The Toll Of The Pandemic On Workers And What Organizations Can Do To Support The Employee Experience

At the onset of this pandemic, it was immediately clear that the employer/employee relationship would be changing. But it was equally clear that definitive answers on what organizations could do to meaningfully help and improve this entirely new employee experience were few and far between. As a researcher, it was particularly painful for me to acknowledge that in some ways all of the effort and research organizations had done to date to improve the employee experience just might not be as relevant in this fundamentally changed world.

Like so many others, at my organization, we weren’t sure at the time what the future – short and long-term – would look like, but we knew we wanted to help as many people in whatever way we could. And that’s why we initiated our own research project to better understand the impact of the pandemic on workers. Specifically, we wanted to better understand their needs in this unprecedented time and we wanted to offer advice to organizations on the specific actions they can take to help improve the entirely new experiences many of their employees are living in today.
Our Methodology
We collected feedback from 500 employed workers who ensured a nationally representative sample for age and gender as well as a variety of industries, roles, and levels within mid- to large-sized organizations. They were coping with a variety of sudden and significant changes as a result of the pandemic, including working from home, adjusted work schedules, and other variables. In our analysis, we evaluated various segments to ensure we captured as many perspectives as possible; however, we were surprised to find that our sample had far more in common than different on a variety of important topics.
Employees Are Navigating Complex Emotions but Indicate Resiliency
This crisis represents a defining moment in the employee experience and paying attention to and supporting the emotional health and wellbeing of your employees should be considered a critical need. Our research-validated that the separation between work and personal life isn’t just blurred – it’s non-existent right now. This sudden adjustment is significantly impacting employee emotional states and we saw a variety of emotions expressed.

Yet, what stood out to us the most were existing levels of resiliency and optimism that came through among respondents. There is acceptance of the challenging times we’re facing and the negative impact we’ve experienced to date but also realism about uncertainty in the future and positivity about an eventual recovery. These attitudes are cornerstones of resiliency and were exciting to see come through in the research.
Physical Health of Community, Family, Self, Top List of Fears
When we delved into the fears and concerns expressed by respondents the health and emotional wellbeing of their communities were of most concern to people, above even the physical health of their own families and themselves. Of less concern were financial needs, such as potential job loss and the ability to provide for their families and pay bills.

Despite the inherent risk workers take when reporting to co-located facilities, little distinction was present when comparing the fears and concerns they express with those of workers who were working from home.
Top Needs Are Connection, Stronger Communication, and Increased Recognition
Based on the needs expressed by respondents, it became clear that three key themes were consistent: connection, communication, and recognition.

Workers of all types are seeking emotional connection during this vulnerable time and are expressing a need for transparent, authentic and timely communication from their leaders to help foster those connections. They’re seeking this support from both direct leaders as well as higher-level leaders in the organization.

In our analysis, a respondent’s level within the organization was a particularly affecting variable, indicating that employees outside of high-level leadership roles feel the greatest sense of disconnect and lack of alignment and support from the organization.

The final need that was clearly expressed was improved acknowledgment of personal contribution at the individual level. This experience is emotionally impacting employees and eliciting concerns about personal value, acceptability of their own productivity and driving them to compare themselves to others who may not be dealing with similar circumstances. As a result, people are craving individual acknowledgment of their contribution to alleviate those fears.

This need goes beyond just recognition, though. In addition to a need for recognition and appreciation, it encompasses the need to know they personally contribute to the organization and validation of the need for their opinion.

By providing this positive reinforcement, organizations can support and further nurture the emotions of resiliency, positivity, and motivation we previously discussed and which will be critical to sustained organizational success for the duration of this pandemic.
The Impact of This Research on the Future of Employee Experience
While many unknowns remain regarding the recovery and long-term implications of the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is certain: how employers have responded will represent a defining moment in the employee experience for each of their workers.

It can be difficult to ask your people how they are feeling and what they need from you – and even harder to know what to do with their feedback. But by asking people to share these raw emotions with us, we’ve found both sources of optimism and opportunity.

The good news here is that people are already leaning into the attitudes and emotions that are key to resiliency and, ultimately, a successful recovery for organizational operations. They are largely expressing gratitude, maintaining positivity, and remaining realistic – without being fatalistic – about what the future may hold.
Despite widely varied experiences, there is a notable degree of consistency in our findings across segments that underscores the importance of focusing on meeting fundamental human needs like connection and empowerment to support the strong, resilient behaviors we’ve already seen take root.
Their honesty and candor have illuminated the continued need to support all facets of your employee’s experience. Physical health, safety and comfort have commanded our attention due to the nature of this crisis and employees have been largely satisfied with those efforts. But they’re looking for more acknowledgment, inspiration and clearer and more authentic communication from leaders to help sustain them during this trying time. And that, while tough to hear, is the most important takeaway that we hope all organizations carry forward into the future of their employee experiences in a post-pandemic world.


Three Questions To Ask At The Exit Interview

No matter how great a company’s culture is, people leave companies. People leave for all kinds of reasons, so begin by embracing that truth. Somebody leaving doesn’t necessarily mean they’re fed up.

As you conduct your exit interviews, these conversations can be a valuable opportunity to look at the maintenance and upgrades your culture might need. While in a perfect world we would always know when someone is thinking about jumping ship, that isn’t reality. Here are some key questions you can ask when you do get the chance to hear from employees who are on their way out.

Start with why

When someone does tell me, “Hey, I’m thinking about going,” I say, “I just want to hear you talk about it. I want to make sure you’re running to, not running from.” It’s simple and it works. In the context of an exit interview, you should absolutely be working to discover why. You may even find that a lot of your employees are leaving because they have personal situations that their current working situation doesn’t support – aging parents, new babies, and, most recently, shifting work-life priorities amid COVID-19. When you get down to why, you can begin to think about the perks and programs you offer and if they are really keeping your best talent enabled to do their jobs.

What could we have done to keep you?

The first question is about discovery, and this one is about getting action items for yourself. What you should be aiming to get with this question is insight into the processes and expectations that exist. Each department and manager is different, and you will likely find that there are things you can do to improve. Think: manager training and culture workshops refresh or replace something that is no longer working.

Do you feel that we live our core values?

By now, anyone that knows me knows that the “Four I’s” at SailPoint are absolutely critical to the success of our business as a whole and to recruiting and retaining our amazing crew members (aka employees). While you should be checking in on and revisiting your values often to ensure they stay relevant as the business evolves, don’t leave your values out of the equation as someone leaves. They matter just as much now as they did when the person joined. Learn what you can do better to embody your values and use them to see that employee off to their next career play.

Building Resilience: The Importance Of Audit During Times Of Disruption
I will leave you with this: it is often bittersweet to see an employee leave. But looking at my own experience, how can I—a guy who left the security and certainty of an established company to do a startup with friends—question others who might want to pursue that same path? Or criticize those who want to leave just to pursue a different kind of path that they are convinced is right for them?

You should encourage employees to leave well and learn from them so that you can better serve your current and future employees. And, as long as they have “left well”, it leaves the door open to welcome them back, if and when that opportunity ever comes. (Side note – because of our positive approach on how we do exits, we have a decent number of “boomerangs” at SailPoint now – those who left for good reasons and left well, and later decided to come back.) To me, this is another sign of a “healthy culture” – one where people are free to leave and return, as long as they handle the situation with professionalism and care.


How to cheer up your workforce during a challenging 2020

Many UK businesses are still operating remotely with no sign of heading back to the office – this means there is a very real risk that employee morale could slip. It is important for organisations to ensure they routinely boost the morale of their workforce in order to keep productivity levels up and to retain staff.

According to The Fintech Times many people feel that they are much more productive when working remotely, however other sources suggest that loneliness is kicking in for others after months of working from home. As an employer, it’s always advisable to make sure that your staff are feeling their best as this will have a direct impact on their work. In this article you will find a number of ways to cheer up your staff and keep morale high for the remainder of this work from home period.

Organise team activities

With crowd based events running on limited capacities and strict guidelines for team meetings being enforced in many businesses, office/team events are not entirely possible right now, but with technology at our disposal, all is not lost. Why not try organising a virtual quiz via Teams or Skype, or even hire virtual entertainment that you can all enjoy together? It is important to make sure staff are still experiencing the social side of work, and these types of virtual activities are a great way to do that.

Check in

As we touched on above, working from home can get quite lonely, especially for those that live by themselves. Checking in on your staff is absolutely crucial during these uncertain times and for some, it could be the only conversation they have all day. Be sure that these check-ins are not solely work focused – get personal and ask them how they are feeling, how their day is going and what they have planned for the weekend. A little bit of interaction can go a long way.

