To Grow A Successful Business, CEOs Need To Shrink Their Egos And Empower Staff

After successfully running and then selling a multimillion-dollar family-owned paint business, the most valuable lesson Don Strube came away with wasn’t about corporate control.

It was realizing that he had to shrink his ego.

If Strube hadn’t overcome his ego, established processes to hire and retain the right people and develop a positive company culture, success likely would have eluded him. He told Zenger he learned to become less involved in day-to-day functions, as well as overcome other challenges that leaders of growing businesses often face.

These include fear of not being in control of all operations, learning how to hire, train, trust — and hold accountable — senior executives.

As a result of these lessons, Strube has been able to capitalize on a number of opportunities. After selling Color Wheel Paints in 2005, Strube and his brother founded Florida Paints in 2012 “from scratch.” Thanks to excellent executives, including younger family members, Florida Paints is projected to gross $50 million in 2021. And just last year, the company brought 22-year-old TikTok star Tony Piloseno and his then-1.6 million followers into Florida Paints family business to attract the next generation of paint buyers.

The fear factor

As small businesses grow, typically so does the owners’ stress level. Many find that they soon have more direct reports than they can effectively lead.

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“Once you add a zero to the number of staff you’re leading, you must have good leaders who can manage and guide those people,” said Fortune 500 speaker Joey Coleman, author of “Never Lose A Customer Again: Turn Any Sale into Lifelong Loyalty in 100 Days.”

“Many people can effectively lead four team members; few — if any — can effectively lead 40.”

Coleman said many leaders of growing companies “get burnt out because they have stopped envisioning the future and are in the slog of managing people, calling it “office babysitting.”

“What they don’t realize is that empowering subordinate leaders creates new opportunities to foster a great team, establish productive relationships and paint a picture for the organization with new ideas and more growth,” said Coleman.

Confident male leader, coach talking with group of office workers
Business owners must learn to put ego aside and empower employees for their businesses to grow. GETTY
When it comes to relinquishing control, many leaders have a fear of letting go, said CEO coach Mark Silverman.

“Many CEOs compensate for a lack of trusted staff by working long hours,” Silverman told Zenger. “But at some point, you can’t compensate for not having the right people in the right seats. Systems break down, opportunities get missed and clients and staff leave. At that point, growth will only happen if the CEO overcomes fear and has the right team.”

The problem of ego –— a variation on the fear that only the leader can do the job — also must be addressed.

Strube said he got over his ego by having “a hard discussion with the man in the mirror. We agreed that if everything is to be done exactly the way I want it, the company will only have one employee.”

Once Strube addressed his ego issue, he sought senior executives who were dedicated to the company and their roles; who had the ability to solve problems with minimal friction; and who had common personal and professional beliefs, and — if possible — common spiritual beliefs and values. And once they were in place, he held those executives accountable to “five or fewer” key performance indicators. He also incentivized success through equity ownership opportunities, performance and efficiency bonuses, and participation in monthly reviews of the company’s finances.

Letting go in order to grow

Jim Morgan, chair of C12 in Northern Virginia/MetroD.C., an advisory group for Christian CEOs, rose through the ranks to lead printing and graphics company Balmar to $50 million in annual sales. He told Zenger he made two common leadership mistakes: “holding onto things we enjoy and handling mission-critical areas where we don’t trust our leaders.”

Morgan said he was overly involved with staff issues and company sales.

“It wasn’t bad for me to be active with sales or staff, but the company needed dedicated executives and managers to build a strong sales engine, put out staff fires and allow me to truly lead.”

Don Strube, co-founder of Florida Paints. COURTESY, FLORIDA PAINTS
Using feedback to build a culture of success

Along with engaged executives who help a CEO grow the company, junior staff must also feel part of the firm’s family, business leaders told Zenger.

Josh MacFarland, market leader at Gallup, said that small businesses can accomplish this without lavish perks.

“Our research shows that when managers provide weekly feedback, employees are about three times more likely to be highly motivated and engaged at their work,” he said. “Feedback doesn’t have to be over-the-top or perfect; focusing on employees’ natural strengths and talents is best, but critical feedback is better than no feedback at all.”

Ahmed Ali, founder of TISTA Science and Technology Corp., told Zenger that he values culture, but the term “is one of the most misunderstood phrases in the business world today.”

“For many growing small businesses, the culture is whatever the CEO or founder is feeling like that day” instead of a consistent set of values and staff support, said Ali. “A CEO or founder cannot impress a culture upon 400 employees. Only senior executives, guided by the CEO, can do that to their direct reports, who carry it down to the lowest-level employee.

“A thriving, durable company culture is built to support staff,” said Ali, who has 800 full-time employees, a far cry from when he started as a one-man operation. “In TISTA, for example, we want a culture of altruism and giving. We surveyed staff to find out what was most meaningful to them when it comes to donations, and we used those survey results to provide opportunities for staff to volunteer for, and donate to, causes important to them.”

As for Strube, he is consumed today not by ego but by his desire to bring passionate, paint-loving people such as Piloseno into the company, the results have been rosy.

Since hiring Piloseno last year, Strube said, he has been freed up to launch an online product line, experiments with new target markets through a growing number of followers on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.

Without Strube’s trust in Florida Paints’ senior executives, this match made in paint cans never would have happened.


The worker-employer relationship disrupted

“Shopify, like any other for-profit company, is not a family. The very idea is preposterous. You are born into a family. You never choose it, and they can’t un-family you. The dangers of ‘family thinking’ are that it becomes incredibly hard to let poor performers go. Shopify is a team, not a family.” — Tobias Lütke, CEO, Shopify
Shopify reminded workers that they’re a business, not a family.1 Basecamp banned societal and political discussions at work.2 Fujitsu took the first steps to end “solo work” practices.3 Goldman Sachs came under fire for workers’ 100 hour weeks.4 And Danone set its sights on becoming the world’s largest B-Corp. Whatever you thought the worker-employer relationship was before, there’s no doubt that it is under stress and evolving now.

What’s less clear is what form it will take moving forward. How will the worker-employer relationship shift as employers and workers push and pull each other in the pursuit of their various needs? Will organizations continue to embrace their role as social enterprises? Will workers’ trust in business remain steadfast, or will they look for leadership outside of organizational walls?

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This special report explores one set of possible answers to the central question: How might the worker-employer relationship evolve to meet the opportunities and challenges of the post–COVID-19 world?
In a world full of uncertainties, we’ve used scenario planning to explore the possible futures of the worker-employer relationship, seeking to challenge conventional wisdom, stretch our thinking and horizons, and chart a new course. The insights on the following pages leverage our scenario planning methodology and are fueled by research findings from a combination of social media polling, live survey polling, artificial intelligence (AI)–enabled focus groups, and interviews with business and HR executives across industries and workers all over the world.
COVID-19: Testing the limits of the worker-employer relationship
The pandemic strained and tested the worker-employer relationship. Employers were called upon to support workers’ health, livelihoods, and dignity to an unprecedented degree, and their success—or failure—to do so came under unprecedented scrutiny. The result was that developments that might have played out over a period of many years were compressed into a matter of months.

Sometimes, these pressures yielded great benefits. Workers showed remarkable resilience and adaptability as they rose to the pandemic’s challenges, and with their employers’ support and mandate, they achieved innovative results that could otherwise have taken years to materialize. But many questions also arose about whether organizations were doing enough to support and safeguard their workers. People quickly pointed to organizations’ shortcomings in protecting workforce segments that were disproportionately impacted by the health crisis and pursuant economic downturn—young workers, who were most likely to be unemployed or underemployed;5 minority groups, whose labor force participation steeply declined; and women, whose employment was found to be 19% more at risk than men.6 Organizations also faced backlash for their role in encouraging high-pressure working conditions. Eighty-nine percent of workers in a February 2021 global Harvard Business Review study said that their work life was getting worse, 85% said that their well-being declined, and 56% said that their job demands had increased.7

Perhaps then it’s no surprise that we find ourselves in a moment of reflection. Workers are reconsidering everything from who they want to work for—with 40% of the global workforce considering leaving their employer this year8—to the role they expect employers to play in supporting their purpose and values. Likewise, organizations are contemplating their role in society and their relationship with their workers—with some leaning in and others backing away.

