With the new year comes new workplace predictions for every organization. What are the things every organization need to be ready to implement this 2022? Debra and lisa analyze the past year and take aim at the important things organizations must focus on. Culture, agility, diversity and inclusion – these aren’t just buzzwords but things to keep an eye on in 2022. Tune in to Debra and lisa as they give valuable insights for what organizations, leaders and employees can expect in the coming days.
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Workplace Predictions 2022
Debra and lisa Share their Insights on what Employees and Organizational Leaders Can Expect in the Year Ahead
We would like to welcome you back. Thank you very much for staying with us through the first part of Debra and I working together, which started in 2021. We are in 2022. Debra, Happy New Year.
Thank you. Happy New Year to you too.
Workplaces In 2022: Where Are We Headed To?
I am excited about this episode because you and I were avid readers. We listen to podcasts, follow people on Twitter, and get our information from many different places. You and I had been talking about what the workplace is going to be like in 2022. We’re going to be doing this in five parts for our readers. We’ll predict what are going to be the main themes of 2022 when it comes to organizations and working people. Debra, why don’t you tell us what it is that we have been thinking about and what we are going to be talking about?
I was going to lay out the top five things that we’re focusing on that we think are going to be the areas of focus and should be a focus of concern for organizations and organizational leaders and what people could expect in the workplace. We’ll then come back and go through each one of them. To start, attracting and retaining talent in the year ahead will be a challenge. Continued focus on belonging, equity and inclusion. Number three will be working through differences and potentials for conflict in the workplace. Next would be a continued focus on mental health and burnout. It’s probably not going to be a surprise to most people to hear that. Lastly, organizational culture or workplace culture. Let’s go back to the first one.
Attracting, Hiring And Keeping Talent In 2022
When we talk about attracting and retaining talent, part of what I’m thinking about when we talk about this is also the changing mindset of employees. We saw this with The Great Resignation in 2021. You and I have talked about that and have already done an episode on that. This is predicted to continue and get worse before it gets better. There is this shifting changing mindset but at the same time, some of the reports I’m reading are also predicting that the economy will grow faster than the labor market. This is true in the US and UK, maybe to a lesser degree in Canada, but it’s true in North America.
In addition to potentially people rethinking work, the role that work plays in their life, how they’re integrating work into their lives, and more people resigning and moving around, we’ve also potentially got a situation where there may not be enough people for the amount of work that there is to do. Let’s start with that. Any thoughts on that, Lisa? Anything else you want to add to this challenge around talent in 2022?
The big question is where are those jobs? What are they going to be producing? Are they jobs that produce things? Are they jobs that distribute things? Are they jobs for knowledge workers?
I think it’s going to be felt across the board to some degree but it will be felt most strongly in the service, hospitality and retail sectors. That would be the most significant in terms of finding people. Many organizations have openings that they are having trouble filling. One of the things that organizations need to start thinking about is loosening up what they are looking for when they are going to market for talent.
Ending burnout culture requires better working conditions and rethinking workplace practices and unspoken expectations that contribute to exhaustion and stress.
I’ve worked with so many people who have been in a job search. They look at a job posting and say, “Who are these unicorns that organizations are looking for?” They had this long list of very specific criteria and skills that they are looking for. They don’t want to hire anybody who hasn’t done that same job before necessarily. They haven’t done as much hiring for potential. This is an area where organizations are going to be pressured to shift a little bit.
I want to go back to the types of jobs that are going to be available. One of the things that are going to be a challenge is if people have resigned from a service job, they are not going to be entering into white-collar positions. People who have less of the needed criteria or credentials, even though they might be scaled to be in those jobs, we haven’t yet loosened this feeling or sense that people need to have credentials in order to be hired. Maybe organizations will be looking for work but I don’t think they’re going to be taking that many chances on bringing people who don’t have a lot of experience. They might be excellent employees in retail and service jobs, but I’m not sure there is going to be migration up into different kinds of jobs.
You also mentioned the criteria that employers are looking for when it comes to hiring. There is a tension there between looking for the perfect employee or the unicorn and needing to loosen what it is that we’re looking for. Many jobs, people can be trained for on the job. What organizations need to step away from is the precise ingredients or recipe of what they are looking for, and hire people who are interested in the work, align with the culture and are hungry to make a contribution. I can tell you how often this has happened to me throughout my career where I look at these seventeen bullet points of what’s required in the job.
