Good work: Building careers that make an impact

5 Oct

If you’re a business leader, you’re probably thinking about the emergence of quiet quitting, or doing the bare minimum at work. It’s impossible–and inadvisable–not to. Only 32% of workers report being engaged at work, with the rest ambivalent, or worse, actively disengaged like 18% of workers.

At this point, there’s no disputing that the pandemic irrevocably changed the way we work. But its reach goes further than whether or not you travel to an office. Two years of collective turmoil caused us all to examine our lives, values and priorities. Without the distraction of life outside of work, many employees realized their work wasn’t working for them. For some employees, their 9-5 feels like serving hard time.

I can relate. In my first inside sales job, I wasn’t stimulated by the work. I rarely thought about work outside of office hours and I definitely wasn’t thinking of ways I could be better at my craft. I–and my coworkers–felt disconnected from the future vision of the company. Even though we were working in revenue, directly connected to the success of the business, our roles didn’t seem important. In another life, I would have been a prime candidate for quiet quitting.

Luckily, since then, I’ve had the opportunity to move into roles that excite and energize me. My job makes me want to be better in every aspect of my life. I know from experience that true happiness at work inevitably translates into more happiness outside of work.

Work shouldn’t be a four-letter word

A lot of the conversation about work-life balance focuses on the life side. Don’t get me wrong, the life side is the most important. Being active and engaged with your friends, family, hobbies and community creates a fulfilling life–which makes the work you produce that much better. But it’s important to realize that the two will never be in balance. Sometimes, you’ll need to spend more time in your personal life and other times you’ll have to step up at work. What’s more important is making sure the two are in harmony. Your work should support the rest of your life and vice versa.

I love what I do. I love the constant learning and growth that my role affords me. And the excitement my job brings shows up in my personal life. My wife can always tell when I’ve had an energizing day professionally because I bring that excitement home. Which in work from home world, means I walk downstairs more fired up than usual.

I’m a first-generation Canadian. Like many children of immigrants, I watched my parents work extremely hard. But they loved every minute of it. I never heard my dad complain about his job. It wasn’t out of pride, it was because of the sense of fulfillment his work provided. I used to see him reading industry magazines in his spare time and couldn’t understand the appeal–or why he wanted me to read the latest copy of CIO magazine. But now, as an adult with my own career, I recognize just how much joy he got out of his job and the passion he had for mastering his craft. Seeing his version of work-life harmony inspired my work ethic, and I hope my daughters are learning the same lesson from me.

Fostering an engaged work environment

Over half (60%) of workers are emotionally detached at work. As a leader, that should worry you. On a business level, companies with engaged workforces report 23% higher profits. But on a human level, you should want to create an environment where employees want to thrive. Here are some ways I try to share my excitement with my team.

Start from the beginning

At Sprout, we onboard in cohorts. This system ensures that everyone–regardless of title, experience or job function–has a common foundation from day one. We introduce our new hires to our mission, values and vision before we introduce them to our product. That’s by design. Knowing how and why we work shows our cohorts that our culture is intentional and we’re happy to welcome them into it. When I spend time with our new hires, I highlight the opportunity they have to improve the organization and the purpose that fuels it all.

Share the why

Less than four in ten remote or hybrid employees under 35 clearly know what’s expected of them. That represents a failure in leadership, not an individual. One of the most important things you can do as a leader is share why we’re doing things. The average employee doesn’t have the product roadmap memorized. It’s not their responsibility.

As leaders, we have to continually paint the picture of where we’re going and what it will take to get there. Keeping your team abreast of future plans helps them recognize their place in them. If they know where you’re going, they’ll be excited to get there with you–even if there are bumps along the way.

Embrace flexibility

I’m the assistant coach for my daughter’s cross-country team. She had a meet in the middle of a Thursday afternoon. In the days before remote work, I never would have been able to make it. But remote work brings the possibility of flexibility, so I was able to help her team, cheer her on and take her to get ice cream afterward. Later that evening, I got back online and was able finish my day feeling a real sense of accomplishment in all aspects of my life.

Before moving to a remote setup, I only spent meaningful time with my daughters on the weekends. The expectation that work had to be done within traditional work hours meant I’d leave the house before they got up and sometimes got home after they’d already had dinner. Having the flexibility to work at the times that work for me has made me a better father and husband. But it’s also made me a better employee.

Without the underlying pressure of missing out on the big moments, I can focus when it matters. Giving employees the space to be human and allowing them to optimize their own schedules makes for better results–at work and outside of it.

Encourage communication

Loving what you do is powerful but hating it can be equally destructive. We spend so much of our lives at work and that time can either be a net benefit or detractor. It’s essential to create an environment where your employees can come to you with career concerns.

If one of your team members is feeling stifled in their role, not connecting to their daily tasks or feeling like they aren’t contributing to the big picture, give them space to address it. Work with them to identify stretch projects or opportunities, evaluate how they spend their time and reinforce how their role impacts the business as a whole.

If they’re dissatisfied because they aren’t aligned with the values, mission or culture of your company, help them find out what matches up. On average, we spend 81,396 hours of our lives working. Make sure your employees are spending that time doing what resonates with them.

Live to work–but not how you think

Work is a part of life. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to separate the two. When I stopped viewing work and life as conflicting priorities and started viewing them as aspects of who I am, a new world opened up to me. Meaningful work has the power to enhance every aspect of your life. You just have to find out what means something to you.

Looking to create a more engaged workplace? Learn how to measure and improve employee engagement with this article.

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