Having seen the estimates from the ONS that the UK’s GDP fell by 0.2% in the three months to November 2023, combined with the news that the IMF has downgraded the UK’s growth forecast from 2% to 1.6% for the coming year, businesses may be wondering how to finally break the run of negligible growth and tap into the potential that many businesses are struggling to unlock.
Amrit Sandhar, CEO and Founder, And Evolve, explains that while global factors impact on inflation, we need to look closer to home to really understand what’s going on in our businesses and to unleash the power from within. Businesses are more than just the buildings, the machinery or the products created. Ordinary people from all walks of life go to work to derive value and meaning, to feed their families, to earn an income and to have the ability to enjoy their lives outside of work.
The world of employee engagement has been obsessed with intrinsic motivation, often leading us to analyse employee experiences to improve how people feel at work. But just as global factors can have an adverse impact on our economic outputs, this is also true for the hard-working people who drag themselves to work each day. We need to consider what businesses can do to unlock their full potential, and it is imperative this starts from the very foundations – and that is our employees.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, poverty across the UK has increased to pre-pandemic levels with 8.1 million (approx. 2 in 10) being working-age adults. In 2021/22, 6 million people were classed as being in very deep poverty – that’s 4 in 10 people. In October 2023, 3.4 million households reported not having enough money for food. Whilst these statistics on their own are shocking, research released in November 2023 by the University of Oxford, showed that a quarter of UK adults mistrust others, based on a sample of over 10,000 UK adults. This ‘crises of trust’ that may be developing in the UK (according to Professor Daniel Freeman, study lead of the research), combined with the economic misery many are facing, paints an alarming picture of how the UK worker may be feeling.
Imagine the challenge of trying to be creative, innovative, and applying yourself to your job when you are worried about how you might feed your family. Or imagine feeling isolated and alone, because of the perception that there are very few people in your world that care about you and would be willing to help, without having an ulterior motive. So, just what can businesses do to help their employees to improve the world of work in this context?
Building Stronger Connections
According to the Survey Centre on American Life, U.S. workers are “more likely to make friends at work than any other way”. Gallup’s research has repeatedly shown that having a best friend at work has a positive impact about how people feel about their work, linked to driving better business benefits and retention. When more people are choosing to work remotely (allowing those travel costs to go towards essential food purchases), businesses need to facilitate deeper connections at work. Our workplaces aren’t social playgrounds, but knowing how important having friends at work is, do we really want to ignore this important issue? Having socials, and making sure we build these into the calendar, can facilitate developing friendships at work.
Improving Safety and Security
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation those suffering from deep poverty, would need salary increases of over £12,000 to bring them to the poverty line. ACAS found that 41% of large businesses were likely to make redundancies over the coming year, so for those living in poverty, imagine the risk to mental health when the security of a regular income is at risk, especially when finances are already stretched. Although pay increases to this degree are unviable, it might be worth reviewing the parity of pay across your business, to see what is possible. Dan Price is now famous as the CEO who cut his million-dollar salary so he could increase the pay of his employees to a minimum of $70,000. Imagine the impact this would have had on the financial security of his employees. We also know that other aspects of people’s lives need support. Trying to get a GP appointment has become a difficult task. Whilst millions are spent on employee benefits, we should consider what matters to employees most. Finding ways to support their health through group healthcare plans or childcare support for example, could have a bigger impact than gym membership or discounted shopping.
While businesses often talk or promote their values, there is still a lack of psychological safety across many organisations. Feeling safe to be yourself or sharing how you feel is essential for the mental wellbeing of employees. By upskilling leaders and managers in this area, will help create a culture where people can feel they really matter.
Creating a Sense of Belonging
In a world where populism is rising, where people are mistrusting the institutions that are meant to support them, it’s easy to feel more isolated. Our places of work can be an anchor in our lives that allows us to feel a sense of connection and belonging with others. Businesses need to spend time analysing their culture, and understanding how connected people feel, and how much they feel a sense of belonging. This goes beyond diversity training. It’s about helping people see how they add value to the world around them. Many people find this difficult, so imagine the positive differences to how they feel from timely reviews, managers recognising and rewarding their achievements, inclusion in important business updates, and when they’re involved in decision-making. The best places many of us have worked in, did exactly that, making us feel important and valued.
For many, 2024 is going to be a challenging year for many reasons, however, to what extent is partially within our control. Whilst many leaders will be looking ahead and questioning how to unlock their organisations potential, it is impossible to do so without first, looking after the people within them. Providing security, safety, and creating a sense of belonging might seem obvious and oversimplified, but for those who are struggling, it may be the support they’re in need of which in turn, will successfully take the business forward.