Navigating the new hybrid work structure as a CEO is especially difficult as we stumble into a new year of uncertainty. The past year has unearthed new questions for leaders to answer, such as what comes after the Great Resignation? And how do we adapt to a hybrid landscape?
This is on top of the questions that CEOs globally have asked for years. What’s on the minds of my employees? How can my organisation attract new employees, retain existing employees and become a place that employees won’t leave? But one thing’s for sure – there’s no question that the workforce is changing, and navigating this new reality requires a new type of leadership.
The rise of the invisible workforce
It might come as a surprise that despite the expansion of technology and channels we’re now utilising in the workplace to stay connected with our colleagues, such as Zoom and Slack, the majority of the workforce doesn’t always feel seen or heard. In fact, Adaptavist’s global 2021: Digital Etiquette Study found that 71 per cent of employees ‘sometimes’ or ‘always’ feel invisible.
But it’s not just employees. CEOs need to realise there is more of a striation in leadership perception than ever before. When asked what they missed most pre-COVID, managers and senior leaders agreed that working side by side with their team was the thing they missed the most. For managers, second to this was the ability to celebrate successes, and give and receive recognition for the work they do. This wasn’t the case for senior leaders, where the majority voted casual meetings with colleagues as the next thing they missed. This discrepancy between a need for recognition and social interaction not only demonstrates a misalignment between managers and senior leaders, but also reiterates this feeling of invisibility.
As we dive deeper into the thoughts of management, it’s clear they haven’t received the support they need to adapt to a hybrid work structure. As well as recognition, they need an employer willing to deal with issues that are making them feel unheard. The myriad collaboration tools we touched on earlier don’t contribute to a visible workforce, with most managers saying they need better tools, software and hardware to do their required tasks (35 per cent). Leaders need to consolidate, integrate and find out what’s working and what’s not so they can show managers that their problems are being addressed.
People leave managers, not organisations
And why is it so important to meet managers’ needs? Because people leave managers, not organisations. Direct managers, mid-level managers and emerging managers all have key roles to play to empathise with and re-engage this invisible workforce, which can only be achieved once they are equipped with the right training and tools.
We all know that managers can have a positive or negative impact on their employees. In this current climate, they need people skills and empathy more than ever because employees have different requirements from pre-2020.
The ‘Digital Etiquette Study’ from Adaptavist found that nearly 20 per cent of employees think management is out of touch with the way work and productivity have changed. When asked what improvements employees require from management, the top responses were that they need to show empathy for what employees have been going through during and post-COVID (25 per cent), and that they want to be asked for feedback on the tools they’re using (20 per cent). Employees are putting more realistic expectations from their management at the top of their needs, followed by more training and learning opportunities. This dissatisfaction highlights how managers are bearing the brunt of these feelings across the organisation.
Preventing loss from the Great Resignation
For a long time, CEOs concentrated on shareholder value as a priority. More recently, a greater focus on the customer experience emerged and even more recently, the employee experience. A focus on managers will be required in order to navigate the ‘now’ of work, let alone the future of work.
Leadership models are changing in the face of a world becoming even more fast-paced, unpredictable and volatile. Organisations globally are taking on an agile approach, flattening their organisation structure to create self-managing teams that are ‘adaptive’ – allowing employees to feel empowered to contribute positively to the organisation. In these environments, whole teams can change direction to suit rapidly changing circumstances without the need for planning, design, blueprint or management diktat. Whether they are specifically titled or not, leaders do emerge in these scenarios, playing the role of engaging or representing employees.
Traditional or non-traditional, for hybrid work to be most effective, there needs to be support for the managers who lead these discussions and there needs to be trust.
It’s a harsh reality, but frontline managers are contributing to the Great Resignation as frontline representatives of the company and its decisions. It doesn’t have to be this way. Having the right managers in place and ensuring they are well supported from the top down is where leadership needs to start.
CEOs need to understand how managers are feeling in terms of their wellbeing, including these feelings of invisibility, their daily challenges with collaboration tools, and changes in work and productivity levels. This will create happier managers who will contribute to employee retention and help to hire talent and attract the right people. CEOs will then become the springboard to building a successful and stable hybrid work reality.
Kim Seeling Smith is a master storyteller, passionate educator and trend translator. She is the Now of Work expert (since the Future of Work arrived with COVID-19). She was named a Top 101 Global Influencer on Employee Engagement, wrote the how to guide on 1:1 employee check-ins, Mind Reading for Managers, and co-wrote a book with Brian Tracy. Kim is a regular industry expert across television and business publications.