And while the worker-employer relationship may be top of mind for both workers and executives, they may not be aligned on how it will evolve. Sixty-three percent of the workers we surveyed in our research for this special report felt that their relationship with their employer will stay the same or become a stronger partnership, while 86% of executives told us they believe workers will gain greater independence and influence relative to their employers in the future.

Talent supply and government impact: Key contexts for the worker-employer relationship
Understanding how the worker-employer relationship could evolve begins with identifying which factors will have the greatest influence on the relationship moving forward. We used focus groups to get executives’ perspectives on what those factors could be, discussing possibilities such as economic growth, the use of technology in business, unexpected disasters, climate change, and social divides in access to resources such as education, wealth, and health. But beyond the rest, the two factors that stood out as being the most influential on the future of the worker-employer relationship in our research were talent supply and government impact.

Talent supply: How talent availability will influence how workers seek employment and how organizations access and retain them. The most evident impact of talent supply is the different actions that organizations or workers might take depending on how easy or difficult it is to get a job or secure an appropriately skilled worker. For instance, talent supply could influence whether organizations are likely to invest in reskilling; to what extent workers will seek changes in their employers or careers; how organizations could use the alternative workforce to access the skills and capabilities they need; and how heavily an organization might lean on technology to replace, augment, or collaborate with their workforce.

Talent supply is already a key concern and growing in importance. The pandemic exacerbated growing digital, education, and skilling divides around the globe—putting further strain on talent supply considerations and trends. In 2020, 80% of job losses were among the lowest quarter of wage earners, many of whom work in hard-hit sectors such as leisure and hospitality, government, and education.9 And a new study estimates that 100 million global low-wage workers will need to find a different occupation by 2030.10 At the same time, the demand for skilled workers is growing, with seven in 10 employers globally saying they are struggling to find workers with the right mix of technical skills and human capabilities.11

Government impact: How government action will affect workers’ and employers’ roles in the new world of work. In our research for this special report, government regulation rose to the top as the most influential external factor behind an organization’s and its workforce’s ability to thrive. The type, consistency, speed, and effectiveness of government action could all influence the worker-employer relationship. For instance, government effectiveness in driving social change, such as policies around worker representation or protection, or actions to address concerns such as climate change or social injustice, could shift workers’ expectations of their employers to attend to such issues. Public policy and regulation protecting jobs and wages, enhancing social safety nets and benefits, improving access to education, or investing in reskilling could decrease workers’ reliance on their employers for these things. And public policies that restrict or create an additional burden on organizations seeking to create work in new geographies, access talent across borders, or leverage alternative workforce segments could influence workforce planning and talent strategies.

We use these two factors, talent supply and government impact, to explore four potential futures that illustrate how the world of work and the worker-employer relationship could evolve:

Work as fashion: In a “work as fashion” future, employers are in constant motion as they chase worker sentiments, competitor actions, and marketplace dynamics. The worker-employer relationship is REACTIVE: Employers feel compelled to respond in the moment to workers’ expressed preferences, and to competitor moves, without connecting those actions to a sustainable workforce strategy.
War between talent: In a “war between talent” future, workers compete for limited jobs due to an oversupply of talent. The worker-employer relationship is IMPERSONAL: Employers view workers as interchangeable and easily replaceable, and workers are more concerned with competing with each other for jobs than with the quality of their relationship with their employer.
Work is work: In a “work is work” future, workers and employers view organizational responsibility and personal and social fulfillment as largely separate domains. The worker-employer relationship is PROFESSIONAL: Each depends on the other to fulfill work-related needs, but both expect that workers will find meaning and purpose largely outside of work.
Purpose unleashed: In a “purpose unleashed” future, purpose is the dominant force driving the relationship between workers and employers. The worker-employer relationship is COMMUNAL: Both workers and employers see shared purpose as the foundation of their relationship, viewing it as the most important tie that binds them together.

These four futures are illustrative, not exhaustive. They can be either positive or negative, depending on the choices that workers and employers make. Organizations will likely find themselves in some combination of these futures depending on the needs and expectations of their workforce, their industry, their regions, and the communities in which they operate. The increased complexity of the world requires us to abandon “one-size-fits-all” views in lieu of a more nuanced approach and understanding.
Charting your course
The narrative that follows explores each possible future in detail and outlines the risks that succumbing to its pressures could raise. In each future we offer an instinctive response—the path we believe most organizations would take when faced with the dynamics and conditions of that world. But the instinctive response is just that—not a conscientious strategy.

The alternative to taking the instinctive route includes actions that can allow organizations to survive—the basic elements that must be in place for an employer to do well in each future. Organizations that embrace a survival mindset will be able to tread water—leveraging near-term strategies to navigate the future, with an expectation (or hope) that the world will revert to business as usual once external pressures cede. While survival strategies are important in the near term, they do not give an organization the tools they need to chart their own destiny for longer-term success.

Moving beyond a survive mindset to a thrive mindset requires a recognition that disruption is continuous rather than episodic, and a willingness to use disruption as a catalyst to drive the organization forward. The 15% of the 3,630 executives in our 2021 Global Human Capital Trends research who said their organization was very prepared for COVID-19 were already adopting a thrive mindset.12 This could be especially important as organizations consider the future of their relationship with workers, since those who adopted a thrive mindset were three times more likely than their peers to bring human strengths to the fore—leveraging worker adaptability and mobility to navigate disruption.

In these futures, you will read about how organizations can take a greater leap to ideas and practices that may seem unconventional or aspirational, but that can be essential to an organization’s ability to build purpose and meaning in work, unleash the potential of the workforce, and employ new perspectives.

As you read on, challenge yourself to avoid concluding that the coming years will accelerate the changes you already expected or believed were inevitable. Instead, imagine how the future might assume a different course—and how you might address the opportunities and challenges that future course might present. As Peter Drucker famously said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic.”

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Work as fashion
In a “work as fashion” future, employers are in constant motion as they chase worker sentiments, competitor actions, and marketplace dynamics. The worker-employer relationship is REACTIVE: Employers feel compelled to respond in the moment to workers’ expressed preferences, and to competitor moves, without connecting those actions to a sustainable workforce strategy.
The “work as fashion” future is transitory and constantly changing. It’s akin to how brands introduce new clothing collections seasonally and cyclically, moving them rapidly from runway to retail to capture consumers’ fleeting attention and desires. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle in which the latest trends substitute for a sustained strategy. Even an employer’s stance on societal issues is used primarily as a way to attract, retain, and motivate workers, adopting the purpose that’s currently hot in a bid to keep the workforce engaged.

Conditions that could lead to the “work as fashion” future
A “work as fashion” future could arise from the convergence of low talent supply and low government impact.

A low talent supply creates a seller’s market for workers, especially for skilled workers. Workers can base their choice of employer on what each is offering and how well those offerings meet their immediate desires. Employers, meanwhile, become acutely attuned to their workforce’s preferences, as well as what their competitors are doing, to compete for workers’ attention and approval. It’s a mirror image of the “war between talent” future, in which workers compete for employers’ attention and approval.
Low talent supply is already a reality in many industries and geographies today. A Korn Ferry analysis estimated a global talent deficit of 85.2 million workers by 2030, predicting a skills shortage that could result in US$8.452 trillion in unrealized annual revenue.13 Many companies large and small are struggling to find enough workers amid the economy’s rapid recovery from the pandemic-spawned recession.14 A recent study in Japan revealed that 79% of Japanese companies are concerned about the shortage of talent.15 In the United States, there were 8.1 million vacant job openings in March 2021—a record high. Further exacerbating the problem, the study showed that there were approximately half as many available workers per open job when compared to a historical 20-year average.16

Low government impact can also help create the conditions for this future. When government does not offer support that workers feel they need, such as access to health care, workplace protections, and reskilling opportunities, workers will expect employers to provide what they’re not getting elsewhere—and because they have the upper hand, they are in a position to demand it.