In the field that I work which is organizational development, if you’ve already figured out what it is that you need the person to do, why don’t you just get people to do the stuff as opposed to hiring somebody to manage the people who are going to be doing the stuff? I’ve always found that a little bit funny. It’s a discouraging thing when you see something you’re excited about, a company you’ve wanted to work for, you have maybe a third of what they are looking for and then you don’t apply. We’re losing people because of the way the job descriptions are being written. I would like to offer a prediction/recommendation that job descriptions be simplified and that a wider pool of talent be considered for the available positions.
In addition to that, organizations are going to have to start looking at how they’re compensating people. We’ve got inflation too, so that’s going to be an increasing pressure as well. It’s not just their hiring process but how they are retaining talent and rewarding them as well. There will be pressure on salary increases as well, which has been not flat but slow over the past few years.
It is shocking given all the profits and the record amount of money. The stock market is a little volatile but there is value being contributed. We’re not seeing it in how people are being compensated. As we’ve often said, people will vote with their feet. If they are not getting what they want and where they are, they’re going to leave. Many people would rather be unemployed and figuring out what they’re going to do next or maybe upping their education than jumping back into a job market where the salaries are not aligned with the skills that are being demanded.
With that, there will also be a higher need for talent, mobility and fluidity within the organization. These rigid structures and hierarchies will be under pressure to change. Organizations are going to need to be able to move talent where it’s needed in the organization. They are going to need to look internally at their current talent pool. It’s not always by going to market and finding the perfect candidate. They are going to need to look at how people are learning in the organization. That’s rapid learning and diversifying people’s portfolios. One of the best approaches to that is to let people drive it.
Let the employees drive where they are curious. What problems do they want to solve in the organization? If you want people who are motivated, let them pick the things that they want to work on. If you want discretionary effort, let them tell you what they’re most interested and curious about. It’s just continued professional growth. I’ve heard this term used. It’s not the one that I use very often but democratizing coaching. Everybody should have access to some form of coaching. There is nothing better than that person being a neutral third party or as much as possible.
There is only so much a person’s boss can do. A good leader will have some good coaching skills. There will be some relationships between employees and leaders that can thrive in this area. Employees are always going to have that lens of, “This is my boss I’m talking to here.” There is a power difference there. A coach that’s not in that position is a different dynamic and relationship. Organizations will do well to be thinking about that form of support for as many employees as possible.
Employees are rethinking the role work plays in an abundant and happy life.
The old line was apocryphal. The CEO talking to the head of finance and the head of finance is wanting to cut costs. He says to the CEO, “What if we spend money on this training and people leave?” The CEO responds, “What if we don’t provide it and they stay?” It’s the same thing about coaching. If you coach them and they leave while you’re creating a bigger talent pool in the world and maybe you have a great relationship, they will come back. If you don’t coach them and they don’t get the support and development, and they stay, you’re choosing to not develop your workforce so they can deliver on your vision and mission.
I agree with you about the democratization of coaching. A part of that is also getting people out of the thinking that coaching is to fix problems. Sometimes it is, but the vast majority of coaching starts you at a good place and gets you exponentially further ahead in how you think or work with other people. Coaching is not therapy, consulting or mentoring people like, “When I was a youngster.” Coaching is about helping people develop to their full potential. We want everybody in the organization who is up to that standard.
It helps develop power skills or soft skills. There is going to be a real emphasis in organizations on teaching people how to lead, work in teams, collaborate, communicate and think strategically. That whole area is increasingly important. What I also hope to see is that those skills become the prerequisite for leadership.
There is a piece that came out in Time Magazine in June 2021. The title of the piece is The Pandemic Has Revealed How Much We Hate Our Jobs. When I think about a job, there are two pieces to it. What is the thing I’ve been hired to do? What are the skills, expertise, interests, energy and passion that I bring to it? It’s me meeting what it is that the job offers and being engaged in doing the job. That’s only part of it. The whole other piece is the environment in which we work. We’re going to be talking about culture.
My prediction is we’ve started this during COVID from these rigid ideas about Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 5:00, showing up in the office. I was reading this statistic about how many hours a woman spends throughout her career on getting ready for work like hair and makeup. I don’t know if you’ve had this question over time in your working life, “What is business casual?” All the time and energy that goes into how I need to physically present myself has nothing to do with the job I’m doing.