Recognise and praise for great work

Recognition is a great mood booster, and many employees rely on praise and recognition to keep their confidence up. It can be hard to keep track of all the great work people are doing whilst working from home. However, when and where you can, make sure to shout about all the amazing things your staff are doing day to day, not only will this boost the individual’s mood, but it is a great moral booster for the rest of the team too.

Encourage work breaks

Staring at a computer screen all day everyday can lead to headaches, tiredness and a whole host of other issues that can seriously dampen your mood. As an employer you should take it upon yourself to encourage your employees to take regular screen breaks and most importantly, to take their lunch break away from the screen. Not only will they appreciate you not expecting them to work as though their life depends on it, but they are less likely to experience any symptoms associated with continuous screen time, keeping them feeling fresh and happy, not to mention much more focused!

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Six problem-solving mindsets for very uncertain times

1. Be ever-curious

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As any parent knows, four-year-olds are unceasing askers. Think of the never-ending “whys” that make little children so delightful—and relentless. For the very young, everything is new and wildly uncertain. But they’re on a mission of discovery, and they’re determined to figure things out. And they’re good at it! That high-energy inquisitiveness is why we have high shelves and childproof bottles.

When you face radical uncertainty, remember your four-year-old or channel the four-year-old within you. Relentlessly ask, “Why is this so?” Unfortunately, somewhere between preschool and the boardroom, we tend to stop asking. Our brains make sense of massive numbers of data points by imposing patterns that have worked for us and other humans in the past. That’s why a simple technique, worth employing at the beginning of problem solving, is simply to pause and ask why conditions or assumptions are so until you arrive at the root of the problem.1
Natural human biases in decision making, including confirmation, availability, and anchoring biases, often cause us to shut down the range of solutions too early.2 Better—and more creative—solutions come from being curious about the broader range of potential answers.

One simple suggestion from author and economist Caroline Webb to generate more curiosity in team problem solving is to put a question mark behind your initial hypotheses or first-cut answers. This small artifice is surprisingly powerful: it tends to encourage multiple solution paths and puts the focus, correctly, on assembling evidence. We also like thesis/antithesis, or red team/blue team, sessions, in which you divide a group into opposing teams that argue against the early answers—typically, more traditional conclusions that are more likely to come from a conventional pattern. Why is this solution better? Why not that one? We’ve found that better results come from embracing uncertainty. Curiosity is the engine of creativity.

We have to be comfortable with estimating probabilities to make good decisions, even when these guesses are imperfect. Unfortunately, we have truckloads of evidence showing that human beings aren’t good intuitive statisticians.

2. Tolerate ambiguity—and stay humble!
When we think of problem solvers, many of us tend to picture a poised and brilliant engineer. We may imagine a mastermind who knows what she’s doing and approaches a problem with purpose. The reality, though, is that most good problem solving has a lot of trial and error; it’s more like the apparent randomness of rugby than the precision of linear programming. We form hypotheses, porpoise into the data, and then surface and refine (or throw out) our initial guess at the answer. This above all requires an embrace of imperfection and a tolerance for ambiguity—and a gambler’s sense of probabilities.

The real world is highly uncertain. Reality unfolds as the complex product of stochastic events and human reactions. The impact of COVID-19 is but one example: we address the health and economic effects of the disease, and their complex interactions, with almost no prior knowledge. We have to be comfortable with estimating probabilities to make good decisions, even when these guesses are imperfect. Unfortunately, we have truckloads of evidence showing that human beings aren’t good intuitive statisticians. Guesses based on gut instinct can be wildly wrong. That’s why one of the keys to operating in uncertain environments is epistemic humility, which Erik Angner defines as “the realization that our knowledge is always provisional and incomplete—and that it might require revision in light of new evidence.”3
Recent research shows that we are better at solving problems when we think in terms of odds rather than certainties.4 For example, when the Australian research body Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which owned a core patent on the wireless internet protocol, sought royalties from major companies, it was initially rebuffed. The CSIRO bet that it could go to court to protect its intellectual property because it estimated that it needed only 10 percent odds of success for this to be a good wager, given the legal costs and likely payoff. It improved its odds by picking the weakest of the IP violators and selecting a legal jurisdiction that favored plaintiffs. This probabilistic thinking paid off and eventually led to settlements to CSIRO exceeding $500 million.5 A tolerance for ambiguity and a willingness to play the odds helped the organization feel its way to a good solution path.

To embrace imperfectionism with epistemic humility, start by challenging solutions that imply certainty. You can do that in the nicest way by asking questions such as “What would we have to believe for this to be true?” This brings to the surface implicit assumptions about probabilities and makes it easier to assess alternatives. When uncertainty is high, see if you can make small moves or acquire information at a reasonable cost to edge out into a solution set. Perfect knowledge is in short supply, particularly for complex business and societal problems. Embracing imperfection can lead to more effective problem solving. It’s practically a must in situations of high uncertainty, such as the beginning of a problem-solving process or during an emergency.

Good problem solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties. Each move provides additional information and builds capabilities.

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3. Take a dragonfly-eye view
Dragonfly-eye perception is common to great problem solvers. Dragonflies have large, compound eyes, with thousands of lenses and photoreceptors sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Although we don’t know exactly how their insect brains process all this visual information, by analogy they see multiple perspectives not available to humans. The idea of a dragonfly eye taking in 360 degrees of perception6 is an attribute of “superforecasters”—people, often without domain expertise, who are the best at forecasting events.

Think of this as widening the aperture on a problem or viewing it through multiple lenses. The object is to see beyond the familiar tropes into which our pattern-recognizing brains want to assemble perceptions. By widening the aperture, we can identify threats or opportunities beyond the periphery of vision.

Consider the outbreak of HIV in India in the early 1990s—a major public-health threat. Ashok Alexander, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s India Aids Initiative, provided a brilliant example of not just vision but also dragonfly vision. Facing a complex social map with a rapidly increasing infection rate, he widened the problem’s definition, from a traditional epidemiological HIV transmission model at known “hot spots,” to one in which sex workers facing violence were made the centerpiece.

This approach led to the “Avahan solution,” which addressed a broader set of leverage points by including the sociocultural context of sex work. The solution was rolled out to more than 600 communities and eventually credited with preventing 600,000 infections. The narrow medical perspective was sensible and expected, but it didn’t tap into the related issue of violence against sex workers, which yielded a richer solution set. Often, a secret unlocks itself only when one looks at a problem from multiple perspectives, including some that initially seem orthogonal.

The secret to developing a dragonfly-eye view is to “anchor outside” rather than inside when faced with problems of uncertainty and opportunity. Take the broader ecosystem as a starting point. That will encourage you to talk with customers, suppliers, or, better yet, players in a different but related industry or space. Going through the customer journey with design-thinking in mind is another powerful way to get a 360-degree view of a problem. But take note: when decision makers face highly constrained time frames or resources, they may have to narrow the aperture and deliver a tight, conventional answer.

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4. Pursue occurrent behavior
Occurrent behavior is what actually happens in a time and place, not what was potential or predicted behavior. Complex problems don’t give up their secrets easily. But that shouldn’t deter problem solvers from exploring whether evidence on the facets of a solution can be observed, or running experiments to test hypotheses. You can think of this approach as creating data rather than just looking for what has been collected already. It’s critical for new market entry—or new market creation. It also comes in handy should you find that crunching old data is leading to stale solutions.

Most of the problem-solving teams we are involved with have twin dilemmas of uncertainty and complexity, at times combined as truly “wicked problems.”7 For companies ambitious to win in the great unknown in an emerging segment—such as electric cars or autonomous vehicles, where the market isn’t fully established—good problem solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties, not just relying on existing data. Each move (such as buying IP or acquiring a component supplier) and each experiment (including on-road closed tests) not only provides additional information to make decisions but also builds capabilities and assets that support further steps. Over time, their experiments, including alliances and acquisitions, come to resemble staircases that lead to either the goal or to abandonment of the goal. Problem-solving organizations can “bootstrap” themselves into highly uncertain new spaces, building information, foundational assets, and confidence as they take steps forward.

Risk-embracing problem solvers find a solution path by constantly experimenting. Statisticians use the abbreviation EVPI—the expected value of perfect information—to show the value of gaining additional information that typically comes from samples and experiments, such as responses to price changes in particular markets. A/B testing is a powerful tool for experimenting with prices, promotions, and other features and is particularly useful for digital marketplaces and consumer goods. Online marketplaces make A/B testing easy. Yet most conventional markets also offer opportunities to mimic the market’s segmentation and use it to test different approaches.