We see Work as Fashion as possibly 2021’s and 2022’s dominant future, especially in light of the hotly debated issue of the return to the workplace. A case in point: After initially planning to mandate an “office-first” environment as the pandemic subsides, Amazon now says that it will allow most office workers to work remotely two days a week. It’s likely that this move reflects the fact that flexibility has become “table stakes in tech, where competition for talent is always fierce.”17 These types of situations led a recent New York Times article to observe, “For the first time in a generation, workers are gaining the upper hand.”18

Signals that the future could be headed toward “work as fashion”
Increased employer reliance on worker surveys and other listening tools.
Increased employer activity in measuring themselves against competitor and industry benchmarks, and of adjusting practices to align to benchmarks.
Continuous changing and rollout of worker programs and policies.
Increased external marketing of worker incentives.
New levels of social activism from employers.
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Navigating the “work as fashion” future

The instinctive response
The instinctive response in a “work as fashion” future is to be highly responsive—constantly listening to workers and reacting at speed. But this approach can mislead employers into substituting responsiveness for a relationship. A productive long-term relationship between workers and employers must have a deeper basis than responding to the loudest and most recent voice. Transitory solutions can create several risks, including:

• What matters first may trump what matters most. Moving too quickly to address worker sentiment doesn’t allow employers time to explore deeper root causes behind workers’ expressed feelings and needs. For instance, if employers treat meaning and purpose mainly as an attraction and retention tool, they may overlook that what workers are actually looking for is consistency and a more sustained commitment. They may also miss the opportunity to use purpose to cultivate belonging among the workforce and thereby improve their performance.

Case in point: Ping-pong tables
Despite the popularity over the past decade of bringing ping pong tables into the workplace as a means to build a fun workplace culture, less than a quarter of millennials surveyed at the height of this trend said that an informal work environment is extremely important to them when looking for a job. Instead, the group favored other factors such as the opportunity to learn and grow, the quality of their manager or management, and their interest in the type of work.19

Diverse voices are drowned out. Employers who prioritize speed of response may not take the time to examine whether the way they collect and interpret their data promotes an equitable environment. Many people hold unconscious biases that reinforce prevailing but discriminatory social values, and this may affect the way they develop and execute organizational workforce strategies. In many organizations, diverse individuals are underrepresented to begin with. Listening efforts may not be designed to adequately capture their views. And even if employers manage to avoid this difficulty, diverse populations’ views may be ignored as outliers if they systematically diverge from those of the majority.
Listening becomes surveillance. Using technology to understand the workforce may cross the line into worker surveillance, raising potential risks around data privacy. The pandemic may have increased this risk by accelerating employers’ adoption of listening and monitoring tools. More than one out of four companies purchased new technology during the pandemic to passively track and monitor their workers,20 and 95% of IT leaders increased the frequency of worker listening since COVID-19 began.21
Differentiation gets lost in competition. Trying to match or one-up competitors’ actions can devolve into a copycat strategy that results in a race to the middle or, even worse, the bottom. And when every employer is matching what competitors are doing to “make the sale” to workers, their offerings lack differentiation. Worker loyalty may last only until someone else offers them incrementally more compensation, training, or other incentives that have come to be commodities.
The survive strategy
Employers in a “work as fashion” future will need to go beyond simple responsiveness to gain a competitive edge. Survival in this future entails being thoughtful, action-oriented, and selective. Ways to accomplish this include:

Dig deeper. Ask nuanced questions that get at more basic issues of concern to the workforce than their desires in the moment. In our 2020 Global Human Capital Trends research, we discussed the importance of asking better questions that guide organizations to better results. Examples of those questions include why workers leave, not just who might leave; whether diverse populations wield organizational influence, not just whether the population is diverse; and how workers across the entire workforce ecosystem are treated, not just how full-time employees are treated.22
Walk the talk. In a “work as fashion” future, workers want to see that their employer is actually doing what it has promised them, not just talking about it. A June 2021 survey of US workers found that 55% felt that leadership only addressed racial justice by writing or speaking about it, not by taking action.23 Leaders should be prepared to highlight the organization’s actions in areas that have been identified for changes, clearly communicating what the priorities are and how the organization is addressing them now. This could be a significant challenge for organizations, with 80% of respondents in our executive focus groups saying that leadership readiness will be the biggest internal barrier to their ability to achieve their future strategies.
Focus empowerment where it matters most. Most workers want to be empowered where it matters most, which is in the work they do and how to advance their careers. By providing internal mobility via opportunity marketplaces, employers may be able to satisfy workers’ desire for empowerment by putting them in control of their careers. As the 2020 Deloitte-MIT Future of the workforce study noted, “One of the most significant research takeaways for top management is that opportunity marketplaces both demand and elicit agency—the perceived ability to influence one’s future—and fundamentally flip a perennial top talent and workforce management question.”24
Case in point: Giving workers agency through an opportunity marketplace
Schneider Electric decided to implement an internal opportunity marketplace when it found that almost half the employees who left the organization did so because they felt it was difficult for them to find future growth opportunities within the company. The marketplace is used not to dictate career paths but to enable employees to take the initiative and own their careers. According to Andrew Saidy, Schneider’s vice president of Talent Digitization, Employer Branding and University Relations: “We’ve always told our employees that they own their careers, that they are in the driver’s seat.”25 Besides surfacing reskilling and upskilling opportunities, the company’s AI-based platform can guide workers to projects that align with their own purpose and goals.26

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The thrive differentiator
Being thoughtful and selective in responding to worker needs is necessary, but it’s not sufficient to thrive in this future. For that, employers need to build a sustainable and differentiated worker-employer relationship built around a core set of ideals that are important to both the worker and the employer. A sustainable relationship is one that lasts through shifts in worker sentiment and marketplace conditions, evolving with the times but always tying back to fundamentally constant values. And a differentiated relationship is one that is uniquely tailored to appeal to the workers the organization most needs to engage, regardless of what competitors are doing.

Waste Management is an example of an organization that is successfully considering its workers’ broader needs. Most recently, the company has demonstrated this by focusing on a perennially important issue: the ability to pay for a college education. After hearing from their employees how much of a burden this was, Waste Management launched “Your Tomorrow,” an education and upskilling program in partnership with Guild Education, in April 2021. Not only does the program offer the company’s nearly 36,000 US employees access to more than 170 fully funded programs—including undergraduate and graduate degrees, short-term technology and business certificates, and high school completion27—but the company is planning to expand it to cover its employees’ nearly 34,000 benefits-eligible dependents, including children and spouses, as well. As Tamla Oates-Forney, chief people officer for Waste Management, said, “It didn’t take long for us as a company to realize that [extending “Your Tomorrow” to families as well as employees] would be a key differentiator for us”: a commitment to workers that is an enduring part of the organization’s style.28

A sustainable, differentiated relationship is only partly about benefits, policies, and programs. Rather, it extends the consideration of worker needs to the broader workforce experience. Everything from well-being, personal and professional growth, and meaningful work is on the table. The relationship also can’t be one-sided. For an employer to be able to address the entire workforce experience, it needs to have an ongoing conversation with workers about what is important to them and why it matters. The point is to engage workers in a dialogue that gives the employer insight into what truly drives them, and that gives workers a meaningful voice about these deeper values.

In a “work as fashion” future, the pressures to respond and keep up with the pack can lead to an organization chasing its own tail as it instinctively responds to workers’ immediate requests and desires. Going past that entails being deliberate about where to invest in the employer brand, and creating a sustainable, differentiated relationship that grounds the worker-employer relationship in consistent and mutually valued ideals. Doing this makes an employer a trend setter in a world of fashion followers. As actress Lauren Hutton observed: “Fashion is what you’re offered four times a year by designers. Style is what you choose.”


10 Ways Companies Are Fighting The Burnout Epidemic

Stress and burnout were on the rise before COVID, but the pandemic has made things much worse.

Workers are now more than three times as likely to report mental health concerns than before the pandemic.
We’re stressed, but we’re not taking time off. In 2020, American workers left 33% of their paid time off unused while the average workday increased by 49 minutes.
Burnout seeps into every aspect of an employee’s personal and professional life, causing symptoms like lack of motivation, increased mistakes, poor sleep habits, disconnection from family and friends, irritability and much more. A staggering 76% of employees say that workplace stress affects their mental health with depression or anxiety.
When people are burnt out, every part of their lives suffers. And even for a problem as personal as burnout, companies have the responsibility to assist their employees.

