Contemporary Issues in the Workplace: HR Challenges in 2021

Our lives have changed considerably recently— and so has the workplace. Shifts in work environments have led to adjustments significantly impacting how we work. At one point, we wondered when we would return to normal, but now, we’re adjusting to a new normal.

Human resources departments lead the challenging effort to support employees in continuously evolving work environments. Whether teams work from the office or home (full- or part-time), changes to employees’ routines generate complex workplace issues.

Overcoming contemporary workplace issues depends on how well HR teams support their people and how well Senior Leadership supports HR efforts. Employees, including HR staff, are more burnt out and stressed than ever before, significantly impacting engagement, retention, conflict, and productivity. In addition, strains on physical and mental wellbeing take a toll on company culture.

From employee mental health to recruiting top talent, contemporary work issues concern organizations’ most valuable asset: their people. We’ll break down the most significant challenges in the modern workplace and how HR can combat them by supporting employees.

Communication Barriers in the Modern Workplace
In March 2020, seemingly overnight, employees went from in-person collegial interactions to virtual communication. That, alone, was enough to mangle communication and increase workplace conflict; however, employees weren’t just grappling with changes to their work environment— the pandemic impacted every aspect of their lives.

A staggering majority of employees struggled due to the pandemic. In our recent study of over 2,200 employees, 89% reported stress concerns in 2020 and 2021. Employee stress inevitably leads to reduced emotional resilience, impacting workplace emotional resilience. In addition, stress leaves employees more emotionally sensitive and less equipped to deal with conflict.

With increased stress levels comes communication issues, and miscommunication can feel more significant to those experiencing stress. This increase in stress and conflict was especially true when employees shifted to remote work and remain true with the return to office initiatives. This change increases stress, disrupts newly found routines, and spotlights uncertainty and differences over pandemic issues. Thus, communication issues and conflict remain prevalent even as employees return to the office full- or part-time.

Human resources departments should be prepared to address increased stress and anxiety among employees to mitigate communication barriers and conflict. Acknowledging workplace stress is the first step to creating a safe space for employees to voice their concerns. Creating a psychologically safe workplace should be a top priority to reduce non-productive or hurtful communication. If employees feel comfortable discussing their feelings, conflicts can be resolved before they impact work.

The pandemic not only changed how we work but how we think about employee benefits. Two trends likely to continue are the focus on flexibility and employee well-being. Investments in employee programming that facilitate coping with stress, anxiety, and burnout have increased across industries. A recent survey of Human Resource leaders and C-suite decision-makers revealed that 41% of leaders expanded employee mental health benefits this year.

As more organizations invest in such initiatives, supporting employees’ well-being will be the norm rather than an optional perk of forward-thinking companies. Adopting employee-centric benefits and policies with a focus on mental health and balance will predictably boost employee morale. Making meaningful changes to your company culture is a long-term investment that starts with employee well-being. For example, improving employee stress management and emotional resilience starts with leadership initiatives and adding meaningful programs to employee benefits.

The Current Job Market & Recruiting Landscape
The current job market is booming. Job openings are at an all-time high, and hiring has been consistently on the rise. So, naturally, recruiters dream of this kind of job market; however, the pandemic changed the game rules. As a result, the market is highly competitive, but candidates have different priorities than they did before COVID-19.

It’s a candidate’s market— culture, benefits, and flexibility are top priorities for those in the job search. A recent study found that most candidates are more concerned with work/life balance than pay. So your company’s competitive edge in the job market is about how your culture prioritizes employee well-being.

Candidates are likely leaving a job they stuck with through the pandemic, when job security was a significant concern. For some, this meant working longer hours for reduced pay or taking on more work while working from home. Prospective employees are looking to join organizations that will prioritize them, and their well-being, as a change of pace.

For recruiters and HR teams, attracting top talent will depend on how healthy your company culture is. To remain competitive in the job market, your organization should promote healthier company culture. Assess how you can highlight your company’s positive and perceptive culture in the hiring process beyond sharing the employee benefits packet.

Modern Workplace Environment and Culture Issues
In the modern work environment, employees expect flexibility and compassionate company cultures. Unfortunately, the lack of work-life balance has made some employees feel burnt out and exhausted. Whether or not employees are already struggling with burnout or stress, supporting employees is a make-or-break component of your company culture.

In the modern work environment, a majority of employees expect more flexibility from their employers. Team members have remained productive working from home and want more flexibility to reestablish their work-life balance. As a result, flexible work has taken on a new meaning, too. It’s not just about location anymore; it’s also about flexible working hours.

As working from home becomes the norm, so will more flexibility around when employees work. Some employers have embraced flexible work hours and allow employees to track their time to ensure a 40-hour workweek. Others are abandoning 5-day work weeks altogether in favor of a 4-day workweek.

In the end, employee engagement, retention, and recruitment will depend on the level of flexibility you offer your team. If your industry or revenue stream can’t hack flexible hours, you’ll need to get creative with other flexible benefits. For example, some organizations offer unlimited or required PTO to illustrate your company’s commitment to work-life balance.

While flexibility is in high demand from candidates, work-life balance is a critical concern. Demonstrating how you’ve invested in the well-being of your people during the interview process can be just as valuable as flexible work. Strategic partnerships with employee well-being companies, employee engagement programs, and generous PTO programs are possible ways to highlight your commitment to work-life balance.

Future Challenges for Human Resources Management
Human resources teams faced significant obstacles throughout the pandemic, and the evolving nature of work will continue to pose future challenges. The biggest challenge for HR will be employee experiences and work culture. Prioritizing employees’ wellbeing and company culture will help reduce staff turnover and how you attract top talent.

If your organization’s culture needs a boost, consider implementing an employee well-being program. Pathways at Work is a comprehensive employee mental health program with customizable, live, and on-demand training workshops, resources, and tools.

Tackle contemporary workplace issues head-on with our guide designed to help HR leaders build their mental health wellness program. Follow our 9-step approach to create a customized mental health wellness program to support employees and help your business thrive.


Diversify Your Talent Pipeline through Work-Based Experiences

Large swaths of Americans never have the life-changing opportunity to get their foot in the door of a company. But paid, work-based experience programs for diverse and underrepresented talent can be an effective way for companies to create these opportunities and advance equity.

Work-based experiences are highly beneficial for both prospective employees and businesses. They allow career seekers to gain on-the-job experience, in-demand skills, and a professional network. And they enable employers to proactively build talent pipelines and test potential employees before making a full-time offer.

Work-based experiences can take many forms, including:

formal, federally registered apprenticeship programs;
paid internship programs; and
job-shadow programs with local high schools, community colleges, or community-based organizations.

Why it works
Registered apprenticeships offer robust “learn and earn” opportunities, allowing people to access high-paying jobs without incurring student debt. For the duration of their apprenticeship, which can be years, apprentices earn money and work experience and receive training in the skills employers seek. In most cases, apprenticeships do not require applicants to have four-year degrees or even previous experience. What’s more, 91% of apprentices find full-time employment upon completing their apprenticeship.

Similarly, diversifying internship programs can significantly improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) outcomes in the private sector. Consider Year Up, a yearlong workforce training and internship program that has placed more than 20,000 students—primarily low-income young adults of color—in positions at more than 250 companies. After completing the program, Year Up graduates see earnings dramatically increase and remain 34% higher than peers’ earnings four years post-program.