The mindset required to be a restless experimenter is consistent with the notion in start-ups of “failing fast.” It means that you get product and customer affirmation or rejection quickly through beta tests and trial offerings. Don’t take a lack of external data as an impediment—it may actually be a gift, since purchasable data is almost always from a conventional way of meeting needs, and is available to your competitors too. Your own experiments allow you to generate your own data; this gives you insights that others don’t have. If it is difficult (or unethical) to experiment, look for the “natural experiments” provided by different policies in similar locations. An example would be to compare outcomes in twin cities, such as Minneapolis–St. Paul.

It’s a mistake to think that your team has the smartest people in the room. They aren’t there. They’re invariably somewhere else. Nor do they need to be there if you can access their intelligence via other means.

5. Tap into collective intelligence and the wisdom of the crowd
Chris Bradley, a coauthor of Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick,8 observed that “it’s a mistake to think that on your team you have the smartest people in the room. They aren’t there. They’re invariably somewhere else.”9 Nor do they need to be there if you can access their intelligence via other means. In an ever-changing world where conditions can evolve unpredictably, crowdsourcing invites the smartest people in the world to work with you. For example, in seeking a machine-learning algorithm to identify fish catch species and quantities on fishing boats, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) turned to Kaggle and offered a $150,000 prize for the best algorithm. This offer attracted 2,293 teams from all over the world. TNC now uses the winning algorithm to identify fish types and sizes caught on fishing boats in Asia to protect endangered Pacific tuna and other species.

Crowdsourced problem solving is familiar in another guise: benchmarking. When Sir Rod Carnegie was CEO of Conzinc Riotinto Australia (CRA), he was concerned about the costs of unscheduled downtime with heavy trucks, particularly those requiring tire changes. He asked his management team who was best in the world at changing tires; their answer was Formula One, the auto racing competition. A team traveled to the United Kingdom to learn best practice for tire changes in racetrack pits and then implemented what it learned thousands of miles away, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The smartest team for this problem wasn’t in the mining industry at all.

Of course, while crowdsourcing can be useful when conventional thinking yields solutions that are too expensive or incomplete for the challenge at hand, it has its limitations. Good crowdsourcing takes time to set up, can be expensive, and may signal to your competitors what you are up to. Beware of hidden costs, such as inadvertently divulging information and having to sieve through huge volumes of irrelevant, inferior suggestions to find the rare gem of a solution.

Accept that it’s OK to draw on diverse experiences and expertise other than your own. Start with brainstorming sessions that engage people from outside your team. Try broader crowdsourcing competitions to generate ideas. Or bring in deep-learning talent to see what insights exist in your data that conventional approaches haven’t brought to light. The broader the circles of information you access, the more likely it is that your solutions will be novel and creative.

Rookie problem solvers show you their analytic process and math to convince you they are clever. Seasoned problem solvers show you differently.

6. Show and tell to drive action
We started our list of mindsets with a reference to children, and we return to children now, with “show and tell.” As you no doubt remember—back when you were more curious!—show and tell is an elementary-school activity. It’s not usually associated with problem solving, but it probably piqued your interest. In fact, this approach is critical to problem solving. Show and tell is how you connect your audience with the problem and then use combinations of logic and persuasion to get action.

The show-and-tell mindset aims to bring decision makers into a problem-solving domain you have created. A team from the Nature Conservancy, for instance, was presenting a proposal asking a philanthropic foundation to support the restoration of oyster reefs. Before the presentation, the team brought 17 plastic buckets of water into the boardroom and placed them around the perimeter. When the foundation’s staff members entered the room, they immediately wanted to know what the buckets were for. The team explained that oyster-reef restoration massively improves water quality because each oyster filters 17 buckets of water per day. Fish stocks improve, and oysters can also be harvested to help make the economics work. The decision makers were brought into the problem-solving domain through show and tell. They approved the funding requested and loved the physical dimension of the problem they were part of solving.

Rookie problem solvers show you their analytic process and mathematics to convince you that they are clever. That’s sometimes called APK, the anxious parade of knowledge. But seasoned problem solvers show you differently. The most elegant problem solving is that which makes the solution obvious. The late economist Herb Simon put it this way: “Solving a problem simply means representing it so as to make the solution transparent.”10
To get better at show and tell, start by being clear about the action that should flow from your problem solving and findings: the governing idea for change. Then find a way to present your logic visually so that the path to answers can be debated and embraced. Present the argument emotionally as well as logically, and show why the preferred action offers an attractive balance between risks and rewards. But don’t stop there. Spell out the risks of inaction, which often have a higher cost than imperfect actions have.

The mindsets of great problem solvers are just as important as the methods they employ. A mindset that encourages curiosity, embraces imperfection, rewards a dragonfly-eye view of the problem, creates new data from experiments and collective intelligence, and drives action through compelling show-and-tell storytelling creates radical new possibilities under high levels of unpredictability. Of course, these approaches can be helpful in a broad range of circumstances, but in times of massive uncertainty, they are essential

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Return to work u-turn: It’s time to make a plan – no ifs or buts

“Work from home if you can”, “if you can’t do your job from home, go in” or “if it is important for your job, mental health or wellbeing, go in” – despite calls for clarity throughout lockdown, I still feel the need to sit down and draw a flowchart mapping the many ‘ifs’ of coronavirus policy after the latest changes.

When coronavirus hit, businesses across the country were faced with a challenge like never before. HR teams rallied to help whole workforces set up desks in living rooms, spare rooms and kitchen tables, reacting quickly to keep the lights on, to keep going.

When the government called on workers to get back to the office, companies pored over the guidelines about how to create a Covid-secure workplace, radically redesigning spaces and policies ready to re-open their doors.

In just one day, plans that have been weeks, if not months, in the making have had to be cast aside. There’s another raft of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ to get our heads around.

This is not about ignoring the reality of COVID – cases are rising and it’s absolutely essential that the public, business and government work together to minimise risk, protect lives and shore up our ailing economy.

To do that, we need to start thinking longer-term. We need guidance and legislation that looks ahead to a new normal, not back. We need to think big.

At the moment, whatever the sector, whatever the business, resources are at a premium. We can’t afford to waste the time of already stretched HR teams continually reading new guidance, producing plans that will never be implemented.

We need to acknowledge the reality of COVID and start building ways of working that keep us all productive and well – mentally and physically.

To do that, we need the confidence that the time we invest in planning won’t be wasted, that the government too is looking to the future.

As the prime minister acknowledged in the Commons yesterday, we have to change our horizon when it comes to thinking about COVID measures. This isn’t a three-week fix, it’s six-month-plus marathon.

We have to make the shift from that acute, crisis mentality to figuring out how to survive and thrive in a new normal.

Collectively, we’ve shown an incredible willingness to think differently, to react and respond to the unknown under great pressure and fear of what might be just around the corner.

But there’s a limit to how long we can stay in an acute, responsive phase. There’s a limit to how many times you can ask companies to go back to the drawing board. There’s a limit to the recovery we can make if we can only plan short term working around ‘ifs’ and ‘buts.’

It’s a recovery that we desperately need. As the 2019-2020 financial year ended, GDP plummeted by 20.4% – the largest fall since monthly records began, and almost three quarters of a million people have been made redundant.

The challenge we’re facing is complex and ever-changing, and there’s no quick or easy answer. To tackle it, we need to put in place policies that give us both the flexibility to respond to changes in case numbers and the stability and continuity to rebuild.

To do that, we’ll need our best and brightest. We’ll need businesses to think both creatively and strategically – and to have enough time to do that without short-term distractions.

The government’s “robust but proportionate” new measures introduce necessary curbs to our social lives that will play an important role in limiting the spread of this virus in the short-term.

But to weather the storm that British business is facing, we need to start thinking about how to acknowledge and overcome the reality of working alongside COVID in the medium and long term.

The pandemic has presented us with heartbreaking challenges and losses. It brought us to a grinding halt, causing us to rethink how we do things, to appreciate things we took for granted like sharing a joke with colleagues, getting outside for a walk, hugging family and friends.

That reminder of how precarious our health is and what really matters to us is an incredible moment of insight that we can’t afford to waste.

This is not the moment to patch things up, to keep things ticking over until we can all get ‘back to normal.’ It’s a moment to be bold, to rethink old ideas and to make plans that not only help us to recover but to thrive – no ifs or buts.

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Ten Emerging Traits Of A Good Virtual Manager

What traits are emerging amid these crises that make for a good manager? Clearly, some managers have thrived during these stressful, anxiety-ridden months. Some managers are just naturals. They have something special that just comes naturally. Managing effectively when times are tough takes a special skill, just like any other, that will improve with a focused, determined effort.