Here are 10 ways companies can fight the burnout epidemic:

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1 . Provide Mental Health Resources

Breaking the stigma about mental health is crucial to fighting burnout. AT&T offers mental health assistance to employees through text, email or phone. Unilever offers in-person meditation and mindfulness workshops and mental health training for managers. Chevron makes self-guided resilience resources available to all employees, and TIAA offers monthly mental health challenges to all employees.

2 . Increase Mental Health Coverage

In addition to office resources is professional mental health treatment. Companies like ZenDesk and EY have expanded benefits to cover mental health or provided employees with free or discounted access to teletherapy. In the early days of COVID, Starbucks expanded its mental health coverage for employees and their families.

3 . Check In With Employees

Taking interest in employees is a simple but incredibly effective way to fight burnout and build connections. Investment firm BlackRock conducts pulse surveys to understand the stressors and needs of its employees. That information helps drive programs and policies to meet their needs and fight burnout.

4 . Offer Mental Breaks

Celebrating rest and giving employees a chance to recharge and socialize can break the burnout bubble. Design firm Smart Design runs lunchtime virtual happy hours, known as midday mental breaks, to encourage employees to step away from work and socialize, even if they’re working remotely. Companies like Cisco and Ben & Jerry’s provide places in the office for employees to take short naps during the day.

5 . Cut Back On Meetings

Meetings are notorious for bogging down employees’ schedules and leading to stress and overwhelm. Video company Storyblocks implemented No-Meeting Wednesdays to give employees time to work without interruptions. PR firm Highwire has a goal to purge 30% of meetings and shorten all necessary meetings.

6 . Offer Flexible Schedules

As offices reopen, many companies are allowing employees to adopt permanent hybrid or flexible schedules to give them more freedom. Atlassian recently announced that employees can work from home permanently, as did Facebook, Reddit and Skillshare. Other companies are adopting a hybrid approach, including Amazon, Nationwide and Dropbox.

7 . Change The Expectation To Be Constantly Available

Encouraging employees to not always be connected gives them the freedom to take breaks as their needs arise and step away from work at the end of the day. Companies like WATT Global Media and JL Buchanan use a results-only work environment, where performance matters more than hours worked. Other companies are offering more flexibility for working parents and caregivers to adjust their schedules.

8 . Offer Additional Time Off

After a stressful year, many employees just need additional time off. Dating app Bumble recently announced it is giving all of its 700-plus employees a paid week off to help with burnout. Microsoft is giving employees an additional five days off in 2021 to rest and recharge.

9 . Offer Company-Wide Wellness Days

Large companies, including LinkedIn, Marriott and Shopify are shutting the offices down for days or weeks to give employees time for self-care. Shopify’s “Rest and Refuel Fridays” started during peak pandemic and continue in 2021 with Fridays off in July and August. Mozilla is shutting down its entire company for a “Wellness Week” in addition to its “Wellness Days” that are companywide days off once a month through 2021.

10 . Pay Employees To Take Time Off

Many employees are hesitant to take time off, so some companies are offering incentives. In addition to their normal pay, PwC pays employees to take time off, up to $250 for a full week off. Full Contact gives employees $7,500 a year to take a vacation—but they actually have to disconnect and enjoy it without working.

The burnout epidemic has been brewing for years across America, but it has reached a fever pitch after more than a year of a pandemic. All employers have the responsibility to consider their employees’ mental health and provide tools, resources and policies to fight burnout.


A New Category Emerges: The Creator Platform For Corporate Learning

Many of you have heard me talk about TikTok as a learning platform, and you probably thought I was talking about the entertaining videos. No, it’s much more. TikTok is not just entertainment, it’s a Creator Platform.

TikTok development tools are amazing. Today millions of young people (and old) are building interactive videos, extravaganzas of music, and all sorts of dance, entertainment, simulation, and promotion. And TikTok is addicting: it has one of the stickiest interfaces on the internet, which is exactly what we want our learning platforms to do.

The tech pundits are all frothy about the Creator Economy now. TikTok has set in place billions of dollars of investment in platforms like Spotify (podcasts), Snapchat, Clubhouse, Patreon, Substack, and hundreds more. These are not just development tools, they’re entire platforms. You can quickly create content, publish it in seconds, and almost immediately interact with your audience. For wannabe influencers and celebrities, it’s a gold mine. And the venture capitalists are piling in.

Why are these so good for investors? If you start building content in one of these platforms you’re “locked in,” so the platform vendor can start taking a piece of your revenue. So this market is going to explode, and we’re all going to have to decide which Creator Platforms we want to use. (Mark Zuckerberg, never to let a good idea get away from him, is putting $1 Billion to help draw creators to Facebook’s copycat products.)

In my case, I’ve been a Creator since the early 2000s, when we first started creating PDF reports and studies. Since then we’ve been experimenting with lots of these tools, and they are getting easier to use by the second. Platforms like Loom, Captivate, Castos and hundreds of others make you a producer in only a few minutes.

And now it’s coming to corporate learning.

Why Corporate Learning Needs A Creator Platform

Corporate learning desperately needs a creator platform. Why? Because at least 70% of all training in your company comes from your own people, not professional teachers or instructional designers. When you “unlock” these subject matter experts and various people to build content, your training experience is supercharged. And now that these tools are easier than ever, it’s time for you to jump in.

We are doing a lot of case studies in this area, so stay tuned for much more. But for now let me mention a few because these companies are redefining the market.

The first I want to point out is 360Learning, a company founded precisely for this purpose. 360Learning is perhaps the most compelling system for employees to build, launch, manage, and interact with their learners. The company was founded to go after this market, and its success has been stratospheric. The French Railroad SNCF, for example, uses 360Learning for hundreds of courses in operations, safety, and compliance – all built by employees. The IDEA Public Schools network, a 120+ school network all over Texas and the southeast, now uses 360Learning for its New Teacher Institute and all its professional development. And the results are outstanding.

360Learning, by the way, exemplifies what I call the next generation of Collaborative Learning. Read more about it here.

The second I want to mention is Fuse Universal, a company that started life as a video sharing system. Fuse customers like Hilti and Vodafone are building hundreds of instructional videos and sharing them instantly with employees. These companies barely set standards for employees and they create competitions for who can build the best video (just like TikTok). Fuse is also an explosively fast-growing company, and has defined “video learning at scale.” (Vendors like WiseTail also do this.)

The third is another firecracker company: Udemy. Udemy’s platform is designed to develop courses, and anyone can sit down and build a course in a few hours. As soon as you publish it many thousands of people can access it, so the results can be invigorating. Many Instructors on Udemy now make millions of dollars per year, and the Udemy course library is the most dynamic, up-to-date, and relevant one in the market. And since the Creator Platform of Udemy has voting by users, it, like TikTok, it always shows you the best content.

And Udemy, unlike any other provider in the market, is truly a marketplace. Just as Airbnb disrupted Marriott, Udemy has the potential to disrupt many traditional course publishers.

The fourth is a fast-growing company Docebo, which is now one of the biggest LMS companies in the market (valuation around $2B). Docebo’s new tool Shape lets you instantly build video content, publish it in Docebo, and get feedback from users. It uses AI to help you build highly compelling content, making authoring easy for anyone. Again it’s integrated into the platform, so for revenue-generating programs or custom academies, Docebo is an amazing solution.

The fifth, and perhaps the most disruptive, is Articulate – the pioneer of rapid e-learning tools who just receive over $1 billion in investment funding. Hang onto your hats as Articulate becomes a Creator platform too, and it may be the easiest to use yet.

Of course there are hundreds of development tools, from STRIVR and Mursion in VR to Lectora, Gomo, and others. But as I discuss below, they’re not “Creator Platforms,” and they’re not designed for end-users.

Is your LXP or LMS a Creator Platform? Not really. It’s more like a publishing system (like Sharepoint or Viva Learning). It lets you “publish” content you developed elsewhere, but it’s nowhere as integrated as these systems. (LXP vendors here’s an opportunity for you.)

