The Great Resignation, or the Great Realignment as it is now known, which was triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, is one of the most significant challenges facing businesses in 2022. According to data from the Department of work, more than 5 million people left their jobs voluntarily in January, a record in nearly two decades of tracking.
Employees in all industries have more options and opportunities than ever before. This great exodus should alarm business leaders in large part because it is not due to a single solvable problem. The pandemic has triggered a complex turn in employee sentiment. Employees leave their jobs citing insufficient pay, poor benefits, and most importantly, a lack of fulfillment in their work. Retaining top talent is now one of the most important priorities for organizations.
Even before the pandemic, many employees felt left behind by companies that viewed them as assets to be used and thrown away. They felt disconnected from their workplace and dissatisfied with the psychological contract between them and their employers. This stems from the fact that many companies do not put people and culture first. It is also linked to a lack of focus on building organizations based on purely human qualities: connection, empathy, respect and empowerment.
For employees to stay engaged and loyal to their organization, they need to feel part of something bigger than the work they do. The best leaders make the intentional choice to build strong partnerships with their employees. They understand the importance of human connection, something that has become a lost art in the past two years of the pandemic. Senior leaders who understand this practice what I call relational intelligence.
Relationship intelligence is the ability to successfully connect with people and build strong, lasting relationships.. It empowers leaders to create cultures that are inclusive, empowering, and exciting. It helps employees engage and interact effectively with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. This has become even more important than ever as organizations refocus and engage in efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion. Intelligent relational leaders make it a priority to serve their people. They understand that achieving results and strong financial returns begins with empowering their employees.
Our research at Bandelli & Associates found that relationship-smart leaders practice five critical skills that lead to higher levels of employee engagement, job satisfaction, and employee retention. Let’s see what it takes to truly empower people and keep them engaged, inspired and passionate about working for your organization:
1) Build rapport and 2) Understand others: Connect with your people
Employees are engaged and empowered when they feel a strong connection to their leaders. They stay engaged when they feel they can make a real contribution to the organization. To do this, get to know all of your team members as individuals. Make it a priority to meet them one-on-one (in person or virtually) and ask them lots of questions. Find out what their goals and ambitions are. Ask them what they want to learn and how they want to grow. Find out what work they want to be exposed to in your organization. While it’s important to do a lot of listening, take the opportunity to share some things about yourself. A team member might be interested in learning more about your journey as a leader and some of the experiences that have shaped your professional life. This is one of the best ways to present yourself as an authentic and authentic leader. And it’s good to be personal too. Share information about your life and ask them questions about theirs. Learning more about your co-workers’ hobbies, interests, and life outside of work provides opportunities to bond and form deeper connections.
Getting to know your people shouldn’t just focus on the conversations you have with them. Take the time to observe your employees in action. It was easier when we weren’t working remotely, but you can still do it today. Join them in some of their team meetings and video conferences. Note their approach to work and partnerships with their peers. Monitor what piques their interest, what excites them, and their impact on others. Provide consistent and regular feedback. Employees want to feel invested. They want to know that you care about their professional growth and development. Intelligent relational leaders invest in and nurture the relationships they have with their employees and teams. It’s the best way to make people feel important and do something meaningful in their work.
3) Accepting Individual Differences: Inclusivity Matters
As a leader, it is essential to set the tone that diversity, equity and inclusion matter. Accepting people’s differences means understanding and accepting that people can be different from you, and those differences, whether in gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, religion or socio-economic background , are what make teams strong. When you accept people who are different from you, you can communicate with them more effectively. This helps to strengthen the quality of the relationships you have with your employees. So, make every member of your team feel valued, important, and appreciated.
Encourage diversity of thought. This is the true essence of creating powerful and dynamic organizational cultures. You want people on your team who think differently. Research in the field of industrial and organizational psychology supports this. Researchers have found that when leaders make inclusivity a priority, it leads to higher levels of communication, collaboration, and teamwork. If you want to retain great talent, make it a priority to create inclusive cultures for your employees and teams.
4) Build Trust and 5) Cultivate Influence: Empower All Members of Your Team
Even before the pandemic, many senior executives faced challenges in leading global teams. Today, for many people, working from home has become the norm. Things will stay that way in the future, as many companies adopt a hybrid model that combines time in the office with time working from home. Successfully leading a dispersed team requires getting everyone on the same page. This is where developing trust becomes critical. Do you have common values and guiding principles around which people can rally? Do you have a common goal and vision that provides direction and meaning to your people? Frequent targeted communication is essential to unite your team members around a common goal.
Share updates on progress towards key goals and KPIs. Communicate to your employees what the competition is doing. Highlight milestones and celebrate wins along the way. Create time and space for people to voice and share their concerns, personally and professionally. Remember that the lines between work and personal life have become more blurred over the past couple of years. Give your employees the opportunity to talk about what they do. This is the best way to show empathy and compassion for your people.
Empowering your employees starts with your ability to have a positive impact on their lives. Do your team members know that you care about them and their professional development? Do you give them the impression that their work contributes to the common good? This has become increasingly important for millennials and Gen Z employees. Young workers today are fully invested in their own growth and career trajectory. They care about having meaning and purpose in the work they do. This represents an opportunity for companies willing to invest in campaigns, programs and the infrastructure required to highlight and showcase growth opportunities for their organizations. If there are clear career development paths for workers, your ability to retain talent increases dramatically.
Relationship intelligence is what all leaders need to develop as we enter a new era of work. Today’s employees don’t just care about title, salary, and compensation. They want to know that their work has meaning. They want leaders who will intentionally invest in their growth and development. And they want that personal human connection – something that has been lost in the past two years of the pandemic. Something we desperately need to reclaim in order to better lead our people, teams and organizations into the future.