The economic outlook for 2021 is generally positive with economists from UCLA forecasting that we should be ready for a “roaring 20s” and economists from the University of Michigan predicting that the Covid vaccine would bring “economic life close to normal” by the end of the year. But, amidst those bold ambitions comes with some harsh realities, including a projected 150 million Americans in poverty and 85 percent of employers anticipating either no change or a decline in worker salaries.
While this economic picture is hopeful, the mental, emotional, and physical toll caused by Covid will persist and worsen. In Mental Health America’s 2021 report, they found that there’s been a 93 percent increase in anxiety screenings, over 80 percent of people have moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression, and 37 percent more have frequent suicidal thoughts. Think of the mental health crisis as the dark shadow amidst our public health and economic crisis because people experience it emotionally every day without talking about it. While we’re constantly bombarded with Covid case and death toll numbers on the news, mental health rarely receives any coverage.
Next year, there will be a continuation of inconsistencies among countries, companies, leaders, and employees when it comes to navigating the pandemic because everyone takes precautions based on their own unique set of circumstances, location, and occupation. But, I believe we need to adopt a new mindset when it comes to managing our workforces if we desire to return to work safely. As we move into 2021, I’d like to give leaders of all levels some marching orders. Leaders can effectively manage during a continued period of uncertainty next year by adopting these four mindsets: “Trust people first”, “Have an open mind”, “Be more, do more” and “No one left behind”.
Trust people first
Trust in leaders and institutions is at an all-time low, yet the importance of trust during this crisis is at an all-time high. This is due to a variety of factors like our divided economic and social culture, and the lack of accountability and direction from leaders at the highest levels of government and corporations. It’s also the result of our leader’s deep-rooted beliefs about trust. Based on a global study between the Workforce Institute at UKG and Workplace Intelligence, we found that almost two-thirds of business leaders and employees think that trust at work must be “earned” compared to just over one-third that said it should be “presumed”. Leaders who expect their trust to earned are more likely to micromanage, experience burnout, have lower team morale, and not realize their team’s full potential at work.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them”. This classic quote was reinforced to me during a conversation with Good to Great author Jim Collins for the 5 Questions podcast. His mentor Bill Lazier gave him some words of wisdom about trust before his passing. “Bills view was that you don’t ask people to earn your trust, you grant them trust at the beginning,” says Collins. “They can deplete that if they behave in an untrustworthy way, but you actually grant them a trust account as the opening bid. His view was that then becomes a virtuous cycle of trust and responsibility.”
By giving trust freely, leaders can cultivate a high-performing and healthy work culture. They can achieve much more while making their lives less stressful at the same time. When you let go of your ego, and presume that your workers are trustworthy, it’s easier to plan for the future, have honest conversations, adjust to change, and make difficult decisions. Giving workers trust increases job satisfaction, mental and physical health, engagement, and financial returns. When workers feel trusted, they are less likely to search for a new job and more likely to feel comfortable working remotely. Trusting people first can be scary and leave many leaders uneasy at first until they’ve benefitted from doing so.
Have an open mind
Your workers have different political and social beliefs, some of which you don’t agree with, but that shouldn’t prevent you from being willing to listen to them. At a time with so much division it’s never been more important to listen and understand. Having an open mind is not only healthy, but it will ensure that you’re not ostracizing your teammates, who already feel isolated and lonely while remote working. Leaders spend so much time trying to hire people who share their same beliefs, and not enough time seeking out those who challenge them.
In famed hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s book Principles, he talks about how he was able to recover from failure by having an open mind. Dalio owes much of his financial success in considering information from his team that clashed with his belief system. By exploring new ideas, even if it makes you uncomfortable, you’re able to think more critically and grow as a leader. Researchers found that “open-mindedness” has a “positive, significant effect on group learning capacity” and “shared vision”, which allows teams to have a collective sense of purpose as they focus on their work and goals. Shane Snow’s “Open-Mindedness Test” can help you understand your areas of improvement. Leaders who promote the diversity of thought, race, and gender are able to innovate faster and build a stronger and healthier workplace.
