Imagine if you had to immediately stand down your entire organisation one day a week indefinitely – no ifs, buts or maybes. Would you feel the need to adjust your revenue targets? How about changing your project Gannt chart, Net Promoter Scores, service model? Every organisation we see is flat out busy and yet an important and concerning piece of global research has slipped by rather unnoticed which indicates organisations have recently lost 20% of their pre-COVID mojo.

Deloitte recently conducted a survey of 5,000 working women around the world including 500 Australian women comparing their pre and post COVID experiences and levels of work engagement as measured by productivity, mental wellbeing, employer loyalty, job satisfaction, motivation, balance, physical health and switching off.  They found across ALL 8 factors; women have fared worse.

This decline equates to half of the organisation (assuming yours looks anything like the general population) losing nearly half of its mojo because of their COVID experiences.

And to make matters worse, 75% of women surveyed plan to leave their employer within the next two years!

Undoubtedly the reasons for this are complex and a full exploration of the issues is beyond the scope of this paper. However, there is plenty of academic research that indicates the positive correlation between employee engagement and ‘positive affect’, leading to greater job performance and ultimately more successful organisational outcomes (e.g. profit, service, efficiency, etc). Plainly, when human beings in our organisations are ‘in a good space’, organisations do a lot better – full stop. Furthermore, by not addressing these issues organisations not only make achieving goals harder, it sustains the dysfunction and creates new problems such as higher turnover, higher costs, loss of institutional memory, and the insidiousness of cynicism and apathy.

So, is there a way out?  We recommend these 3 strategies:

  • Confront the reality – in the busy-ness of 21st century work, it’s easy to find other things to focus on. We remind you to consider again the costs (hard and soft) mentioned above. As leaders, we need to genuinely listen to understand the living and working experience of others. If we want everyone engaged, we need to begin by understanding how our colleagues are experiencing our organisations. Some practical examples are anonymous online surveys, ‘listening luncheons’, formal workshops are all helpful in identifying the things that are engaging our teams or pushing them away. We need to recognise that the way our people are connecting has changed. How do we maintain those all important relationships in a virtual world, does this still fit within our culture and what work practices have already or need to evolve to cater for this? All this will affect how we come together, virtually and physically, in the premises we occupy and the location or locations of our people.
  • Engage in solutions – there’s an old saying about “if you want to improve the factory, talk to the people in it”. Our teams know how to improve our organisations and they are typically more than willing to share their ideas. How are our managers adapting to the changed work environment? Do the way our meetings run need to change? Do we need to monitor different things in different ways? The formation of “Tiger Teams” where we empower fast-forming teams of our most talented are an excellent example of engaging in solutions.  As leaders however, we need a mindset where we encourage these solutions to focus on the issues mentioned above.  If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that when push comes to shove, we can all change radically, quickly, and effectively for the better.
  • Be courageous and act – having confronted our reality and encouraged solutions that help our teams thrive (rather than survive), we need to be willing and courageous to act. This means making different sorts of decisions that will move the needle for our teams.  The safe option is to do more of what we know and accept the risks and lost potential energy.  The hard, and courageous thing is to say ‘NO’, we can do better. To do this, leaders need to understand their strategic purpose and how it may need to shift to encompass these new parameters. Have we preserved what makes our business special, motivates our people and keeps them engaged? Or does all this need to shift to a new place?

While the Deloitte’s research is clearly alarming, we can use this moment as a clarion call for women, and men. There are strong business reasons to act including getting back to full capacity, reducing turnover costs, mitigating risks, better engagement, etc. And there is the human dimension. We’re sure we can all agree that we want our sons and daughters to work and find meaning in organisations where they can thrive and be at their best. This is our opportunity to shape our organisations for the betterment of all.

Jonathan Sweeney & Chris Corneil, August 2021