"I'm so grateful I have nothing left to give to my family and friends after work," said nobody ever. Yet, we have an epidemic of exhausted, unwell, overwhelmed employees doing their best to avoid burnout. While stress plays an important role in fueling performance, distress rips apart human performance. It "takes out" highly competent people, leaving them to struggle unnecessarily with mediocrity.

As employees fight to find their footing in a chaotic workplace environment, so, too, do their bosses. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't hear from or talk with leaders befuddled by the lightning-quick passage of time, their inability to make progress on meaningful work, and summon the energy to motivate and coach their direct reports.

Organizations that aren't tone-deaf to the struggles of today's workers are finding ways to keep the culture relevant. I'm not talking about adding foosball tables and beer taps for happy hour. Instead, savvy organizations are investing in higher leverage changes that move the culture in a constructive direction.

Let's look at four solutions in depth that can help leaders avoid maintaining a stale culture. I've listed the remaining three opportunities at the end of this article.

Examine How the Company Presents Itself Online

One of the biggest influences on the daily experience of work is the people in the company. So, it may be time to modernize how you bring in new people to the company.  A place to start is by understanding what today's job seekers are looking for in their next opportunity.

Annie Pearl, VP of Product at Glassdoor, the online job board and recruiting company, sees that today's potential new hires thoroughly research companies before applying for an open position. Job seekers want to work for a company that is transparent and authentic, says Pearl on a trend Glassdoor is seeing. Does the company openly talk about who they are, what they stand for, and even where they need to improve. Such candor reveals a more human side to the company, making it more relatable and desirable.

When you factor into the employee experience the length of time spent doing the work, it makes sense potential new hires carefully evaluate your company and its leaders. Pearl explains that what current and former employees post online about their experience at work needs to match what the company says about itself online.

You can't bring in highly desirable new employees if you drive them away before they apply.

Reinvest in Leader Development

Perhaps looking at how employees enter your workplace is working. Another high-leverage solution to prevent a stale workplace is leadership development. Too often eager, savvy individual contributors are promoted to management with too little or no development plan.

Training is hardly the only answer to developing your leaders. A more thorough way to help your leaders be strong in motivating people is to establish a set of human development objectives and key results. Integrate into your plan on-the-job assignments to expose leaders to myriad opportunities that test and grow their skills. Leverage your managers' strengths in assignments, too. Establish mentoring and coaching practices. (BetterUp is growing in popularity as a way to match leaders with certified coaches.)

Management is about spreadsheets, numbers, and meetings. These items don't build your business, people do. Your company needs a robust solution to keep managers in a constant learning loop: learning and growing continuously.

Clearly Define Skill Growth Expectations

Your company's employees also need to understand how they can grow or promote within the company. If your company does not have clear growth expectations and opportunities to improve, then your company will struggle to find and keep high performers. If employees are "ripe" they are rotting. If they are "green," they are growing.

Dismantle the Ivory Tower

Bygone management practices that trumpet the superiority of the "top brass" are still too common. A systemic and ruthless effort must be implemented to eradicate old cultural leftovers. Here's a starter list of practices that build ivory towers and separate management from reality and employees:

  • Manager only parking spots
  • Senior manager retreats but meager pay increases
  • Top management in higher floor offices that keep them at bay from everyone else
  • Outdated travel and entertainment expense amounts that have failed to keep up with inflation
  • Poorly planned employee gatherings/events

Your company will find it valuable to equip employees with the relevant technology for their positions. Survey employees across a diverse set of roles to learn what they need to be effective and efficient in their work.

Evaluate and revise your expectations for managing how much time is spent working outside regular office hours. This starts with top leadership. Ban emails after a certain hour and on weekends. Create spaces for employees to step away from their work throughout the day.

Finally, if you do nothing else, be ruthless in creating clarity in your company. Mature operational practices that make it easy for everyone to know company goals and how they contribute to them. Diligently communicate quarterly priorities. Institute a leadership philosophy on sharing individual and team performance expectations. And coach and teach everyone to participate in short feedback loops that let individuals, teams, and units know what progress they are making.

The demands of knowledge work are mentally and physically draining. Their effects are magnified when outdated workplace practices impede progress and limit human potential. Avoid becoming a relic that is slow to respond to outside influences. Masterfully monitor and quickly and adeptly build a culture that makes it easier for people to do what you hired them to do--produce results. Moreover, give them what they want--an experience of work that satisfies, motivates, and fosters excellence. We all want to be part of something great. Don't let your workplace practices prevent this altruism from applying to your company's culture.

Published on: Feb 18, 2018