Be more, do more
The second biggest trend in my 2021 Workplace Trends Forecast is “Employees are demanding more from their employers” and that means leaders have to work harder to support their workers than they have in the past. First, we’ve reached a tipping point when it comes to leaders not only embracing but acting upon diversity and inclusion. As evidence of the change of tides, Nasdaq is proposing that companies without diverse boards won’t be listed on its stock exchange and fifty private capital firms signed a global D&I initiative to improve diversity in their leadership. And, more companies are releasing their diversity and salary data including Tesla, GoDaddy, and PwC, admitting they have “work to do”.
Aside from doing more when it comes to diversity, leaders are also on the hook for continuing to embrace remote work even as the Covid vaccine alleviates contraction concerns. Only 60 percent of leaders will continue to let employees work remotely post-Covid. That number should be 100 percent since the remote work experiment was successful and employees will rebel against employers who don’t support flexibility. Aside from remote work, employees are overworked and demand extended paid time off, especially those with children and are homeschooling. A report by Monster found that fewer than half of employees did not take their full paid time off in 2020 because of the high workplace demands during Covid.
Aside from flexibility and paid time off, employees want their leaders to invest in their learning and development. Employees expect their employers to give them the education required to enhance their skills, and acquire new skills, to stay relevant in the ever-evolving marketplace. Amazon, for example, will be training 29 million workers on cloud computing over the next few years so they can find jobs in the information age. Finally, leaders need to have and express their values, and political and social stances, because workers are now activists. Employees at software company Chef discovered that their employer had contracts with ICE and CBP and protested on social media forcing their company to react. Leaders can no longer keep their mouths shut while the culture around them is getting louder and louder – be more do more!
No one left behind
Leaders need to think of their entire workforce not just a select few. The tenth biggest trend in my 2021 Workplace Trends Forecast is “The hourly workforce is treated like they are essential”, which they haven’t been during Covid and even today as politicians are prioritized over them for the vaccine. But, the general public is putting more pressure on leaders to support the essential workers, some of whom have been completely forgotten like the grocery store and fast-food restaurant workers. Domino’s is one company that has recognized this, announcing that their workers will receive $9.6 million in bonuses this month.
We need to start thinking about all of our workers, not just the knowledge workers who have the privilege of being remote during Covid. Giving them bonuses isn’t enough either, leaders have to ensure that their safety and well-being are a priority. Adhering to CDC safety protocols and supporting employee mental health is critical right now. It doesn’t matter what you look like or how senior you are at your company, mental health issues don’t discriminate. Recently, Matthew Cooper, the CEO of Earnout, wrote a letter in Quartz stepping down from his position after seven years because of his struggles with mental health. Leaders have to manage their own health and safety but also be concerned with their entire workforces because they are the company.
A vision for the 2021 workplace
This year marked both a “great awakening” and “great reckoning” at work because the pain endured was unmistakable but also the most challenging to navigate for any leader. No leader was prepared to handle all of the implications from Covid from moving their workforce to remote-only to taking all the necessary precautions in their workspaces. Covid transformed work by accelerating, and prioritizing, technological change, while validating the effectiveness and importance of flexibility, paid time off, diversity and inclusion, employee well-being, and many other critical programs.
As we move into 2021, the competencies expected of all leaders will be deeply rooted in humanity. This is especially true since long after Covid has been contained, we’ll still be dealing with a mental health crisis. 2020 leaders need to be empathetic, express care, have an open mind, and promote trust. By focusing on the human needs of your workforce, you solve their work needs. As technology continues its mission to automate many of the tasks that we used to do, the only aspect of work that will be left is human. Leaders who think of their workers as humans instead of talent and employees will be able to achieve all of their business goals.
As a leader that is responsible for humans, you should empathize with their struggles so you can take any action necessary to protect their safety and wellbeing. Prioritizing their needs is the best way to navigating any challenge you will endure next year. And, the result of supporting all of your workers in this way is an organization that will not only be sustainable and grow but will serve as a role model to others that will try to replicate your leadership.
— Dan Schawbel
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