I predict that we’re going to stay in the soft pants and not go as much to the hard pants. One of my predictions around talent is people are going to demand that they be appreciated and accepted for the labor that they provide, the expertise and skills, and not for having to dress up in a costume and perform in a role that is separate from what they’ve been hired to do.
Related to that, there is a push for more flexibility in general in how people work. Organizations are going to continue to be challenged to think about the way work is structured, how they can hand over more autonomy to the people doing the work, and become as flexible as possible in terms of the hours of work and things like that. The term that I’ve heard used a lot is work-life integration. We do see that but people still need some boundaries. The challenging part that I’m seeing with the pandemic is work is happening in the middle of people’s homes. While there are advantages to that and some people like it because they won’t have to go to an office, it also can make it a bit challenging to separate from your work.
That line between work and home has been blurring for decades with email and smartphones. In my view, the pandemic exacerbated that. I wanted to add one thing. I keep this quote on my desktop from Adam Grant who studies work. He is an academic. He’s got a bunch of books out. He has this thing that says, “The Great Resignation isn’t a mad dash away from the office. It’s the culmination of a long march towards freedom.”
Our prefrontal cortexes, the part of brain used for higher level thinking, decision making, problem solving and creativity, is not designed to work an 8-hour day.
This has been bubbling for a long time. There’s one last point I want to make in this area. I’m going to take some of the stats from Josh Bersin’s report and predictions for 2022. Josh Bersin, if anybody doesn’t know, does a lot of research and writing mostly in the HR space but it affects organizations across the board. Some of this, I’m pulling from his report. I was very relieved to see that he is talking about climate. It’s one of the first times I’ve seen it mentioned in a report like this. Bersin is predicting that sustainability and global climate change will become HR priorities.
First of all, it’s like, “Hallelujah,” but also, “Really? This is going to become HR’s problem?” That makes me laugh. HR to the rescue amongst everything else you’re worried about is sad and funny. All of the gnarly and difficult societal changes we see in pressures seem to land in the HR department first. HR then has to figure out how to convince the real decision-makers and people at the top of the pyramid to take things seriously. I wish them luck on that, but here is some of what I want to say on this. This is what some of the research is showing.
Sixty-five percent of people at a study said that they will not work for a company that does not focus on sustainability, carbon-neutral strategies and environmental projections. More than 80% say their workplaces are not doing enough. Companies that prioritize sustainability are much more likely to be considered a great place to work, have higher employee satisfaction rates, and have higher levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Especially as the pandemic starts to become less of a focus and hopefully, go into the background of our thinking a little bit, this has been so much the focus of our everyday life, the climate is going to take its place. Climate needs to be a conversation that we’re having. In terms of an employer, brand, reputation and also client retention, this is going to become an area employers are going to need to start paying attention to.
Belonging, Equity And Inclusion In The Modern Workplace
The next one is belonging, equity and inclusion. This is one that’s got a lot of attention over the last couple of years. What I hope is that organizations and leaders will spend the time and energy to start to understand better what unconscious and unexamined bias is and how that works. There is a lot of science and research in this area. Also, to understand how systemic issues work. This is the episode we did with Jessica Nordell and her book, The End of Bias, and the computer simulation that she did to show how small amounts of bias add up in organizations and anywhere. It’s small and systemic, whether it’s sexism or racism.
One of the real challenges in this area is people are thinking, “I’m not seeing blatant sexism. It’s not slapping me in the face when I walk through the door. Therefore, it must not exist.” If you do your homework on this, you listen to people and you look at the research, what you’re going to discover is there are not these big smoking guns of sexism and racism. It’s these little tiny amounts that over time can have huge impacts. Until people start to understand how this works, they are not going to create the change that is necessary for this area.
Nary a day goes by in which we see these issues play out. One of the challenges that organizations and people everywhere face is this unbelievably deep fear of getting it wrong. It’s easy to say, “We support Black Lives Matter. We’re going to add diversity and inclusion things into our employee manual.” It’s easy to come up with some corporate statements from the CEO about how diverse populations of employees are valued in the organization. To do the work of having conversations that examine those deep biases is difficult, and people are afraid of having them. I predict that there will be some people stepping up to start role modeling what that looks like because the status quo is not tenable.
