Are we silently destroying the backbone of the workplace?

People aren’t happy in the workplace. The question is how this has happened and, more importantly, what business leaders can do to fix it

Are we silently destroying the backbone of the workplace?

Days gone by tell us that traditional social structures in the workplace made people feel secure, yet as businesses we’ve spent the best part of 20 years or more undermining that basic foundation and also the most important ingredient of any successful company: happy, motivated people. It’s no wonder that most employees don’t trust their leadership today and that productivity has hit an all time low. This is further exacerbated by a growing demise in workplace culture and a lack of ‘belonging’ or team spirit. People are withdrawing from corporate life, you only need to look at the predictions for the gig economy over the next ten years to see what is happening.

The picture is bleak to say the least. This cannot be good for business. Good companies need good people and the irony is people are inherently tribal beings. We want to feel like we belong to a community of like-minded individuals, to feel like we are part of something for the greater good. So why are so many increasingly retreating to a life of isolation in the workplace?

Frankly, people aren’t happy. Yet we seem to muddle along blindly, putting more and more pressure on bottom line, targets and ROI yet failing to see why this is a recipe for disaster. The warning signs are there, mental illness is on the rise and people are resigning left right and centre. How can one run a successful business without the one thing that makes everything else fall into place?

It’s probably fair to say that no one intended for this scenario to happen. Business leaders did not set out to deliberately alienate their workforces and gradually drive them away from the heart of the business. Nor did they anticipate that pushing people to their limits would have such a devastating impact on mental and general wellbeing. The last few years have been a testing time for entrepreneurs and businesses. Leaders themselves are under extraordinary pressure to deliver on bottom line targets at any cost. Sadly, these over-stretched leaders often hold the key to unlocking the potential of the workforce but that can be difficult if trust is gone.

Robust social structures and strong leaders evoke trust and belief. With trust comes loyalty and also security, this in turn impacts the workplace, its culture and its productivity – all of which equals success for the business longer term. Interestingly, one might view this genuine need for change as something ‘too big to handle’ – yes, the issues that have emerged over the years as a result of this breakdown in trust and the undermining of social structures in the workplace are pretty big. The solution however, isn’t. It’s easy to talk the talk when it comes to cleaning up escalating problems especially those that have in truth, become one big bad habit, but businesses have to start taking steps now if they are to really make the changes that are needed.

How can we turn what has become a big issue around, by making small changes to the way we do things? We could start by focusing on something pretty straightforward: resuming a more personalised approach to relationships not just in the workplace towards employees but towards customers too.

Business has become incredibly transactional over the years and advances in technology haven’t helped. But if we are serious about running profitable businesses in the future, we have to look at improving workplace culture and building greater trust in businesses and leaders again. This means we have to start with the heart and soul of the business – people. Demonstrating greater care, recognition and genuine courtesy to others over a prolonged period, will steadily help to rebuild loyalty and in turn, higher standards of trust and integrity for businesses.

Chris Sheppardson
Chris Sheppardson

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