Why we struggle to help our people reach their full potential

OpenBlend explores the findings and looks at what we can take from Gallup's The State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report, which represents the collective voice of the global employee.

As we approach that season where our thoughts traditionally turn to generosity, conviviality and (perhaps) doing things a little differently in the New Year, Gallup is on hand with its annual review of how good we’ve all been (at work). The State of the Global Workplace takes a long hard look at how we’re feeling about work, and it turns out that many of us are feeling more than a little grim. 

But we at OpenBlend are intrigued to see how well Gallup’s conclusions are mirroring our own, particularly on the vital intersection between engagement and wellbeing. As part of their introduction, we see several lines that could have come straight from the OpenBlend playbook, like this example: 

“How people experience work influences their lives outside of work. Employees who consistently experience high levels of burnout at work say their job makes it difficult to fulfill their family responsibilities.”

As you might expect, Gallup leads with its North American results. They make for tough reading in places. The headline stat is that just under 1 in 3 (33%) are actively engaged at work. And when you open the box, the chocolate inside is more of a cockroach cluster than a hazelnut praline, because that’s as good as it gets. The US and Canada are the most engaged region on Earth. Europe, if you’re wondering, comes in last with just 14% of employees identifying as engaged at work. So when Gallup points all this out and, in the same paragraph, tells you that engagement may account for 11% of GDP globally, and that low engagement costs the global economy $7.8 trillion annually, we need to pay attention. 

And yes, of course, the pandemic has had an effect. Engagement was up in 2019 but the lockdowns and human toll have stalled the upwards trend. Forty-four percent of employees reported feeling stressed, with the important distinction that they didn’t necessarily feel stressed about work. But the feelings you carry into the workplace have an undeniable effect on your experience of work. Our own research this year has looked at the key enablers of high performance, and “My Interaction with Work” features prominently. The factors which feed into this sound remarkably relevant:

  • Do I have a tailored and flexible working pattern which suits my situation? 
  • Can I perform irrespective of my location, contracted hours, etc? 
  • Can I manage my wider responsibilities in addition to my work? 

Increasingly, both our own research and Gallup’s suggest that our working and personal lives are becoming ever more nebulous and co-dependent. If we want to perform at our best level, we need a certain amount of harmony, for lack of a better word, in both. Doubtless, this is driven in part by changing working patterns - more opportunities to work from home offer more opportunities for the demands of one to encroach on the other. But it’s also about self-awareness. More and more of us are unwilling to accept the idea of wearing an impenetrable “work face” when we go in or turn on our laptops. We know there’s nothing strange about having (for example) a sick child to worry about, and we’re entitled to expect some latitude from our manager when this entirely normal thing happens. 

Now take a look at this quote, from the same Gallup report: 

“Organizations need to think about the whole person, not just the worker. Leaders need to add wellbeing measurements to their executive dashboards. This can alert them to critical warning signs that do not show up on traditional spreadsheets. They also need to prioritize employee wellbeing as part of their employer brand promise. When leaders take responsibility for the wellbeing of their workers, the result is not only productive organizations, but thriving individuals, families and communities.”

Leaders need to know this. Leaders need to take responsibility for this. But it’s the managers who need to actually get it done. Managers deal directly with their people, so will almost certainly be able to spot those “warning signs that do not show up on spreadsheets”. Managers control the flow of work, allocating tasks and setting timelines. Our own deep dive into performance enablement identified managers as the pivotal factors in boosting and maintaining performance. Our final quote from Gallup shows how accurate that assessment is: 

“A manager’s effect on a workplace is so significant that Gallup can predict 70% of the variance in team engagement just by getting to know the boss.”

Some leaders may interpret this as yet another set of responsibilities and skills for their managers to master - more workload for a group which already has plenty to worry about. We would agree and argue that this should always have been the manager’s responsibility; that the good ones do this as a matter of course, using their own emotional intelligence to solve a human problem which is also very much an organisational one; and that the right tools and prompts will help even the dourest manager to ask the right questions and set, review and track the solutions. 

Managers may take refuge in the process if they’re uncomfortable talking about human factors. But if we make the human factors part of the process, we can unlock that open dialogue which engenders trust, encourages resilience and supports and boosts performance. Goodwill, and the desire to support each other in the interest of delivering better work, can create a strong workplace relationship in which everyone feels able to say what’s on their mind. And Gallup paints a rosy picture of those workplaces: up to 95% of employees report that they’re treated with respect all day; 87% reporting that they smiled and laughed a lot at work… oh yes, and that business units with engaged workers reported 23% higher profits than those with miserable workers. The bottom line is that this works for the bottom line. It’s not an “HR initiative”: it’s essential business planning. 

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