If you want an organization that attracts people of all shapes, sizes, colors, ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender to buy or use your products, you’re going to want people of all of those dimensions in your organization who can give intel or lived experience. If you’re going to keep putting your head in the sand, not deal with diversity and inclusion issues, or do it in a performative manner, your business is going to tank at some point. That’s one of my predictions. Maybe it’s not 2022 but beyond White men, other people buy cars.
I want to tell you a brief story. I was listening to an episode on American Public Radio about Joe Lewis, the boxer. He was into the swing of things in his career from the early or mid-‘30s to the 1951-ish. He was widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential boxers of all time. He is known for his boxing, temperament and being even-handed. He is not a nobody. When he retired, he wanted to open a car dealership. He approached Ford and said, “I want to do this. More Black people like me want to buy cars. I can set up a thriving business in Chicago. The clientele is baked into where I live, a large population of Black people in Chicago.” Ford said, “We’re going to think about this so sit tight, Mr. Lewis.”
What they did is they called all the dealers who ran all the other dealerships in Chicago, who were all White men, and they pooh-poohed the idea. They never directly said, “We don’t want a Black man running a dealership.” What they said is they didn’t think that this was something that Ford should entertain at the time. It’s a veiled language. I’m going back over 50 years in history, but the point I’m making here is you’re losing an entire swath of potential clients or consumers if you’re only thinking in one regard around the people who are interested in your products. The other thing is you might be thinking of those people but you’re using stereotypes to sell them products.
Used to be that leaders were pushing change messages down the hierarchy – employees needed to change so the company could be more competitive and agile. Now the push for change is bubbling up from the employee base pressuring companies to be flexible in their workplace practices.
I love this thing about the internet, Twitter and all these places where people call organizations out on the things that they are getting wrong. Sometimes it goes beyond, “You might want to rethink this,” and there is some nasty stuff that was said. One of the great democratizers of feedback towards organizations is social media. I would hope that people continue tactfully to share feedback with organizations that aren’t showing the diversity that is present in our society, that aren’t hiring people from diverse backgrounds and aren’t selling, marketing or reaching out to people from diverse backgrounds.
Have you checked out the new Sex and the City series?
I’m feeling deep resistance.
I was not a regular watcher of the other series but I started watching this one. They are on the topic of people not knowing what to say, saying the wrong thing and being afraid. I’m only a few episodes into this but there have been a few funny scenes so far where some of the characters are saying all the wrong things and getting things very wrong when it comes to trying to engage and connect with people from diverse backgrounds. There is this one scene where Miranda is going to do some additional schooling. She walks into the first day of a class. The professor walks in. The professor has these beautiful, long, dark braids that go down to about her bum.
Miranda starts going down a path of digging herself into a hole unintentionally that she then has to apologetically dig her way out of. It all ends well. It was a very funny look at exactly what you’re saying where there is a lot of tension in workplaces and our society at large around how we are even talking to one another about some of these things. It does take a bit of courageousness and willingness to go there anyway, call out and ask for the things we don’t know.
The last thing I’ll say on this particular one is we need to stop placing the burden of solving this issue on women and people of color. There have got to be other people in the workplace who need to take this up. This is not necessarily a bad idea but unless we are going to start recognizing, rewarding and promoting people who take this on and are making headway in this area, it’s an extra burden and mental load. A lot of people of color don’t want to have to be the poster child of this in their workplace. They don’t want to be the one who has to keep educating people on this. We need to spread the workload on this.
I don’t want to be the spokesperson for equal pay or all kinds of other issues that particularly affect women, harassment and being called a girl in the workplace. It still happens. We need to educate ourselves and not put a burden of education on people unless they are hired and paid to provide that for us. I completely agree. Here is the thing that is going to be tricky that leaders are going to need to learn how to do. We need to learn how to have conversations when a White man who is maybe mid-career say that they have no hope of rising in the organization because of all of us who are not White men, educated, talented and deserving of work for the backgrounds and the expertise that we have. They are like, “What career am I going to have? I’ve imagined that I’m going to rise up in the organization but now I can’t.”
