There is a growing recognition that enterprises exist within society and bear responsibility for the outcomes they produce. Here’s the second of a three-part series
Finding purpose in work
Today, businesses around the world are eager to define their reasons for existence and impact on society, and many are working hard to develop a statement of corporate purpose. This goes far beyond corporate social responsibility (CSR). Perhaps not so surprisingly it took the pandemic crisis for a lot of organisations to find their larger purpose as social citizens. Gartner surveyed more than 3,500 employees around the world in October 2021, and 65% said the pandemic had made them rethink the place that work should have in their life. Fifty-six percent said it made them want to contribute more to society.
Organisations are forming board-level strategies that incorporate the “voice of society” along with the voices of customers, shareholders and employees. There is a growing recognition that enterprises exist within society and bear responsibility for the outcomes they produce, good and bad. And this type of sustainable business mindset – in which organisations shift from a mindset of “doing less harm” to “doing more good” – is increasingly a dimension of valuation for investors, so it cannot be ignored.
Cisco is one of the first companies in the world to publish a Purpose Report to connect its purpose to the environmental, social, and governance efforts so valued by our internal and external stakeholders. This isn’t just a fad; it’s the future. Both present and future employees are asking the organisation about how its work matters to the world.
When professional services firm KPMG rolled out its 10,000 Stories Challenge program, inviting employees to make posters highlighting the purpose they found in their jobs, the contributions were inspiring. One employee who helps banks fight money laundering wrote, “I combat terrorism.” Another who helped small farmers secure financing used the phrase “I help farms grow.”
When employees at any level say that their purpose is fulfilled by their work, the work and life outcomes they report are anywhere from two to five times higher than those reported by their unfulfilled peers. And this finding holds regardless of whether employees currently rely on work for purpose. In other words, organisations should aspire to ensure that their employees’ purpose is fulfilled at work, whether or not employees initially think they rely on work for this. Employees–and the organisation–stand to benefit anyway.
Invest in Managers
Managers are really having a moment. Between the Great Resignation, a lingering pandemic, employees demanding flexibility, skyrocketing mental health challenges, a looming recession, and general uncertainty, more and more employees are turning to their direct supervisors for direction and support. Unfortunately, managers aren’t always prepared to meet their moment because they’re woefully under-trained and overworked while tasked with leading their teams during heightened turbulence. New research by Future Forum found a record 43% of managers say they’re burned out – the highest of any job level. To retain the best managers – and the employees who report to them – organisations need to invest in their development.
Low- and mid-level managers are now the colleagues with whom their direct reports most regularly interact, and 60% of hybrid employees say their direct manager is their most direct connection to company culture. Management is a skill, and for most people, it takes practice. The dual pressures of remote work and employees’ evolving needs and expectations have amplified poor management.
In 2023, the best organisations must take two key actions to relieve pressure on managers. They must:
- Provide fresh support and training to mitigate the widening managerial skills gap. The approaches that were successful in 2019 are ill-suited for the workforce of 2023 and
- Clarify manager priorities, make it clear how managers should allocate their time and redesign their roles where necessary.
What can be done remotely and what can’t?
One of the most critical things to ensure that hybrid work succeeds is to identify tasks that can be performed remotely and those which need in-person interaction. Decisions to permit hybrid work based on the nature of the tasks being performed by their people. Organisations primarily identified four categories:
- Individual procedural tasks, such as entering data or processing claims, can be performed without interacting with others. Consequently, for remote work, only supervision became more difficult.
- Focused creative tasks, such as writing code or designing a brochure, require little teamwork and are easily supported by technology. They are the easiest to transition to virtual work.
- Coordinated group tasks, such as town halls, routine project work, regular review meetings, and group information-sharing, may be largely standardised but still require human interaction. These are more difficult to accomplish with remote participants, but it is possible with communication technology.
- Collaborative creative tasks, such as product development, creative problem-solving, and strategic planning, are the most social type – and important elements of innovation processes. For managers in our study, it was experiences with collaborative creative tasks in hybrid environments that exposed the potential negative consequences for culture and innovation. The inherently collaborative nature of such tasks is the core challenge that drives the debate over hybrid work.
[To be continued]
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