Amidst rising inflation, crippling student debt, unaffordable housing, rounds of layoffs, a lingering pandemic, and a looming recession, many young workers have reached a breaking point. New data from Sapien Labs’ Mental Health Million Project, which surveyed 48,000 young adults age 18–24 across 34 nations, reveals that mental health struggles among younger generations have accelerated and worsened throughout the pandemic. Data published in Sapien Labs’ May 2022 Rapid Report, “The Deteriorating Social Self in Younger Generations,” shows that nearly half of young adults experienced mental health decline during the pandemic’s second year, and that the ability to relate to and interact with others has been seriously impaired in over half of young adults across the world.
The disintegration of the “social self” in young people should be a wakeup call for workplace leaders. As the report notes:
[T]he ability to relate to and interact with others effectively has been crucial for human cooperation and the building of our modern world…It is also only through repeated interactions with others that we build the friendships and other relationships that establish our place in the social fabric. From feeling detached from reality to avoidance and withdrawal and suicidal thoughts, these symptoms represent the extreme of disconnection from or a failure to integrate into the social fabric.
It is imperative that leaders and managers do more to connect and support young employees in these volatile times, not only as a means of engaging the next generation of talent, but as an investment in a collaborative future. Here are four commitments your company can make to support an increasingly vulnerable generation.
1. Put mental health front and center
According to LinkedIn, 66% of Gen Z want a company culture built on mental health and wellness. Dr. Emily Anhalt, PsyD, cofounder and chief clinical officer of Coa, the online gym for mental health, told me that leaders must walk the walk — if leadership is not prioritizing their mental health, no one else will either. Wellable Labs’ 2022 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report found that 90% of employers reported increasing their investment in mental health programs, 76% increased investment in stress management and resilience programs, and 71% increased investment in mindfulness and meditation programs.
A culture built on mental health and wellness goes beyond offering a meditation app; it infuses mental health throughout the organization through policies and programs that take care of your people. Dr. Anhalt recommends making sure your benefits plan covers things like therapy, or a stipend for mental health services. She also recommends hosting mental health experiences like Coa’s therapist-led emotional fitness class and gathering frequent feedback about what employees need to show up as their healthiest selves.
Putting mental health front and center might look like offering competitive pay (commensurate with rising inflation), paid time off and expanded family leave policies, childcare subsidies and services, elder care support and parent support groups, and additional compensation for ERG and DEI-focused work. It also might mean doing more to address employee burnout and exhaustion: doubling down on flexible work policies, testing a four-day week pilot program, establishing “Friday rest days,” “Meeting Free days,” and “Do Not Disturb hours,” ensuring that employees have more time to rest and recharge.
2. Make onboarding a community-building exercise
Employee onboarding is your opportunity to showcase what a culture of mutual support and well-being looks like to new recruits. In a survey by BambooHR, over 80% of employees who rated their onboarding experience highly continue to hold their organizations in high regard, have higher role clarity, and feel strongly committed to their jobs. For many young employees, onboarding might be their first or second experience ever in a professional setting. It is incredibly important, especially in a remote or hybrid workforce, that onboarding establish a container of mutual support. Onboarding is less about delivering information about your company, and more about allowing new employees to get to know each other and ask questions in a safe and supportive setting. Onboarding isn’t the time to talk through a 234-page training manual. Onboarding is a community-building exercise where employees can make a new friend.
Onboarding might involve a shadowing exercise, where new hires shadow a co-worker for a day and see how their colleague actually does their job; a speed-friending exercise, where new hires meet managers across the organization; a personal purpose exercise, where new hires gain a better understanding of their personal goals; or a play exercise like improv, where new hires get comfortable trying new things and laughing in front of each other. One example of an unconventional but highly effective onboarding activity, offered both in-person and virtually, is Late Nite Art: a collaborative learning experience involving live art and music that incorporates risk-taking, deep conversations, and collaborative problem solving. Companies like Headspace, Southwest Airlines, and Accenture have used Late Nite Art to help employees go outside their comfort zone and get to know their colleagues in a meaningful way.
While virtual onboarding can be done successfully, it requires even more attention to designing for human connection. With alarming new data showing young employees’ increased loneliness and deteriorating “social self,” companies should consider the benefits that come from in-person onboarding and the monumental value that a strong first impression can have for Gen Z workers.
3. Support young talent with coaching
According to Glint’s 2021 Employee Well-Being Report, having opportunities to learn and grow is now the number one factor that people say defines an exceptional work environment. An essential tool for learning and development is cross-organization mentorship and sponsorship, which makes it easier for next-gen talent to secure personal and professional development and promotion opportunities.