But where did they find this unexpected focus?

It’s not obvious — and this is where many ambitious individuals have failed to live up to their potential as good managers. Ambition is key to great management, but all the personal ambition in the world won’t make you a truly great manager. It takes a great deal of emotional intelligence and strength to truly inspire others.

Let’s take a look at some of the emerging traits of a good manager in an environment where they must lead in a virtual environment (hint: some of these are characteristics to cultivate for any scenario):
1. Humility
Many people in leadership positions suffer from a lack of humility. Leading others does require a healthy reservoir of self-confidence, but humility and self-confidence aren’t mutually exclusive.

Think back to your favorite books and films. Which characters are the ones you’d be inspired to follow into an uncertain situation: the braggadocious narcissist, or the strong, humble leader? Truly strong individuals don’t need to display their strengths and accomplishments because there’s nothing they need to prove.

Managers should ensure they are always giving credit where credit is due. There’s nothing worse than working hard on the front lines, only to have the recognition for that work absorbed by someone else, especially their manager. Instead, great leaders default to a practice of recognizing the contributions and achievements of their team members. After all, it would likely be impossible for a manager to accomplish their goals alone, and if they’re recognizing the team, the manager will likely be recognized by the team members.

Never forget that as employees work for a team, managers should be working for them in equal measure. This point carries a lot of weight in a virtual environment where people are stretched thin.
2. Empowerment
Handholding — or much worse, micromanagement — is one of the most common mistakes managers make. This isn’t to say that a “throw them to the wolves” approach is preferable, or even appropriate. Your onboarding program should provide employees with all the resources they need to bring their best work to the table.

It’s important to give a team the freedom they need to shine. Whether intentional or not, excessive handholding and micromanagement send a signal to their team a lack of trust and that the manager doesn’t believe they’re capable of success without the manager’s help. It’s also exhausting for the micromanager.

In a virtual environment, people are not connecting as frequently in face-to-face conversations to create alignment and not collaborating as often. Managers who are succeeding amid this shift to virtual work are those that set people up for success without stifling their abilities.
3. Facilitation
The best managers are often the best facilitators. They focus on making sure their team has every advantage, and the best possible tools at their disposal. These can be physical tools, software, or processes, but managers won’t know unless they are asking what their people need to be successful.

Often the cost (financial, time, or otherwise) of a new tool or policy can blind managers to its potential impact on a team’s productivity or experience. Many of the ways to facilitate great work can be be less costly than one might think. It could be something as simple as an introduction to a past colleague, a more ergonomic desk setup, a certification course, or some quick feedback on a project.

Managers whose teams are thriving in a virtual environment are asking their team members regularly if there’s anything they can do or provide that will help them.
4. Trust
Trust is a two-way street, and once it’s built it will continue to grow if it’s cultivated genuinely. Great managers have a mutual bond of trust and faith between them and their team. That’s a hard, if not impossible, thing to fake.

If a manager can’t trust their team, or they can’t trust the manager, an organization is woefully missing a crucial element of good management and successful business.

Managers often struggle with trust because they’ve been burned in the past. The uncertainty of a virtual environment adds to that uncertainty. But successful managers in a virtual environment support and project a sense of trust in their people — and, in turn, their people are reciprocating.
5. Empathy
It’s not common for someone to start out in a leadership position without having worked beneath a leader at least once in their life, but it is unfortunately common for people to forget where they came from. That becomes a major problem when managers subject their colleagues to the same things that they themselves used to hate.

Although managers’ personal job responsibilities, especially in a virtual work environment, are undergoing dramatic change. But there is change facing everyone. That means a manager’s team members are feeling pain points and demonstrating a sense of empathy for employees’ issues will earn their trust and help managers lead. effectively.

It’s infinitely easier to stay on the same wavelength when managers are always listening.
6. Patience
Things aren’t always going to go right. People will make mistakes, and they’ll disappoint you. That’s just a natural part of working with others. The key is to approach these situations with patience.

Approaching employee issues with a hot head, or a zero-tolerance approach is nearly guaranteed to incite resentment, negatively impact engagement, and in the worst cases, mutiny. This isn’t to say that managers should let mistakes fly through without doing anything about it, especially if the behavior is chronic.

Great managers who are leading in a virtual workplace are those who approach manage performance with patience and by consistently giving employees the support they need to do better next time.
7. Diplomacy, a.k.a. Tact
Most leaders have at least some level of skill in this area to have made it into a management position. But, believe it or not, managers need it even more now as organizations are navigating tough issues such as being supportive and still needing employees to be productive amid the pandemic.

This isn’t about manipulation — far from it. It’s about knowing the likely outcome of interactions, and always aiming for the best.

When managers do need to deal with a tough situation regarding a coworker or direct report, it’s absolutely paramount that the actions of leaders don’t make that tough situation worse. People are already exhausted, stressed, and anxious.
8. Grace Under Pressure
Not many people enjoy working under a manager who panics feverishly, or even worse, flies off the handle and turns on their team at the slightest provocation or piece of bad news. One of the most important characteristics of a good manager is strength. A strong leader will provide an anchor in stormy seas, and a solid foundation during trying times.

The manager’s challenge is exuding strength without imposing it.

Transparency is vital to building trust, but that doesn’t managers let their people see panic or wavering in the face of challenges. Successful managers in virtual environments are rocks — they keep your chin up during challenges, and give the team the solidity they need to persevere.
9. Love for Learning
Learning shouldn’t stop when managers get to the top. If anything, it should accelerate.

It’s crucial to maintain a thorough understanding of the tasks at hand, but perhaps more so to maintain a sense of curiosity, and a drive to expand that understanding. Even better when this love of learning is shared with the team. Provide them with every opportunity you can to expand their own understanding and mastery of their responsibilities.

There are many ways to do this. Encourage employees to take online courses in (and even outside) their field. Provide the means that are necessary for them to do that, whether it’s a long lunch, or even supporting their tuition.

Great managers not only encourage and support the learning and development of their team — which can lead to organizations gaining new skills — but they look inward to improve their own leadership abilities. Some of the best managers leading virtual teams are those that are finding new ways and tips to lead dispersed teams and to prevent their people from being isolated.
10. Generosity
Great managers are generous with their team. It’s really that simple.

They are generous with praise, generous with compensation (this can be, but doesn’t have to be in monetary terms), and generous with their time.

Virtual environments are leaving employees feeling like they are on an island. Managers who are rising to the occasion right now are those who give more to their team.

In summary
Leading a team when employees are remote or teams are dispersed is a challenge. But cultivating the characteristics of a good manager will make it dramatically easier, and almost certainly more rewarding. These 10 traits are a great starting point, but managers who start here will be rewarding to their career and those who they lead.


The New Rules for Landing a Job in the Covid Era

It takes luck, creativity and a fresh look at your network of contacts to find a job in the worst labor market in more than a decade.

Since the pandemic hit the U.S. hard in March, the economy has lost 13 million jobs, job seekers have seen offers yanked away, and many recent college graduates remain sidelined.

But there is reason to be optimistic, albeit cautiously: Many employers are still hiring. More than half of small and midsize companies plan to hire full-time employees this year, according to an August survey of 600 human-resources and finance chiefs by Paycor, an HR software company. And while the percentage of LinkedIn members hired into new jobs fell 7.4% in July compared with the year before, it jumped 57.5% from June, according to LinkedIn’s August Workforce Report.

But today’s jobs landscape is wildly different from the red-hot labor market of early 2020. An open position can yield hundreds of applications. Many job interviews are still happening over laptop screens, and companies’ hiring needs are changing as fast as the economic outlook.

Greg Karol offers tips on leveraging your network and shares how employers feel about virtual learning at the 2020 WSJ Jobs Summit. Photo credit: Stephen Griffin/Lockheed Martin
“When every day is different and you don’t know what to expect, people need to think on their feet and get creative and take risks,” said Clara Shih, founder and chief executive of digital-engagement company Hearsay Systems Inc., at The Wall Street Journal Jobs Summit on Tuesday. “No one is going to tell you exactly what to do, there’s no playbook to follow because we’ve never seen times like these before.”

To explore the new rules of landing a job, The Wall Street Journal spoke with executives, career coaches and the newly re-employed for their best advice. Here is what they say.

Anyone can network (and everyone needs to)

“Networking” often conjures up images of awkward coffees and unanswered cold emails. But with so many jobs found through referrals—LinkedIn says applicants on the platform are nearly three times as likely to get a job at a company where they have a connection—it is a step no job seeker can afford to skip.