In addition, every dollar spent on Year Up results in a societal gain of $1.66 in the form of graduate earnings, benefits and taxes, and revenue gains by firms that hire program graduates. Beyond financial returns, companies that host Year Up interns are investing in a pipeline of diverse talent, growing representation throughout the organization. JPMorgan Chase, for example, has hired nearly half of its 1,830 Year Up interns into full-time positions.

The adoption curve
Despite these wins, companies still have a ways to go in expanding and increasing the effectiveness of work-based experience programs. There are persistent racial and gender disparities in apprenticeship: Women and people of color often face discriminatory recruitment practices and lower enrollment rates, and end up in lower-wage occupations. Apprenticeships are also relatively rare in the US: Actively registered apprentices made up less than 1% of the working-age population in 2020, and most were highly concentrated in skilled trade industries.

Why are registered apprenticeships so uncommon? Many companies perceive them as difficult and costly to establish. But those with successful apprenticeship programs can help demystify the process and educate their peers on the benefits.

Internships that make meaningful DEI progress are also rare. The talent acquisition process often relies on college recruiting programs, which perpetuates a bias toward degree holders and limits access for noncollege candidates, working against DEI goals. Even when employers are inclusive of nontraditional candidates, their work-based experience programs are often very small. DEI champions will seek to expand internship programs through partnerships with community-based organizations and historically Black colleges and universities.

Businesses have a powerful opportunity to improve equity and advance DEI goals by rethinking work-based experiences. For some companies, this may mean repurposing an existing internship infrastructure, scaling their efforts to effectively recruit and support diverse interns. Other organizations will need to build programs from scratch, putting DEI at the center from the start.

How Aon, Accenture, and Zurich took action
A number of companies are joining forces to scale work-based experiences nationwide. The Chicago Apprentice Network founded by Aon, Accenture, and Zurich North America is a prime example. Focused on recruiting companies to join the apprenticeship movement, the network gives employers the peer advice and support they need to be successful. Since 2017, the network has grown to more than 50 companies and hosted more than 1,000 apprentices, with plans to scale to 10,000 apprentices by 2030.


Reporting Sexual Harassment: How to Regain Trust in Human Resources

There is no shortage of stories exposing the failures of human resources, especially when it comes to reporting sexual harassment.

Take, for example, the story of Susan Fowler. On the very first day of her job at Uber, she found herself fending off sexual advances from her supervisor. She reported the offense to HR, which claimed it was his first.

Later, she found out that many of her colleagues had made similar complaints about the same individual with no consequences. It was only by going public that she put pressure on Uber to fire her harasser and the others who enabled him.

Then there’s the story of McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook. In response to complaints from employees across the country, Easterbrook established a hotline for employees to call to report sexual harassment, which is rife within the restaurant industry.

However, Easterbrook himself was found to have been having multiple consensual sexual relationships with employees over whom he held power. What is more, he apparently enabled a culture in which advancement depended upon the personal favoritism of HR managers, favoritism which sometimes included sexual relationships.

Why the Distrust?
There are good reasons why many employees, including, according to one survey, 70% of tech workers, do not trust human resources. Many employees feel that going to HR will lead to negative repercussions for them, and none for those whose behavior has aggrieved them. Some deem incidents too minor, which can create a workplace culture that enables harassment and abuse. Others don’t go to HR because of negative previous experiences.

These problems can fester and lead to issues with retention, productivity, and engagement at work. They even make companies less innovative. So, how do you know if employees at your organization trust HR? And if they don’t, what can you do about it?

Sexual Harassment – HR as a Safe Place

Assessing and Building Trust
Some measures will both help you assess whether your employees trust HR and build trust. For example, you might consider having a third party administer an anonymous survey. A survey will give you some indication of whether or not your employees trust HR, but it will also help demonstrate that the company is making a trustworthy HR department a priority. In the survey, consider including requests for feedback on what employees think HR can do to earn their trust.

Foster Relationships with Employees
Building relationships can also help you gauge whether or not they trust HR at the same time as it improves trust. It often pays to reach out proactively to employees before they need to report misbehavior.

Consider having an open-door policy. Make an effort to respond quickly to employees. Making yourself accessible will make employees feel more comfortable coming forward with complaints.

Make the Company More Transparent
In some cases, transparency might mean taking accountability for past HR mistakes. Conducting an audit of complaints and making its result public (while keeping all personal information anonymous) can improve employees’ perceptions of HR. Also, be clear with your employees that HR is not the same as an employee advocate.

Encourage Leadership to Be Trustworthy
One of the biggest factors that affects trust in HR is trust in leadership. The leaders at your company need to demonstrate that they have employees’ concerns at heart.

Efforts on the part of leadership ought to go much deeper than offering perks at work: more substantive efforts, like increasing compensation or ensuring opportunities for professional advancement, make a bigger impact on employees’ perceptions. If the employees trust leadership, they’ll be more likely to trust HR with their complaints.

Sexual Harassment – Addressing Policy and Complaints

Hold People Accountable
Most importantly, HR professionals need to create consequences for misbehavior in the office. On the one hand, sometimes HR professionals are hesitant to reprimand high-performers in the office for their misbehavior or are simply unable to do so because of lack support from leadership.

However, enabling a culture of misbehavior is not only immoral: it will affect retention, productivity, and engagement at work. While confrontations like this might not always be supported by leadership, they are in the company’s best interests. If leadership resists creating consequences for poor behavior, make the case to them that it is in the company’s best interests both for legal reasons and for their own bottom line.


Why aren’t successful people happier?

Two years ago, Yale University psychologist Laurie Santos began to wonder why students seemed so detached from their classmates. Like a good academic, she connected her observations to data — and found it troubling. The National College Health Assessment (pdf) showed that 42 percent of college students reported being too depressed to function well in the previous year. A range of other surveys and indicators have suggested that older people are also having difficulty finding happiness and connection in our 24/7, hyperconnected world.
A specialist in decision making, Santos started a class in the spring 2018 term called Psychology 157: Psychology and the Good Life. She wanted to understand what social science could teach people about the pursuit, attainment, and maintenance of happiness. Building on the work of behavioral economics, the course delved into the unconscious biases and misconceptions that conspire to keep us less than happy — at home, at school, and at work.

To say that Psych 157 was popular would be an understatement. Nearly 1,200 students, about one-fourth of Yale’s overachieving student body, signed up. Invitations for Santos to speak — from media, the World Economic Forum in Davos, and companies — followed. In the fall of 2019, she launched a podcast series, The Happiness Lab, with guests including figure skating champion Michelle Kwan and musician David Byrne. The work and insights Santos discusses — among them that more pay may not make you happier, that good grades in school correlate with low life satisfaction, and that happiness trickles down from CEOs — hold lessons for people who lead organizations, manage people, or simply want to find ways to maintain their equilibrium and peace of mind.

S+B: We’ve never spent more time and money on health, and yet obesity rates continue to rise. Is there a similar dynamic with happiness? It seems as though more is being written and spent than ever on how to lead a fully satisfying life, and yet the data shows we’re becoming progressively less happy.
SANTOS: Unlike diet and exercise, happiness is something we as a species have been obsessed with for a really long time. Aristotle wrote about eudaimonia more than 2,000 years ago. The pursuit of happiness is in the Declaration of Independence. That said, I think more and more people are [now] really focused on what they can do to become happier. And the research certainly shows that we might be going about it the wrong way. Even this notion of self-care…. You can’t go on any women’s website and not see the term self-care. But all the studies suggest happiness isn’t about self-care. It’s about being open to others and being other-oriented in your experiences.

