Why do people show up to work each day?

If you believe it’s only for a paycheck, you’re mistaken. Many organizations often overlook important characteristics that impact employees’ overall wellness, especially when it comes to the jobs they do day in and day out. While equitable compensation is a component of job satisfaction and employee engagement, it’s fair to say that it only scratches the surface.

For employers in every industry, 2020 sparks the promise of change. I’ve read countless articles and reports centered around changes in technology, the C-suite, internal and external processes, implementation, and employee engagement. Here’s where I stand: Now is the time to put our research and findings into action. If not, we will continue to repeat the past, causing change to become something we hope will happen rather than something we are actively pursuing.

Organizations are now considering what they should change to make a greater internal impact — and there’s a lot to consider. From managers who aren’t OK with employees taking parental leave to managers who tell women, “You’re a mom, so I don’t think it would be in your best interest to take on such a large responsibility,” organizations have a huge opportunity to turn the magnifying glass on individual actions and experiences in the workplace to create lasting change and cultural shifts.

I would like to believe that in this new decade, attitudes and sentiments around scenarios such as these ones — real stories I’ve heard recently — would be close to nonexistent. However, we are only chipping away at a deeper issue.

So, what does it mean to foster a culture that encourages, engages and strengthens? Here’s how to move the needle in the right direction.

Shift to Happiness, Not Engagement

Workplaces have focused on engagement for quite some time. While engagement is important, I believe the pendulum has swung too far. Companies will achieve more from their employees, and find greater employee engagement, by creating more happiness and humanity in the workplace. I frequently hear from people who don’t even know what makes them happy anymore. The rat race routine is causing stress, burnout and a lack of joy.

How can leaders create engaged, happy, healthy and resilient employees instead of looking solely at engagement? The answer lies in understanding that engagement without happiness is unsustainable. An employee can very well be passionate about what he or she does, committed to the workplace, and miserable at work, all at the same time.

Companies can obliterate this narrative by allowing people to bring their whole selves to work. By encouraging people to be and embrace who they are in the workplace, organizations can create a culture where people feel safe, engaged and happy.

Fluid Opportunities and Career Paths

Employees today, especially millennials, are looking for movement in their careers and the ability to take on additional responsibilities. Companies that offer lateral opportunities in addition to traditional “ladder-climbing” are more likely to keep employees engaged. Providing greater flexibility not only in the scope of employees’ jobs but also in how they work (e.g., remote opportunities) is also a trend that will shift dramatically over the next decade. By opening up more remote positions, employers have the opportunity not only to attract the right talent but to go after non-traditional candidates who may be interested in part-time work that allows them to take care of their family and keep their career. (Plus, remote teams can help companies cut unnecessary costs.)

Listening and Caring at Scale

Managers who take the time to listen to employees and inspire by example will foster collaboration, engagement and happiness. In some capacity, we’ve all experienced how dangerous assumptions can be — yet we often let them confound our decisions. Companies that care are companies that put their employees first in every way. The best way to avoid missteps in this area is to actively engage with team members by asking the questions that matter the most to them. A holistic approach is critical in making sure employees feel supported; for example, when considering the scenario of the woman who wanted greater managerial responsibility, a more appropriate response from her boss would have been to ask how he or she could better support her transition into a new role.

Mental Health Becomes Imperative

There has been a lot of buzz about mental health at work over the last couple of years, and in 2020, managers must make mental health a priority. Employee stress and burnout are at an all-time high, with employees feeling like they have to “be on 24/7” to be successful at work. If organizations focus their energies on reducing the amount of pressure their employees feel, the result will be lower instances of medical intervention, more engaged employees, greater retention and higher productivity.

Organizations that begin to look at their employees holistically and understand their unique needs will succeed as we journey into 2020 and beyond. Allowing opportunities for education and growth on the job, along with work flexibility and work-life integration, will prove to be beneficial for both employers and employees. Lastly, the key to success for leaders is realizing that a welcoming workplace culture requires constant upkeep. Consistently demonstrating to their teams the values that your organization holds (i.e., compassion, respect, empathy and sensitivity) will lead to employee satisfaction and, most importantly, happiness.

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