What To Look For In Creator Platforms

In many ways, this market has been around for a long time. SumTotal, Click2Learn, and Saba launched integrated development tools in the 2000s, and products like Adobe Captivate, Brainshark, Lessonly, and others have been out for years. But many of these tools were built for instructional designers, not end-users, and they don’t have the same integrated platform. In today’s Creator Platform market, I”d look for the following:

Does the platform immediately let authors interact with learners, build quizzes and interactivities, and serve their users at scale?
How easy is it to build highly compelling content, and can you “walk up and learn” the tool without training?
What kind of administration tools do authors have? Can they sort and filter through their audience, see how long people are spending on different chapters, and analyze their programs for improvement?
Are there advanced features like Skills tagging, Credentials, Badges, Pre-Requisites, and Curricula? These systems fill up with content fast, so you have to organize it in some rational way.
How is the product priced? Can we buy it for all our users and deploy it at scale? (The consumer Creator Platforms are terrible at this, by the way. They charge too much.)
What kind of security and admin rights are available? Can an administrator quickly find inappropriate content or shut down content that’s no good?
How advanced is video and content management? Does it transcribe video and code it for speed? Does the platform work on mobile? Can you quickly add new modules and version the content you have?
Should you worry about end-users publishing corporate content? My answer is no. Let the internal creator market thrive. Companies like Hilti, Vodafone, SNCF, IDEA Schools Network, and dozens of others we’re interviewing all told us that employees and subject matter experts love to publish what they’ve learned.

You have to set standards and help people avoid boring PowerPoint content, but once you get the ball rolling, the results take off. Hilti, for example, does all its sales and service training in this fashion. IDEA Public Schools created its New Teacher Institute for more than 1,500 teachers entirely through this approach. Instead of authoring content, you become the curator, organizer, and coach to others, showing people how to share what they know.

We are publishing case studies now, and the stories we’re finding are amazing. This next year is the year of the Creator Platform for Learning, and we’re excited to show you the way.


Economic Resilience Is Built on Societal Well-Being

One of the biggest lessons COVID-19 taught governments is that societal well-being makes countries more resilient. Nations that invest across a range of development dimensions—such as education, health, infrastructure, and governance—have been better able to cushion the socioeconomic fallout from the pandemic. Our analysis shows that countries with improved abilities to convert wealth into well-being as well as those with high overall well-being tended to mitigate drops in economic performance and limit the growth of unemployment rates during the first year of the pandemic. In contrast, countries with lower levels have fallen further behind, particularly in GDP growth and employment. This aligns with our previous research that shows countries better at converting wealth into well-being were able to recover more quickly from the 2008–2009 financial crisis.

Since 2012, BCG has ranked countries according to a proprietary economic development tool called the Sustainable Economic Development Assessment, or SEDA. (See “A Comprehensive Measure of Well-Being.”) A consistent finding from our research is that the more traditional metrics of economic development, which focus on GDP and other macroeconomic indicators, are not sufficient to gauge the true state of development in any society. Rather, countries need to take a more comprehensive and sustainable approach that incorporates and optimizes societal well-being. Viewed through this lens, SEDA analyses have shown that some lower-income countries are actually better off than high-income countries because they look beyond economic metrics and invest in well-being more broadly. COVID-19 brought in a new dimension—an opportunity to observe how such efforts make countries more resilient in a crisis.

Even as countries continue fighting the pandemic, they need to think long-term and make investments today that will lead to faster and more sustainable progress during the coming recovery. Specifically, we believe that three overarching themes have the potential to generate positive change across multiple well-being dimensions: accelerating actions to slow climate change, investing in digitization, and strengthening social protection systems to ensure inclusive and equitable growth. Each of these themes should be a priority for governments.

COVID-19 has left an unprecedented mark on global development. The United Nations Development Programme’s simulations of the pandemic’s real-time impact suggest that the Human Development Index fell in 2020, for the first time since measurements began in 1990. Similarly, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are expected to be significantly disrupted and many of the historic gains over the past several decades could be reversed, at least temporarily.

At a country level, the pandemic revealed the way that all realms of society are interconnected. Evolving from a health crisis to an economic and education crisis, COVID-19 has led to rising social tensions, high unemployment, and failing health systems, even in high-income countries. In low-income and developing countries, inequality has increased across several realms.

Income. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that income inequality for emerging-market and developing economies will rise to levels not seen since the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, essentially wiping out a decade of development in these regions.
Health. Disparities in access to health services—due to factors such as income, race, gender, and resident status—have widened the gap in life expectancy, accentuating the vulnerability of disadvantaged groups within poorer countries.
Education. According to UN data, close to 1.5 billion students have been affected by COVID-19-related school closures. Inadequate internet penetration has hampered lower-income countries’ ability to pivot to distance learning and likely exacerbated education inequality both within and between countries.
The pandemic has reinforced the need for governments to look beyond income growth and GDP and focus on the broader goal of overall well-being.

It’s too early to measure the full response of any country to COVID-19, but early indications suggest that countries with high SEDA scores—indicating higher levels of societal well-being—will suffer less of an impact. Indeed, well-being served as a form of stabilizer, enabling countries to absorb the shock and potentially positioning them to bounce back more quickly once the crisis ends. In our analysis, we looked at two leading economic indicators: economic growth and employment.

In terms of economic growth, countries which improved their ability to convert wealth into well-being since the global financial crisis, saw a smaller drop in their real GDP growth rate in 2020, while countries that have experienced a deterioration in their ability to convert wealth into well-being saw a correspondingly larger drop. (See Exhibit 1.) This reveals that investing in well-being enhances long term resilience and can further enhance a nation’s ability to withstand future crises. Notably, the countries that experienced the biggest drop in GDP also underperformed significantly in SEDA measurements of governance and civil society, suggesting that these are key dimensions in fighting the pandemic’s economic repercussions. Governance is critical because it boosts transparency and accountability, leading to greater public trust in government and increasing participation and engagement of citizens. Civil society matters because it helps countries deal with the unequal fallout from a crisis—for example, providing support and aid to those who are disproportionately affected.

The positive correlation between wealth, as reflected in per capita income levels, and SEDA scores should come as no surprise. After all, income affects well-being in many ways. At the same time, well-being is not simply a function of income. Many countries at similar income levels have significant disparities in well-being.

In terms of employment, we saw a similar effect. Countries that had high SEDA scores were better able to cushion the blow of COVID-19 and limit the growth of unemployment. (See Exhibit 2.) Many of these countries already had measures in place to increase the resilience of labor markets—such as unemployment safety nets and job retention schemes. Even in cases where the labor market policies needed to be adjusted, doing so was a faster process than creating them from scratch. A stubborn question remains as to whether retention schemes will lead to a stronger labor recovery once the pandemic ends; to some extent, that depends on whether they support jobs that have been temporarily at risk but are still viable in the long term.

Even as countries continue to face immediate priorities in addressing the crisis, they must reset their ambitions for the future. In fact, severe shocks like COVID-19 present a real opportunity to spring forward and introduce broad reforms toward the goal of overall societal well-being. Regardless of their past performance, governments should seek to leverage the current hardships to reimagine and realign policy imperatives across the full range of SEDA dimensions. From our analysis, we believe that three themes can have a multiplier effect in increasing well-being and thus should be at the top of government agendas.

Accelerate Actions to Slow Climate Change.

The pandemic is estimated to have driven a 5% to 10% drop in CO2 emissions in 2020. That may seem promising as a temporary relief, but compared with the change in trajectory required to slow global warming, it is a mere blip. As the economic cycle resumes momentum, governments and societies have a unique opportunity to accelerate climate-related actions and build a green recovery. Previous recessions have led to an increased adoption of renewable energy sources and battery technologies. In fact, citizens expect governments to tackle climate change as part of COVID-19 recovery efforts. In a BCG survey of more than 3,200 corporate leaders, 77% of respondents say that companies receiving public aid or grants due to the pandemic should take on additional environmental responsibilities and commitments. A recent analysis by the International Energy Agency and the IMF found that a well-structured green recovery plan could lead to an increase in global GDP of 3.5% over the next three years and create 9 million jobs over the same period.

Indeed, some nations are intensifying their investments in environmental well-being. While countries that are already leading in SEDA environmental performance tend to be doubling down on a green recovery, other countries that are not environmental frontrunners have also passed recovery packages with a substantial share of investments targeted at environmental objectives. (See Exhibit 3.) This suggests that these countries see the crisis as an opportunity to accelerate their sustainability efforts.