If you’ve recently landed a new job, what is the best advice you have for job seekers? Join the conversation below.

When Jesse Barnes posted on LinkedIn that he had lost his sales job at a Minneapolis startup, the 26-year-old was surprised to receive messages from former classmates, people he knew from volunteering and strangers who followed his posts. They gave condolences but also offered introductions and suggested prospective companies.

“I didn’t do a lot of cold outreach,” Mr. Barnes said. Ultimately, he says, he had between 10 and 15 conversations with companies and received multiple offers—all prompted by connections—before landing a business-development role at a software company in May. He never heard back about any of the applications he submitted through job boards.

Now could be a great time to catch up with former co-workers, said Addie Swartz, CEO of reacHire, which develops return-to-work programs for women re-entering to the workforce after a break. “People are more willing to be helpful, and you have to be willing to rely on others.”

ZipRecruiter CEO’s No. 1 Advice for Job Applicants


ZipRecruiter CEO’s No. 1 Advice for Job Applicants
ZipRecruiter CEO’s No. 1 Advice for Job Applicants
Ian Siegel, ZipRecruiter co-founder and CEO, offers tips for job seekers at the 2020 WSJ Jobs Summit. Photo: Cole Burston/Bloomberg News
Ms. Swartz also recommends exploring virtual events through industry networking groups, many of which are offering free webinars. “You don’t necessarily have to be a member to attend—what a great way to learn about an industry.”

And while job seekers may feel impatient to land their next role, it pays to keep a calm and professional tone in reconnecting with contacts. Laura Mazzullo, a New York-based recruiter, says those on the job hunt often don’t realize how frantic and negative they may sound. “They are frustrated, tired, cranky and impatient—they want a new job now.”

Consider your goals—and be specific

When you are unemployed, it may be difficult to identify professional priorities beyond getting a paycheck. Still, Ms. Mazzullo says job seekers she coaches often don’t have clear goals. That can slow down their hunt. “They haven’t defined what they’re looking for next, and therefore can’t articulate it to recruiters or people in their network who might be able to help them,” she said.

Developing clarity around what you are looking for, she said, isn’t the same as being picky. It helps you focus your search on areas where you are more likely to be successful.

Complicated office reopenings and social-distancing measures have led many companies to reconsider the importance of an employee’s proximity to the office. The number of remote jobs posted on job-search site Glassdoor has increased 53% compared with a year ago.

That shift is freeing some to pursue far-flung roles. But job seekers should be prepared to be upfront about their plans, such as a relocation for a partner or a move to be closer to family. Unless an employer has confirmed that a role is fully remote, and will remain that way, candidates should be prepared to return to the office at least occasionally.

“There’s a huge difference between a job that’s 100% remote and 90% remote,” said Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor senior economist. “If you still have to go into the office even just once a month, does it make sense to live up in the mountains in a cabin?”

Zero in on who is still hiring

Health care, retail and food service had the most U.S. job openings as of Aug. 10, with e-commerce and delivery jobs seeing particular growth, according to data from Glassdoor. Finance and insurance, construction and real estate, and business services had the least.

As the labor landscape changes, Ian Siegel, ZipRecruiter co-founder and CEO, discusses where new opportunities have arisen and how to benefit from them at the 2020 WSJ Jobs Summit. Photo: Cole Burston/Bloomberg News
Beth Hendler-Grunt, president of Next Great Step, a Livingston, N.J., firm that coaches college students and graduates on careers, says being flexible about industry might be helpful to recent grads and those hunting for entry-level jobs. “They can pivot more easily,” she said. “They haven’t been overcommitted to a job, a career, an industry. If you’re great at writing or research, maybe you can do it for other industries.”

Mr. Zhao cautions that company performance within industries can vary significantly, and job seekers may find more success developing a hit list of thriving companies to target. “If you’re tech that’s primarily serving restaurants, you’re probably not doing well,” he said. “But if you’re tech within delivery, there’s probably more and a wider variety of job openings.”

Be prepared for a 100% virtual interview process

Just a few months ago, candidates who were interviewed and brought into new jobs virtually were considered pioneers. Now, it is normal to start a new job without meeting anyone from your new employer in person. Job seekers need to be prepared to stand out, even when they’re sitting alone at home.

“Bias and immediate assumptions about a person are really powerful,” said Ian Siegel, co-founder and CEO of ZipRecruiter, at the WSJ Jobs Summit. “You get one second, the moment you first come into frame, where they’re going to develop a whole idea of who you are, and it’s incredibly difficult to get them off that. You have full control over that one second.”

Ms. Hendler-Grunt recommends candidates perform a test video call with a friend to make sure their technology is working and their background looks professional. “You have to bring a higher level of energy than you would have previously if you met somebody in person,” she said. “It’s fine if you’re the most dressed-up person on the video call.”

Mr. Barnes, who found the job at a software company, says being prepared with anecdotes helped him in a videoconference. “I treated the résumé as more of a really boring summary of my life and those different jobs, and looked for ways to create a more exciting story to take into an interview and talk about skills,” he said.

Kyle Ewing, Google’s director of talent and outreach programs, suggests being aware of what is happening in the location where the interviewer works and what they might be experiencing, then kicking off the interview with some simple, friendly questions.

“It’s really important to be more deliberate in the connection that you’re making,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to bring more of a human connection, even in a virtual environment.”

Unemployment in the pandemic has fallen disproportionately on Latina women, with many in the service industry. Here’s how gender, race, and occupation help determine who is most vulnerable in the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.

How enterprises need to rethink business continuity planning

An organization that proactively engages in strengthening its organizational resilience builds flexibility that allows it to handle changing situations. It’s time to reassess your resiliency strategy.
This article was first published in The new IT playbook, a report that explores what it means to be resilient and adaptable in the face of disruption.

Traditionally, business continuity has focused on the idea that a few things might fail. A network operating center loses power. An earthquake, flood, or other natural disaster shutters offices in a specific region. A criminal or terrorist act shuts down a neighborhood or city. In most instances, solutions focus on systems redundancy, failover, and workplace recovery. Never did anyone fully anticipate a major health crisis closing nearly every business facility on the planet and forcing all active employees to work remotely for months at a time.

That was simply beyond the realm of imagination, so when COVID-19 erupted, it forced most businesses into serious crisis management mode.

“Most organizations right now are still trying to figure out how to keep operations running and revenues flowing,” says Phil Goodwin, an enterprise infrastructure analyst at IDC. “This is an event unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times, and it has long-term implications for how enterprise organizations will think about business continuity planning. When they get beyond this situation, many will have to stop, reassess, and think long and hard about how they do it better next time.”

The new IT playbook: From recovery to resurgence. Expert advice for your digital transformation.

Numerous lessons will be a part of this reevaluation process, most notably the need to build more resilience and agility into continuity planning, analysts say. Traditionally, most preparation has centered on operational recovery with less focus on minimizing workforce disruptions. But analysts insist stronger, more thorough, and more elastic approaches will be needed to prepare for future events.

“Our research shows only 38 percent of business operation functions are covered by current disaster recovery plans,” Goodwin says. “We also find that, of those organizations that do have plans, only about 9 percent rate themselves as fully mature in business continuance. So there are definitely big gaps in the industry with regard to continuity planning.”

To close those gaps, analysts recommend ensuring resiliency across each of four key dimensions of business resiliency: technology, people processes, operations, and corporate culture.

Ensuring technology resiliency
From a technology standpoint, most companies have typically focused on ensuring that networks continue running and that people can access them in the event of an emergency. While many companies in recent years were on a path to enabling more workers to perform their jobs remotely, few had invested in the tools required to make that happen on a widespread basis.

Since many enterprise organizations have now invested considerable time and money in remote work capabilities because of COVID-19, analysts predict that they will be more amenable to allow it after the crisis ends. As such, companies will need plans for not only keeping more remote employees connected on an ongoing basis but also keeping all of those people online should another severe disruption occur.

Those plans would have to consider areas most likely to be affected by such events. For example, they would need to ensure that network stability and capacity does not falter if significantly higher numbers of people start logging on remotely. They would also want to consider how to provide employees with the most effective communication and collaboration tools available as well as the underlying virtual desktop infrastructure needed to support everything. And they would absolutely have to employ the highest possible levels of cybersecurity across every access point on the network.

Another important consideration would be the remote worker learning curve. Even before COVID-19, firms like McKinsey warned 87 percent of executives were either experiencing a skills gap in their workforce or expecting one within a few years. Worse, less than half had a clear sense of how to address the problem. To meet the challenge in the context of business continuity, analysts recommend crafting talent strategies that include ongoing training, tips, and guidance. That way, if another major disruption occurs, employees will not lose too much time due to a lack of understanding of the technology they’re using.

