No employee likes to be told they're not performing up to par and that, perhaps, if they don't improve their performance, their job may be at stake.

But what about leaders? What measures and standards should they be held to, so that when they're not performing up to those standards, the same consequences apply?

I propose senior managers and HR leaders keep a close eye on the following three red flags.

Red flag: People feel disconnected at work

In Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid, you'll find that after physiological and safety needs are met, the third level of human needs is completely social -- "love and belonging."

It requires the human emotional need for interpersonal relationships, affiliating, trust and acceptance, connectedness, being part of a group, and--dare I say it?--love.

Yes, love (no, not the romantic type).

In Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O'Neill's renowned research study on "companionate love," they concluded that companies that build an emotional culture founded on the relational elements of warmth, affection, and connection led to better performance. This is not squishy, kumbaya stuff. Barsade wrote in Harvard Business Review that "those who perceive greater affection and caring from their colleagues perform better, but few managers focus on building an emotional culture. That's a mistake." Furthermore, Barsade and O'Neill found that "employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork."

Barsade and O'Neill's research is consistent with many other studies pointing to the importance of having connection and belonging in the workplace. This is even more true for women workers.  

Red flag: Women's voices are not being heard

According to the 2021 Culture Report on belonging at work from Achievers Workforce Institute, the research and insights arm of Achievers, women are 41 percent less likely to feel a strong sense of belonging in the workplace compared with men. Combined with the effects of the pandemic, this provides strong reasoning why we saw a 33-year low in women's labor force participation in 2020.

According to the report, women are 25 percent less likely than men to feel comfortable sharing a dissenting opinion at work, and women are also 20 percent less likely than men to say their unique background and identity are valued at their company.

Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers Workforce Institute, shared with me the bottom line of these findings: "Women need more support, and specifically the right kind of support if leaders are hoping to attract and retain women. This means leaders need to talk to their employees to really understand what's missing and how we can do better."

Red flag: Workers don't have a purpose in the work they do

In Annie McKee's bestseller How to be Happy at Work, her research team concluded that to be fully engaged and happy, virtually everyone wants a meaningful vision of the future and a sense of purpose (along with great relationships).

McKee concluded from extensive research that strong leaders are able to link the organizational vision to people's personal visions, and then communicate that vision consistently.

In my own studies over the years, I've noticed that retaining top talent includes keeping people connected to the organization's goals to keep them mentally and emotionally engaged. When employees have a well-defined mission and vision for their work, and leaders keep them informed and excited about pursuing it together, it creates immense loyalty and discretionary effort that compensation and perks can't match. When employees believe in the work they are doing, both the work and the workplace become more purposeful for them.