The way your people perceive the atmosphere where they work every day has a direct effect on their own happiness, productivity, and ultimately your company’s success. A few paragraphs from a Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger highlight this awareness as an important aspect of your leadership.
Companies will enter the new year amid a labor shortage so acute that any downturn in the economy isn’t likely to put much of a dent in it. With more than seven million jobs unfilled, employers have been piling on free snacks, comfortable lounges, cafes and other perks to burnish their image in the job market.
They’re going to have to go deeper. What will distinguish the most profitable companies from the rest in the coming year won’t be whether they offer foosball or free food. It will be whether leaders foster a workplace culture where employees feel a sense of belonging, like their jobs and trust their managers to help them move on to a better one.
For employers, those squishy factors can make the difference between riding out a downturn or falling flat. Companies that rank in the top 10% in engaging their employees, including giving them the training and encouragement to do their best work and imbuing it with a sense of purpose, posted profit gains of 26% through the last recession, compared with a 14% decline at comparable employers, says Jim Harter, chief workplace scientist at Gallup and author of its annual employee engagement survey. The leaders also thrived through the recovery: Their annual profits in 2014-15 grew four times as fast from the 2011-13 period as did those of other companies.
Amid growing divisiveness and stridency in public life, a sense of belonging at the office will be increasingly prized by employees and a crucial condition for fostering innovation. A hot topic among workplace researchers at the moment is a cultural factor described as psychological safety—freedom from the fear of being shamed or ostracized by others for voicing criticism or tossing out a crazy idea. Research by Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor and author of “The Fearless Organization,” shows teams perform better when members feel free to take risks and engage in the fearless give-and-take needed to innovate and solve problems.
Some tools Garry Ridge uses to foster a sense of safety and belonging for employees at WD-40 Co. in San Diego might elicit eye-rolls from outsiders.
As Mr. Ridge sees it, day-to-day life offers plenty of opportunities for people to feel devalued and isolated, and a well-run workplace can serve as an antidote. “To us, it’s about going to work every day, making a contribution to something bigger than yourself, learning something new, having fun, being safe and going home happy,” he says.
Other CEOs might do well to aim for the same.
Written by Sue Shellenbarger