Pushing people and process resiliency
Vigorous process resiliency should be another key consideration of any continuity plan.

This involves practices such as virtual onboarding of new hires, support for bring-your-own-device programs, and providing all of the cybersecurity and human resource policies and procedures employees are expected to follow while working outside of the office.

Process resiliency should also entail making sure virtual employees have access to many of the same comforts and support systems they enjoyed in physical settings. That includes power backup for uninterrupted connectivity; ergonomic chairs, desks, and computer gear; wellness programs to address employees’ physical and mental needs; and virtual social events to sustain team morale and togetherness.

“We find it’s simple to focus on technology aspects of business continuity but also easy to lose sight of the people part of that equation,” says Chand Basha, worldwide business continuity planning manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “People are the biggest asset in any organization. So, if you do not put processes in place to keep them online, provide knowledge and support on how to connect to critical resources, and at the same time, ensure they’re healthy and happy, your continuity plan is not likely to be effective in any major disruption.”

Owning operations
Organizations know all too well that they have to ensure operational resiliency to stay in business, which is why many are so focused on critical systems right now with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But analysts say as companies move beyond the current crisis and look to the future, they will need to think through ways to function that go beyond urgent needs and address alternate methods to conduct work without entering physical offices or holding face-to-face meetings.

“The biggest element for operational resiliency is the ability to keep the business running almost unattended,” says Clifford Grossner, who heads cloud and data research for Omdia, an independent analyst and consultancy firm. “Before the current crisis, most continuity plans assumed organizations would have at least some people on site keeping everything running and answering customer calls. We now know you can’t assume that, and organizations should be looking at more options, like digital signing of documents, that don’t require you to be in an office or in front of someone to get a job done.”

Changing corporate culture
Corporate culture is another important but often overlooked element of business resiliency.

Before COVID-19, remote work was already rising in popularity as more digitally savvy millennials and Gen-Zers entered the workforce. But there was still a deeply ingrained preference among corporate leaders to have most workers physically present in corporate facilities. Some believe employees lose creativity and productivity when working from home, analysts say. Others think it’s just human nature to slack a bit when not under the watchful eye of management. Neither sentiment is necessarily validated by statistics (the opposite may actually be true). And if enterprises are to going to evolve and enable more remote workers, their cultures will also need to adjust to make way for that, analysts say.

“We’ve always had a lot of societal and cultural resistance to remote work where management just felt that if it didn’t see you, it couldn’t be confident you were doing your job,” says Grossner. “But when COVID-19 hit, guess what? All of a sudden, everyone is working from home, and we find out the model actually can work. A big cultural barrier now seems to be permanently lifting. I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to that old way of thinking, and future continuity planning should not allow it.

Keep it going
Analysts say post-COVID-19, business continuity planning will need to be a more active and recurrent process within organizations. They note that has not often been the case, however. In fact, all too often, it’s just a one-time project that’s forgotten almost as soon as it’s completed.

“Very few enterprises test their disaster recovery plans to make sure they work,” Grossner says. “When this crisis started, I literally pictured someone taking an old book from the shelf, blowing the dust off of it, and that was their disaster recovery plan. Many organizations think they have a solid plan, but when they actually try it out and it hasn’t been IT tested or updated in quite a while, it doesn’t work so well.”

Daniel Kennedy, research director at 451 Research, adds that organizations that have made strides toward improving business continuity processes during the current crisis shouldn’t take their foot off the gas when it’s over. Unfortunately, he says many do just that.

“The further away an enterprise gets from a continuity event, the less attention they pay to business continuity or disaster recovery plans,” Kennedy says. “Some of that relates to resources. Enterprise leaders tend to concentrate on problems at hand. But championing business continuity requires a good deal of discipline, and organizations should strive to keep their efforts going after all of this is over.”

Some analysts say the best way to do that might be to hire outside consultants to help.

“It’s valuable and helpful for organizations to engage third parties who have a particular knowledge and depth in their industry,” says IDC’s Goodwin. “Consultants often have a breadth of knowledge they can bring to the table, offering information and insights a client company may not have considered. It’s the old adage about not knowing what you don’t know. Frequently, consultants can help you understand what you don’t know and address a variety of contingencies that might not otherwise come to the forefront.”

Nine steps to continuity maturity
Basha notes that HPE Pointnext Services has defined a transition framework involving nine discreet steps―observe, triage, align, adjust, design, stabilize, transform, sustain, and optimize―to help organizations transition from immediate crisis management to full-blown business continuity maturity.

In the end, the idea is to go from a point where companies are simply observing various problems and reacting to one where technology, people processes, operations, and corporate culture are all aligned and enhanced to quickly adjust to any emerging crisis.

“Major disruptions never come with an appointment,” Basha says. “Building resiliency must involve ongoing processes that prepare you for the unknown and allow you to adapt to change in a more agile and structured way. Organizations should seek to prepare and prevent the next disruption rather than going down the same old path where they aren’t ready and have to repair and repent for any mistakes.”


The boss factor: Making the world a better place through workplace relationships

For purpose-led corporations, this is a defining moment. How can they remain committed to additional stakeholder values when the imperative is to conserve cash and, in many cases, aggressively restructure? And what about businesses that have only started defining their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ambitions? When push comes to shove, do their leaders (and shareholders) really believe in the ESG premium? And, if so, where can they best focus their attention?

To move forward, rather than stand paralyzed, crystal-clear prioritization will be key. In this article, we argue that there is one essential area where companies can create enormous social value: job satisfaction. Because of the connection between happiness at work and overall life satisfaction, improving employee happiness could make a material difference to the world’s 2.1 billion workers.1 It could also boost profitability and enhance organizational health.

When it comes to employee happiness, bosses and supervisors play a bigger role than one might guess. Relationships with management are the top factor in employees’ job satisfaction, which in turn is the second most important determinant of employees’ overall well-being. According to our analysis, only mental health is more important for overall life satisfaction (Exhibit 1). Unfortunately, research also shows that most people find their managers to be far from ideal; for example, in a recent survey, 75 percent of survey participants said that the most stressful aspect of their job was their immediate boss.2 And those describing very bad and quite bad relationships with management reported substantially lower job satisfaction than those with very good and quite good relationships (Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 1

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Shifting the behavior of an entire cadre of managers might seem a daunting proposition. But McKinsey research on changing organizational culture indicates the key elements required. Senior leaders can create a step change in both shareholder and social value by clearly articulating the sizable upsides to high job satisfaction, including educating managers on their pivotal roles and embedding quality of workplace relationships into manager development and performance appraisals. They can also act as critical change agents by embracing servant leadership and approaching everyone in their organization with compassion and genuine curiosity.

Exhibit 2

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Good bosses, good performance
It stands to reason that managers would play a crucial role in their employees’ workplace happiness. The wealth of literature on what makes for a good workplace highlights two aspects that line managers directly control: good work organization—that is, providing workers with the context, guidance, tools, and autonomy to minimize frustration and make their jobs meaningful—and psychological safety, which is the absence of interpersonal fear as a driver of employee behavior. With burnout on the rise, and stress and anxiety a leading cause of ill health and absenteeism, the emotional health of workers becomes particularly important.

There are complex interactions between these factors, giving rise to potential virtuous and vicious cycles. For example, a good manager instills a sense of trust and confidence, with a clear set of attainable goals rooted in customer-centric thinking. In such an environment, frontline workers feel empowered and often receive positive feedback from customers and colleagues. They are also more likely to raise issues when things do not go well. A safe and collaborative environment for joint problem solving generates innovation, a sense of achievement, and even higher levels of customer satisfaction. With more loyal customers, lower absenteeism, and low staff turnover resulting in higher profitability, a manager may now be in a position to allocate more resources to their workers.

Such a scenario is not just a theoretical construct. Countless studies show the empirical link between employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, and profitability. For example, in an ingenious piece of research, academics exploited a so-called natural experiment—different weather patterns in different locations at different times—to show that call-center workers’ weekly sales increased by 25 percent when their happiness increased by one point on a scale of one to five.3 Similarly, a large-scale meta-analysis found that business units with top-quartile employee engagement achieved operating-profit margins that were one to four percentage points higher than those in the bottom quartile.4 Employee satisfaction has also been shown to contribute directly to shareholder value (Exhibit 3).

Exhibit 3

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Why are servant leaders so rare?
In many ways, there is only one question any manager need ask: How do I make my team members’ lives easier—physically, cognitively, and emotionally? Research shows that this “servant leader” mentality and disposition enhances both team performance and satisfaction.5 Moreover, studies also suggest that managers themselves are happier and find their roles more meaningful when they feel they are helping other people.