S+B: It’s tempting to blame many of our woes — whether election security or the decline of civil discourse — on the rise of social media. Is social media making us less happy?
SANTOS: There’s relatively little data on it, but I think there are important hints that changes in our happiness are really associated with the rise of social media. Take these increases in depression, increases in anxiety. We don’t have causal evidence, but there seems to be a connection there. The stats on mental health, especially in young people, are really harrowing. The recent National College Health Assessment shows that over 40 percent of college students reported being too depressed to function. Over 60 percent say that they’re overwhelmingly anxious. Another 60 percent say that they’re lonely most of the time. And over 10 percent say that they have seriously considered suicide in the last year. It’s different from when I was in college. It’s different even from what was going on five, 10 years ago.

S+B: And is that carrying over to people who are in their 20s and coming into the workforce?
SANTOS: Yes. We have better systematic data on kids in college, because we can make them fill out surveys. But in a recent YouGov poll, 30 percent of millennials [reported being] lonely most of the time, and about 30 percent…just don’t have a single friend they could call if things come up.

S+B: How to achieve happiness was historically a question for philosophers. How has this evolved from a philosophical question to a question for psychologists and sociologists to tackle?
SANTOS: It’s still a philosophical question. What the social scientists can answer is what makes happy people so happy. The dirty secret in social science is we don’t have great objective metrics for happiness. My objective metric for whether you’re happy is whether you tell me you’re happy on a survey. I can also do a text analysis of your diary and see positive words pop out. Or I can ask your friends and family members. We can figure out what happy people do differently, and then we can do causal studies to make not-so-happy people do those things, and then we can see if they get happier. In some ways, the dire mental health situation makes it easier for social scientists because however we’re going to philosophically define happiness, what [people are] going through is not it. We can nitpick once we get more than 40 percent of people not feeling so depressed.

S+B: Why did you start teaching the course on happiness?
SANTOS: I first taught it in the spring of 2018. The class started in part because of my role on campus as head of Silliman College [within Yale University]. In this role, I live on campus with students. And I really started to see what student life was like up close and personal. Students these days are just much more anxious and much more future-focused than I remember being when I was in college. So I thought, what if I put together everything social science says about how to live a better, happier, and more flourishing life? I assumed it would be like any other new class on campus, where 30 to 40 kids would take it. Professors get these graphs when students are signing up. Most people’s scale on the graph was from zero to 100 [students], because that’s a large size for a Yale class. But my scale went from zero to 1,000. In the end, the class wound up being, at its maximum, around 1,200 students. Just under one out of every four undergraduate students at Yale took it. The class went really viral off campus, too. About two weeks into the class, at every lecture a major international or national press was filming — like The Today Show or CBS News.

S+B: In behavioral economics, experts talk about nudging yourself to recognize biases, and then setting up structures and incentives to get past them. Can we hack happiness in the same way?
SANTOS: It’s a very similar approach in happiness research. One of the successes of behavioral economics was realizing that our intuitions are wrong — about losses, or risk. And the shocking set of findings coming out of the happiness research suggests that our intuitions are just as wrong when it comes to what will make us happy. There are lots of things we’re very motivated to seek out, thinking they are going to make us happier, but they don’t work. At least not the way we think. And we lack motivational capacities to go after the things that really do matter a lot for our happiness.

S+B: What are some of the things that everybody thinks makes them happy that don’t?
SANTOS: A big one is money. People often pick their job based on which salary is going to be the highest. It is true that more money makes you happier if you’re living below the poverty line. Research by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, two Nobel Prize–winning economists, shows that in the U.S., more money will make you happier up until annual income of around $75,000. And then at that point, even doubling or tripling your salary is not going to improve your well-being on many standard well-being metrics.

Another one is material goods. We think a new house or a brand-new car will make us feel good. And it will for a very short period of time. But then we adapt, and get used to it much more quickly than we think. Oh, and here’s one that is very salient for my students. We think [good] grades will make us happier. It turns out there is a correlation between high school grades and well-being, but it’s a negative correlation. That is, the kids who get the best grades are the most miserable. They also have the lowest levels of self-esteem and the lowest levels of optimism.

S+B: So what does make us happy that we neglect?
SANTOS: One big thing we neglect is the importance of free time. There’s a lot of research on what scientists call time affluence. Work by Ashley Whillans, a professor at Harvard Business School, shows that the more we give up money to get time, the happier we are. So if you pay people to do your laundry or use your money in other ways to get more free time, that will make you happier. The problem is that we often give up time to get money, so we get it backwards.

Another big predictor of happiness is how much time you spend with other people and how much time you spend with the people you care about. There’s also lots of work showing that we’re happier when we’re being other-oriented — caring about others more than ourselves. People who give more to charity [and] people who spend more time volunteering tend to be happier than people who don’t. [This result is controlled for income.]

S+B: The theme of your podcast is that our brains lie to us about what it takes to be happy. Is it one big lie? Or is it a series of interrelated lies?
SANTOS: I think it’s a series of interrelated lies. Just like when we think of our cognitive biases, it’s not just one bias. We have all of these simple ways that our minds lead us astray when it comes to predicting what will make us happy. One is this idea that we forget how much we adapt to things. Daniel Gilbert, a professor at Harvard, calls it immune neglect. We forget that we have this psychological immune system that’s going to protect us when things go wrong. Bad things will happen, but we’re going to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps. And too often we design our lives to protect ourselves from facing any tough situations. I’m going to stay in this horrible marriage because divorce would be too hard. Or I’m going to stay in this awful job because going two years without a salary might be really awful for me. We make decisions not realizing that we’re much more resilient than we think we are.

S+B: What are some of the incentives that can push us into happiness-inducing behaviors?
SANTOS: We don’t have motivational mechanisms to seek out social connections. I see this in my students. I remember the dining hall being the loudest place on campus [when I was in school]. Now, students sit in the dining hall with these big Bose headphones on, checking their phones. That person who has the headphones on could strike up a conversation with a stranger in the dining hall, but instead they put their headphones on and sit by themselves. In the podcast, we talk about this funny study by Nick Epley, who’s a professor at the University of Chicago business school, where he forces commuters to talk to the people next to them. People predict it’s going to be awkward and really awful. But it turns out they feel much more positively than they predict. And that result holds for introverts too.

S+B: Can you tell me a little about the difference between happiness and mindfulness, which is all the rage everywhere, and particularly in the workplace?
SANTOS: The research suggests that mindfulness is a contributor to happiness. And that the act of “mind wandering” contributes to a lack of happiness. Dan Gilbert and Matt Killingsworth did this study where they ping people at random times of day and ask, “What are you thinking about? How are you feeling?” And they find that people are not thinking about what they’re doing just under half the time. That’s a scary result, because whenever your mind is wandering, you don’t feel as good as you would feel if you were paying attention to the present moment.

S+B: If I’m going to be happier, is working on mindfulness a necessary first step?
SANTOS: Necessary is a strong word. There are lots of paths. But definitely one path to happiness is through being more mindful and being more aware. It’s no secret that Buddhist monks and other people who spend thousands and thousands of hours practicing mindfulness have a certain calm joy about them. Research by Hedy Kober, a professor at Yale, shows that meditation helps, even for novices. She finds that even the first couple of times you meditate, you decrease activity in the regions of your brain that wander.

