Creating A Healthy Workplace — Part 1 — The Elephant In The Room

An actively engaged and satisfied employee base is at the root of a healthy business.  Absent that, results are unlikely to be as good as they could be.  One financial services client [1] was doing well in 2016, but employees felt very dissatisfied and underappreciated.  Within three months, we identified the problems that existed, overcame a history of distrust, and instituted significant change that led to greater success for the firm due to a more satisfied and engaged workforce.

In this paper, we outline the process by which any leader in an organization can identify and resolve issues that increase employee satisfaction and engagement, improve morale and organizational culture, and result in great financial success.

The Problem

How do you manage the ever-changing landscape of your business?  Do your employees feel content and motivated,?  Do they enjoy working for your organization?  Are they engaged, providing innovative solutions for your business and generating new ideas?  Are you confident that your productivity levels, sales and profits have reached their highest potential?  Have you received or are you considering seeking outside help to affect positive change to increase your business’s prospects?

Perhaps you are reading this because you are curious and wondering if you should make changes.  Maybe you are trying to: (1) make changes to increase employee satisfaction and engagement; (2) attract and retain talent or slow turnover in your organization; (3) figure out how to make organizational change that has positive impact; and/or (4) obtain the most from your existing talent.  And let us assume that you — an executive, department head, change agent, or human resources professional — are open to finding or are ready to identify solutions that will help your organization thrive today and well into the future.

If you are asking yourself why one should focus so much on internal forces when there are departments and leaders in your organization whose job it is to do this, or if employee satisfaction and engagement are on your list of responsibilities, you are not alone.  If you were alone, there would not be a market for consultants to help businesses!  The key is to remember that by providing a workplace to which employees enjoy coming, in which they feel that their ideas are heard and valued, and where they sense that they are part of something bigger, you can maintain long-lasting positive relations with your firm’s eco-system.

Why is your firm’s eco-system important? Your eco-system is the network — or circle — of those who make your company what it is.  Being at the helm is a true honor, privilege, and pain in the you-know-what.  You have deadlines, measurables, people to manage, answer to, and influence; perhaps you are on the speaking circuit or hosting client and board meetings regularly as well.  For purposes of this discussion, your key constituents fall into these four main buckets — employees, customers, shareholders, and outside influencers (analysts, media, etc.).

To keep everyone happy, we argue that employees must come first; this is a lesson learned from a revolutionary executive whose company went through the Tech Bubble Burst of 2000, and whose former employees still gather for annual reunions.  Former CEO of Brooktrout, Eric Giler’s argument was that, “if you take care of your employees and customers first, you will be taking care of your stockholders.” [2]  If those three constituent bases are happy, there is no doubt that the media — and those who have outside influence — will pick your company as a winner.  When this happens, the most talented people will want to work for your organization, thereby increasing the total number of talented people working at your company, and continuing the cycle.  Thus, a healthy eco-system has been created.  Moreover, it can be maintained even as times, organizational changes, and market disruptions occur.

Let us look at some of the known problems that can cause hiccups in a corporation.  Whether they occur individually or in combination, many factors can lead to disruption in a company eco-system.  For example, those who worked in technology (during the ’00 Tech Bubble Burst) or in financial services (during the ’08 financial crisis) know that market changes can lead to dramatic alterations in an organization even as course corrections are attempted.  Thus, in good times and in bad, companies grow and contract in order to adapt to the expansion and slowdowns caused by changes in the market.

  • These changes to the company result in changes to the corporate personality and culture, and can leave employees feeling disconnected. When contraction — or downsizing — occurs, employees who remain are often over-burdened with increased responsibility and affected by a sense of loss.
  • Management issues can also take a toll on an organization’s personnel. If relationships between leaders in an organization are fractured, or departments siloed, an “us vs them” mentality develops, which is hard to break. This can permeate an organization in damaging ways.
  • Finally, internal changes, reorganizations, and leadership complacency tend to throw dynamics off.

The problems above are compounded by a changing workforce demographic.  These include but are not limited to baby boomers on the verge of retirement, no clear lines of succession, and a millennial generation entering the workforce more prepared than other generations to take the world by storm.

In addition, while technology is needed and should form a seamless connection between members of an organization regardless of location, it can sometimes do the opposite and prevent the existence of a healthy team. In many instances, the way it is being used and/or has been rolled out can cause fear and uncertainty in people regardless of their position in the organization. For example, people often fear that technology will cost them their jobs or render them unproductive. Under those circumstances, rather than creating a seamless connection between people and technology — which would allow for better internal and external communications — the technology becomes dominant and the people become secondary.  Moreover, from top to bottom in an organization, the 24×7 connection technology makes possible can overwhelm people to such an extent that it discourages communication. When this happens, individuals can end up focusing on their tasks to the exclusion of connection to the organization as a whole.

Finally, the cost to the business when an employee decides to leave for any reason is likely far more than most executives and managers expect.  In fact, it is over double the person’s salary.  Further, we have observed that recommendations made by consultants result in loss of productivity and institutional knowledge, increased lay-offs and attrition, and eroding morale and employee engagement.  Add to that the cost of replacing employees — in excess of twice their salary according to SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management) [3] — and your business has decreased its bottom line and, perhaps, is in worse shape.

As a result, no matter how well the business is doing on paper, when employees do not feel connected to the organization, revenue is not what it could be.  The good news is that there is always potential for greater sales and profit.   In addition, these issues are surmountable providing there is good management, great communications, as well as plans/ways to engage and include employees so hiccups do not grow into road blocks.  In fact, our experience suggests a resilient organization — regardless of size, industry and financials — is based on the ability to welcome change and ensure its employees feel engaged, valued and heard; such an organization has a strong sense of employee well-being.

 


[1] Erin Lubien & Judith F Feinleib, Changing the Culture at a Financial Services Company, Lubien-Feinleib Intelligent Consulting, 2016, http://lubienfeinleibconsulting.com/?page_id=398
[2] Eric Giler, Founder of Brooktrout, Inc., a Dialogic Inc. subsidiary and Nasdaq-traded communications technology company
[3] The Society For Human Resources Management, https://www.shrm.org/

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