CEO of Avanade, the leading digital innovator on the Microsoft ecosystem and global leader in technology business solutions.
“How are you?”
Until recently, these three words were more frequently used as a standard greeting than an actual question, intended to solicit a quick and polite, “I’m fine, thanks,” response.
But after the pandemic and accompanying tragic events of the past year, the devastating human toll and the seismic shifts we’ve experienced, asking this question — and stopping to listen to the response — has taken on more importance than ever, particularly in the workplace.
Why? People are feeling burned out. A survey of more than 2,000 workers conducted between late March and early April 2020 found that 75% of employees said they feel more socially isolated; 65% reported higher stress levels; more than half felt greater anxiety and emotional exhaustion; and, shockingly, nearly 40% said their employers hadn’t even asked how they’d been doing since the pandemic began.
While there are many ways to ensure we put the well-being of our people first, three steps stand out:
Continue to evolve your policies to enable better work/life integration.
Organizations must evolve work policies to help people better integrate work with their personal lives. Flexible work schedules are a great place to start because they empower your team to work in a way that makes sense for their lives and routines.
Activities such as “well-being weeks” that reinforce specific mental health themes and establishing peer-run employee networks that provide personal and professional support take work/life integration one step further. Listening forums between leadership and employees and regular surveys will tell you whether your policies are working and what needs to change.
Remember that employee experience matters.
I’ve long believed in the truth behind a quote famously attributed to Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Employees must feel inspired, confident and cared for — not just in bad times, but in good times, too. If they do, you can be sure they will pass it along to all other stakeholders in your company. Bringing the employee experience to life can be as simple as sharing successes on social media or empowering leaders to acknowledge others through institutionalized recognition and reward programs.
Put your desired experience in writing by creating and articulating a value proposition specifically for current and prospective employees. This serves as a promise to your people by communicating how you’re unique, what you stand for and the essence of what makes your organization a great place to work. I believe words — and acting on them — make a difference in building a foundation that attracts the brightest talent and keeps them engaged over the course of their career.
Galvanize your teams around a common purpose.
When I become Avanade’s CEO in 2019, one of the first steps I took was formally introducing the company’s purpose: to make a genuine human impact. From my perspective, this is critical because it’s easy for our 44,000 people to focus solely on what the technology solutions we provide can do. But looking beyond the “ones and zeros” to the actual human impact of the work makes it that much more meaningful for our employees and our clients.
We all want to feel like we’re making a difference — that the work we do matters. More and more people want to work for a responsible company that cares about more than its bottom line and provides opportunities to leave this world better than it was before. A clearly articulated company purpose achieves all of that.
Creating a people-first culture is not a new idea, but events of the past year and our ability to thrive in the future make it an even more urgent imperative. It’s time to put words into action. HR visionary and author Eric Mosely summed it up beautifully when he said, “Employees achieve their fullest potential when they feel appreciated, connected and empowered for who they are and what they do.”
Those are words well said, though, as I mentioned above, I would add that employees should also feel inspired, confident and cared for because after all we’ve been through, putting people first seems like the only — and best — place to start.