One successful example is DoorDash’s Elevate Program, a career accelerator designed specifically for women of color. Participants, known as “fellows,” engage in a six-month cohort experience that includes one-on-one coaching sessions with an external executive coach, career workshops, attendance at leadership meetings, and executive sponsor meetings with C-suite members. Within six months of completing the program, 38% of fellows earned promotions, a significant increase compared to their non-Elevate peers. As Gayle Allen and Bie Aweh write in Harvard Business Review, a career accelerator program’s success depends on getting genuine buy-in from senior leadership and managers.
Another way to support young talent is peer coaching, “a process in which two colleagues help each other reflect on experiences, offer support, build skills, and match their work to their sense of purpose.” In its 2022 Workforce Purpose Index, the peer coaching platform Imperative found that nearly half (46%) of those surveyed said they are finding it difficult to make work friends, and more than half (57%) said their managers are not helping.
In a peer coaching program with WebMD Health Services, written up in Strategy+business, 150 employees took an assessment to help them discover what gives them a strong sense of purpose. Peer-coaching platform Imperative then matched people with similar purpose drivers across the organization. The pairs of workers met every two weeks for an hour-long conversation over video with prompts that asked them to engage in deeper conversations regarding their experience and well-being. Imperative’s data shows that the overwhelming majority of participants (89%) in such programs develop meaningful connections. According to Andrea Herron, head of people at WebMD Health Services, and Aaron Hurst, CEO and cofounder of Imperative, peer coaching has helped participants build relationships beyond their paired peer coach, encouraging participants to take actions that help build relationships with others on their team and employees outside of their own team or department.
4. Trade screen time for connection time
Sapien Labs’ report notes that pandemic-era declines in “social self” mirror an acceleration of a trend that began in 2010, and research by psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues shows this trend strongly correlates with the growth of smartphone usage and social media.
The implications of these findings are alarming, since the pandemic has ushered in the necessity — and popularity — of remote and hybrid work, requiring more even more screen time for young workers (and workers of all ages). On the one hand, the vast majority of Gen Z employees (77%) prefer flexible work policies; on the other, they miss in-person face-to-face connection and feel like they are missing out on potential mentorship and career development opportunities by not being in physical proximity of their manager or coworkers.
For an example of trying to strike a balance between a flexible work arrangement and in-person connection, see Airbnb’s recent announcement that employees can live and work from anywhere (and still be paid the same salary), as well as expect to gather in person every quarter for about a week at a time. In-person, offline gatherings are critical — especially for new employee onboarding and team retreats. Monthly, quarterly, or annual team retreats at office hubs or offsite locations should prioritize team building and human connection activities over PowerPoint shares and executive strategy presentations.
According to Cigna, employees who say they have colleagues they like eating lunch with, or have a best friend at work, or have more phone calls and in-person conversations with their coworkers are less lonely on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Leaders should remember the power of picking up the phone and calling their team members (over sending an email, messaging them on Slack, or scheduling yet another Zoom meeting), and whenever possible, make time to see colleagues for coffee, lunch, or a walk. Taking five minutes at start of your weekly team meeting to do a well-being check-in (and listening to how people are doing and what they need) matters. Employees who feel like they can “leave work at work” are seven points less lonely on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. When in doubt, think about ways you can help employees spend less time on their screens and more time connecting face-to-face with their friends, family, and community.
In these overwhelming times, if you want to attract, retain, and engage young workers, and workers across generations, you must put human connection first.
Four Effective Tips to Improve Labor Management in Companies
Businesses worldwide are always on the hunt for ways to improve their processes and add more efficiency to day-to-day functions. Of course, labor management is one of the major aspects of every company that demands continuous attention and improvement.
Every business understands that effective labor management is essential when it comes to increasing the productivity, safety, and efficiency of every project. The managers bear all burden to ensure that the labor is working effectively to meet the needs of supply and demand chains.
Here are some effective ways to improve labor management in your company for the best of your business.
1. Use Standardized KPIs
It can be hard to hold someone accountable for their performance when there is no evidence to back up the claims. In such circumstances, the labor deserving of praise may be left out, and those who need improvement may continue to waste company time and resources. Of course, such practices can cost you a lot of time and money in the long run.
Hence, smart companies worldwide are using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as a tool for worker motivation and accountability. These indicators help them better understand why certain standardized goals exist and their role in making the company succeed.