S+B: Yale students have most likely already won the genetic and socioeconomic lottery. They have their whole lives ahead of them, and endless opportunities. What’s the problem?
SANTOS: They did what 94 percent of the people who applied to Yale couldn’t do — they got in, right? And they’re still kind of miserable, much more miserable than I expected them to be. I think this is because my students often have to shut off all of those strategies that build up happiness — taking time for social connection, taking time off, taking breaks, being mindful — to get into Yale. And they really have to prioritize the one thing that we know is negatively correlated with happiness: grades. Accomplishment doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness in the way we think. In my podcast, I interview Clay Cockrell, a therapist for people who are worth more than $50 million. And he says all his clients are miserable. One of the reasons they’re miserable is they feel really guilty. They’re like, “I’m super, super rich, and I’m still unhappy. How do I not feel fulfilled?”

S+B: Companies in recent years have invested in cultures aimed at making people happier. They encourage people to bring their whole self to work. At large companies, serenity rooms and yoga classes are becoming standard. Is it the responsibility of companies to make sure employees are happy at work? Is that a good business idea?
SANTOS: Oftentimes people think there is some tension between making workers happy versus having workers who achieve the bottom line. But pretty much all the studies of happiness suggest that happy people perform better. They’re more creative. They’re more willing to put in time at work. Companies often think the only way to get people to work harder is to pay them more. But there are so many other ways to motivate people, like having people feel that they’re in it together, or giving them a job that has meaning, or even expressing gratitude to workers. A study by Adam Grant of Wharton Business School showed that call center workers double their rate of calls after a supervisor comes in and expresses gratitude for what they’re doing.

S+B: You said having people feel that they are in this together is an important factor. At a company, what you’re generally doing together is trying to produce higher sales, or profits.
SANTOS: That is just one metric, and it might be a metric that resonates with certain people, but not everyone. Making money for some anonymous stockholders isn’t a motivation that resonates with our internal psychology that well. So there might be better ways to motivate people. There’s work by Marty Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues on what’s called character strengths — engaging in activities that feel good to you. Do you care about learning? Do you care about helping people? Research suggests that people are happiest at their job and perform best when they’re thinking about their job in terms of maximizing their strengths. Take someone whose job it is to, say, clean toilets. Doesn’t sound all that fun. But when janitors reframe their job to fit with their strengths, they enjoy it more. So if you’re a janitor, say, in a hospital, and you think “every toilet I clean is going to help a kid with cancer,” now all of a sudden you not only love the job, but you perform it better. If you work at a pharmaceutical company, you can focus on selling more drugs this quarter, or you can focus on the fact that you’re producing drugs that are going to help people with horrible diseases. Those kinds of motivations are often much more powerful than paying somebody a couple extra hundred dollars a week.

S+B: So spending time with people you like, being able to disconnect, and feeling mastery over your time all contribute to happiness. Whether you run a cash register at Walmart or are the CEO, there is immense pressure to be always on and connected. And feeling like you’re always behind or not being responsive at work can make you tense. How can we resolve this tension?
SANTOS: The tension comes from the fact that we think we want to be on all the time. Businesses can set up norms [such that] taking time off, relaxing, and mindfulness are part of the company culture. Or businesses can set up the norm that if you’re not on your email at 9 p.m. on a Sunday, something’s wrong. What that second model misses is the fact that lots of research suggests that you’re actually going to perform better if you can give yourself some time off. The research really shows that time famine works a lot like hunger famine, where you’re just triaging everything. So if you provide more time affluence in the workplace, you’ll get more creativity and higher performance, especially in rich intellectual jobs, where people have a little bit more freedom.

The kids who get the best grades are the most miserable. They also have the lowest levels of self-esteem and the lowest levels of optimism.”

One of the things we talk a lot about in the podcast are the simple things leaders can do to create a better workplace culture. Sigal Barsade, a professor at Wharton, works on what she calls affective spirals. The idea is that we all have someone in our workplace who is kind of negative, and whenever you’re around that person, the mood of the whole team goes down. But Barsade says that we forget that we’re sometimes that person. If we come in pissed off because we hit traffic that morning, we’re going to bring that to our team without realizing it. The flip side is we can be the voice of calm or the moment of cheer in our workplace, too. And Barsade shows that leaders have an especially powerful role to play, because everyone’s paying attention to the boss. So if a leader is able to bring good emotional feeling to the team, then all of a sudden, the team’s doing better.

S+B: For much of history, the point of work was to earn wages that enabled you to cover expenses and support a family. People didn’t believe that work was intended to make them feel that they were being self-actuating at all times. So why worry so much about happiness at the factory or office?
SANTOS: Another funny misconception we have is that we think we’re a lot happier in leisure than at work. But with many jobs, work gives you a certain kind of flow, and you actually enjoy it more than watching TV and other kinds of leisure. There are studies showing that when you’re at work, you’re doing something interesting, and you say you feel good. But when I ask how you feel when you’re at home at leisure, you might be bored scrolling through Netflix and feeling kind of apathetic.

S+B: Businesspeople love metrics. When we’re talking about measuring happiness, what metrics can we use?
SANTOS: There are two standard ways to measure it. One is your cognitive well-being, which is your life satisfaction. All things considered, how do you think your life is going? And then there’s the question of how you feel in your life, which is whether you feel a lot of positive emotions. Do you laugh a lot? Do you smile a lot? Do you cry a lot? All of these measures are subjective, but I think even people who are really metric-oriented get that it has to be subjective. People know what it feels like when things are going well.

S+B: Companies often conduct surveys asking if people are challenged and engaged. If you were devising that survey to see if employees were happy at work, what are some of the non-obvious questions that you would be asking?
SANTOS: Are you satisfied at your work? How satisfied overall are you with your life on a scale of one to five? There are standard, available surveys that employers can use for these kinds of things, most of which are really well validated. There’s one we use in my class called PERMA, which gets at different facets of well-being: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement.

S+B: In many workplaces, collective effort is organized around achieving a goal, with rewards, incentives, and consequences. Is setting goals, whether they’re individual or collective, and then striving to meet them, something that should contribute to people’s happiness?
SANTOS: There’s lots of research suggesting that goal setting helps you perform better. To the extent that those goals are aligned with what makes you happy, then all the better. I think sometimes when people think about goal setting, they really want to look toward the positive, especially in the business world. But the research shows that effective goal setting requires thinking about the obstacles to your goal too. People who have the goal of losing weight and fantasize the most about how awesome life is going to be when they lose weight — they actually lose the least weight. So we need to ground our positivity in the gritty reality.

S+B: You spoke at the World Economic Forum last January. What were your impressions?
SANTOS: It was surreal. We had a line of 100 people trying to get into our happiness talk who couldn’t get in because we were in a small room. It was surprising to me that people who are world leaders, who have to worry about Fortune 500 companies, wanted to get into a session on what you can do to be happier. There were also lots of conversations about climate change, the environment, and what we’re doing wrong. I think it was cool to see that the Davos folks are recognizing some of the cracks in what we’re doing. That we might be doing it wrong. We can still maximize shareholder value and give people lives that they’re happy with. But we’re often going about it the wrong way.

S+B: In organizations, does happiness trickle down or flow up?
SANTOS: There is lots of data that [shows that] it trickles down really well. People look to the leader to figure out how things are going. Should I feel anxious, or should I feel happy about this development? They also look to the leader for norms. Is the norm at our company that we take time off, or is the norm that we work ourselves to death? There are different ways that companies can promote these kinds of norms and practices. They can have one talk at the beginning of the year, and then the norm is never spoken of again. Or a norm can be infused through all of a company’s business practices, through all their spaces, through all their messaging. Employees can tell the difference. They know if you’re giving lip service to a healthy norm — say, time affluence — but they’re really just supposed to work themselves to the bone. People can tell if it’s really a principle that’s held dear in a company.

