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Unhappy staff? Here’s how to help re-energize them

May 25, 2022   by Jason Contant

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Aiming for work-life alignment and not work-life balance can help re-engage dissatisfied mid-career employees, a Washington Post best-selling author says in a recent blog for Harvard Business Review.

“It’s not just about the time they spend at work, but about how this work augments or detracts from the time that they spend away from it, too,” author Laura Gassner Otting writes in How to Re-Engage a Dissatisfied Employee. “Ask your employees how the work they do each day allows them to achieve the career advancement they seek, nurture the families they are growing, or manifest their values on a daily basis so that you can work together to address their pain points where it doesn’t.”

Otting’s advice for retaining mid-career managers and those preparing for the role is four-fold. In addition to aiming for work-life alignment, she recommends finding out what drives your workers and reshaping their jobs together, engaging them in the recruiting process, and connecting their work to the larger picture (company strategy).

Her advice is based on her survey of 5,600 workers from various industries between January 2019 to December 2021, which found that “worker dissatisfaction not only starts as early as age 25 — it’s been here since before the pandemic started.”

Otting’s survey found that 65% of respondents wanted to have more control over the teams to which they were assigned, the projects on which they worked, and their ability to influence their hours or earnings through their side hustle. But surprisingly, although you would expect to see workers gain more control as they rise through the ranks, the opposite was true for women in particular, leading them to leave the workforce at higher numbers than their male counterparts.

To understand what drives your employees, Otting suggests asking them what brought them to the job — cause, team, organization or paycheque — and whether that still energizes them.

Worried businessman at the office Trade

“Be open to their answers,” she writes. “What you hear might surprise, excite, or confuse you, but it will help you to understand your team better.

“As you learn more, you can assign them to projects that are meaningful to them and reshape their daily, weekly, and quarterly goals accordingly. You’ll also deepen your understanding of what inspires them so that you, in turn, can better draw a direct line (for them) towards the company’s work and their personal needs in the future.”

Engaging employees in the recruiting process is also important as many feel like recruiting is something that happens to them and their team, not with them, leaving them feeling less involved, less influential and less important.

“Recruiting can not only present an opportunity to bring in fresh talent and perspectives, it can also provide space to engage your current key staff to re-spark excitement,” she writes.

For example, rather than simply posting the old job description for a now-vacant role, managers should take a moment to talk to their employees about whether or not that job description is even still relevant. Then ask for their help in improving it.

Finally, rather than simply passing along larger organizational imperatives, connect the dots for staff. Help them see direct lines between their day-to-day, weekly, monthly, or quarterly work and the company’s overall long-term goals, Otting says.

In the survey, only about half of workers aged 25 to 45 felt they could connect day-to-day tasks to larger, strategic imperatives. Almost all of the 5,600 respondents (92.4%) reported they do better work when they see how the quality of their work matters to the big picture.

Some HR experts have also emphasized focusing on retention to stem losses from ‘The Great Re-shuffle.’ In other words, people who stay should not be forgotten.

“Rather than standing by as your best workers consider resignation, offer them an alternative — and personally compelling — path,” Otting writes. “By giving people more agency, re-engaging them, and re-inspiring them, you can create work environments that help them feel like the best versions of themselves. When this happens, they reinvest themselves into their organizations and amplify their own team-building behaviors. Instead of knocking on your door to give notice, they’ll be there with renewed dedication, increased investment, and elevated energy.”


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