3 Ways Business Leaders Can Balance Company Needs and Employee Satisfaction

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The dynamic nature of today’s business landscape has caused a notable shift in how organizations navigate the delicate balance between organizational needs and employee satisfaction. The past few years have undergone a pendulum swing — from an employee market to an employer market —transitioning from a period prompted by the pandemic where the wellbeing of employees was top-of-mind to secure labor and top talent to now, where many organizations have reverted to more traditional models focused on profit margins, as seen in the number of mass layoffs over the past year of high-profile companies like Microsoft and Zoom.

The pandemic’s labor shortages and pent-up consumer demand for certain goods and services forced companies to race to secure and recruit top talent. Now, more recent economic challenges, such as inflation and the pending recession, have caused businesses to reevaluate their strategies. In some cases, this has prompted internal restructurings that have led to layoffs, as we’ve seen job cuts increase 198% from last year, marking the second-worst stretch since the Great Recession. In other cases, cutbacks have been related to employee benefits or perks, as demonstrated through Meta cutting cafeteria options and other perks like laundry services or Google cutting back on laptops, equipment and employee training to save money.

A recent survey from Care.com of 500 C-suite-level executives and HR decision-makers revealed that 95% have recalibrated their company’s benefits strategy amid economic uncertainty, and 47% are trimming their benefits. What’s important to take away from the events of the past few years is that the path forward does not mean choosing between employee satisfaction and company performance — striking a balance between the two is a challenging yet attainable feat.

Forward-thinking companies acknowledge that long-term success involves finding a middle ground between disciplined growth and employee wellbeing. Recent data from Gallup reveals only 32% of U.S. employees overall were engaged in 2022 and that companies with engaged employees see an average of 21% more profits and 17% more productivity than their disengaged counterparts. When employment wellbeing is overlooked, it can lead to a lack of employee engagement, which in turn has an impact on profits and productivity. In order to find a sustainable balance, business leaders must revisit how they approach performance management, employee benefits and workplace flexibility.

Related: How Flexible Work Will Give Your Business the Biggest Advantage

Reevaluating performance management

One of the most important components of sustaining business growth while keeping employee fulfillment at the forefront is reevaluating how to handle performance management. Recent data from Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Performance Reset Survey reveals that only 16% of North American organizations reported being effective when it comes to managing and paying for performance, and a Gallup survey from last year revealed that an overwhelming 95% of managers are dissatisfied with their organization’s review system.

To do so effectively, leaders must set clear expectations from the start. This could be for employees new to the organization but also for seasoned employees who may be starting in a more senior role or an entirely different department. Engaging employees in the planning process from the get-go will give them better insight into how their goals and contributions provide value to the overarching strategy of the organization. Clearly outlining the roles and responsibilities of each employee and tying those expectations back to the overall goals of the business will give employees a sense of purpose, which helps to lay a foundation for optimal performance.

Once the foundation is set, it’s important to continue to revisit how an individual’s role ties into the broader business plan by regularly communicating with employees and assessing how they are tracking toward these goals. By having one-on-one check-ins and hosting formal reviews regularly, supervisors will have a clear opportunity to assess progress, provide feedback and level-set expectations.

Take the time to sit down with each employee at the organization and assess the specific expectations and goals for their role. As an example, goals could include increasing Q2 revenue by 20% or closing $500,000 worth of sales by the end of the year. It’s critical to back these meetings by assessing both Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), for example, quarterly sales goals, customer retention rates, etc., for the company. In initial meetings with new team members or during formal performance reviews, it’s important to reference OKRs and utilize this as a goal-setting framework to connect individual goals with the overall strategy of the company. By setting this framework, the company will be able to better measure how they are tracking against KPIs, which will help with individual progress assessments on a more regular basis.

Recent data reveals that 27% of workers rarely or never receive feedback, which can be detrimental to the overall performance of both the individual and the company. Believe it or not, data reveals that 75% of employees appreciate candid feedback and believe that it is incredibly valuable to their work. Feedback can help employees better understand where they stand, how they are tracking against broader goals and what they can be doing differently to improve. Not only will this help to strengthen the skill sets and contributions of each employee, but it’ll also showcase a genuine care for their development and wellbeing within the organization.