Leaders need to have conversations with White men who are saying these kinds of things. This is not about taking opportunities away from White men. This is about enlarging our scope of what we know a talented workforce is and providing opportunities to people who can do meaningful and important work, regardless of the bodily shape, form, brain, whatever the package that we’ve come in. Let me repeat what we learned from Jessica Nordell in one of our episodes. Fifty percent of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies have White men over 6 feet tall, but this only represents 5% of the population.
What organizations need to step away from is the precise ingredients or the recipe of what they’re looking for, and hire for people who are interested in the work, who align with the culture, who are hungry to make a contribution.
We want the richest diversity we can and leaders are going to need to step up both beyond their fears. I predict some of them will and are real role models. They need to learn how to have difficult conversations. I do feel we’re leaning in that direction. I’m a little soap–boxy on this one because it needs to happen. For those who aren’t doing it, step aside and let those courageous leaders move forward and help people have these conversations.
Conflict Management and Resolution
It segues amazingly into the next one, which is managing through conflict. I’ve seen a little bit written about this. I haven’t seen it written a lot about but this is going to be an area of focus because of all of the prickly issues that we’ve been talking about and even what the pandemic has brought to light, as people going back to work in a physical way into a space, there is going to be a lot of challenging issues and things to talk about. I’ll use the pandemic as an example. I’ve seen this play out even in my personal life. The pandemic has almost become similar to politics and religion. It’s one of those topics where you’re not sure you should bring it up at the dinner table. You’re thinking, “Unless I know where someone sits on this one, there could be some contention.”
As we begin to move forward in the world of work and we think about how our workplaces will be structured, whether people are vaccinated or not, there are so many things with this diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s a huge area where people need to be able to talk about things that they disagree on. Organizations must have very clear standards around respectful conduct in the workplace. I’m not overall a fan of a lot of rules, regulations and policies. In general, we want less bureaucracy and more freedom and mobility.
The standards of conduct about how people are spoken to and treated within the workplace is something that needs to be held to a very high standard. It needs to be applied to everybody equally in the organization no matter what level you are at. We have seen a lot of examples of bad behavior. We’ve seen it in government, workplaces and a lot of different spaces. I don’t think we have a hope of moving forward in a meaningful way if people can’t talk about their differences in a respectful manner.
I’m glad you started off mentioning COVID because whether it’s distancing, masks, hand sanitizing or vaccination status, most of us are pretty clear on what we’re committed to doing and the stance that we’ve taken vis-a-vis all of this. Being around people with different views has been triggering conflict on this from the start of the pandemic. Let’s not forget, we’re all a little maxed out. There is the continuum of maxed out to F and maxed out, to use that technical term. The cognitive and affective emotional loads that we’re carrying are heavier. Before, something might have been an annoyance and something you disagreed with like you don’t like the smell of somebody’s lunch. Now, we’re in a whole other realm.
Our ability and resiliency to deal with conflict is a little shot, and we’re dealing with values around health. I wanted to talk a little bit about this idea of conflict because we have never been great at living with conflict and having conflict in the workplace. Years ago, when I started my career, you’re given things you’re going to teach. I was asked to teach a module on conflict resolution. I quickly learned probably half an hour into it that many conflicts cannot be resolved. We’re talking about differences of values like what we were talking about briefly around vaccination status.
The best that I thought I could do was help them manage these differences. How do we manage the conflict so we can live with it? When I was doing this work, I realized I grew up in a family where there was never any overt conflict. I never learned how to be in a difficult conversation with someone. I learned that much later in life. One of the things I learned, if there was something I disagreed with, was to keep my mouth shut as opposed to learning how to engage. What I predict as we step into this is how to engage productively in conflict, and leaders are going to have to play a role. How to not necessarily scream, slam doors and run away from open-concept desks that we never really liked in the first place and be able to engage in a conversation.
If you can’t resolve something, there are ways of working through things. Here is the other thing. Managing, living with or engaging with conflict is beyond a set of techniques. What we’re looking at is how do we step out of working with conflict as an organizational thing? This is our life’s work in some ways. This is personal development. In order to be good at conflict, we have to understand our relationships to conflict. Are we avoidant? Do we need to win at all costs? We have some problems we all need to solve together.
We’re going to have differences. There is going to be friction and we’re going to rub up against each other, but learning how to engage respectfully in conflicts that are related to race or sexism is going to be important. We need to start with ways that we can identify our behavior. I encourage people to take a serious look at do you want to live the way you live with conflict? Are they being avoidant or being fighters? Is this going to help you and your organization get to where you want to be?