For example, India’s green stimulus measures include investment in biogas and cleaner fuels, incentives for high-efficiency solar, and advanced battery production. South Korea’s “New Deal,” in addition to focusing on digitization, prioritizes initiatives that support a green transition, including investments in renewables and R&D funding for electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries. China’s green efforts entail substantial funding for EVs and related infrastructure, railway infrastructure development, and electricity transmission. In addition, China—the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases—recently pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and the European Union has strengthened its commitments under the Paris Agreement by pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.

Despite these promising early signs, further action will be required. To stay on track to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, roughly 1% to 3% of global GDP will need to be allocated to climate-change initiatives. To build a green recovery and accelerate actions to slow climate change, governments should focus on four actions.

Hardwire sustainability into stimulus spending. Focus investments on both decarbonizing existing sectors (for example, industrials and energy) and spurring growth in new green sectors such as green hydrogen. Include incentives and regulatory standards, such as sustainability targets and carbon disclosure requirements, in stimulus packages.
Create green jobs and prepare for job transitions. Prioritize investments and programs based not on their absolute job creation potential but on the number of jobs created in the green sector. Manage an equitable transition of the workforce toward a zero-carbon economy. Actively invest in reskilling programs to train workers who are displaced.
Partner with the private sector. To alleviate fiscal constraints, access private funding through structures such as public-private partnerships. Capitalize on the growth in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing and integrate ESG factors into investment processes.
Coordinate across borders. Partner with other national and regional governments on climate initiatives to make faster progress. The UN’s COP26 climate conference, which has been rescheduled for November 2021, will be a key milestone in monitoring progress toward the Paris Agreement. With representatives from nearly 200 countries, it also provides an opportunity to step up global momentum in forwarding a green recovery from the pandemic.
Invest in Digitization as an Enabler and Amplifier of Well-Being.

Done right, digitization can help countries manage shocks in the short term and keep economies running. In the medium to long run, it can help developing and emerging economies leapfrog developed nations, accelerating human capital development, industry competitiveness, and access to global markets. Indeed, our previous analysis shows that digital infrastructure increases the ability to convert wealth into well-being at lower income levels; that is, its spillover impact on other well-being dimensions such as employment, education, and governance is particularly significant for developing countries.

Several countries have successfully integrated digital technologies into their crisis response; for example, by using mobile apps to trace transmission chains, register populations for vaccines, increase collaboration, and provide community support. Looking ahead, the pandemic has made clear that the future will be even more digital than previously imagined. Many of the behavioral shifts we are experiencing today, such as online grocery shopping and working from home, are expected to endure beyond the crisis.

Specifically, countries should focus on the following priorities.

Bridge the digital divide. As evidenced by those who have been disproportionately affected by school closures and the move to telework and telehealth, digital inequality tends to exacerbate existing social inequality. At the foundational level, countries need to ensure the provision of universal, reliable, and stable connection to the internet. Equally critical to safeguarding connectivity is bridging the access gap. COVID-19 has exposed the hardware divide, in which availability of devices (smartphones, PCs, laptops, tablets) and peripheral services (apps and subscriptions) dictates the extent to which people are able to leverage critical digital services such as e-learning. Furthermore, digital inclusion policies need to be multidimensional—promoting digital literacy, enhancing technological competence, and fostering the effective use of technologies to promote fruitful participation in the digital economy. As Exhibit 4 shows, there is a correlation between a country’s digital inclusion performance (as measured by the Network Readiness Index) and how well it converts wealth into well-being.
Leverage digital to build more resilient cities. Curbing the spread of COVID-19 has tested the capabilities of urban environments. City resilience will continue to be the main buffer against inevitable shocks, particularly as the 70% the world’s population will live in metropolitan areas by 2050. Big data’s role in smart city platforms will be essential in responding to future disasters in real time.
Digital government. Governments must continue to expand their digital capabilities with a citizen-centric mindset, as delivering simpler, more seamless, and faster government services becomes increasingly important. By harnessing both the human and technological elements of their organizations, governments can provide positive outcomes for citizens.
Strike the right balance between data accessibility and privacy.COVID-19 has shown the enormous potential for governments to use and leverage citizen data. Yet this raises important ethical and legal questions. Governments need to safeguard information while instilling high ethical standards for its utilization. For instance, by creating data-sharing frameworks that put in place data use guardrails, governments can support accessibility and adoption without compromising privacy.
Establish Social Protection and Welfare Systems to Ensure Sustainable and Equitable Growth.

Social protection systems can dramatically mitigate the impact of crises like COVID-19, particularly for vulnerable populations who have been disproportionally impacted. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the number and scope of social protection initiatives has been unprecedented. Overall, as of December 2020, approximately $590 billion (or nearly 1% of worldwide GDP) had been pledged toward more than 1,500 specific measures in 209 countries. More than half of these were for new programs or benefits. (See Exhibit 5.) Many countries prioritized benefits for workers and their dependents along with benefits for poor or vulnerable populations.

Despite these efforts, however, many social protection schemes still fall short. According to research from the UN’s International Labour Organization, 55% of the global population has no form of social protection. About 40% of people have no access to health insurance or national health systems, and only 20% can count on unemployment benefits.

There is a clear need for future-proof welfare systems, which should not only act as an immediate cushion during a crisis but also make countries more resilient and equip them to transition to more sustainable economic growth. It is crucial, therefore, that governments treat the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to rethink their approach to social protection. Rather than a safety net for vulnerable populations, these programs should serve as a trampoline, empowering citizens to be more socially and economically adaptive. The right approach will reduce inequalities, strengthen human capital, and contribute to long-term productivity.

To that end, governments should focus on the following priorities in revamping social protection systems.

Institutionalize successes. Identify which of the programs launched in response to COVID-19 functioned best and make them permanent. Cut or modify other programs as needed.
Increase financial sustainability. Look beyond one-time stimulus spending packages to make programs—particularly basic protection measures—that will be viable over the long term.
Collaborate across stakeholders. Design programs to draw on support from government, business, and citizens.
Use digital delivery channels that are fast and cost-effective in interacting with participants and delivering benefits.
The pandemic has served as a forced experiment in testing countries’ resilience, and as our analysis shows, the results are clear. Societal well-being not only helps countries during good times; it also makes them more resilient during crises. The SEDA framework is a powerful tool for governments to assess and track their progress in this realm and identify specific policy interventions that will comprehensively improve the well-being of their populations. By focusing on the three overarching themes we identified—slowing climate change, fostering inclusive digitization, and enhancing social protection—countries can capitalize on multiplier effects and accelerate overall progress.


It’s Not Just Burnout: HR Is Experiencing Compassion Fatigue

HR teams have been the “invisible first responders” of the last year and a half, supporting employees through numerous crises. Unfortunately, the effects of the past year have left HR teams feeling stressed and emotionally exhausted. What human resources teams are experiencing is not quite burnout, but something similar: compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is a condition often experienced by people who work in the helping professions such as doctors, nurses, teachers, HR professionals, and social workers. It occurs when an individual reaches a point of diminished capacity to empathize or care about others due to the constant exposure to other’s pain.

Once a term only mainly used in human service industries, HR professionals are now experiencing compassion fatigue at a drastically higher rate. Compassion fatigue is what some describe as the “cost of caring” for others who are in emotional or psychological pain.

The symptoms of compassion fatigue include:

In addition, 60% of the same respondents cited “emotional exhaustion” as their biggest challenge. Another report indicated that 71% of HR team members said 2020 was the most stressful year of their career.

While employees across all industries have reported increased stress recently, HR professionals are experiencing these challenges at significantly higher rates. Additionally, HR is one of the only professions outside of healthcare to list “emotional exhaustion” as their biggest challenge.

This dramatic rise in stress has to do with HR teams’ challenges in the last 16 months. So with that in mind, it’s easy to see why HR is experiencing compassion fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue from Crisis Response
In the last 16 months, HR teams had to take on more responsibility, especially when caring for colleagues. Of course, caring for coworkers isn’t a new task for human resource management. However, the sheer volume of crises and those in need of compassion have made the responsibility more challenging for HR professionals.

This year, changes to HR management included significant differences in our working environments, compensation, benefits, and changes to employment laws. In addition, HR teams have dealt with concerns about recent racial injustices, helping colleagues cope with their mental health, isolation, and grief.

