place where your team members, while being stressed out from the outside-of-work problems, will find a place where they are respected and heard, and a place where no one will “bullshit them around” with lies about the reality. Our psychology, the nature of us human beings, is very adaptive. Within just about 20-30 days, we can mentally get used to the most unimaginable realities of life. In this case, I think a lot about Ukrainians who experience all the horrors of the war but continue having their lives, come to work, raise children, go to shops, and try living life to the fullest until and as much as they can.
So when you think of not sharing business struggles with the whole team because it might demotivate people, stop and re-think. Who, as much as your team, can help you with that? Only adequately informed, your team may devise a better plan, a new service, or a new operations structure that might save the business.
These are five areas from the top of my head that might bridge the gap between the company and its people’s needs. We could do much more to make sure we understand our people better and build a sustainable business where our people succeed and feel engaged in 2023, which will also help our companies achieve their results and deliver on their missions.
How do you work with your team’s current concerns and demotivators, and how does it reflect on your business? I am interested in discovering more on this topic from you and sharing some insights from this research with others in a new article.
If you are open to a quick discussion, I would love to chat in person for at least 15 min. Here is where you can book a quick time slot: https://calendly.com/olya_your_own_coach/15-min-catch-up .
I hope to collect some valuable insights from you, so for those who are also curious about the topic, please follow me for future updates!