The Big Escape. The Big Awakening. Why Culture Matters More Than Ever.Aug 16, 2020
I hadn’t seen Joe for almost two years. Last time we spoke he told me about his soul-sucking job, his controlling boss, the long workdays, and the fact that he, at the age of 28, basically had no life.
“Why do you still work there?” I asked, genuinely wondering what he was thinking. Joe just looked at me and sighed. “It’s not like I have a choice you know. Jobs don’t grow on trees, and I have bills to pay. Besides, it won’t look good on paper if I quit.”
A brilliant engineer, top of the class at Stanford University, Joe had accepted a well-paid corporate job right after graduation – and had hated his life ever since. I tried to offer him some advice, saying that work wasn’t supposed to feel like that, but I could tell he wasn’t ready to hear it yet.
When he texted me a few weeks ago and invited me for coffee, I wondered whether I would be able to get through to him this time. I needn’t have worried.
I almost didn’t recognize the man who came walking towards me. His hair was a bit longer, his posture a lot more relaxed, and he smiled warmly and gave me a hug. “I quit my job!” he said. “Good for you!” I replied.
When we sat down with our coffees, Joe told me about his pandemic year. Working from home had been an eye-opening experience for him. After years of commuting for hours, a controlling boss constantly breathing down his neck, excruciatingly long workdays, and no time or energy for anything else, Joe had finally been able to find some balance in his life. He told me about daily walks, wholesome food, reading every day, and still being more productive with his work than ever before. Also, for the first time in years he had taken time to reflect, and landed on the conclusion that he would never want to go back to the kind of life he had before the pandemic.
So, when Joe received an email from the CEO, telling all employees to get back into the office full-time next month, and that remote work wouldn’t be allowed anymore, he decided to quit.
The Big Escape
“Employees are quitting instead of giving up working from home” the headline of a recent Bloomberg article said, referring to a poll that shows that 39% of working adults, and 49% of millennials, consider quitting their jobs if their employers won’t be flexible about remote work.
A Morning Consult Study shows that 85 percent of remote workers say they enjoy working remotely, and 74 percent report they are more productive when working from home. A Gartner survey from May last year shows that 82% of executives were considering allowing more remote work after the pandemic but a May study this year shows that 88% of executives do NOT think their employees are as productive while working from home as when they’re in the office.
Employees and executives are apparently not aligned in their views on remote work, and people are feeling it.
The Microsoft Work Trend Report, a global survey of 30 000 people in 31 countries, show that more than 40% consider leaving their employer this year. Dissatisfaction with leadership teams and the way in which they have lost touch with the experience of the employees, is the major reason why people want to leave.
A Wharton article also addresses many managers’ need of control, lack of trust, and little sympathy for the need of balancing personal life with work, while working remotely. 33-year-old Portia Tvidt, interviewed in this Bloomberg article, sums it up: “They feel like we’re not working if they can’t see us. It’s a boomer power-play and I’ve just had it.” She quit her job too.
The Big Awakening
While many leaders are debating whether they should allow remote work some, most of the time, or not at all after the pandemic, fewer seem to be focusing on finding the root cause of why so many people resist going back to the office full-time and even consider quitting if they are forced to.
“When you have this existential experience, you have time to step back and think,” Sarah Marie Martin, a former partner at Goldman Sachs and mother of five says. “In my previous life, I didn’t have time to get super deep and philosophical.” Her deep thinking made her leave her job, move from the city, and get herself another job that allowed her to work remotely all the time.
“A lot of people are afraid of the cycle where you work and work and work — and then you die,” a 24-year-old replied to the question of why he thought so many of his co-workers were quitting.
“I guess it’s about perspectives and asking myself the tough questions.” Joe told me. “My parents’ attitude is that “we live to work” but I want to “work to live”. I want to enjoy both my work and my life. Is that too much to ask for?”
