July 12, 2022

From Resignation to Re-Engagement: Belonging in the Hybrid Workplace

In the world of work, we’re in one of those “moments that matter”—a period of cessation, reflection, and transition. The pandemic has yielded significant changes to the way we navigate our personal lives and our professional lives, and we’re seeing them blur together in unprecedented ways due to the changes in work habits that began with the transition to remote work in March 2020.

In addition to this professional upheaval, we’ve all been through a lot of change, loss, trauma, and even surprise and joy. But, it’s all a lot to deal with—and now we’re at an inflection point, a “make or break” moment where the world of work is being fundamentally redefined.

Bravely had a chance to sit down with Adam Smiley Poswolsky, workplace belonging expert and bestselling author (recording here). Employees are starting to take stock of what is most important—and overwhelmingly, what many have realized is that a huge component of their satisfaction at work relies on feeling valued, connected, included, and like they truly belong. The result is that this isn’t merely a period of resignation, but also an opportunity for re-engagement. Employers and employees need to ask themselves some tough questions:

  • How do we create a culture of belonging, especially within hybrid workforces?
  • How do we improve access, empowerment, and culture in the workplace?
  • How do we increase work happiness?

The crisis of disengagement

“70% of Americans are unhappy at work, and one fifth of those are so disengaged they are actively undermining their coworkers’ work.

– Adam Smiley Poswolsky

Why are millions of people waking up unfulfilled and unhappy at work? Historically it may have been tempting to blame employees, but we are currently in a reckoning with the ways we have worked and it’s imperative to our organizational health that leaders take the time to dig deeper.

Employees who are disconnected from their purpose at work, or feel a lack of belonging are removing themselves from an opportunity to positively impact our organizations—which means something significant has to change. Here are some of the ways that both companies and individual employees can rethink their workplace culture to promote re-engagement:

Find the believers
People who are happiest believe in the beauty of their dreams, and surround themselves with individuals who believe these dreams are possible. Rather than comparing themselves (often unfavorably) to individuals who seem to have it figured out, they look for their own beacons and pursue them faithfully. At the company level, managers need to create space for employees to do work they find meaningful, show up authentically, and share their gifts with their co-workers.

Facilitate a hybrid environment
Data show that most people want to remain working in a hybrid environment (such as one that offers remote work a couple of days a week, particularly Mondays and Fridays.) According to Adam, some 60% of people are more productive working from home than they expected to be, compared to 14% of people being less productive. People gain a lot more time when they’re not commuting: more time with family, more time with loved ones, more time for health, well-being and exercise. What’s more, 86% of working mothers will leave for a job that better supports their work-life needs, and 76% believe that respecting work-life balance is the most critical component to being accepted in the workplace. Individuals need to seek out the right kind of work environment to meet their needs, and companies need to prioritize these offerings as a means of creating equity in the workplace.

Combat loneliness
One of the challenges of hybrid work is that it can feed the “loneliness epidemic,” which began even before the pandemic. Research shows that loneliness is as damaging to your life as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness causes missed work, 45% lower productivity and quality of work, and higher risk of turnover. Lonely companies cost other companies $406 billion per year. On the flipside, employees with a best friend at work are seven times more engaged and have a sense of belonging, which pays significant dividends (which we’ll discuss below). So even if employees are working at home, companies and individuals need to give serious thought to pathways for meaningful connections. This can include on-demand coaching, which allows people to talk about challenges, dreams, aspirations, and conflicts in a safe space. We need to leverage technologies that make people less lonely and more engaged. (Also: Phone calls and in-person conversations reduce this loneliness! Picking up the phone is better than email.)

Cultivate “belonging”
According to Adam, belonging matters! He says, “A sense of belonging leads to a 56% increase in job performance, 50% decrease in turnover, and savings of $52 million per year for a big company (10,000 or more employees).”

So, this means that belonging leads to more promotions, more raises, more employees promoting the company itself. A work culture that prioritizes belonging is more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. In the book, No Hard Feelings, by Liz Fosslein and Molly West Duffy, they say, “Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having a voice that’s heard.” When companies make it possible for employees to be themselves at work, and have their voices heard, that sense of belonging makes people more likely to stay.

Culture is everyone’s job
There are some very practical things employees need for better engagement: paid time off and extended family leave, childcare subsidies, mental health coverage and resources, a promise of no near-term layoffs, elder-care support, parental support, home office subsidies, and a commitment to establishing and respecting work-life boundaries. But those things are all separate from (if overlapping with) culture. Culture is everyone’s job—and it’s not static, either. It evolves and grows.

Culture isn’t just about HR, and it’s not just long-term employees. It’s not about some kind of sign on the wall of the conference room, either. Culture means evolving and growing with new people, ideas, and voices. Companies that put culture first have great employee engagement.

“Culture is a living, breathing document that changes when something major happens like a reckoning with racial justice, or a pandemic.”

— Adam Smiley Poswolsky

Everyone needs to demonstrate inclusion, open communication, co-creation, collaboration, growth, clarity and transparency. This is a key step in creating a more inclusive workplace of belonging.

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