2. Incorporate a Software
Managers have a lot on their shoulders in addition to managing the workforce. A few people cannot keep an eye on everyone throughout the day. They need Kaizen Software to find the best solution for labor management. This way, the managers can find time to pay attention to many more important matters.
Efficient management software is being used worldwide due to its countless benefits. They offer security, better communication, and enhanced tracking to make your business more efficient. Hence, your business will have a better opportunity to grow and bloom.
3. Ensure Safety at the Workplace
Every workspace has its own challenges. However, everyone can agree that industrial workers have more challenges when it comes to safety. After all, they are surrounded by heavy machinery and face increased chances of accidents, injuries, and even fatalities. Hence, it must be a top priority to make your workplace safer.
You can start by looking into the hazards in your workspace and minimizing them one by one. In addition, it is also important to ensure that all your workers have access to safety gear at all times. Caution can save more lives than building an elaborate regime to care for injured workers.
4. Keep Workers Posted
Whether a construction site or a chemical industry, there can be new hazards and precautions for workers every day. A little negligence in the workplace can lead to a regrettable accident. Hence, it is always a good idea to keep your workers informed about current events.
Knowledge about company procedures and safety rules can reduce insecurity among workers and increase their efficiency. It is best to let your workers know that all their questions will be answered. This way, they can feel more comfortable seeking your guidance instead of finding out by trial and error.
10 Key Strategies for Managing and Engaging your Employees
Effective employee management and engagement are crucial for small businesses to foster a positive work environment, maximize productivity, and retain top talent. Small business owners need to prioritize their employees’ well-being, provide growth opportunities, and create a culture that promotes engagement and collaboration.
Here, we will explore ten strategies and practices for employee management and engagement in small businesses.
1. Clear Communication and Expectations
Clear communication is vital to set expectations and ensure alignment between the business and its employees. Regularly communicate goals, priorities, and performance expectations to your team. Provide feedback and recognition for their achievements and address any concerns or issues promptly. Encourage an open-door policy and create channels for open dialogue and feedback.
2. Training and Development Opportunities
Investing in training and development opportunities for your employees demonstrates your commitment to their growth and success. Identify areas where employees can benefit from additional skills or knowledge and provide relevant training programs. This can include workshops, conferences, online courses, or mentoring programs. Encourage a culture of continuous learning and support employees’ professional development.
3. Employee Recognition and Rewards
Recognizing and rewarding employee contributions is essential for fostering motivation and engagement. Implement a recognition program that acknowledges outstanding performance, teamwork, and achievements. This can include verbal praise, written appreciation, or tangible rewards such as bonuses or incentives. Regularly celebrate milestones and accomplishments to show appreciation for your employees’ hard work.
4. Work-Life Balance and Well-being
Promote a healthy work-life balance and prioritize employee well-being. Offer flexible work arrangements when possible, such as remote work options or flexible scheduling. Encourage breaks and time off to prevent burnout. Provide resources and support for physical and mental well-being, such as access to wellness programs or employee assistance programs. Show genuine care and support for your employees’ overall well-being.
5. Foster a Collaborative and Inclusive Culture
Create a collaborative and inclusive culture that values diversity and fosters teamwork. Encourage open communication, idea sharing, and collaboration among employees. Foster an environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and included. Embrace diverse perspectives and leverage the unique strengths of your team members to drive innovation and growth.
6. Performance Management and Feedback
Establish a robust performance management system to set clear goals, provide regular feedback, and evaluate employee performance. Implement regular performance reviews to discuss progress, identify development areas, and set new objectives. Provide constructive feedback that focuses on both strengths and areas for improvement to support employee growth.
7. Empowerment and Autonomy
Encourage autonomy and empower employees to take ownership of their work. Delegate responsibilities and provide them with the necessary resources and authority to make decisions. Encourage innovation and creativity by allowing employees to explore new ideas and approaches. Trust their expertise and provide guidance when needed.
8. Career Growth and Advancement
Support your employees’ career growth and advancement within the organization. Provide opportunities for skill development, such as stretch assignments or cross-functional projects. Offer mentorship programs or coaching to help employees navigate their career paths. Create a clear path for advancement and communicate the potential growth opportunities available to them.
9. Team Building and Social Activities
Organize team-building activities and social events to foster strong relationships among your employees. This can include off-site retreats, team lunches, or recreational activities. Encourage team bonding and camaraderie to enhance collaboration and create a positive work culture.
10. Continuous Improvement
Establish a culture of continuous feedback and improvement. Encourage regular check-ins between managers and employees to discuss progress, challenges, and goals. Solicit feedback from employees on processes, policies, and workplace initiatives. Actively listen to their suggestions and make necessary improvements to enhance the work environment.