S+B: Are you happy?
SANTOS: Yeah. I’m pretty happy. And I’m much happier since doing this class, for two reasons, I think. One is that sharing the research on happiness has given me real meaning in life and a kind of purpose that I didn’t expect. The second thing is I have to practice what I preach because it will just be embarrassing, and my students will call me out on it, if I’m not doing what I’m telling them to do. Everybody can improve their well-being if they do the right things, but it requires changing your behavior. You can’t go to the gym once and think, “all right, I’m done. I’m fit now forever.” So many of the happiness practices — taking time to be mindful, taking time for gratitude, talking to people — they work the same way. You’ve just got to do those over and over.


What it means to be a Human leader

Talk to some CEOs, and it becomes clear that lockdowns imposed by COVID-19 tore down barriers between them and their workforce. One leader I know was taken aback by the response he got for a casual reference to “all 8,000 of us” in an all-hands Zoom call. Isolated staff clung to what they saw as a significant moment of togetherness, and emailed him their heartfelt thanks.


Strengthening the foundations of trust in the digital age
by Stephanie Hyde and Blair Sheppard
Other CEOs acknowledge the fresh divides that were erected and still need to be navigated. In an interview, Amanda Blanc, CEO of London-based insurance and savings group Aviva, highlighted the challenge of remote leadership, including presenting over “video walls.” “If you were an introvert, it would be a very difficult thing to do,” she told the Sunday Times of London.

The ambition to preserve the status quo, though, drove some CEOs to behave as normal, including Yves Perrier of French asset manager Amundi, who went to his Paris office every day of lockdown. I suspect it was just as comforting for him as it was intended to be for his staff. But others took this idea to extreme lengths, such as a CEO who filmed his Christmas message last year standing at a lectern in an empty lecture hall.

Going into the pandemic, I was focused on the leaders that I described in my recent book, The Nine Types of Leader. This taxonomy was distilled from encounters with CEOs during my 20 years in financial journalism. In that time, I had examined up close the all-powerful Alpha, growling into his mobile phone or summoning lieutenants to join him at the opera; the passionate Lover, throwing herself into an advertising pitch or leading a high-energy workout; the fearless Fixer, dispatching staff and pleading for clemency from creditors; and the others. But the one that stands out as lockdowns subside and economies start opening up in many markets is the Human.

By Human, I mean someone with a large dose of emotional intelligence. Humans listen carefully, admit mistakes, communicate authentically, and take seriously their duty of care to colleagues and other stakeholders. They also remain self-aware and can justify their own existence. Importantly, they understand the value of their people, not just for their outputs but for their links with the outside world as powerful advocates, vital mood takers, and, sometimes, harsh critics.

Human leaders naturally bring their whole selves to work. For them, it did not take a pandemic to forge intimacy with their staff. They had already thought about how the human traits of fairness, decency, and fun should be applied to the workplace, while also maintaining respect and knowing where the buck stops. In a time of great uncertainty, these kinds of leaders can provide a lesson for the command-and-control Alphas or the Fixers who think they have all the answers.

Leaders who find this leadership style difficult might ask how to become more Human. I identify three qualities to bear in mind: valuing loyalty, appreciating listening, and understanding that less is more.

Loyalty is the invisible bond that ties colleagues together in a modern corporation. It is especially valuable when members of a team are far apart. How can a leader inspire loyalty? Kindness, flexibility, and teamwork are good starts. When loyalty begins at the top, it is embedded in the corporate culture.

Human leaders naturally bring their whole selves to work. For them, it did not take a pandemic to forge intimacy with their staff.

Clare Gilmartin, until recently the chief executive of European rail ticketing app Trainline, recalls firsthand experience of the power of loyalty when she was given a little extra leeway to juggle her professional and home life earlier in her career. Returning to work at eBay after having her first two children, she needed time to readjust. That meant dropping back to a four-day week for six months. Her employer understood when she asked for flexibility.

“We need to encourage people to ask for more flexibility; not forever, just for a certain phase,” Gilmartin said in an interview. “Boy, do I think it pays off. If you can help women and men manage through challenging points in their career, they will be super-loyal and thrive thereafter.”

Listening should be an everyday task. Leaders discover what is on their staff’s mind only by listening, whether that is a set-piece exercise or on an ongoing basis. Charlie Jacobs, the senior partner at London-based law firm Linklaters since 2016, tries to do this by putting himself in places where he can have informal conversations. Back when business travel was commonplace, whenever he arrived in one of Linklaters’ 30 offices around the world, he headed to the gym, not the boardroom, to find out what was going on. Jacobs was no fan of after-hours drinks and preferred a pre-work spinning class that allowed him to mingle with colleagues from all levels while working up a sweat. “I get a different cross-section of people coming, we get a shake or a fruit juice afterwards, and they can see a more down-to-earth side to the senior partner,” he told me.

In her time at Engie, a French energy firm, Isabelle Kocher widely publicized the fact that part of her management style was to consult with her 155,000 staff. She did this through a survey as she attempted to reconfigure the corporation for a low-carbon future. This could have been a box-ticking exercise, but it was backed by a determination to lower the center of gravity of the organization and draw in new thinking, too. “I don’t believe in leaders who have the wisdom alone to define [a strategy],” Kocher said in an interview. “The name of the game is to provoke the fact that everybody feels in charge of the emergence of this vision.”

But this is also something of a cautionary tale. Kocher did win over the staff, but the same could not be said of Engie’s directors—they terminated her mandate in February 2020. Humans still have to deliver results and keep senior colleagues on board.

Less is more is the third concept. Sporadic experimentation with less leadership—such as the leaderless Swedish consulting firm Crisp DNA—is a reminder that the CEO role is potentially a precarious one. Crisp has just over 30 staff and no tangible product, so the challenge was not so complex for that company. But it is worth asking if the lean approach for larger concerns could make a difference in the boardroom. It comes down to where the leader adds value.

Human leaders are focused on making the best use of their time and keeping organizations focused on their mission. They act as executive sponsors to pluck ideas from within their organization and ensure that promising projects make headway. In order to do so, they need to cut through the complexity that builds up in organizational structures.

Nick Pearson eloquently explained optimization to me and described what his role really is. The chief executive of Parkrun oversees an organization that in normal times puts on a free 5K timed run every Saturday morning for 350,000 runners in 22 countries. It has stayed small at the center, with just 43 permanent staff members.

“[I have to] make sure we are absolutely doing the maximum we can with the minimum level of resource and investment,” Pearson said. “That is how we will be sustainable for ten and 20 years. We won’t be sustainable if we build a model that needs to double in size every two-and-a-half years like our participation is [doing], because our costs will spiral and spiral.”

At Haier, the Chinese home appliances brand, chairman Zhang Ruimin was always focused on returning the business to its entrepreneurial roots. After thinning the middle-management layer in 2012, he created 2,000 self-managed teams that bid internally for customer orders and external investment. It’s become a classic business school case study.

“I believe hierarchical companies will eventually die off, whereas networked organizations—which are self-organized, not organized by others—will sustain,” he told me in an interview.

Human leaders long ago emerged from the corner offices that maintained an artificial barrier between them and their workers. COVID-19 provided a new impulse to break down the divides even as it enforced greater separation. Social media and social platforms have also played a role. The Human leader recognizes that the modern corporation is more porous than ever, operating today in the Glassdoor era in which internal gripes and even internal praise are easily externalized for everyone to see. Now is the time for all other leaders to catch up to the Humans.