The reason behind the Big Escape is not only where people want to work, but how they want to feel while working. Many people are waking up to the fact that they’re simply not happy with their work lives – and that they can do something about it. Many are saying the same thing: “We don’t want things to go back to how it used to be. Something needs to change.”
Thriving Mindset Organizations
Deloitte Human Capital Report 2021 writes about the pressing need for organizations to move from a survival mindset to a thriving mindset, help and support employees in an uncertain future, and build the human element into everything their organization does.
While survival mindset organizations typically focus on what used to work and want to “revert back to normal” as quickly as possible when the pandemic is over, thriving mindset organizations embrace the disruption and use it as a catalyst to make different choices and drive the organization forward. By re-evaluating old traditions, beliefs, cultural norms and ways of doing things, thriving mindset organizations focus on what comes next and align their new work practices and ways of working with their new reality and vision for the future.
“Making the shift from survive to thrive depends on an organization becoming distinctly human at its core – a different way of being that approaches every question, every issue, and every decision from a human angle first,” Deloitte writes in their report.
To become human at its core, and embrace thriving mindsets as default mode, require fundamental mindset shifts for many organizations and leadership teams. It’s not easy, it will certainly require some work, but it can definitely be done. And it starts with addressing the culture of the organization.
A Culture Perspective
For over twenty years I’ve been helping leaders and companies develop, change and make culture a strategy for growth; both on the inside of large, successful IT companies and for the last nine years as founder and leader of Corporate Spring a firm specialized in leadership and culture for the new world of work.
The last five years my team and I have noticed an increased awareness around culture among business executives. While we used to have to explain why culture is important to business success, today we spend most of our time helping our clients shape their desired culture in practice. We have realized that while many leaders talk about culture and acknowledge the importance of it, only a few deliberately and strategically work on creating the kind of culture they need to secure their business success.
I usually say there are two ways of approaching culture: consciously or unconsciously. A conscious approach means that you shape the kind of culture you need to deliver on your business purpose and goals. An unconscious approach is basically doing nothing and just let your culture develop by chance. And strangely enough, the latter approach is the most common.
Culture as Strategy = Growth
I decided to write these newsletters to inspire and guide more organizations in how to take a conscious approach to culture, and create thriving organizations that people will love working for. I have learned through my many conversations with executives, managers and HR professionals that the biggest challenge with making their culture a strategy for growth is to know what to do and where to start. There are naturally many ways to do this, but I would like to offer an approach and effective model that has served the companies I’ve worked for and Corporate Spring’s clients well over the years.
It’s about purpose and identity, belonging and trust, power of mindsets, and work environments fueled by passion and joy. It’s about leadership, communication and collaboration, and the fact that everything influences everything, considering that organizational life is human at its core.
It’s all captured in this model,which I will be diving deeper into in the following blogs. The Corporate Spring Model is founded on neuroscience, social psychology and behavioral science, combined with twenty years of experience of strategic culture work. Its approach has been tested on hundreds of teams around the world which has led to some extraordinary outcomes for people, teams and businesses.
One of our clients described it as “the business world’s best kept secret.” Well, not anymore.
Driven by the mission of making the corporate world a better and happier place, I’m looking forward to sharing this model with you, combined with stories, insights, practical tips and some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
My greatest reward will be that you test it out and let me know how it goes. That, and the thought that Joe and others will have plenty of inspiring, human-oriented, thriving workplaces to choose from in the future. 🙂
Annicken R. Day, founder and CEO of Corporate Spring, is on a mission to make the corporate world a better and happier place. After 12 years as Chief Culture Officer and Culture Strategist in Tandberg and Cisco, she founded Corporate Spring in 2012 and has since then, together with her team, helped hundreds of teams around the world build thriving, joyful, high-performing cultures.
Annicken is also a keynote speaker, business writer, co-author of the book “Creative Superpowers” and author of the bestselling novel Fly, Butterfly. Fly, Buttterfly is a personal and professional metamorphosis story about life and business – and some sweet romance too…:-)
You can get the book here