As many businesses continue to wrestle with the “if “and/or “how” of whether employees should head back to working on-site, there seems to be an opportunity here for those same organisations to consider their role on a societal scale. Since early Summer 2020, we have been challenging individual leaders and their organisations, to consider some significant topics, two of which seem especially relevant now as so many organisations of all sizes, wrestle with future ways of working.
Q1: What is the meaning of work?
The answers to this seemingly abstract question depends to some extent on who you ask. If you ask business owners, shareholders and executive leaders you will likely get a very different response than if you had asked front-line employees. The former might have replied with: shareholder value, profit, growth or even global impact; the latter may have suggested: paying my rent, putting sufficient food on the table, being able to pay for care for my parents or having a holiday once in a while (OK, that last one is perhaps not a great example, currently!)
What if the answers given by the organisation were aligned much more closely with those of the employees? What if an organisation existed solely to help the employees afford what they need on a weekly or monthly basis and to lead a high quality and comfortable life?
If a commercial organisation were to try such a radical shift, would it result in reduced shareholder value and profit, stifled growth etc? Not necessarily. An organisation couldn’t hope to serve its employees without it being fantastic at producing awesome, impactful, sustainable products and services that generate profit. That’s a given; the minimum table stakes.
The upsides of taking such a leap-of-faith might include establishing an organisational purpose that would be ever-green. You will always have humans working for you in some capacity – it maybe you have fewer of them in the future doing different work - but you will have them there keeping the organisation alive. In doing so, you create a constant set of guiderails against which decisions can be made. We would also suggest the other upside for the organisation is if you centre your focus on being there for your employees, the employees will do their bit in return. It is, after all, in their best interests to do so. A naïve view? Perhaps, but simple controls and a more individualised offering can help shape the behaviours and engagement of employees who otherwise would want to have their cake and eat it.
Q2: What is the organisation’s role in the community?
I was a teacher back in the mid-90s at a time when the role of schools in their communities was shifting from being solely a place of academic instruction to one that included supporting children in a more holistic/pastoral sense, too. As you can imagine this was not met with universal approval by teachers. Nevertheless, the change occurred over time and indeed the role of schools is radically different now to even 20 years ago.
No organisation, like no human being, operates in a vacuum. Organisations have a sense of place and do create more or less of a local impact. Some organisations have re-located as a result of the pandemic, whilst some others have significantly down-sized by exiting office lease agreements, leaving behind a much smaller footprint. All such changes affect the community within which an organisations exists. There are not just fewer jobs available locally but there is also a knock-on effect to the local economy. It is true that some of the loss in one place can be made up for elsewhere but if, for example, 40% of the week will see your employees working from home rather than on-site, the local community will be in a net worse position.
When people are stressed, an interesting thing happens: Attentional focus switches to a domain we call ‘narrow-external.’ Stress promotes a self-preservation response - your capability to adopt a broad outlook switches to focus more narrowly on yourself and those nearest and dearest to you. Organisations have been under incredible pressure the last 18 months and understandably, attention has been on survival. If you have been fortunate enough to survive – or you may have been one of the few lucky ones to thrive – you could consider adding to the ‘return to work’ debates you are doubtless having currently, another discussion point about, ‘return to community.’ What is your organisation’s role in the community? What is the organisation willing to do, to contribute, to the local community that – regardless the location of your Head Office – is your local home. It’s not just a ‘soft and fluffy’ debate, lives and livelihoods are impacted, whether your organisation are aware of it or not.
With ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance Standards) being so high profile at the moment, this is an opportunity through which, as leaders in the HR space, you can demonstrate your relevant and current thinking, both in-house and to interested external stakeholders for mutual benefit.
Exigence works with organisations to deliver full-stack HR leadership development solutions, from Executive and senior team coaching to group and AI coaching. If you would like to discuss how we can help you deliver quantifiable impacts for your organisation, we'd love to hear from you - just contact us here.