Should You Hire a New Employee or an Independent Contractor for Short Term Projects?

Starting a new business puts you in a position where you need help externally. You require the services of a contractor, especially when starting a small business. However, businesses grow fast, and when you start thinking of hiring to help out with the company. This article explores whether you should hire an independent contractor or an employee for short-term projects.

Paying Employees vs Independent Contractors: Paystubs And More
A business owner hires a paid employee to execute a specific task within the firm. An employee works under instructions from seniors – a manager within the company, for example. An employer hires an employee if only they prove that their interests and expertise suit the company.

As a business owner, hiring an employee gives you total control. You direct how they work during working hours and even train them to meet the company’s expectations. Employer control comes with a package of loyalty from an employee – they can only work for you.

You also have more freedom in assigning jobs to the employee. Additionally, you can fire the employee with no attachments to a paying contract. However, the government –federal and state – governs employees’ welfare regarding wages and general working conditions.

As an employer, you must be in full compliance with payroll tax regulations. Some of the stipulations under these regulations include paying half of your employee’s Social Security and medical insurance. You get the other half from the employee’s wages.

Pay stubs make it easy to maneuver all tax hurdles. A paystub generator keeps all tax records from an employer to an employee. Most employees want to understand deductions, withholding, and gross wages they earn. In turn, it helps them when applying for a loan or other financial services that require a good grasp of their income.

For insurance, a business pays for unemployment and employee compensation insurance.

Independent Contractor
An independent contractor works independently and executes particular tasks given by the company. They work on a contractual basis, either on a long-term or short-term basis. But, they are not on the business’s payroll, and they have the freedom to work for several firms simultaneously.

Hiring an independent contractor gives your business flexibility and saves you money. You only hire a contractor when the situation demands so, unlike with permanent employees. You also don’t have to pay extras like medical and insurance cover like hiring an employee. You get a workforce temporarily, which is cost-effective.

A contractor helps you maneuver market competition because you hire the best to keep your company competitive. Liability is also deficient when working with an independent contractor, unlike with hiring an employee. Avenues exposing a business to liabilities do not exist because you do not pay for insurance covers. You don’t also pay a minimum wage, wrongful termination, or discrimination while at work.

Further, there is more efficiency at work because a contractor has specialized skills to deliver to the maximum.

On the flip side, an employer has no control over a contractor. They cannot dictate how a job is done. An employer only specifies the position and a deadline; the rest is the contractor’s execution.

Secondly, they can work for multiple firms while still working for you. And they provide their work tools.

In case of injuries sustained while on the job; contract workers need to have their own insurance. It opens a legal liability since a contract worker can sue their employer for compensation for injuries sustained at work.

Growing your business requires the support of employees and contractors. From the above findings, having an employee is more costly and has more disadvantages. Hiring an independent contractor is a sound choice for handling a short-term project because there are minimal challenges.


Why Do We Call It Labor Anyway?

It’s time to stop using the word “Labor” when we talk about jobs. Government organizations like the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and every other “Labor” report we read is really titled incorrectly. We no longer live in a world of “management” and “labor” (leftover from the industrial age). Every worker is now a “technology-enabled service worker” and most of us are both labor and management at once.

So rather than think about the workforce as a “labor market” (ocean of “laborers” looking for work), we should think about it as a constantly changing marketplace of people continuously reinventing themselves as automation and technology changes work. And the trend is definitely up: better jobs, better work, and now better working conditions.

Let’s look at the numbers. I’ve been studying the BLS data for almost 20 years and there’s one obvious trend. While the number of government workers in the economy never seems to change, there is a massive trend away from manufacturing work toward jobs in healthcare, education, professional services, and hospitality. These jobs, which some consider “essential,” are what I call “technology-enabled services.” And every company, regardless of what you do, is feeling more like a professional services company every day.

What is a “service job?” It’s not necessarily a job in the consulting industry: it’s a job where your human skills (listening, communicating, helping, organizing, managing) are essential to the work. And this is just about every high-wage job in the country. The BLS and other statistics tend to group jobs into “service industries,” but they’re really missing the point. Every job, regardless of industry, is now becoming a service job.

Economists, consulting firms, and data companies have now proven this fact. McKinsey, the World Economic Forum, and our work with EMSI and show that roughly 90% of the jobs (by number) are no longer routine. Yes, they may require operational skills (a mechanic, repair person, or oil service worker needs lots of technical skills), but it’s human judgment that adds value.

Many of the “Future of Work” studies (there are hundreds of them) show that automation is not eliminating the more routine jobs, it is making them more “human” and actually increasing their value. So while you may think robots are taking jobs away, they’re really doing us all a big favor. Yes, you have to educate yourself and keep up to date to maintain your value, but learning is just a part of having a career.

(Personally, I think companies like McKinsey like to scare their clients about the impact of automation, writing articles like “millions of people have to change careers or upgrade your skills.”) This has been going on for decades.

Today, despite the fact that there are 8.4 million people unemployed, the workforce is transforming faster than I have ever seen. Every CHRO and business leader I talk with is creating new training programs, building capability academies, and developing new skills models to figure out how to hire, train, and move people into new roles. In fact, I think the new role of “skills and job architect” is one of the hottest jobs in business!

Let me cite some examples.

We have three large clients who are telecommunications companies. Each is grappling with the massive disruption of 5G, digital content businesses, and the need to add creativity and “the creator economy” to their companies. How are they doing this? One of them has created a whole new set of “architect” jobs to help design and consult with customers about 5G business models. Telcos are among the most adaptable companies in the world, and they help people reinvent themselves every day.

Another of our clients is a well-known software company that leads the market for architectural, engineering, and manufacturing software. They see their industry consolidating into an integrated suite of tools, with horizontal business models crossing the traditional industry groups. To deal with this they are pushing every employee to learn about the adjacent technologies in their industry, and they’re reorganizing the software teams into more integrated groups. What is this? It’s a new “service offering” they want to provide, so they’re teaching employees how to crawl up the value curve.

I just talked with an HR executive for Allstate, one of the oldest and most successful insurance companies in the world. Every part of their business is being automated (claims agents have been replaced by iPhones and AI analyzing photos). Are they laying people off? Not at all – they’ve been training their teams for more than 90 years, and they encourage workers to try new positions and learn new skills as often as they’d like.

Think about healthcare workers and teachers. Are they “labor?” Of course not: these are some of the most complex, human-centered jobs in the world, and they are all “tech-enabled” too.

What about software or other types of engineers? Since they do routine work, are they also just “labor?” Of course not. Design and engineering are among the most “tech-enabled service jobs” I can imagine. Software engineers, designers, and all forms of mechanical, civil, chemical, and bio-engineers are among the most creative jobs in the world.

Jobs Become More Hybrid

We also know that jobs keep getting more complex over time, ultimately become more “Hybrid.”

I often show people an interesting study that plots wages against inflation over time. This group of researchers looked at “highly technical jobs” vs. “non-technical jobs” and grouped the O*Net jobs into four types: pure technology and science, pure social and management, and those that combined both. As you can see, technology-only workers tend to fall behind over time – it’s the “tech-enabled services” that thrive.

Young people understand this well. They don’t want more “technical skills” to succeed. This study, which was done in Australia, shows that the younger you are, the more likely you are to want more “professional and social skills” to succeed. And this makes sense. Young people learn about tech in high school: actually working with other people and understanding how business works is where the action is.

