Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Supporting Today’s Workforce”
As most of us have heard by now, there is a movement afoot that some have referred to as the ‘great resignation,’ in which thousands of employees of organizations are strongly considering, if not already putting into motion, departing from their jobs. Coined by Anthony Klotz, a Texas A&M University associate management professor who has studied the exits of hundreds of workers, the term refers to the phenomenon we’re seeing in the workforce where many people who had stayed in their roles during the pandemic because of uncertainty and concerns for their future, are now readying themselves to quit. And are doing it.
But are all organizations at risk of a mass exodus of their employees? Or have some companies, leaders and managers found ways to build their cultures and organizations where employees are truly motivated to stay, and feel loyal, rewarded, engaged, psychologically safe, and excited about the future in their roles and jobs?
To answer that question, I recently caught up with Michael Stallard. Stallard is an author, keynote speaker, and workshop leader on how leaders create and maintain cultures of connection that help individuals, teams and organizations thrive for a sustained period of time. He is co-founder and President of Connection Culture Group, a leadership training and consulting firm. Stallard’s recent clients have included Costco, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Turner Construction, Qualcomm, U.S. Air Force, and Yale-New Haven Health. Texas Christian University founded the TCU Center for Connection Culture based on Michael’s work.
He is the primary author of Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work, now in its 2nd edition, and Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity, and Productivity. Connection Culture was recently named one of the “best of the best” books by getAbstract. Michael also recently launched a popular online course with LinkedIn Learning titled Creating a Connection Culture. He joined me recently as a guest on my Finding Brave podcast talking about his insights on remote work, rising stress, and the critical need for connection.
Here’s what Stallard shares on how building strong, cohesive and empowering connection cultures mitigate the risk of resignation:
Kathy Caprino: Michael, from your view as a “connection culture” expert, what’s causing so many people today to resign from organizations?
Michael Stallard: Negative emotions in workplaces have been on the rise for many years and peaked in 2020, according to a recent Gallup Organization report released this summer. On a daily basis, 57% of employees in the U.S. and Canada experience stress, 48% worry, 26% feel sadness and 22% experience anger. These negative emotions spill over to affect their interactions with family and friends outside of work too.
Further, widespread loneliness and social isolation are contributing to rising anger and violence. Research has shown that aggression—whether physical, sexual or verbal—reduces stress hormones in the perpetrator. The process is called displacement behavior and sometimes referred to as displacement aggression. In contrast, positive connection with others and with our work cultures and other communities reduces stress hormones in a healthier way that doesn’t contribute to a spiraling up of anger and hate.
After experiencing working from home during the pandemic, many people have concluded that their current workplace is not good for their emotional and physical health and they need to make a change. In addition, the current labor shortage has given some individuals the confidence they can do better seeking employment elsewhere.
Caprino: You’ve discovered three different types of relational cultures at work that provide real insight into what’s presently happening. Would you explain them?
Stallard: Most managers focus on pursuing task excellence but don’t invest time developing relationship excellence with individual employees and within the group. As a result, the relational cultures they develop are cultures of control or cultures of indifference, both of which produce negative emotions.
Culture of Control
In a culture of control, leaders rule over others by being autocratic, over-controlling, and/or micromanaging. This culture breeds an environment of fear—people fear to make mistakes, take risks, or speak up.
Culture of Indifference
In a culture of indifference, people are so busy they don’t take time to connect with others. People often feel unappreciated and lonely, which triggers negative emotions including anxiety and depression.
Culture of Connection
The best culture is a culture of connection in which people feel connected to their supervisors, colleagues, senior leaders, their organization, their work, and the people they serve through their work. These social-psychological connections generate positive emotions that make people more enthusiastic and more energetic so they can do their best work. It’s no surprise that people want to stay in a culture that is rich in relational connection and those organizations experience high rates of retention.
Caprino: How do leaders cultivate a culture of connection? Can you share an example?
