The psychology of work has changed, but some employers have yet to recognize the changes. Leaders who successfully navigate the change know how to listen, build trust and communicate.

Authors: Dean Schroeder Dolly Hussey

The end of the year always brings about reflection on what we have seen, heard and learned over the past 12 months. As HR consultants, when we think about 2022, terms that come to mind might include The Great Resignation, quiet quitting, employee experience (or EX), hybrid work, policy awareness, attraction, retention, psychological safety and mental health. And when we look across all these trends, one thing is clear: we're experiencing a seismic shift in the way we think about work.

The pandemic accelerated a shift that was already happening: the workforce is demanding a very different relationship with their employer. And employees have shown the ability to influence that relationship at the individual level. It's not just about just the power dynamic. There's been a change in the psychology of work that some employers have yet to recognize.

A lot of "stuff" has happened to employees over the past couple of years and, as a result, their capacity has greatly diminished. As individuals grapple with continued personal and work-related challenges, many can't go that extra mile, or, frankly, they simply don't want to. Many employees are rejecting the idea that work should be a central focus of their life. They're resisting the expectation of giving their all or putting in extra hours, day in and day out.

To some, it appears that these individuals aren't working hard enough, but the reality is that work is not our lives. Our jobs are one facet of our often complicated and busy lives, and if we want our employees to achieve better health, wellbeing and performance, we need to acknowledge that reality.

As leaders, coaches and mentors, we need to look at the root of this changing psychology around work and equip our people leaders with better ways to support their teams in the new world. While managing others can be challenging, there are three key ways to be more effective: listen, build trust and communicate.

Listen

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that companies need to put the wellbeing of their people first. Managers and leadership should be acutely aware of how their employees are feeling and be on the lookout for signs of disengagement and/or presenteeism — being at work physically but not mentally.

Commit to an open-door policy and regularly ask questions of your team. Ask them how they're feeling, check in on their workloads and give them the opportunity to share their goals, ambitions and career paths.

Build trust

When direct reports trust their leader, they feel cared for and believe that their leader is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing. To help build and strengthen trust, strive to build a positive relationship with each member of your team that respects the diversity of each individual — look for common ground while also embracing differences.

It's also important to be transparent and honest and to deliver on commitments that you make.

Communicate

While communication isn't always easy or natural, managers can implement a few simple things to be more effective:

  • Make it a goal talk with direct reports once each day. Although some days that may seem difficult, even a simple "hello, how are you today?" can go a long way.
  • Have one meaningful conversation per week with each team member that is 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Be courageous enough to be vulnerable. Being vulnerability is one of the most important things a manager can do to be a more successful leader.

Many approaches used in the past to drive results from employees are no longer effective. By listening to direct reports and building a trusting relationship rooted in open and frequent communication, we can build safer, more inclusive and positive workplaces for 2023 and beyond.

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