Effective employee management and engagement are critical for small businesses to thrive. By prioritizing clear communication, providing training and development opportunities, recognizing and rewarding employee contributions, promoting work-life balance and well-being, fostering a collaborative and inclusive culture, and implementing additional strategies such as performance management, empowerment, career growth, team building, and continuous feedback, small business owners can create a positive and engaging work environment.
Investing in your employees’ success and happiness not only benefits them individually but also contributes to the overall success and growth of your small business.
Build a Strong Learning Culture on Your Team
When Kendra Grant’s team was charged with designing and delivering learning experiences for 90,000 Walmart Canada associates, she knew as a senior learning-and-design director that the landscape of corporate learning needs was constantly changing. “Over time,” says Grant, now the principal of her own L&D practice, “we acknowledged that many of the problems we saw such as lack of engagement and lack of retention were a result of the design process and not the fault of the learners.”
If you are in a leadership role in your organization, you more than likely share this problem. Technology and society are driving changes faster than your people can adapt. According to the OECD, 1.1 billion jobs will be disrupted in the next five years. Employees the world over require upskilling (learning to improve current work) and reskilling (learning to do new types of work). Some organizations are heeding the signs and investing heavily in learning and development: Walmart, for example, is investing $1 billion into reskilling its workforce, and McDonald’s has spent $165 million over the past eight years to prepare 72,000 employees for upward mobility. The Association for Talent Development’s most recent study found the average organization spends almost $1,300 per employee on professional learning. Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, exhorts everyone to be a “learn-it-all.”
Workers of today need to prepare for what they’ll be doing tomorrow. But how can they adapt effectively if their work is changing in real time? What skills can they learn now that will support them in the face of a volatile and ambiguous future? And how can their employers support them?
There’s a simple but not easy answer to all of these questions. Employers have to help employees become expert learners — people with the will to learn, the skill to do it effectively, and the ability to apply that learning in ways that positively impact their performance and that of their teams.
Still Wearing Blinders
Traditionally, learning within organizations has been driven by a single department. In a general attempt to motivate and support employee development, the learning-and-development team — which sometimes consists of just one person — acts as an order filler for operations managers and leadership, providing formal learning support, such as classroom training and online modules. Frequently, these efforts are augmented by tuition assistance for degree and certificate programs at institutes of higher education. In recent years, companies have created digital “learning-management systems” or “learning-experience platforms” that offer a Netflix-style menu of learning content that employees can access on-demand and at their own pace.
Unfortunately, however, these approaches to employee learning are not up today’s challenge, for a few reasons:
A day late and a dollar short. Content creation lags significantly behind the need for that content, making the content available less relevant to current needs. Also, when an employee needs new knowledge and skills now, a course next month isn’t helpful.
One-size-fits-none. Every learner is unique, with varied strengths, experiences, and challenges. Every learner works in different contexts, thus requiring greater personalization to support meaningful learning and improvement.
A lack of support for application. Pushing out content can impart new information, but developing effective skills requires coaching, reinforcement, and opportunities for safe, authentic practice.
A cultural disconnect. Leaders can say they value learning, but according to Deloitte, workers actually have less than 1% of their time available for learning. Further, learning can be messy, because it requires that people try new things and make mistakes. If an organization punishes people for those mistakes, as some do, people will shy away from learning.
Learner experience and identity. Not everyone thinks of themselves as a lifelong learner, nor do they all have the skills to learn and apply learning effectively. Further, biases in development programs may reinforce the notion that only some people are capable of learning and therefore worth the investment. This bias is communicated to workers.
There Is a Solution
We need to address these barriers to learning in order to meet the challenges of today and the future. Learning, after all, is what enables people to adapt to change and even become drivers of change. But, as Matthew Daniel has recently noted on the Chief Learning Officer website, even if people want to learn they may not know what to learn — or how to learn.
Expert learning requires two key conditions. The first is context. People need the time and space to learn. They need timely, actionable feedback; opportunities for collaboration; and just-in-time support to convert new knowledge and skills into measurable performance improvement. Then there’s capacity. Each person has talents, strengths, interests, challenges, and experiences that influence how they engage with, make sense of, and apply new knowledge and skills. We can’t assume everyone has developed the requisite learning skills and behaviors, and we can’t effectively gauge learning capacity in advance. However, we can help all people become expert learners, by providing them with options to learn and apply key learning behaviors rooted in a framework known as the Universal Design for Learning.