We need to educate ourselves and not put a burden of education on people unless they are hired and paid to provide that for us.
There are a couple of great resources for this. What is the work around psychological safety? This is based on the work of Amy Edmondson, who originally coined the term. She is a Harvard Business School professor. Another interesting thing potentially for our readers to look at, if they are interested, is a research study that was done by Google called the Aristotle Project in 2012. They looked at creating a psychologically safe work environment and the differences that were made in their business. I won’t spend a lot of time talking about that but that’s a couple of areas to dig into further.
The other person I want to mention who is doing some interesting work in this space is Priya Parker. She wrote a book called The Art of Gathering. Priya has some interesting guidebooks for gathering. I heard her interviewed on a podcast which is what started me going down this road of thinking about when we start to gather together again, what’s that going to look like? There is going to be all this awkwardness, even in how we greet people. Is it changing? How is our behavior going to be changing? She has got a guide around both in-person meetings and virtual gatherings that can be helpful.
Number four on our list is mental health and burnout exacerbated by the pandemic. We were going down this path already. Our culture around work was already problematic in this area. We’ve shot a light on this big problem area. I’m going to tee this up, Lisa. It’s going to send you off to something that you’re on the same page with me about. This is not about covering people’s chiropractic bills and having someone come in and do a workshop on mindfulness. This is about looking at your workplace practices. What is causing people to be stressed and burning out? Look at your actual day-to-day practices, whether they are actual policies and practices or the unspoken expectations in a workplace.
Mental Health And The Workplace
Mental illness and mental health have been issues forever. Human beings are complicated. Sometimes some things don’t work 100% with our bodies. It’s the same thing with our brains. Because of that, mental health problems and issues of health have also been a part of the workplace but mostly hidden because of stigma. The vast majority of people who struggled with these issues manage very well on their own, sometimes with the support of EAP programs in the workplace but mostly, people dig into their own pockets, getting therapy, getting the right medical help if they have a mental health condition that can be supported through the use of medication.
What is different? The pandemic did two things. One is it added to the load that we all carry. We are fraying out at a faster pace than we would before. The other is when you look at what is causing all this stress, mental burden and emotional pain, it’s what’s being expected and demanded of us from the workplace. We’re seeing and understanding that the workplace is one of the main causes of mental health challenges and burnout. It’s because of how we’ve been living and what is expected of us from work. We’ve got all this other stuff going on that we’re trying to manage, but we’re trying to manage it in addition to these workplaces that are uncompromising in the demands that they place on us.
Look at the beginning of the pandemic. The sales of computer software to monitor, how many clicks on people’s keyboards, software that could take a screenshot of your screen at any given time during the day if your mouse wasn’t moving. These are maybe the more extreme examples but they are relatively prevalent. I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to throughout the pandemic that suddenly had to be at 8:00 meetings with their team or boss and to make sure that they were up and dressed at least from the waist up and ready to work.
There were issues of trust around all of this. These put an excessive burden on people who are already trying to manage some very complex situations in their personal lives. This is in addition to all the stuff we’ve talked about in terms of people’s different values around COVID protocols. Here is the crazy thing in all of this. Productivity has gone up, but the price that we’ve paid for it is this unsustainable burden on people’s mental and emotional capacities. Organizations will have to deal with this or people are going to keep walking out and not coming back.
It’s going back to the first thing that we talked about, which is people re-evaluating the role that work plays in their life and how they’re going to be integrating it. These things are connected. I’m going to say one other thing about stress in particular because it has almost become like smoking. We know that there are huge health implications to stress, especially ongoing stress. We do have an overworked culture in general. This is where we need to start addressing this culture around working long, hard hours, which rewards unencumbered people. These are the people who can put in the time because maybe they have less demand of them outside the workplace.
In order to be good at conflict, we have to understand our own relationships to conflict.
That doesn’t lead to having necessarily the best or most talented people on the job, but just the people who can put in the most hours. We don’t want that to be the criteria for success or moving up in an organization. I want to talk a little bit about stress in our brains for a moment to explain this a little bit without going into too much detailed science on this. It will lead me to be clear about why this is so important. There are two parts of the brain that I’ll mention. First of all, the prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that is involved in higher thinking, decision-making and problem-solving. It is also where our working memory is contained.
