Between a global pandemic, a mass exodus of burnt-out employees, and a not-so-certain future, now’s a crucial time for leaders to foster a positive culture and environment to ensure well being of their companies, their people and the future of work.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that the United States saw a record 4.53 million people voluntarily leave their jobs in March of 2022, topping the previous all-time high of 4.51 million in November 2021.
As the need for authentic Emotional IQ within workplaces grows, the following lessons learned from working in and offering the options of remote and hybrid situations offer leaders guidance to building better relationships with their employees now and into the future.
Identify and regulate emotions
Emotions are contagious – even over a Wi-Fi connection. Studies suggest that you can as easily infect the people around you with your moods – whether it’s happiness, anger or something in between – as you can your germs. Good leaders spread passion and motivation rather than burden employees with anxiety or ennui. Direct reports work harder for a boss they perceive to be considerate, kind, caring and respectful. By contrast, they will be less motivated if their boss is emotionally unpredictable, labile, chaotic or dramatic. This is supported by findings from a recent survey by GoodHire that reported 82% of American workers said they would potentially quit their job because of a bad manager.
By understanding yourself and having accurate emotional self-awareness, you can put a label on what you are feeling when you feel it, allowing you to better understand how your feelings might affect others. This is even more important in remote work situations, where noticing the cues of the emotional states of those around you can be more challenging. When communicating via phone calls, email and video conferencing versus in-person interactions, the subtleties of nonverbal communication can be easily missed. By being cognizant of the impression you are making and aware of how your audience is receiving it, you can ensure you deliver the message you intended in the way you intended to communicate it.
Show empathy regularly
Empathetic leadership is defined as having the ability to understand the needs of others and being aware of their feelings and thoughts. Leaders that practice empathy in their communication are more likely to avoid conflict, upset feelings and resentment.
By considering how you think, act and speak when interacting with others, you not only model appropriate and desired behavior, but your direct reports feel safe to fail, allowing you to better help struggling employees improve and even excel. Conversely, a Harvard Business Review study found that those who aren’t self-aware can actually cut their team’s success in half. Luckily, EQ skills can be learned.
In remote and hybrid work situations, intentionally practicing empathy is even more crucial than when working together in the office. With less opportunities for face-to-face communication, connection can easily break down. To ensure your team feels included, valued and respected, make sure you are listening to understand – not just to respond; encouraging your team to ask for help when needed; being transparent in your communications and trusting that your reports are doing the right thing; and recognizing them for their achievements.
Give constructive feedback, increase 1:1s
Receiving specific, honest feedback makes people feel satisfied with their work. This is supported by a recent Gallup study that discovered employees who received detailed, constructive feedback had a 14.9% lower turnover rate than those who received no additional feedback beyond what relates to their daily tasks.
Due to interactions being more limited in remote and hybrid work environments, putting structured feedback practices in place to provide both meaningful and effective appreciative, developmental, and evaluative feedback is even more critical than in face-to-face settings. Schedule those one-to-one meetings with direct reports, up their frequency, and do not cancel them when other work demands creep in. Making these a priority signals to employees that you are making them a priority.
Negative feedback in remote situations can be especially difficult – both for the giver and the recipient. To ensure your message comes through as intended in a sensitive manner, ask your employees’ perspective of their work, show appreciation for what they did well, make sure they know you have their back, and also that they understand the key takeaways. You might even ask them to repeat them back to you.
Hire with cultural impact in mind
A study by Georgetown University found incivility in the workplace is on the rise and is having a widespread and negative effect not only on performance and collaboration, but customer experiences and employee retention. For company culture to be healthy and holistic, it must come from the top down and support talent with both high potential and excellent EQ. Further, expectations for positive attitudes must be spelled out in competency models and demonstrated by leadership.
While a job can be taught, culture cannot be forced, and an employee who is not aligned with your company culture – even from afar – can cause much damage very quickly, despite the skills and experience they bring to the table. Because leadership is responsible for setting the general tone for the entire company, being a cultural fit must be considered in the hiring and promotion process. Leaders shouldn’t simply be promoted based on tenure. Instead, it is important that they also have strong empathy and the interpersonal relationship skills necessary to be a good steward of their people whether managing in person or remotely.
No matter your work setting, it is natural to feel hurt when one of your employees gives notice that they are leaving your company. As an emotionally intelligent and compassionate leader, it is important that you acknowledge your feelings and work through them. But with 86% of employers in a new study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) stating they are willing to welcome back employees who had previously quit, and 23% of workers who quit reporting they are considering returning to their former job, it is equally important that you part on good terms.
Boomerang employees often require less training and bring institutional knowledge and a deep familiarity with your organization’s culture, which can lower the cost of hiring. So how do you ensure you make the offboarding process and experience a positive one?
A good first step is to make sure you have familiarized yourself in advance with your company’s HR policies, which exist to prevent confusion for you and your employees regarding their obligations and rights. From whether the employee will be paid for unused vacation hours to the vesting period for retirement benefits and so much in between, knowing and understanding all HR policies related to employee termination – or asking when you aren’t sure – can help you avoid a rift or feeling of distrust from forming.