Implications Of This Trend

There is a myriad of studies, articles, and experts trying to redefine work and jobs. And many of them talk about “labor shortages” and “automation reducing jobs” for many people.

Let me suggest that this is limited thinking. Every job, no matter how routine it may be, becomes more “service-oriented” over time. The engineer who designs code for websites becomes more consultative and creative as his or her skills increase. The teacher who graduates from school becomes more expert and inspirational over the years. And even the hourly worker who serves meals or cares for sick patients becomes more supportive and human as their work becomes automated.

Look at the mapping that McKinsey did back in 2018. They, like many other consultants, have clearly shown that the world of work is moving “up and to the right.” Your job as a business leader, HR professional, or worker is to help make this transition happen.

People Adapt Much Faster Than You Think

Every month when the jobs report comes out there seems to be a worry about “who is being left behind.” My research shows that people are adapting much faster than you may think. Consider the fact that the US unemployment rate has dropped faster than anyone ever imagined. Not how steep the “return to employment” has been during the pandemic: this is the fastest growth we have ever seen. And this is not just “job growth” – it’s new jobs coupled with people changing roles, changing careers, and moving into new positions.

Historically if you look at past recessions (and yes I know this one was more of a public health crisis than a typical recession), the rebound is setting a record. And this is not because “labor” is finding a job, it’s because “people” are moving into new careers.

We’ve done many studies to prove that “developing people” is often faster and less expensive than “hiring people” as jobs change. Why? Because in a well-run company, people reinvent themselves readily. If we stop thinking about people as “replaceable parts” that we “hire,” we’ll be amazed at how adaptable our workforce can be.


The Great Resignation: How Companies Can Cope With The Mass Exodus

American companies are at a serious crossroads right now because of an unexpected consequence of COVID-19 known as the “Great Resignation.”

CNBC reported earlier this summer that four million people had quit their jobs. This would be shocking under normal circumstances, yet these people quit stable jobs in the middle of a global pandemic.

The majority of these resignations occurred in retail, professional services, transportation, warehousing, and utilities. And in terms of geography, workers were more likely to quit in the Southern, Midwestern, or Western regions of the United States.

The Great Resignation: Is It Real and What’s Next?

What caused this to happen? Analysts say it’s been in the works for years, and COVID-19 simply gave dissatisfied workers a moment to reflect on their situations.

People have reprioritized their lives as a result of COVID-19, putting more of their time and effort into personal experiences and family time.

Other employees took advantage of the quarantine to leave low-wage jobs or companies they believed were taking advantage of them. Remote work has also flourished over the past two years.

Employers are now panicking about how to bring these people back, or at the very least, find suitable replacements. This blog will cover some of the changes companies should make to survive the “Great Resignation.”

Change How You Treat Employees
Data from a 2019 survey of 11 million workers narrowed down three reasons for the “Great Resignation,” each related to how companies treated their employees and their work environment.

A lack of workplace communication frustrated enough employees to consider leaving their position. They seek more transparency in a new job, as well as a sense of belonging.

Other respondents said they were concerned about the manager-employee relationship. Specifically, they said managers needed to acknowledge their work more and serve as reliable intermediaries between them and the organization.

Many frustrated employees also said they were leaving toxic environments that held them and the company back from reaching its full potential. They wanted company leadership to address the issues and offer more flexibility with remote or hybrid options.

Morale Does Matter— And It’s Your Responsibility
A large share of resignations this year came from workers on edge in their toxic workplaces or continually feeling burnt out without any relief. Working from home during the quarantine gave them time to think about what they really wanted in their career.

What is a toxic workplace exactly? It’s a company that puts money or success over the needs of its employees. Profits are important in business but nothing is sustainable if employees aren’t in a healthy mind frame.

Here are some common signs of a toxic workplace:

● Employees are overworked and underpaid
● Management rules with fear and they aren’t concerned with staff well-being
● Verbal abuse or sexual harassment in the office
● Employees aren’t recognized for good work and made to feel guilty for not taking on new projects
● Zero accountability companywide

Healthy work environments and employee morale start at the top. It’s important for company leadership to establish and maintain a positive culture for everyone.

Otherwise, employees will be miserable, productivity will plummet, and there will be high turnover rates.

Stay Competitive With Salaries & Benefits
Although money isn’t the primary factor behind the “Great Resignation,” enhancing salary and benefits could entice some employees back.

Workers now have more options and power in their job searches than ever before. There is a surplus of talent. If you want to recruit the best, you’ll need to be willing to pay for them.

In fact, a labor market survey discovered the lowest wage workers without a college degree are willing to accept in 2021 is $61,483. That’s a $10,000 increase from the year before.

Prospective employees are also thinking more about their health benefits after living nearly two years with COVID-19. They want better preventative care, enhanced relationships with primary care providers, and mental health coverage.

Their focus is on preventing disease and ensuring that insurance plans will cover any serious illnesses that do emerge.

Mental health services are at the center of this trend. Around 60% of employees reported feeling more stress and anxiety during the pandemic, and therapy appointments have skyrocketed in 2021.

Rethinking Business As Usual
The “Great Resignation” is not hitting every industry or business the same, but those who want to weather the storm will need to evaluate how they treat employees and what kind of work culture they want to promote.

They can start by taking an “employee-centric” approach to decision-making and taking full responsibility for employee morale.

And while salary shouldn’t be the only reason someone takes a job, there is a growing expectation among younger workers for higher salaries and better healthcare benefits.


Why Cross-Cultural Communication Is Crucial In The Workplace

Like most countries around the world, the U.S. is a proverbial melting pot of cultures that we encounter almost everywhere. Including at work. The only real response is to embrace it, as cross-cultural communication can and does drive workplace success.

The U.S. already is home to thriving communities from various cultures. According to figures from 2018, more than 44 million people in the U.S. were born in other countries. So, even if there isn’t much cultural diversity in your workplace yet, things aren’t likely to stay that way for long.

Cultural diversity can expose us to aspects of life that we would never have considered, even in our wildest dreams. It also can have significant benefits for your company.

Attract And Retain Top Talent
You can’t have cross-cultural communication without people, and when it comes to the workplace, you want the best people for the job. Your company can attract and retain top talent when drawing from a multicultural pool. A 2020 Glassdoor survey found that 76% of job seekers and employees think of diversity as an important factor when considering job offers, potential employers, or companies.

You can widen the pool of potential employees by including diversity in the recruitment process in a meaningful way. Doing this immediately sets your company apart from many others for candidates based locally, or in other parts of the country or world. A global-minded business not only will attract ambitious, talented employees, it will retain them—and this means lowering the costs of employee turnover.

Inspire Innovation
Our individual worldviews are shaped partly by our cultures, which can be limiting if everyone on the team shares roughly the same perspectives. The cross-cultural communication that happens in diverse teams can introduce different points of view. It also provides a truly eclectic mix of professional and personal experience.

This can inspire creativity and innovation in ways that would not have been possible in a monocultural workspace.

One global brand that can attest to the power of multiculturalism in meeting customer needs, problem-solving, and reaching new audiences is L’Oréal. The cosmetics company has enjoyed tremendous success in emerging markets, thanks to its culturally diverse product development teams.

Improve Marketing
Cross-cultural communication as a driver of workplace success is not limited to product development. The local market knowledge and cross-cultural understanding within a diverse team can lead to the creation of marketing strategies and materials that are effective while being sensitive to local cultures.