The workings of this part of our brain require a lot of energy. This part of our brain uses up a lot of brain glucose and oxygen. It’s tiring to work this part of our brain. That’s an important point to make. This part of our brain is not putting in eight hours a day, let’s put it that way. It’s also sensitive to the neurochemical environment. It’s sensitive to what’s happening around us, which is potentially coming from this other part of our brain. The limbic brain or emotional brain is where our fight and flight mechanism are contained. The prefrontal cortex is the most evolved part of our brain. The limbic brain is older but still plays an important role.
We are scanning our environment for threats because ultimately, it’s there to help keep us safe. These threats are real or perceived threats, which is also an important thing to remember. We don’t very often get threatened by lions, tigers and bears so much in our day-to-day life but we could feel like we’re being chased by lions, tigers and bears because of other triggers that can still trigger this threat response. When we’re under ongoing stress, we rely more on habitual behaviors so change is even harder. It reduces our access to the resources that are available in the prefrontal cortex.
It decreases perception, cognition, creativity and ability to collaborate. Therefore, reducing stress and staying out of stress make us better problem solvers, decision-makers and better at collaborating. We do better work when we’re not in that state. There is a huge organizational benefit to having leaders and employees not be overly stressed. This is also why there is so much research showing that happier employees are more productive. They do better work. It’s going to be incumbent on leaders to start to think about not just giving people things that they can do outside of their workday to help manage their stress, but how can we be changing how we work and the culture around work so that it’s less stress-inducing.
I could provide a quick example of that because you mentioned meetings. Do we need to have meetings at all hours of the day? Should there be some parameters? Some organizations have done this but should we have times of the day when there are no meetings allowed? Should we say, “We can’t book a meeting at certain times of the day or certain days of the week. We’re going to be meeting free?” People are sitting on virtual meetings hour after hour throughout the day. It has shown to be even more exhausting.
We’ve got one more item that we want to cover and this is around culture.
I’ll take it from where I left off, which is how we create a work culture where we could keep people in this more positive stress-free state. The best thing we can do from a cultural perspective is to think about how can organizations help people feel because our feelings matter. Our feelings inform us whether we’re in this stress state or not. How can we create more feelings of appreciation, being cared for and loved? How could we have more humor? How can we make sure that people feel a sense of accomplishment, confidence, happiness and pride in their work? The more that these feelings can be generated, the more that we’re going to see the organizational cultures where people want to work, but also are going to be able to produce great results.
I’ve stolen this line from you and I haven’t always credited you for it but I am crediting you with it now. It’s when you talk about leaders being science deniers. I worked in healthcare for decades and in fields in which everybody is following the evidence-based, except we have this huge evidence-base on how the human brain works and what people need to be productive and creative. We seem to flush that all away and metaphorically crack the whip. I don’t like that. I know that many organizations are realizing that they don’t follow the science on the brain and cognition.
The more we follow that science and listen to what’s coming out of this field, the better we’re going to be able to lead organizations and the cultures within them.
Organizational Strategy Needs to Adapt
This is separate from personality and from all of that. This is about the functioning of the brain. The more we follow that science and listen to what’s coming out of this field, the better we’re going to be able to lead organizations and the cultures within them. I have a couple of things that I want to finesse a little bit in this part about culture. In the work I do, people often ask me, “Help me understand why culture is so important.” Let me give a little Coles Notes version on this. Strategy is what guides the work. What are the priorities that we have? What are we going to do in order to realize our vision? What are the things that are going to happen?
These could be the goals we’re going to set, the processes we’re going to put in place, and the activities we’re going to do on a daily basis. This is the what. Culture is what drives the work forward. It’s the how. You talked about mindsets. It’s the motivation. It’s how people express and contribute and the way they show up to drive the mission and vision. These are the values, behaviors and practices, i.e. meetings. If you want to have a healthy workplace, you’re going to do the things and have practices around meetings. You’re going to be articulating what it is that you want to have happened in these meetings.
You’re going to do healthy work practices that protect the human brain. That is a big part of what culture is. Strategies, as fantastic as they are, don’t do themselves. It’s the people who do the work together. They need environments and practices that need to reinforce healthy, candid, conflict-positive ways of working so that we can get the important things that we need to be done. We’ve heard this thing like, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” My belief is the organizations that wake up to the fact that your culture is your strategy, and if you don’t focus on the people who were creating the work and value, you are not going to advance in this future world.
