Relational intelligence eats policy for breakfast

We’ve all experienced, to a greater or lesser extent, the largely negative but sometimes positive impacts of what can seem like a permacrisis in our lives and work.

For example, just as we feel like we’re getting out of the long-term impact of the 2008 financial crisis, the pandemic hits us again and again and again.

And just as we’re seeing the green shoots of recovery from that, the effects of Brexit and the war in Ukraine have triggered a cost-of-living crisis which is pushing the country into recession.

At times, it feels like the major parts of our lives have essentially been thrown up in the air, particularly our work lives.

This has an immeasurable impact on employee morale and mental wellbeing as these compounding issues hit the workplace with a bang.

Hybrid and remote working are now commonplace, with employers increasingly asking or telling employees to come back into the office. If this isn’t managed or planned well, it’s going to have a detrimental effect on engagement, connection, performance and outputs.

In a recent live workshop, we asked Workvivo’s Expert in Residence Employee Experience, Gillian French, about how we can translate these threats to opportunities with a shift in outlook and a few basic steps.

What are the key challenges with employee engagement and getting people back into the office?

I think the major theme that’s coming through – and the reason people are leaving and not wanting to return to the office – is for relational intelligence reasons such as appreciation, recognition, not feeling valued, not belonging.

And we’re trying to solve this with things like logic and policy.

There’s a lot of noise in the media now around quiet quitting, where senior leaders are, through frustration, mandating for everyone to come back into the office. You signed a contract. We pay your salary. Get back into the office.

Source: Marketoonist

In response, employees are saying “That’s it, I’m out of here!” The two languages just aren’t speaking to each other.

This approach is particularly prevalent in the technology industry, where we’re designing and implementing technology to shorten processes and build efficiencies but forgetting that we’re sentient beings.

What’s coming through constantly in engagement surveys and research into today’s work environment from Gartner and Gallop is that employees just want to be treated like humans.

To get people back in the office and reconnecting, organisations must be intentional about their relational intelligence, how they’re going to build connections across the company. Because it’s not going to happen without it.

“Workplace relationships and connection is the new bottom line and as employers, it should be the number one item on the agenda.”

Gillian French, Workvivo

We must make sure that our people are connecting with each other and with the business.

New starters are a major concern; if we don’t take steps to get the dynamic right from the start, churn rates will increase and we’re going to see people leave after a couple of months for a more connected and fulfilling workplace.

They’re going to have no loyalty. You’re going to have wilful blindness. You’re going to have disjointed products and things are going to take longer to get done.

Are there organisations getting it right?

I think there are some organisations that are working hard to figure this out and there are some that are frustrated and just want it to go back to the way it was.

We just need to take a pragmatic approach and find the middle ground. Too often, however, we go to the extreme and jump on the latest trends or buzzwords without proper thought or intention.

We all need balance in life, so my advice is to avoid the extremes and not only talk to employees but listen to them. You can hire a consultant to build a framework for remote working, but it won’t work unless you understand how your people feel and what they need to feel connected.

Conversely, it is also an opportunity to understand what’s not working, what’s causing them undue and possibly unnecessary stress about current and planned ways of working.

This means we must be intentional about how we’re building relationships.

Most organisations have realised that the traditional workplace is dead and buried and accepted that we need to open our eyes to new ways of working.

And the path to an effective new way of working is not an autocratic style of leadership. The answers lie within and come from within.

People are wonderful when you talk and listen to them and include them in shaping things; this way you’ll get all-important buy-in!

It’s the same with trying to figure out if we should have a hybrid model or a fully remote one.

Often, at a senior leadership level, there’s a desire to engage outside consultants to drive decisions. But external people never really get an organisation, they don’t live and breathe it in the same way as your people. Consultants are rarely the silver bullet they might seem.

It’s got to be a shared responsibility between the organisation – with its policies, processes and support, functions – leaders at all levels with their influence, but also the individuals that make up teams.

We strive for perfectionism and talk about things in the workplace as if they must be overly complicated and sometimes overly reliant on data.

And data can be brilliant for facilitating intelligent conversations, but you don’t always need to rely on it to tell you that you know something isn’t right.

Data can also make assumptions too linear and come with a lack of empathy; we need to go back to our humanity.

Key Takeaways

Don’t lead with data and policy: Relate and empathise with your people by talking and crucially, listening to them, leading with relational intelligence. They create connections and special moments for people and spaces for people to find commonality.

Shift from tasks to relationships: Relationships are key to the success of business and relationships are dependent on how people work together. Shift the focus from tasks and productivity to building great team and individual relationships and the tasks and productivity will take care of themselves.

Connect teams: Every leader within the business needs to be making sure they’re connecting all the teams to each other, connecting people. Give them access to the right tools and training to enable meaningful conversation without fear of stigma or judgement.

Communication: During the pandemic, internal communication was excellent, but fast forward to today and it’s disjointed. In a recent survey, 61% of people said that poor internal communication is challenging issue for them. How can you expect buy-in and connection if you’re not communicating in the right way?

Be more Human.

Watch the workshop here

If you would like to learn how you can connect and engage your organisation, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

Written by: Paul Sykes, Partnerships Director

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