In the last year 25% of workers voluntarily left their jobs, while 65% of workers actively considered leaving their current position. With such a substantial portion of the workforce seeking new employment, many businesses have been feeling the surmounting pressure created by the ever-dwindling workforce. With limited staff having to take on extra work, to supply chain challenges, and dissatisfied customers, turnover is presenting challenges across every industry. And though the pandemic has certainly generated a shift in what employees are prioritizing and valuing in this new normal we have found ourselves in, turnover has been on the rise since 2019, meaning what is happening now in the present day is more a symptom of a problem rather than the problem itself.
So, what is the problem? Well, employees spend roughly a third of their lives at work, and if the last two years have taught us anything it’s that workplace mental warfare is draining and impacts employees’ ability to stay engaged and focused at work, leading to what is now being referred to as the great resignation. This issue paired with the circumstances of the pandemic – like the expectation that we are always accessible because of remote work, and the impact of social distancing and taking on additional caretaker roles at home – is resulting in an explosion of employees who are suffering with poor mental well-being.
We are seeing these claims on well-being corroborated by reports from JAMA which reveal that the rates for depression and anxiety have nearly tripled since the pandemic began. Burnout is also on the rise in workplaces with 66% of managers alone reporting feeling overextended. Some employers have opted to adjust their benefits and implement wellness programs, but these changes have not made a dent in rectifying the mental-wellbeing of employees. While these efforts are well-intended, businesses are not likely to see a change until they address the root of the problem.
According to meaning in the workplace expert Danny Gutknecht, CEO and Co-Found of Pathways, and author of Meaning at Work – And Its Hidden Language, the solution to this mental-well-being problem lies in communication. Gutknecht has spent his career supporting organizations and people in their efforts to uncover meaning in the workplace. Through Gutknecht’s research in psychology, management theory, and cognitive science, he has helped to empower individuals and organizations to leverage the power of meaning in work environments. In doing so, employees and employers can create a successful and healthy work environment where everyone feels seen and heard.
“There’s a ton of neuroscience data that shows how biochemically responsive we are to anxiety and despair,” Gutknecht says. “Though the data supports the fact that engaged workers and excellent workplace communication yield four times the profit and twice the revenue – we continue to see data showing how disconnected the workforce feels.”
For businesses interested in improving their corporate culture and improving the well-being of their employees, Gutknecht says you first have to know your meaning. According to Gutknecht, knowing your meaning requires you to examine your mental models and understand why you do the things you do. By bringing consciousness to our behaviors, we are able to identify when these behaviors are most effective, and when we could employ other tactics for greater efficacy. The second step to improving office culture is to learn to communicate authentically. When you understand your meaning, your communications transcend the jargon-laden language of business. In communicating more meaningfully you can then attract people to your business who will connect with it most.
The third piece of advice Gutknecht offers is to learn how to listen. A difficult skill to master, listening is the foundation of trust and the originator of more profound questions. Typically, when we listen to one another we are driven to find common beliefs, while also developing responses in our head to what the other person is saying. In effect we end up over-personalizing what someone says. It’s important to listen without judgment so we can truly understand what is at the heart of what is being communicated. The fourth piece of advice Gutknecht offers is to manage your models and methods. Models speak to the way we make sense of the world, and methods allow us to improve our models. We are all guided by different models, and the efficacy of these models can be impacted by our methods. If we aren’t aware of which models we are employing, we may end up being more disruptive to our colleagues than intended.
Finally, Gutknecht says we must mine the meaning of the language of our organizations. Meaning language is the most accessible way to get to meaning models. Meaning models drive behaviors and attitudes. If we understand how meaning is shared and articulated between employees and eventually customers, we can transform the function of the business. Meaning language adds value across organizational and operational processes.
It is more important now than ever that business executives examine their company culture and the possible impact it is having on employees. We often forget just how vital employees are to the success of their employers. Numbers don’t lie and with more than half of the workforce reporting burnout, poor mental health, and a desire to leave their jobs, business leaders will need to make a change.