UDL, as it’s often called, was first devised in the 1990s by researchers and clinicians at the nonprofit learning organization CAST, Inc., under the direction of the neuropsychologist David Rose, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Today it’s endorsed in federal education legislation as a means for supporting inclusive, impactful learning for all learners. That includes workforce preparation and training. In essence, UDL helps us embrace the differences between learners — their variability in strengths, interests, attitudes, cultures, and more — by setting firm, challenging goals and allowing for flexible pathways to meet those goals.
When employing UDL in creating learning experiences, you’re encouraged to think of learning as a set of behaviors and skills that exist on a continuum from novice to expert. Novice learning is primarily guided by external forces: Novices learn what they’re told, when they’re told, for the reasons given to them. They are the type of learners whom top-down, one-size-fits-all training was meant to serve. A distinct step above the novice level is self-directed learning, where learners take the initiative for their own learning, making decisions about what, when, and how to learn.
Expert learning takes things to another level, by adding in specific learning skills and a focus on strategic performance improvement. Expert learners have the will and skill to learn, can identify ways to leverage that learning into impact, and are always looking for new challenges and ways to improve their skills. They are the learners best able to adapt to the rapidly changing modern workplace.
How Expert Learners Improve Outcomes
Building a strong learning culture that focuses on capacity and context can give companies a strategic advantage. Let’s consider why.
First, employees who are skilled learners can more readily innovate, for what is innovation if not the learning how to solve a problem in a new way? A person focused on continuous improvement rarely settles for “We’ve always done it this way.” Expert learners can identify emerging knowledge and skill needs and generate new knowledge to meet those needs.
Next, learning fuels employee engagement. Employer-supported learning is a key driver of retention, particularly when learning is visibly linked to employee development — that is, upward mobility. Creating a culture that supports people to learn and own their improvement makes improvement a common cause between the employees and the organization. Further, a visible emphasis on learning can be key to attracting new talent, with Gen Z and Millennial workers citing learning and upward mobility as key motivators in selecting job opportunities.
Finally, investing in learning is just that: an investment. According to Gallup, companies that invest in employee development increase profitability by 11%.
Building a Culture of Expert Learners
Building a culture of expert learning is a complex undertaking. There are, however, some foundational practices, aligned with UDL, that leaders and teams can engage in as they work to develop support an expert learning culture.
Adopt a learning philosophy and stick to it.
A learning philosophy is a codification of what the organization believes about learning, including its value, the responsibilities of each person related to learning, and the methods by which the organization will support its employees to learn and improve.
Consider the philosophy of the United States Marine Corps, where learning is literally a survival skill. In 2020, the USMC published Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 7: Learning, or the MCDP 7, which tells all Marines, from the lowest-ranking enlisted member to the commandant, that they have a professional responsibility to learn. It also lays out the necessary conditions for learning, requiring each Marine to contribute to and leverage those conditions. All Marines are told they can’t rely on a training department of some sort but instead have to define and own their roles as learners. “Continuous learning is essential,” USMC Commandant Gen. D.H. Berger writes in the MCDP-7, “… because it enables Marines to quickly recognize changing conditions in the battlespace, adapt, and make timely decisions against a thinking enemy.”
Audit your culture for barriers to learning.
With your learning philosophy in place, make sure the collective behaviors, practices, and systems of your organization — and particularly the behaviors of your leaders — model and support the tenets of that philosophy. Examine what learning currently looks like in your organization and begin addressing common barriers. Provide time and resources for learning and regularly reinforcing the value of learning. Incentivize experimentation, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing. Promote team learning over individual knowledge-hoarding. Link learning to development by creating clear pathways for skill development and promotion. And enlist frontline employees and managers to more quickly identify learning needs and potential solutions.
To act like expert learners, particularly in selecting and strategically applying learning, people need flexibility in when and how they learn. New approaches, such as learner-cluster design and the modern-learning–ecosystem framework, acknowledge variability among learners, providing them options that best suit their learning needs, and close the gap between formal learning and where learning happens most — on the job.
* * *
Change is constant, and the need for adaptability extends beyond leaders to every level of the organization. When employees own their improvement, they can better anticipate, communicate, and meet their upskilling and reskilling needs. As Kendra Grant pointed out in describing her work with Walmart, many barriers to improvement that are thought to be internal to learners are really external — they’re flaws in the design. UDL helps us focus on what works for people rather than on what’s not working in them. By providing the right context and supporting capacity, we can make expert learning become the skill that fills the skills gap.
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