The State of Work: How Can Leaders Solve The Engagement Crisis? A Rungway Webinar

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The state of the workplace in the UK is changing as employees face an engagement crisis, with Gallup research reporting that 68% of employees feel unengaged at work. Disengaged employees can pose a threat to overall company efficiency, through lack of care, poor customer service, or influencing other employees negatively. 

A webinar conducted by Rungway in April 2019 addressed some of the root issues that contributes to these statistics, as well as the crucial roles that leaders in the workplace play in resolving these issues. 

In this webinar, Rungway Founder and CEO, Julie Chakraverty was joined by Co-Founder of The Pipeline, Baroness Margaret McDonagh, as well as Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) at UBS, Carolanne Minashi. 

Pre-Existing Conditions

Baroness McDonagh stresses that the problem is not rooted in the workplace; in fact, the workplace today may be exacerbating pre-existing issues that have been developing over the last decade. Young girls particularly in the 9-14 age group are prone to losing up to a third of their confidence, leading to growth in self-harm, eating disorders, etc. The Baroness also notes that “for the first time, we are seeing body dysmorphia in young men.” When we pair these developments with leaders who may have grown up in a different social time where discussing such issues was uncomfortable, we have organizations that are not fully equipped in addressing these topics.  

Fear of Speaking Out 

49% of workers have issues they would like to tell managers, but don’t feel like they can, and 1 in 5 women women say they won’t ask questions for fear of being seen as pests.  

Carolanne Minashi attributes these fears to psychological safety - “not showing up in the workplace without having everything together and fear of the consequences”. Minashi notes that in her experience, many women have risen to influential positions based on talent and expertise – therefore once in those positions of power, women don’t ask too many questions for fear of undermining their carefully constructed brand of professional competence.    

The Attainment Trap - and why women fall into it

Baroness Mcdonagh discusses the “attainment trap” - where women are promoted for attainment (i.e, doing things on time, always to-budget, etc). These women are “perfect”, and are considered to have expertise across many functions within the company. Because of this “perfection”, they are hesitant to then suggest they don’t know something. On the other side of the spectrum, many men are promoted not for attainment, but for potential - expected to simply “learn on the job”, developing and honing skills along the way. This disparity, McDonagh stresses, causes many women to far less comfortable asking questions, and hinders them from building strategic networks, and building sponsors and communication opportunities.  

The Changing Digital Landscape is Humanizing the Issues

Minashi then goes on to describe how tech innovations have helped in starting to resolve these fears; in particular, how UBS implemented their own Rungway group, where colleagues post questions (anonymously), that are answered by multiple named, senior leaders who also identify with the issue at hand. This process humanises the leadership dialogue, and breaks down the sense of “only-ness” that many employees feel, (the fear of “am I the only one struggling with this issue?”).

Instilling Inclusive Culture

McDonagh and Minashi agree that high-performing leaders today are those that recognize their employees as extended family, and with that comes the natural desire to want to see them happy, thriving in an environment where discussion is encouraged and knowledge is shared freely. Minashi adds that the role of leadership is to recognize those who are qualified but not confident enough to progress in their career, and to pull these employees through. High-performing leaders create Inclusive Cultures where employees feel all their strengths are being leveraged, and these leaders do three important things (A.C.E): 

1) Advocate for diversity and speaking up when an issue arises

2) Connect with a wide-reaching network of people that they can tap into for knowledge

3) Empower those who work with them directly by establishing a blame-free culture where innovation thrives. 

Why Advocacy and Real Engagement Matters Now 

Up to now, many large and small companies alike have already paid attention to D&I and getting in-house talent just right. But now, external stakeholders (such as clients, investors, regulators, government etc) are having a major impact, forcing the debate outside-in and demanding greater transparency. Minashi highlights that innovations like Rungway provide real-time solutions for common problems that the millennial workforce is facing today - these workers want a “different workplace, one that is far more human, with a far less hierarchical approach, and they want access to seniors.” Such technology allows that access to seniors in a speedy manner, and provides transparency as well. 

Minashi notes that Rungway technology has also democratized “access to wisdom” - most promising is the ripple effect where employees are benefiting simply by reading existing and ongoing exchanges that resonate with them. The anonymity feature that allows anyone to post questions directly helps the aforementioned 49% who want to ask questions but are afraid it’ll jeopardize their career.   

How can leaders start affecting change? 

Minashi states that for progress in the workplace, there need to be 3 strategic objectives at hand: 

  1. Aspirational targets (defining what an objective is)

  2. Management accountability to those targets (costs, regulatory issues, etc) 

  3. Metrics that will tell what’s working 

McDonagh adds another crucial two: 

  1. Organizations that do well have faith in their Chief Executive 

  2. Managers need real training and support in managing diverse teams - evidence shows that people of color get little feedback compared to other employees, and women of color get even less. Feedback will ensure progress. 

All these point to one important truth: High-performing leaders will listen to their employees, because high-performing, happy employees will eventually drive business growth and profit. Talent does not discriminate; it is found in all walks of life, and failure to recognize that will perpetuate the same cycles. McDonagh reminds us that the UK experienced two industrial revolutions in the last 200 years; in the last 40 years alone, there have been another two. Speed of change is very real, and relying on old models will not be enough to address and resolve the problem areas that a modern, millennial workforce are facing today. 

Julie Chakraverty