During the onset of COVID-19, many human resources departments were responsible for terminating employees that companies laid off. All of this adds on top of the personal challenges each HR member may be experiencing.

Any of those things alone would have been incredibly challenging for HR, let alone managing all of them at once. So it’s no wonder our human resources departments are struggling with the recent, more complicated aspects of employee relations. It’s been exhausting, and HR teams are feeling something different than regular burnout. Instead, they’re experiencing compassion fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue from Continuous Caregiving
While the term may be new to HR, compassion fatigue has existed for decades in caregiving jobs. However, the events of 2020 changed the nature of HR, requiring them to take on a caregiver role. After a year of increased work demands, it is no wonder HR professionals are experiencing compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue isn’t just burnout— it can feel similar but presents differently. Burnout and compassion fatigue, in some cases, can be co-occurring. Symptoms of compassion fatigue come from continuous exposure to others’ distress.

Developing compassion fatigue leads to a sense of numbness or a decreased ability to express compassion over time. Feeling this way is especially painful to HR professionals as they’re typically empathetic by nature.

Compassion fatigue can present in different ways. It stems from feeling responsible for others’ struggles, leading you to feel like you’ve run out of compassion to give. The best way to cope with compassion fatigue isn’t revolutionary but does require intentional behavior to counteract its effects.

Preventing compassion fatigue is sometimes uncomfortable for HR professionals— this is primarily due to their inclination to put others first. Preventing compassion fatigue is similar to the safety protocol of securing your oxygen mask before helping others. This approach makes sense logically, but it’s not the first instinct for those who are empathetic by nature.


How Empathy Helped Generate A $2 Trillion Company

Capitalism has a well-justified reputation for heartlessness, starting with its claim—ever since Adam Smith in 1776—that pursuit of businessmen’s self-interest is the best basis for a thriving economy. This reputation was heightened by the misguided quest by big business over the last half-century to maximize shareholder value.

It is therefore striking to see a major corporation not only base its whole modus operandi on the embrace of empathy but also see that pursuit coincide with a seven-fold increase in the market capitalization of one of the largest firms in the world: the case of Microsoft led by CEO and chairman, Satya Nadella.

Nadella’s Embrace Of Empathy
Yet Nadella’s embrace of empathy was a crucial plank of his business strategy and was was announced on day one of his tenure as CEO in February 2014. Yet empathy wasn’t put forward as an isolated idea. It was an integrative element of his whole strategy of customer centricity and working backwards from the customer’s needs and figuring out how they could be met.

Nadella took a risk in making empathy the centerpiece of his culture initiative. It risked being seen as a fuzzy, feel-good emotion concerned more with personal kindness, tenderness and caring than the conduct of a corporation. Yet Nadella’s personal philosophy was to connect new ideas with empathy for other people. “Ideas excite me,” he wrote in his 2017 book, Hit Refresh. “Empathy grounds and centers me.”

A personal philosophy is one thing. A business strategy is generally seen as something to do with the hard calculation of the business numbers. Yet Nadella made empathy tcentral to Microsoft’s business strategy.

The term “empathy” has since figured prominently and consistently in Nadella’s internal and external presentations. It is mentioned 53 times in his book, Hit Refresh. Nadella argues there that without empathy, Microsoft would never succeed in understanding customer needs—particularly needs customers themselves didn’t know they had—and delivering solutions to meet those needs. The bet paid off, as Microsoft’s staff found ways to upgrade and enhance products that have had users exclaiming, “I didn’t know I could do that!”

Empathy In Business
Discussion of empathy is unusual in business discussions but not unprecedented. In the 2009 book Wired to Care, strategy consultant, Dev Patnaik, argued that the real opportunity for companies doing business in the 21st century is to create a widely held sense of empathy for customers, pointing to Nike, Harley-Davidson, and IBM as possible examples. He argued that empathetic firms would see new opportunities more quickly than competitors, adapt to change more easily, and create workplaces that offer employees a greater sense of mission in their jobs.

In the 2011 book The Empathy Factor, organizational consultant Marie Miyashiro pointed to research showing that “empathy was found to be the strongest predictor of ethical leadership behavior out of 22 competencies in its management model, and empathy was one of the three strongest predictors of senior executive effectiveness.”

A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found empathy to be positively correlated to job performance amongst employees as well.

In his book, Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It. (Penguin) 2014) researcher Roman Krznaric argued empathy is “has the power both to transform our own lives and to bring about fundamental social change” and create “a revolution in human relationships”.

What is unprecedented is to carry out this revolution explicitly in practice and see it crowned with extraordinary business success.

What Is Empathy
What then is empathy? It has been defined as “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”

It involves “a person communicating an accurate recognition of the significance of another person’s ongoing intentional actions, associated emotional states, and personal characteristics in a manner that the recognized person can tolerate.”

What Empathy Isn’t
Nadella isn’t referring to empathy as touchy-feely stuff. He is talking about cognitive empathy, thinking through what another person must be feeling and thus understanding their needs might be and how their needs could be met.

That is different from compassion–an emotion people feel when others are in need, which motivates people to help them—and from sympathy—a feeling of care and understanding for someone in need. Even ethical purists recognize that empathy doesn’t need to be pursued for its own sake. Tactical (or “strategic”) empathy includes the deliberate use of perspective-taking to achieve certain desired ends.

Is Microsoft’s Empathy Genuine? Or Is It Just Good PR?
While some cynics must have wondered whether Nadella’s embrace of empathy was no more than a PR masterstroke aimed at concealing and enhancing Microsoft’s real goal of money making, it was hard to argue with Nadella’s personal embrace of empathy. His son Jain, now 25, is severely disabled. He was born weighing just three pounds, having suffered asphyxiation in utero; as a result, he is visually impaired, has limited communication and is quadriplegic. With the help of his wife, Nadella learned to empathize with his son. Rather than hide his son’s condition in the way that JFK’s family concealed the existence and status of his incapacitated sister Rosemary, Nadella made the caring of his son a key part of his public life.

While empathy as a central policy of one of the largest corporations in the world was unprecedented, it made perfect sense. Success in the digital economy is increasingly dependent of working backwards from customer needs, and then figuring out how to meet those needs. This contrasts with the industrial era approach of starting from what the firm produces or might produce and then see how that could be marketed to customers.

Empathy As A Way Of Life In The Digital Economy
Empathy at Microsoft isn’t just talk. It is a way of running—and developing—the business. “When you go in to talk to Satya,” says Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President of Enterprise Client and Mobility at Microsoft, “you start with the customer. What’s the customer problem? What are they trying to solve? How are we making their life better? And so this concept of customer obsession and being really close to customers has been incredibly important. He focuses on usage and usage becomes the primary factor that everything we do revolves around. In the past, we used to compensate and reward the engineering teams based upon factors like, Did you ship on the date? Did ship with the features that you said you would ship. But we didn’t know if it was being used or not.”

Given that an obsession with delivering value to customers is the principal foundation of success of any firm in the digital economy, it is not unreasonable to expect that other firms will learn from Microsoft’s example in basing that obsession on genuine empathy.


How To Instantly Discover If You’re Using The Wrong Leadership Style

If you walk into a random group of leaders and ask, “what’s the best type of leadership style?” you’ll almost certainly hear that leaders should be warm and empathic and caring. And while that’s certainly not a bad combination of attributes, it’s simply not true that every employee ranks empathy or caring among the top characteristics of their ideal leader.

For example, highly ambitious employees would much rather have a leader that challenges and pushes them. People suffering from intense burnout resulting from the chaos of the pandemic often prefer a leader who is disciplined, calm and methodical. The point is simply that there is no one perfect style of leadership. Rather, the best style for you is going to be the one that meets the needs of your followers.