Even though most business schools, executive training courses, and leadership programs espouse servant leadership, few bosses manage to fully commit to it. Perhaps that’s no surprise. In most organizations, the average manager has neither the incentives nor the skills to focus on employee happiness. Consider how most businesses make promotion decisions: people who get ahead tend to be either current high performers or those who appear most leader-like. Sadly, neither of these traits correlates well with servant leadership. For example, research suggests that the most productive individuals typically have high levels of technical skills and personal drive, but only 30 percent of them are likely to become the kind of leaders that prioritize and support employee satisfaction.6 Moreover, Gallup research contends that only one in ten people possesses the necessary traits that great managers exhibit, traits that include building relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and transparency.7
People are also more likely to be promoted when they exhibit self-confidence, build extensive networks, and navigate organizational politics with ease. Creating a sense of personal power and toughness can have positive outcomes for leaders, particularly if they are confronted with an unchanging status quo. But such self-orientation is the polar opposite of what is required for building trust. Organizational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic suggests that many leaders achieve their positions by being self-centered, overconfident, narcissistic, arrogant, manipulative, and risk-prone.8
So even if a manager believes, in their heart of hearts, that the right thing is to support their team members and enhance their job satisfaction, it might be hard for them to resist the siren call of a more authoritative style that seems to give them a better chance of recognition. Moreover, if they have previously excelled in their individual performance, this same manager and leader may have to improve their emotional intelligence and actively change their attitude to discern the frequent occasions when a softer touch is more effective than a tougher stance. All of which is more difficult because of the scarcity of role models to learn from within most organizations. The self-centered approach gets perpetuated by the hiring practices and performance evaluations of many organizations. In fact, companies fail to choose the right talent for management positions 82 percent of the time.9
Organizations that allow such dynamics to persist miss out on the upside of employee satisfaction. At the extreme, these organizations also risk creating or enabling a toxic culture that can lead to serious performance and health issues—and even death.

In many ways, there is only one question any manager need ask: How do I make my team members’ lives easier—physically, cognitively, and emotionally? Research shows that this “servant leader” mentality and disposition enhances both team performance and satisfaction.

How bosses can change
The sizable role a boss plays in employee satisfaction and organizational performance provides an intriguing contrast to the simplistic measures needed to improve it. The fundamental elements are the same as with any other human relationship: mutual trust, encouragement, empathy, and good communication. These attributes create a supportive environment where employees can feel psychologically safe and satisfied and deliver their best work.

Even though managers’ organizational context can blunt their incentives and restrict their actions, there are, nevertheless, simple changes bosses can make to improve the workplace happiness of the people who report to them—no matter what their organization’s culture is like. In this regard, micro-actions often count more than larger, structural changes. Here, we highlight four practices that have proven effective:

Empathy, compassion, and vulnerability: A manager who genuinely cares about an employee’s well-being tends to be curious about it. Sincerely asking, “How are you doing today?” and showing empathy no matter the answer creates an opportunity for employees to raise issues and to feel safe when they do. If the problems relate to the workplace, solving them together and encouraging initiative taking can give workers a heightened sense of agency, in turn reducing their stress levels.

Moreover, curiosity and compassion typically go hand in hand. A sense of compassion, defined as caring for and being committed to the happiness, well-being, and quality of life of others in addition to our own, is at the heart of all great religious traditions—and of the secular ethics of the “happiness revolution.” The economist Richard Layard proposes that “we should each of us, in all our choices, aim to produce the greatest happiness we can—and especially the least misery.”10 For bosses, this is not merely an ethical choice. Research shows that when employees perceive compassion or kindness from their leaders, they become more loyal to them.11 Loyalty in turn feeds better performance at work.

The best managers also open themselves up to others’ empathy and compassion and share their own emotions in response, which requires the willingness and ability to feel and show vulnerability. Doing so will help maintain a leader’s emotional stability and build a close support network that is essential, especially during turbulent times.

Gratitude: Being thanked makes people feel valued. Celebrating small achievements helps people face larger challenges. As outlined in Teresa Amabile’s book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), the experience of celebrating small accomplishments sets up a positive dynamic where everyone wants to do better. Routinely, frequently, and generously thanking team members costs nothing and has enormous benefits.

Yet there is a danger here. All of us have built-in radars for fake expressions of emotion and recognize when bosses and senior leaders are simply following a script without actually meaning what they say. To make their gratitude count, managers need to hone their ability to feel genuine thankfulness and use this emotion to express their appreciation in a heartfelt way.

Positivity: Giving positive feedback builds employee confidence and reinforces beneficial behaviors. Unconditional positive regard—the practice of validating feelings, withholding judgment, and offering support—bolsters motivation and fosters authenticity. One study compared athletes who received unconditional positive comments from their coaches with those who received criticism. The former group experienced an increase in confidence, greater love for the sport, and stronger persistence through challenges. The latter group felt less secure, less motivated, and tended to wear out more quickly.12 The same pattern has been found true for teachers and students, and it applies to bosses and the people they “coach” in the workplace as well.

In addition, positive regard is a key contributing factor to developing an individual’s sense of autonomy and self-competence, which in turn is directly linked to greater happiness and well-being (Exhibit 4).

Awareness and self-care: Being a supportive and compassionate manager is easier for people who are themselves aware of and at peace with their own inner state of being. Leaders must first relate to and help themselves before they can do the same for others. For example, sharing emotions or letting go of judgment is often only possible once leaders feel safe themselves.

Managers who prioritize their own well-being can better help others prioritize theirs. When it comes to self-care, research from the Wellbeing Project—a coalition of leading social institutions catalyzing a culture of well-being in support of social change—shows the benefits of self-care for changemakers in the social sector, a group that faces daunting problems and strenuous circumstances. The recipe for self-care will be different for everyone, but most often includes attention to diet, exercise, rest, and sleep. For many, mindfulness or other meditation practices are also powerful sources of resilience.

Exhibit 4

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If a manager’s organization does not reinforce such behaviors, it is important for that manager to build their own system of cues, routines, and rewards to help consolidate these actions as habits. As long as the intent is authentic, bosses can simply imitate the new behaviors they intend as a path toward consolidating those actions into their daily routines. For example, a manager could set themselves a goal of speaking less and listening more, and then systematically solicit feedback and observe the results. In time, they would likely notice the positive effects this has on team members, which would feed their intrinsic motivation to do even better. They could also benchmark themselves to see if they make it into the top quartile of managers whose team members rank their relationship with their boss as “very good.”

However, in a hectic and demanding environment, it is not always easy to stick to good habits. It is even harder if good management is not valued or the model of leadership in an organization is primarily based on authority and personal achievement. In those circumstances, managers need their leaders to help.

The best managers open themselves up to others’ empathy and compassion and share their own emotions in response. Doing so will help maintain a leader’s emotional stability and build a close support network that is essential, especially during turbulent times.

How organizations can support better bosses
Although this article focuses on the role of individual managers, leaders of organizations have a fundamental duty as well to create an environment that enables good management, and good relationships more generally. Not only do they owe this to their shareholders, but there is also a clear moral imperative. While there are many sources of misery in the world—including poverty, illness, and discrimination—the one aspect of people’s lives that is clearly within an organization’s sphere of influence is the behavior of their bosses and supervisors.

Leaders who take this message seriously can draw on well-established literature for how to change mindsets and behaviors in an organization. Four ingredients are required:

Understanding and conviction conveyed through a compelling change story that solicits better behavior from bosses and supervisors. A compelling story is one that builds in multiple narratives. Leaders might start by educating bosses and supervisors about the enormous positive and negative impact they have on the lives of the people who report to them. (Research shows that leaders consistently fail to recognize how their actions affect and will be interpreted by others.) The story might also connect the dots for everyone in the organization—for example, by relating how the aspiration for employee well-being explicitly matches the organization’s social responsibility agenda. Similarly, the narrative might link the company’s overall purpose statement to the individual purpose people feel in their working lives—the aspects of work they find most meaningful. A compelling change story might also connect ethical behavioral imperatives with the performance improvement of the organization as a whole.
Role modeling that demonstrates a leader’s personal belief and commitment to employee well-being. Many senior leaders consistently overestimate how much they are part of the solution and not the problem in a range of organizational matters. But nothing undermines a cultural-change initiative more thoroughly than lip service to a cause that leaders fail to follow through on themselves. Consider how one survey found that 27 percent of organizations have placed many of their inclusion and diversity initiatives on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic,13 even though doing so negatively affects trust in leadership and leads to lower employee engagement and performance. In their own effort to bolster employee well-being in their organizations, leaders can start with self-reflection to identify biases and actions that either support or undermine change.
Skill- and confidence-building approaches to help managers create better employee experiences. Research shows that as people gain power, they lose the ability to judge a situation accurately, particularly with regard to how others will perceive their actions. They also lose some of their ability to empathize with people in positions of less relative power.14 Organizational leaders can tackle this tendency directly. While training courses for soft skills—such as providing and receiving feedback—need to become a more standard part of the corporate curriculum, organizations should also explore novel ways to address the loss of empathy that accompanies gains in authority.

