“Well don’t worry, I am not going to do what you all expect me to do, which is flip out  Let me just say as I ease out of the office that I helped build I am sorry, but it is a fact that there is such a thing as manners; a way of treating people. These fish have manners, in fact, they are coming with me. I am starting a new company and these fish are coming with me. Call me sentimental, but the fish are coming with me. Ok, if anyone else wants to come with me, this moment will be the moment of something real and inspiring in this godforsaken business and we will do it together. Who is coming with me besides flipper here?” – Jerry Maguire (Crowe, Cameron. “Jerry Maguire.” TriStar Pictures, 1996).

If you are a traditionalist, Boomer or Gen X, you have likely seen the movie “Jerry Maguire.” If you have seen it, you will remember the pivotal moment above, when Jerry leaves his employer to create a better workplace of his own. He tells us in his manifesto that “the secret to this job is personal relationships.” And in that moment, as we watched the film, we empathized with Jerry as he left his workplace on a quest to create something better.

Fast forward to our future and The Great Resignation. Post-COVID, many people left the workforce at an alarming rate, with the highest number of people leaving their job in Nov. 2021: 6.3 million people according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Trends across the U.S. pointed to reasons like reexamining work and life priorities and repositioning and rethinking values. Pew Research showed top reasons for quitting included low pay (63%), lack of advancement opportunities (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%) with childcare issues (48%) and lack of flexibility (45%) coming closely behind. These statistics are alarming, when they are looked at through the lens of what we can and cannot control as leaders in the workplace. When it comes to respecting people and being flexible, we can and must do better. This is why building a human-centered work environment is imperative.

What have we learned from the data? We can predict with accuracy that fewer people will settle for workplaces that are toxic and disrespectful. What can we do with this information? We can strive to examine our shortcomings as leaders and as organizations. How can learning and development (L&D) leaders help? We can create programs that improve leadership behaviors and give leaders tools to impact engagement, development and retention that will increase the business results over time.

What programming will impact the future of work, as we strive to create more human centered workplaces? Consider these suggestions for programs and pull-throughs.

1. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) programs and processes that are not just checking the box.

When organizations go all in on their DEIB programming in a meaningful way it creates opportunities that drive inclusion. Inclusive companies have better profits, and are more likely to capture new markets. According to a list of workplace statistics compiled by What To Become, 57% of employees want to see their company increase diversity, 69% of executives believe diversity and inclusion are the most critical issues, and diverse management boosts revenue by 19%. In addition, highly inclusive companies are more likely to hit and exceed their financial targets and attract better candidates.

Diversity of all kinds, including thought and neurodiversity elevates organizational impacts. When team members feel included and like they belong, it creates a warmer and more productive and innovative environment. People are not afraid to share who they are and how they want to thrive at work, and they bring others along. Team work improves and drama disappears. The key is to make it meaningful and not just skim the surface. It needs to culminate with calls to action including direction and learning around things like:

  • Creating psychological safety on teams.
  • Developing career frameworks and sponsors that help create pathways for development and elevation of talent for diverse and underrepresented colleagues.
  • Highlighting the impact of transferrable skills and the how to of valuing internal mobility.
  • Recognizing that the impact of the work takes time and developing leaders with the skill for meaningful workforce planning.

3. Programs that help leaders develop their own self-awareness and allow them to drive self-awareness for members of the team.

Self-aware leaders and colleagues are foundational components of a human-centric workforce. It is not a simple undertaking, but done well, the long-term impacts to collaboration, communication and performance are worth the time and effort. There are multiple skills involved in learning to be more self-aware. These include but are not limited to.

  • Mindset and managing thoughts and perceptions.
  • Emotional intelligence (EQ) and the Amygdala hijack.
  • Understanding your leadership style and how it impacts other people
  • Intent versus action – and why the difference matters.
  • Listening with impact.
  • Opportunities for practice in group settings during training and on the job.
  • Reflection and journaling successes and failures.

3. Empathy

Empathy is one piece of EQ, but it deserves its own focus because empathy is the key that unlocks the human-centered workplace. Teaching anything that drives a human-centric workplace without an empathy wraparound is worthless; without applied empathy, nothing is authentic. Wrapping learnings in empathy will allow opportunities for reflection, listening and curiosity, all of which help drive inclusion and belonging. The Businessolver “State of Workplace Empathy” report’s DEI special whitepaper shows empathy in the workplace is down from 72% in 2021 to 69% in 2022. This means we are beginning to trend in the wrong direction. The same report shows 69% of CEOs know that they should be building empathy in the workplace, that 79% struggle to be empathetic and 77% think they will “lose respect” by using empathy. Friends, empathy is not a weakness. In fact, the report also showed that Gen Z and Boomers agree on this data: 69% of GenZ and Boomers perceived chief executive officer empathy as low: 39% (Gen Z) and 41% (Boomers).

While CEOs worry about The Great Resignation, they should be worrying about the great lack of empathy, because employees who are not getting it are leaving, and organizations with high empathy have employees who are more motivated and stay longer. An Ernst and Young Consulting survey conducted at the end of 2021 showed that 90% of workers think empathy equates to higher job satisfaction and 79% said it reduced turnover.

4. Appreciation

While it seems intuitive that organizations, leaders and colleagues should regularly show appreciation to each other, intent and action don’t always match. When times are tough and teams are lean, people are not always their best selves. When someone is not functioning at their best, they are more likely to not use any of the behaviors discussed above. With appreciation and gratitude, practice is the key. This means, from a learning perspective, that we need to help identify potential and appropriate times to express appreciation within the context of stressful times. We need to create programs and opportunities to use it to shape the culture. If you do not think recognition matters, here are some stats to prove it does:

  • The Achievers Workforce Institute found employees who were recognized in the last month were 50% more engaged than those recognized longer than one month ago.
  • Workhuman and Gallup poll showed employee recognized regularly were:
    • Less likely to leave and five times as likely to see a path to grow in the organization.
    • More satisfied: 44% more likely to be thriving in their life overall.
    • More productive: 73% less likely to feel burned out.
    • More engaged: four times as likely to be actively engaged at work.
    • More connected: five times as likely to feel connected to the workplace
  • The survey above also showed only 19% of managers and leaders reporting that recognition was a priority in their organizations.

While the suggestions above will help set the foundation for a human-centric workplace, they are only the beginning. Organizations need to make a concerted effort to build these skills and create tools and opportunities to use them to create great employee experiences, meaning they need to allow for space to build resilience as they work to embed the concepts into the practice and vision about how work gets done. When well executed, this will drive better customer and community relationships, stakeholder relationships and overall engagement. Organizations will evolve, employees  will feel empowered and energized and business results will improve.