More than one million people have taken the online test, What’s Your Leadership Style?, and we’ve discovered that there are four primary styles of leadership:

Diplomats prize interpersonal harmony. They are the social glue and affiliative force that keep groups together. They’re typically kind, social, and giving, and often have deep personal bonds with their employees.
Stewards value rules, processes, and cooperation. They believe that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and they move only as fast as the whole chain will allow.
Pragmatists have high standards, and they expect themselves and their employees to meet those standards. They’re driven, competitive, and they value hitting their goals above all else. They’re also hard-driving and often enjoy smashing through obstacles.
Idealists want to learn and grow, and they want everyone else to do the same. They’re open-minded and prize creativity from themselves and others.
While the Diplomat style is the one that most people say is the best leadership style, the truth is radically different. For example, while there are certainly employees who enjoy a warm and chatty workplace, there are others who aren’t there to make friends but rather to advance their careers. Highly ambitious go-getters don’t want lots of social bonds; they want big goals and huge achievements.

There’s a lot embedded in that simple script, so let’s dissect it piece by piece.

First, one of the goals of this dialogue is to communicate clearly that, no matter what the employee tells you, you’re going to respond constructively. When you say, “One of my goals is to improve my leadership approach,” you’re essentially telling them that their responses are actually helpful to you (even if those responses are somewhat critical).

Second, you’re asking your employees to give you only “one thing” that you could do differently. Asking a broader question or asking for a list of changes can, ironically, make this question far more difficult for the average employee to answer. That, in turn, will stress your employees and drastically reduce the chances that you get meaningful feedback.

If your employees tell you that they want to be challenged more, they’re likely saying that they want more of a Pragmatist style of leadership. If they’d like you to better understand their personal needs and motivators, they probably want you to be more of a Diplomat. If they’d like more consistency and predictability, they’re asking for a Steward style of leadership. And if they want opportunities to grow and develop, then you should apply a more Idealist approach.

The lesson here is simply that there isn’t one perfect style of leadership. And with one simple question, you can instantly discover the best approach for your unique group of employees.


This Is How To Transition From Manager To Leader

Just because you have a fancy job title doesn’t automatically mean you’re a great leader. Few career transitions are more challenging than making a move from manager to leader. But successfully making that shift is essential if you are planning to climb the corporate ladder.

So, what’s the real difference between a manager and a leader? Effective managers are project-focused and might be described as organized and detail-oriented. On the other hand, dynamic leaders are visionaries who inspire teams to go above and beyond. A leader adapts their management style to the individual and can get the most out of each team member.

Ultimately, the skills that got you where you are may not be the ones you need to get to the next level. Moving from manager to leader is a process that involves training and focus. Here are five strategies that will help you make a smooth transition.

A real leader inspires
Great leaders don’t just tell people what to do. They are masters at motivating their direct reports. Going from manager to leader means you are tapping into your own sense of purpose and can articulate that to your team. If employees are truly inspired by and proud of the values communicated by their leaders, they will not only perform better in good times but also stick it out when times are tough. In other words, inspirational leaders result in motivated employees, and motivated employees are loyal employees.

A real leader creates a shared vision
In addition to defining the tone for the company culture, effective leaders must learn how to communicate big ideas to everyone in the company, not just management. Transitioning from manager to leader means understanding how to craft transparent and consistent messaging that inspires the best work from your employees. Leaders create and drive the overall company vision so effectively that it becomes a shared vision.

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A real leader is emotionally intelligent
While traditional management skills are essential, a greater degree of emotional intelligence is necessary to nurture and motivate teams. Emotionally intelligent people understand their own emotions and how they affect their decisions and behaviors. They know how to read others and respond in a way that acknowledges their needs and concerns. People with high emotional intelligence, or EQ, are great listeners and go out of their way to consider others’ points of view. In addition, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology concluded that there is a strong correlation between EQ and job performance. Often, EQ is the difference between those who move up within an organization and those who don’t.

A real leader is transparent
As a leader, it’s important to set the foundation for transparent communication. In a survey from Harvard Business School, 70% of employees said they are most engaged when management communicates openly. Being open and honest is essential to create trust with your employees. This practice will, in turn, make your team comfortable opening up to you.

A real leader delegates
Even if it were possible to stay completely involved in all aspects of the job, it severely limits how your team can grow. It is crucial to develop a group of talented people around you that you can rely on to scale your operations more effectively. Allowing your employees to take on new projects will free up time on your calendar to focus on more critical high-level tasks. It also helps foster opportunities for your direct reports to build new skills. A Gallup study even found that companies with more talented individuals who can delegate have greater growth rates, higher revenue, and create a greater number of jobs.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” Great leaders nurture the strengths and talents of their people and build teams committed to achieving common goals. While moving from manager to leader is an exciting transformation, it is not without its challenges. But when you succeed, the rewards for both you and the company are immeasurable


How can HR help build models of success?

The post-pandemic world calls for growth, but also resilience. The world is changing faster than ever, forcing organisations to adapt quickly or fall behind. The pandemic has proven that a global shock of such a scale is very much possible and real. According to the IMF, a $28 trillion cumulative loss in output is expected over 2020-2025 due to the COVID-19.

On top of this, the rapid adoption of artificial intelligence, climate crisis and geopolitical instability are creating a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business environment for organisations to operate.

Business growth and innovation are certainly crucial, now more than ever. History suggests that companies who invest in innovation during downtimes outperform the market, while those who make cuts on innovation may risk falling behind.

What will help businesses bounce back from the pandemic is building internal resilience to unprecedented threats and creating capabilities to adapt to change by innovating at scale. However, 33% of corporations have apparently reduced their innovation budgets.

How do you continue to innovate under such heavier cost scrutiny, while also becoming a more resilient organisation? And what role does HR play in delivering this organisational imperative?

Intrapreneurship is the answer

You’ve heard of entrepreneurs, so what’s an intrapreneur? Intrapreneurs are employees who think and act in an entrepreneurial way within their organisations.

They resemble entrepreneurs as they apply many of the same skills and mindsets, such as problem-solving, creativity, communication as well as critical-thinking skills to deal with ambiguity. However, they are able to navigate the complexities of a large organisation’s environment by applying stellar stakeholder management skills and collaborating closely with their leaders.

Intrapreneurs become agents of change and growth for organisations, helping them innovate and transform. They use their skills to find, validate and establish better ways of operating, identify sources of efficiency, and launch profitable initiatives generating new revenue.

Why is intrapreneurship so powerful for growth and resilience?

Contrary to popular belief, innovation isn’t just about the people who work in the innovation labs or “skunkworks” teams that an increasing number of companies have now launched – and most of the time closed.

In an increasingly uncertain and ambiguous business environment, the organisation at large, not just a selected few, has to be able to adapt, react, and be resilient, at any level. Talent who lead and operate the core business must know how to manage ambiguity, come up with new ideas, validate and implement them, and mindsets too.

A workforce able to work and think in this way will help the organisation become intrapreneurial and so more resilient, adaptable and agile, in the face of shocks and market challenges to come.

Unsurprisingly, Intrapreneurship has been recognised as the most desirable skill of 2020 by the global recruitment firm Michael Page.

HR is key for intrapreneurship to deliver

While an entrepreneurial and agile mindset is crucial for innovation and transformation, becoming more resilient and innovative is essentially a cultural and people-centred change that needs to happen across the organisation.

This means ensuring that entrepreneurial mindsets, tools, and methodologies are understood and applied at multiple levels.

HR leaders have a key role to play in making this happen. As we head into a future world where automation and machine learning will increasingly augment humans and free up more time to focus on other areas of value, it’s becoming ever more crucial to plan for the future of work and prepare the foundation for a growth-focused, adaptable and resilient workforce fit.

Our Intrapreneurship programmes are designed to be cross-functional and focused on generating real business outcomes while building internal lean innovation capabilities that will eventually constitute a long-lasting core strength for the organisation.

We know well that organisations are different. This is why we partner with our clients to design programmes aligned with their specific culture and challenges.

However, a few questions always come to mind when we first talk to them.

Does your people/talent strategy take into account the development, application and measurement of intrapreneurial skillsets and mindsets? Does your reward and performance approach incentivise idea generation and validation? Is your learning & development offering equipped to enable this?

Implementing intrapreneurship successfully requires a holistic approach as well as top-down and bottom-up alignment.

Ensure leaders/managers are aligned on the company’s innovation strategy and their teams are aware of the strategic direction. Define a clear process for generating and validating ideas and set the right metrics to quantify value and progress.

Last but not least, provide Intrapreneurs with the time and space they need for their initiatives by removing barriers and ring-fencing their activities, creating an environment that encourages their creativity and resourcefulness and psychological safety.