Employees in 2021 expect different things from their leaders than employees of 2011 or employees of 2001, for that matter. Workers want to know that their leaders are being transparent, are working for diversity, equity and inclusion and that they value mental health, according to data analytics and consultancy firms. Over the next decade, these priorities are likely to shift and compel corporate leadership to find new ways to keep their workers happy.
There is little leaders can do to thwart shifting employee expectations; it is a much broader culture that causes employee attitudes and perspectives to evolve and leaders don’t have control over events outside the sphere of their organization. Still, leaders can respond to shifting expectations in positive and productive ways. Here are some tips for leaders looking to stay calm and controlled in the face of change.
The number-one responsibility of leadership is this: listening. The ability to listen to employees is crucial for leadership for various reasons. Leaders who listen demonstrate greater empathy for those within their organization, and it allows leaders to learn from those around them in critical ways. Failure to listen will result in a failure to understand situations inside and outside the organization, which cripples one’s ability to lead effectively and successfully.
Leaders who are actively listening to their employees will attune better to shifting attitudes and expectations. Leaders should listen to employee concerns and strive to understand those concerns to the best of their ability. It will help leaders maintain their perspective during times of change, giving them greater capacity to adapt the organization to meet employee needs.
Change is stressful for everyone, and human connection is a straightforward way for leaders to help alleviate some of that stress. Unfortunately, engagement by employees is at an all-time low due to the COVID pandemic that separated workplaces and left a good number of workers without the accustomed connection throughout their workday.
During this unprecedented time, leaders need to make extra effort to connect with their workforce. Some businesses have instituted weekly digital town hall meetings, offering opportunities for employees to ask questions, acquire support resources, receive updates and otherwise feel connected to the team. Leaders should also strive to maintain individual connections with members of their team, especially during times of uncertainty or change. By sending personal emails or scheduling one-on-one video calls, leaders can develop more intimate relationships with their staff, which will help them better understand employee perspectives, needs and wants.
Leaders need to act intentionally; their behaviors should be driven by conscious thought and a desire to reach goals that benefit all people involved in an organization. Decisions that leaders make today will impact employees and customers years into the future, so leaders need to think critically about the ramifications of their actions.
One way a leader can intentionally improve their ability to lead during times of shifting employee expectations is to take an online course in leadership. Top universities offer courses that help leaders develop and meet organizational goals in any environment and equip leaders with the skills necessary to listen and connect with their workforce, even during times of change.
Often, leaders at the highest levels of business suffer from a lack of empathy, especially for those they are supposed to lead. In larger organizations, it is all but impossible for upper management to know the name of every employee, let alone forge a unique connection with everyone they oversee. Still, leaders should not divorce themselves from the human experience of working for a business; they should strive to maintain and even grow their compassion for the people around them.
Listening and connecting with employees is a good way for leadership to practice empathy, but leaders should also strive to be progressive in how they support their workforce. Offering more than the bare minimum in terms of salary and benefits helps workers feel safe, and building an equitable and inclusive workplace makes workers feel valued. Staying ahead of the tide of employee expectation will protect an organization from unnecessary and dangerous backlash from workers and the culture at large.
Blame social media or blame the COVID pandemic; almost everywhere, employees want more from the organizations. Fortunately, most leaders can keep their workers happy and their businesses productive by listening, connecting, acting and caring.