Assessing performance should not only be targeted toward underperformers but should focus on lifting employees across all levels to their highest potential. As a leader, it’s important to be actively involved in these initiatives in order to provide the support needed to help employees bridge potential gaps where they may be falling short. It’s essential to view performance management as a positive exercise to help provide additional clarity and guidance to help employees grow rather than viewing it solely as an exit mechanism. While it’s crucial to address underperformance, it’s equally as important to acknowledge that poor performance management can adversely impact generally high-performing employees. Throughout the pandemic, many organizations did not properly attend to performance-related issues due to revenue reductions and in an effort to keep underperforming employees when there were labor shortages. The reality of today’s workforce is there is a much larger talent pool, which further underscores the need to optimize performance management across all levels of talent and performance.

Prioritizing employee benefits and wellbeing

A study by the Saïd Business School titled “Does Employee Happiness have an Impact on Productivity” revealed that happier workers were 12% more productive than their unhappy counterparts and that happier workers tend to make fewer mistakes, demonstrating that investing in new and old talent through added benefits can have positive impacts for both employee wellbeing and an organization’s bottom line.

As we learned through the pandemic, offering a wide range of employee-focused benefits such as flexible work schedules, parental and family leave and wellness programs like gym memberships can help to attract new talent, but it’s imperative to recognize that this alone will not be enough to retain top talent. 80% of employees want benefits or perks more than they want a pay raise, but seek out companies that foster a culture that encourages them to actually utilize them.

In many cases, benefits such as paid time off and wellness initiatives are available, but employees may be cautious about actively taking advantage of them, given a prevailing culture that doesn’t back their usage. Studies show that taking time off can help refocus and recharge the brain and body, leading to reduced feelings of burnout, improved morale and increased productivity. Encouraging employees to take breaks and recharge without repercussions or concerns is critical. For example, offering flexible working arrangements and encouraging longer vacations or mental health days can help employees feel more comfortable leaning into these benefits. It’s often perceived that lower-performing workers will take advantage of these benefits, which could cause companies to be hesitant about offering these sorts of offerings. But in order for high-performing workers to continue to operate at a successful caliber, these benefits should exist within an organization’s offerings. Rather, leaders should utilize that thinking as an opportunity to refine performance management for lower-performing workers, as opposed to avoiding offering extended wellness benefits and flexibility.

Organization leaders must lead by example in order for this to be effective – as recharging and taking time off is equally as important across all levels. Leading by example and taking advantage of company benefits as a leader can help foster a more comfortable environment for more junior employees where all benefits are utilized to their full potential.

Adopting workplace flexibility

Much has changed over the past few years, most notably the convergence of remote work. Leaders must recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will cater to all employee needs, especially when it comes to striking a balance between fully in-office or fully remote work. When you factor in commutes, family commitments and personal situations – not all employees will flourish in the same workplace style, further insinuating the need for flexibility in the workplace. Data supports this as well, with recent insights revealing that workers with full schedule flexibility report 29% higher productivity than workers with no ability to shift their schedule.

Leaders should strive to find a balance between the autonomy of remote work and the relationship benefits of working in the office. Engage with employees through company-wide surveys or in individual manager meetings to get a better understanding of their preferences regarding remote and in-office work, as this will help inform an organization’s policies for return to office. Consider offering additional flexibility such as flextime, staggered hours or hybrid work models for workers who may have longer commutes, younger kids or personal circumstances that prevent them from being in the office on a regular basis.

For hybrid work environments, it’s best to offer flexibility when working from home that matches where and how employees work best. Work from home should ideally be spent on individual, heads-down work that doesn’t require in-person collaboration. For mandated in-office days, encourage collaboration, project work and team-building activities to help foster a cohesive working environment. Additionally, one way to encourage employees to come to the office is by hosting external work events like happy hours or organized sports as a way for coworkers to intermingle and gain better relationships outside of work. By being transparent about the in-office expectations from the get-go, employees will be able to plan for and engage at a level that best suits their personal and professional schedules.

By implementing a flexible work environment that strikes the right balance between remote and in-office work, business leaders can effectively foster a work environment that promotes employee engagement and wellbeing.

The rapidly changing landscape of the workplace in recent years has prompted organizations to reevaluate how they approach employee wellbeing while also focusing on sustaining organizational growth. This evolution has been a call to business leaders to incorporate employee wellbeing into the long-term organizational strategy rather than feeling the need to sacrifice one for the other. As leaders, it’s important to prioritize both the professional achievement and personal fulfillment of employees by committing to nurturing involved, high-performing teams that drive sustainable success.

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