Stallard: Put simply, leaders cultivate a culture of connection when they communicate a vision that unites people, value people as individuals rather than thinking or treating them as mere means to an end, and give people a voice to share their ideas then consider those ideas. An easy way to remember it is the 3Vs of Vision + Value + Voice.
Costco is recognized by Forbes as being one of America’s best large employers and it has been near the top of Forbes’ list each year. From my work with Costco, I’ve seen that employees are united by Costco’s vision to “do the right thing.”
1. Obey the law
2. Take care of our members
3. Take care of our employees
4. Respect our suppliers, and
5. Reward our shareholders.
One way that Costco’s senior leaders demonstrate they value employees is by paying attractive wages and providing generous benefits. Costco also has an apprentice-like culture that helps people advance in their careers.
Costco employees have a voice to share their ideas. The year I spoke at Costco’s Annual Managers’ Conference, I saw video after video of employees from all around the world sharing their ideas on how to improve the member and employee experience, reduce costs, or improve efficiency. These ideas coming from the front lines were celebrated and held up as examples for other Costco warehouse locations to adopt.
Costco has been phenomenally successful and its shareholder returns have reflected that.
There are many other examples of how leaders can foster a connection culture, including:
- When you hire and promote people, consider their connection skills and whether or not they contribute to their team’s connection
- Learn people’s career aspirations and find ways to help them make progress
- Be curious and interested about people’s interests outside of work
- Make time on a regular basis for team-building events (like having a lunch together at a local restaurant, attend a professional sporting event together, or volunteer to help a local nonprofit organization)
- Send handwritten notes to thank individuals when they do outstanding work.
Caprino: What are essential strategies that leaders and managers can employ to dramatically boost connection on their teams and in their organizations?
Stallard: Connection is based on meeting seven universal human needs at work: respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth, meaning, and progress. Here are a few ways to tap into the 3Vs to meet these needs.
Here are some key strategies:
Keep the group’s vision in the forefront
Help people keep the group’s vision in mind by talking together about these questions: Where are we going? Why is it important to get there? What’s the plan to get there? What’s your role in the plan?
Show you care
Demonstrate clearly and openly that you care about people as individuals. The best way to do this is to ask questions and mean it – be interested and curious in the people you work with. Ask about their lives outside of work so you learn about their personal side. Research by Ashley Hardin at Washington University found that personal knowledge improves communication and cooperation, and reduces back-stabbing.
Support employees to thrive
Show you care about people’s employee experience and career. Ask what work environment helps them do their best work. Make sure they have the training, resources, and support they need to do their job well. Let them know you are available if they need help. A lot of leaders say they care about people but don’t show it and that comes across as indifference.
Deal with the jerks
Don’t be passive, weak or remain in denial. Deal with the jerks. They poison the work environment and cause disconnection. Give them an opportunity and support to change their ways, and if they don’t, help them move on to something outside of your company.
Give people a voice and listen
Regularly, give people a voice by seeking their ideas, considering them, and implementing the best ones. And always be sure to give people the credit they are due.
In Connection Culture, I explain a process called Knowledge Flow Sessions that incorporates Vision, Value, and Voice. A leader starts by sharing their plan then asks people “what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s missing from it?” and listens to what people share, capturing what is being said.
It is not a time to challenge someone’s input but merely thank them for sharing. After the session, the leader considers what was said and how the original plan should be adapted. Following up in writing, the leader communicates what they heard and what they plan to do, and thanks those whose ideas are not being acted on now while explaining that they may act on them at a later date.
Thank people for their contributions, privately and publicly
Keep detailed track of what your team accomplishes and share the list periodically, thanking people for their efforts. Noting the progress will be encouraging for everyone.
Overall, the key to stemming the tide of the great resignation is to cultivate a culture of connection by identifying the set of practices that boost connection among your team then implementing them on a regular basis so that connection is maintained. This may seem like commonsense, but we have found that it is truly uncommon in practice.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a career and leadership coach, speaker, educator, and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professionals build their most rewarding careers through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs, Finding Brave podcast, and courses.