If your company needs to translate the website, brochures, and other material into another language, native speakers of that language should tackle the task. Native speakers understand nuances and sensitivities that non-native speakers might be unaware of.

Cross-cultural sensitivities aren’t limited to website, advertising, and brochure copy. The designs and other imagery your company uses in its marketing materials can benefit from communication across cultures too.

Imagery and design that works in one context may be offensive in another. In worst-case scenarios, culturally insensitive advertising could seriously damage your brand. Meaningful cross-cultural communication and diversity in the workplace can help your company avoid those blunders.

Challenges Call For Cultural Intelligence
Cross-cultural communication in the workplace offers the above and other benefits. But it’s not without its challenges. One of those challenges is the differences in the way we communicate—and accents and languages are only part of it.

What we think of as ‘normal’ is largely a product of our cultural conditioning. Things are ‘normal’ because they’re familiar to us. When we encounter something that doesn’t fit into our idea of ‘normal’, we’re sometimes tempted to immediately judge it as something ‘wrong’. We make an assumption before we consider whether there’s a cultural explanation for the behavior.

Developing cultural intelligence and good verbal and non-verbal cross-cultural communication skills is essential for success in a diverse workplace.

Non-Verbal Communication
Most people are aware that people from other countries and cultures may speak different languages. We readily accept that there are differences in language, and we make allowances for that. What some of us might not be aware of is that there also are differences in non-verbal communication. It comes as a surprise to some people to learn that body language is not universal.

Everything from facial expressions to eye contact, and from touching someone to gesticulating with your hands, can mean different things in different cultures.

For example, in European and European-derived cultures, it’s appropriate for businesspeople to shake hands. While in Japan, bowing is the preferred greeting. American job seekers are taught that making eye contact during interviews is respectful. To Ghanaians, however, making extended eye contact in that context is considered disrespectful and aggressive.

Consider implementing sensitivity training if you have a culturally diverse team in which non-verbal communication needs improvement.

Conflict Resolution In Culturally Diverse Workplaces
Given some of the challenges of diversity in the workplace, conflict is bound to arise sooner or later. Especially when employees are under pressure, busy schedules take their toll, and the demands of work pile up. Whether long-simmering cultural tensions get stirred up or a well-meant gesture gets misinterpreted, disagreements are par for the course.

Employees may also have disagreements regarding workplace decisions, tasks, or processes—and it’s important to understand that your employees don’t necessarily see those disagreements as personal attacks. Furthermore, people usually are happy to resolve those disagreements in rational ways. If HR or management needs to intervene, they must do so in culturally sensitive ways.

Tips For Cross-Cultural Communication
The following tips for good communication in the workplace can be effective in culturally diverse contexts.

Be clear in your message—Do not leave things to chance, inference, implication, or interpretation. State your message clearly so that there’s no chance of misunderstandings.
Clearly definite expectations—Ensure your team knows exactly what’s expected of them to avoid miscommunication.
Listen carefully—Give your employees undivided attention when they share feedback with you.
Ask questions—Ask employees questions and encourage them to do the same with you and with one another. Some workers might be reluctant to express their views if they’re not expressly asked to do so.
Give positive feedback—Provide your employees with positive feedback to reinforce your valuing of their diversity.
The Way Forward
Diversity and cross-cultural communication are the way forward for businesses in the U.S. and around the world. Use this advice to help you navigate the topic, increase retention, and boost workplace satisfaction.


Fruitful Experiments in the Culture Lab

The word “laboratory” may suggest images of beakers and pipettes, but a lab is any place that provides the opportunity to experiment, observe, and practice. For companies focused on redefining their culture, one way to effectively change behavior is to create a “culture lab.”

Culture labs are an Agile way of ensuring a new corporate culture takes hold while also getting good business results. Rather than relying on executives to simply pitch the case for change, culture labs generate excitement among staff by showing the positive results that flow from it.

Redefining culture must happen first. This includes describing the organization’s purpose, values, and desired behaviors. Too often companies stop here, mistakenly believing that simply communicating that new culture will be enough. In fact, more work is required before any organization will see a true change in the way its people work.

Culture labs help companies take that next step. After a company has identified the culture it wants to cultivate, executives identify business issues that can be solved only with new behavior. They prioritize a few of these problems and entrust each to a cross-functional team. Those teams then break the tasks into modules and work on them in short cycles known as sprints.

The leadership team ensures these teams work in a safe “bubble,” free from other business distractions, and removes impediments along the way. This helps leaders understand what will need to change for the new behavior to spread throughout the company. They then celebrate and communicate these teams’ successes, generating the energy needed to push the cultural change throughout the organization.

Testing media mix
Recently, a consumer products company found itself contemplating a panoply of media opportunities ranging from new online platforms to fresh creative content and different ways of targeting audiences. Unsure which step to take first and traditionally reliant on outside media agencies and a backward-looking media-buying model, management decided that the best way to figure out the right mix was to start testing. This had to be a fast-paced process with a focus on learning from both failure and success, so the company created culture labs. Cross-functional Agile teams made up of representatives from the media and brand teams focused on two specific brands and started by creating a long list of ideas to test and how they might do that systematically. The unified team adopted Agile ways of working, including daily stand-ups to tackle challenges and biweekly sessions reviewing progress and plans. Management coaches helped members develop a mindset of learning from their experiments, balancing their need for success.

Tests included:

Whether it made more sense to spend advertising dollars on the master brand or on spin-off products. They found that a focus on the master brand created a halo effect over all subbrands and had a better return on investment.
Whether they should update their advertising in the middle of the holiday season or use the same messages throughout. Testing showed that changing the creative messages worked best. People early on bought the product for different reasons than they did in the final days, so ads targeted to specific uses outperformed.
Testing led to shifts in the brand’s media budget and activities. Leaders had to become comfortable changing prior decisions based on test results and accepting that not every test proved the hypothesis they had expected. The brand teams had to look past what their finely tuned media-mix model said was the most efficient media spending by brand and channel, then try new things. Sometimes it was necessary to rip up plans they’d put a lot of work into for a chance at something better. In time, the company stopped relying on outside media agencies to run the whole program, and instead looked to those agencies for support and advice on their in-house efforts.

The process was sometimes uncomfortable, but the teams generated $25 million of new revenue, plus a significant increase in profit. This testing approach has now spread to other parts of the business, including e-commerce.

Cultivating trust
Culture labs also recently helped a well-established European retailer understand what needed to change at the top of the organization for its culture to take root broadly. The retailer operates under different names in different countries and serves a variety of customers at a variety of prices.

Trust had long been a corporate value, but the company’s centralized decision making was resented by local markets. When the company designed a new operating model that gives much more control to local operators, executives wanted to ensure the two groups could work collaboratively.

The 2020 annual budgeting process provided the opportunity to begin building trust. Held on a compressed timetable, and not face-to-face due to Covid-19, management combined central and local organizations into teams that handled the process. It was made clear who was responsible for what in the new operating model, and the teams were expected to follow that structure. It took some time, but eventually teammates easily identified when they had strayed from the new model and fallen into old habits, and they found ways to overcome that through collaboration. Impressed, top executives applied the model these teams had built to their own work.

Culture labs feature teams like these that solve high-profile business issues in ways that reflect the organization’s desired culture. They recognize that culture can be changed only through practice in the course of daily operations. When culture labs succeed, they become associated with stronger business results, and that’s the best case any organization can make for a cultural change.

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