Whether they are resigning, rethinking their careers or relooking at their priorities, no one is going to be interested in your crappy job that does not take into account the brain and the heart that they bring. This is where I predict that people will become a little more vocal about making demands on the types of workplaces and the work environments that they want to work in. We do have one structural problem. We’ve tied income to our jobs in our society. We work for money. That’s part of what we do. What that does is it often silences us. It prevents us from bringing our best work because if we say something or we upset somebody’s feelings, our jobs are in jeopardy.
We’re going to need to figure out how to decouple this in some way where people can be fairly confident that their jobs are not on such a fragile plateau if they’re bringing their most creative ideas, which might go counter to what the boss thinks the best ideas are. Culture is my thing. If anybody wants some advice and some help on this, we have an Ask Us Anything that we’re happy to talk about these issues further. I agree with you, Debra, when you talk about brand reputation. That’s important. People are going to want to work for companies in which the culture is important. I’m not talking foosball tables and beer on Fridays. I’m talking about energizing important work that taps into the best that we have to contribute.
Organizational Change Needs To Happen
The theme that goes across all of these things and that has been talked about for many years, probably to the point where some people are sick of hearing about it, is change in general. It’s this idea of being resilient to change or open to change. Here is the big shift that I’m seeing if I’m looking through my crystal ball and reading the tea leaves. I started hearing a lot about change over the past probably decade or so. I don’t know if you would agree with that. It was a very top-down message from organizational leadership that we need to change. People need to change. We need to be resilient to change because businesses have to be more nimble, agile, competitive and so forth.
The difference that I’m seeing is that change is bubbling up. Organizations and leaders are faced with a different viewpoint where they are being asked to change in response to what they are hearing broadly in society and from their employee base. This is putting pressure on organizations. During my career, I haven’t seen or felt this in the same way. The more that organizations can be open-hearted, open-minded, show that they can be resilient to change and can be agile is going to be important for success moving forward.
I was reading this thing about thinking differently about change. It’s exactly the way you described it. There is no answer. This idea that a leader is going to have a little group of people, they are going to figure out what the problem is, come up with a solution and implement it, that’s change. What I love about what we learned from the agile community is that let’s invite everybody to hack the issue. There are great ideas everywhere. Just because you happen to have a director or VP title does not make you a better person at coming up with some of the meaningful, juicy solutions to the problems that are plaguing us at work and in our society.
Companies that don’t focus on the people who are creating the work, creating the value, are not going to advance in this future world.
I want to end by saying this one thing. You talked about crystal balls and tea leaves. If anyone thinks that I’m a flake, please go ahead and think that. I did pull a tarot card and I ended up picking the Two of Pentacles. The Two of Pentacles is a cause for jubilation. Trouble is not as serious as imagined. I’d like to leave our readers on that note. Everything we’ve talked about here and all the systems that do not work for us were constructed. They can be dismantled and replaced with far better things that help us move these five issues and many others forward. I look forward to the jubilating at the end of 2022, knowing that there is still going to be work ahead.
All of our work is also through the lens of what we want ultimately, which is a better life for everybody. We want more joy in our lives, more community, a great sense of belonging, and to live peacefully and sustainably on our planet. That is going to require rethinking and changing the way we do things. The good news is that we’re capable of doing that. We need to make sure we involve everybody in that process. That’s it. We’ll have to do a recap at the end of 2022 and see the right and wrong about some things.
As a reminder to our audience, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us through our show website, WorkRevolutionPodcast.com. If you’re having a challenge at work, we’d love to hear about it. One of the things Lisa and I would like to do is start talking about real-life issues that people are dealing with. We’re going to keep those episodes pretty short and sweet so that you can power through a bunch of them if that’s what you’d like to do. Those will be also available on YouTube. We’re looking forward to hearing from some folks. That’s it. Until next time.
- Episode – The Great Resignation
- The Pandemic Has Revealed How Much We Hate Our Jobs
- Josh Bersin – Predictions for 2022: Everything Is About To Change
- Jessica Nordell – Past episode
- The End of Bias
- Amy Edmondson – Building a Psychologically Safe Workplace
- Aristotle Project
- The Art of Gathering
- YouTube – Work Revolution Podcast