To accomplish this, organizations can follow the experiments of academics such as Yale School of Management psychologist Michael Kraus. In his experiments, Kraus managed to “re-anchor” powerful people’s sense of their own power by forcing them to rank themselves against people they perceive as even more powerful, such as billionaires and political leaders.

Organizations can also provide access to meditation apps and training courses that encourage mindfulness and self-awareness. Senior leaders can build on design-thinking practices that question established behaviors and reframe solutions to meet the unique needs of different employees. Skills and tools aimed at improving a set of employee experience factors—including trust in leadership and the relationship with a company—can further support employee engagement, well-being, and effectiveness.

Formal mechanisms that reinforce the right behaviors. Unless employee satisfaction, including satisfaction with an immediate boss, becomes a core part of a company’s performance evaluations, behavior is unlikely to change. By praising and promoting the best managers, organizations also help fill their ranks with the right kinds of role models. Companies that combine this approach with new HR screens to identify people with the desirable servant-leader traits can begin to form a supporting ecosystem for better management practices. Companies such as GE have begun substituting their top-down performance appraisals with novel approaches that emphasize continuous learning and coaching rather than criticism.

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Millennials And Gen Z’s Are Shaping A Better World For Us All

Global protests in support of social justice during the past few months, like rallies decrying climate change that preceded them, remind us that younger generations consider social purpose to be a personal calling and gladly embrace the role of change agents on a range of issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t altered that. In fact, it’s inspired a stronger sense of individual responsibility and made them more driven than ever to effect positive societal change.

According to the 2020 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, about three-quarters of Millennial and Gen Z respondents said the pandemic brought new issues to their attention and increased their sympathy for the needs of others in their local communities and across the globe. The same percentage said they plan to take real action to benefit their communities after the pandemic, while about 70% of respondents have already taken steps in this direction.

“Millennials and Gen Z’s have been deeply affected by the toll of the pandemic; yet their resolve and commitment to improve the world remains steady,” says Michele Parmelee, Deloitte global chief people and purpose officer. In the survey, two-thirds of Millennials and about 60% of Gen Z’s said their employment or income status has been affected by the pandemic. “Still, even facing these new challenges, they see an opportunity and have a deep desire to help create a ‘better normal’ in a post-pandemic world.”

Planet Remains A Priority

As survivors of difficult circumstances that shaped their upbringings—most notably, the recession of the late 2000s—younger generations are both resilient and uncompromising in their values, the survey shows. This is especially evident when it comes to climate change and the environment.

Before the pandemic, Millennials said protecting the environment was their top concern, followed by health care and disease prevention, unemployment and income inequality/distribution of wealth. Gen Z’s also rated the environment as their top concern, followed by unemployment and sexual harassment.

However, in the second part of the survey conducted five months later—amid a worldwide health and economic crisis—Millennials and Gen Z’s still prioritized the planet’s health. Not surprisingly, health care and disease prevention jumped as a concern for both groups in the second survey. But climate change and protecting the environment continued to top the Gen Z list and was nearly tied with health care as a concern among Millennials.

Leading By Example

Millennials and Gen Z’s are tackling their concerns by taking socially conscious actions to protect the planet and shine a spotlight on societal issues.

In the survey, younger generations said they are increasing their use of public transportation, recycling more and shopping sustainably. About half of Millennials said they walk or bike more often to reduce their carbon footprints, have stopped or limited their “fast fashion” purchases and educated themselves on the environmental aspects of the brands they consume. And nearly two-thirds of Millennials have taken steps to reduce their use of single-use plastics.

With the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 crisis and other societal challenges resulting from systemic racial injustice, social inequality, climate change and economic pressures, the path to a better normal may feel like a long and arduous journey.

While it’s still too early to know how exactly these disruptions will change society over the long term, Parmelee says: “There is no doubt that we can’t go back to the old ways of operating. We must look to the values and commitments of the younger generations to ensure we are building a more sustainable, equitable future for all.”

COVID-19 forced many companies to unexpectedly make fundamental shifts to their business models over a very short time period. Each of their pivots—from a transition to online transactions to new supply chain models, fulfillment approaches, or finance arrangements—has downstream tax implications. This, in turn, increases the complexity and workload for tax departments.

As the pandemic continues and businesses adjust to the new normal, we are seeing some common themes emerge. First, most business leaders are accelerating existing plans around digital transformation, particularly related to cloud. Second, many are re-evaluating their operating models. Some are choosing to refocus internal efforts on core competencies, cutting resources and budgets for enabling areas to reduce costs. This trend extends to tax departments.

These colliding factors are creating a paradox for tax leaders: At a time of increased complexity and need, they have fewer resources to meet the demands. Yet, this dynamic also presents opportunities to accelerate change and transform in fundamental new ways. Those that are nimble will have a greater ability to thrive.

Accelerating Digital

Unsurprisingly, business leaders increasingly recognize that their existing technologies, processes, and data-management approaches are dated. Newer technologies and capabilities offer better, faster, and cheaper ways of doing things. One area in which we are seeing a significant acceleration is cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As businesses move to cloud-based ERPs in virtually every organization, it’s important to consider that tax is the greatest consumer of enterprise data. Almost every business process has a tax implication. If you are a CEO, CFO, or CIO, one of your top priorities should be ensuring that your tax department leaders have a seat at the table when developing your digital transformation road map.

Done right, the shift to cloud-based ERP systems should save money, reduce complexity, and enable better risk management. By providing a common data source, recorded in a standard language and syntax, cloud-based ERPs should eliminate most of the heavy lifting and data mining that most tax functions perform manually today. This increases confidence in the data and frees up people to focus on analytics, scenario-planning, and strategic advice to the business.

Agile Operating Models

Tax leaders today are confronted by the high cost of digital transformation, talent gaps in expertise and capacity (which may have increased due to cost cutting measures), and the ongoing economic uncertainty intensified by COVID-19. While it is becoming evident the old ways of working will no longer suffice, there is also an increasing recognition that in many industries, the capital investment required to transform the tax department won’t be coming any time soon. Out of necessity, many have begun to rethink their operating models. They are increasingly seeing co-sourcing and outsourcing as a way to access innovative technology solutions, expertise, and capacity at a lower cost.

The good news is there is a spectrum of operating models—from maintaining an in-house model for all activities, to a model in which some activities are completed partially or fully by a third party, to a completely outsourced model in which a provider “operates” the entire function.

While co-sourcing and outsourcing may be more familiar, the “operate” model represents a more fundamental shift. Companies no longer pay to maintain their own systems, similar to a subscription model that allows access to the capabilities, skills, and resources of a third party for a set fee. Technology companies shifted to this managed service model years ago when they introduced licensing. Consider the example of Microsoft Office: Organizations buy a license to get access to a suite of Microsoft’s tools, but Microsoft maintains the software on their behalf.

In the tax function, when considering cosourcing or outsourcing, activities are evaluated on two dimensions: value to the company and need for institutional knowledge. Work that is low value and routine, where the output needs to be high quality and efficient, are strong candidates for co-sourcing or outsourcing. This may include compliance activities and data management tasks, or work that is highly specialized but ad hoc and does not require significant institutional knowledge to complete, such as transfer pricing documentation or tax controversy matters.

Accelerating The Future

Resilient tax leaders recognize the complexities emerging from the pandemic amid so many other global forces, from the changing implications of globalization, the rise of Asia, the reduction of the shared economy, and the screeching halt on international travel due to closed borders. With so much in flux, the tax function becomes even more critical in building efficient and sustainable organizations over the long-term. To do so, tax leaders must assess their current models and consider the continuum of options to most effectively run their departments.

This massively disruptive event, which hindered businesses’ ability to serve clients and customers in the same way they did in the past, is also proving to be an important catalyst for change. It has dislodged longstanding inertia behind how, where, and when work gets done. The impossible is now possible. The once unthinkable is now open for consideration. Opportunities abound. How will you use the momentum and mindset shift to accelerate the future of your tax organization?