How to Improve Your Workplace: 4 Ways to Get Below the Waterline and Cultivate a Healthy Work Environment
Disaster struck in the dead of night. The nine-member crew of Team Vestas Wind spent the night in life rafts instead of their $6 million yacht.
Only seven weeks into a nine-month race to sail around the world, Team Vestas Wind ran aground on the reefs of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.
Thankfully, no one was injured.
How could this happen? Yachts of this caliber have so much navigational equipment that the backup gear has backups.
The GPS Chart Plotter was tuned out to the most macro level. The sailors only saw what was, in essence, on the surface.
Had the GPS been tuned to see what was below the waterline, tragedy would have been avoided.
It’s one thing to get knocked out of a race by something you couldn’t have predicted. It’s another to sabotage yourself by not paying attention to critical information.
This is true in sailing, business, and life. Little is more important than seeing what’s below the waterline.
Turbulence From Below the Waterline Impacting Your Workplace
Did you know that companies lose an estimated 34% of an employee’s salary on them being disengaged?
Across the business landscape of America, that adds up to a whopping $500 billion annually!
Worker productivity has decreased at a breakneck pace.
Sociologists termed 2021 the year of the great resignation. Record numbers of employees left their companies. The turnover of skilled employees can cost 150% of the employee’s salary.
Clearly, these are issues leaders can’t afford to ignore. What is happening beneath the surface to cause such consternation in the modern workforce?
Some attribute this crisis to laziness. Or flakiness. They assert that the current workforce doesn’t share the work ethic or loyalty that companies had grown to expect.
But Ashley Stahl with Forbes looks at this differently. She counters these assumptions by demonstrating how Gen Z is pursuing a different, healthier way of life.
Stahl highlights several stark contrasts, with two rising to the surface:
- Work-life balance: Baby Boomers tended to prioritize their careers over other aspects of their lives. Gen Z wants the flexibility to pursue their passions as well as work.
- Value Alignment: Gen Z tends to be more concerned about working for companies that align with their convictions. Many are even willing to sacrifice compensation for this. Boomers typically prioritized paychecks and career advancement.
Can you see how these issues may impact company loyalty, work ethic, and engagement?
But wait, there’s more!
Researchers Stacy J. Rogers and Dee C. May found a positive and negative correlation between marital and job satisfaction.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Leaders in the workplace must pay attention to this information. If you don’t, you’ll end up like Team Vestas Wind. You’ll run your ship aground and need to be rescued.
How to Improve Your Workplace: 4 Steps to Help You Get Below the Waterline
Learning how to improve your workplace and cultivate a healthy environment for all is a crucial skill. Not only can it save your company from a serious decline, but it can also help you build a better team and a more engaged workforce. If you’re looking for a way to cultivate a healthy workplace environment and get below the waterline, here are four ways you can get started:
1: Improve Your Workplace by Making Business Personal
The people on your payroll are complex, integrated, whole human beings. They have relationships and ambitions beyond their coworkers and job descriptions.
Extra hours and added pressure at work have a ripple effect that stretches into the community and impacts future generations.
That’s one of the reasons Gen Z prioritizes a work-life balance. Or, as Jeff Bezos describes it, work-life harmony.
How can you honor your employees’ lives outside of the workplace?
- Ask about their family, friends, hobbies, and more
- Craft compensation packages accordingly
- Generous PTO
- Include mental health in “sick days”
- Family leave, including elder care
- Sponsor volunteering in the community
- Match retirement contributions, student loan payments, and philanthropic donations
- Host corporate gatherings that are family-friendly
- Sponsor intramural leagues
- Care about your employees beyond their productivity
Taking steps like these will demonstrate to your team that you care about what’s happening beneath the surface.
2: Create a Workplace that is Safe Emotionally, Psychologically, and Physically
In a famous parable that’s comforting to many, Jesus teaches that he would leave 99 sheep who are safe and accounted for so that he can find the one who has wandered away.
Doesn’t this seem a bit reckless, though? Leaving 99 sheep in a vulnerable position to find one?
Perhaps. But sheep are relational, communal animals. They are impacted by how the shepherd treats other sheep.
One sheep being rescued will make the 99 others feel secure.
This is the kind of influence your leadership has. The way you treat the one impacts the 99. If you’re harsh with an underperforming person, everyone else will be put on notice.
What do you think the impact could be if you applied the “Golden Rule” to an underperforming employee? What if you treated them as you would want a leader to treat you?
Author and business leader Michal Hyatt offers this profound insight: “Sometimes when a team needs a breakthrough, they just need a break.”
No one wants to devote their waking hours to underperforming while being disengaged. When you see these “presenting issues,” that ought to alert you to reconfigure the Chart Plotter to look deeper.
When you see your employees as whole, complex, integrated human beings and have created a safe workplace by treating them as you want to be treated, that will open the door for transformational conversations.
3: Listen to Your Employees Without Judgement to Improve Your Workplace
The Gottman Institute identifies stonewalling as one of the four most toxic issues in communication.
Dr. Ed Tronick demonstrated our deep, innate need for emotional connection in the powerful “Still Face” experiment.
He asked caregivers to engage with an infant in typical social interaction, then suddenly become unresponsive and maintain a “still face” for some time.
The infants became visibly distressed and emotionally dysregulated when their caregivers became unresponsive.
Your team needs to know that you care. If your door – or emotions – are closed, you will most likely exacerbate some of the stressors affecting your employees.
Emotionally engaged listening can be one of your greatest tools as a leader.
Former Navy SEAL Thom Shea teaches that “listening without judgment” is the key starting point to effective, authentic communication.
Listening without judgment is complex because we all bring bias to conversations. As a result, we tend to jump to coaching or offering solutions rather than listening for clarity and understanding.
Authentic communication requires integrity, transparency, and vulnerability that typically do not exist in day-to-day communication.
When this transparency and vulnerability exists, true transformation can occur in the hearts and minds of leaders and team members.
Without transparency and vulnerability, communication is mainly transactional. We communicate to discuss roles, responsibilities, and procedures rather than heart and mind issues.
It allows teams to meet each other where they are and still allows for growth opportunities when we set aside judgment.
And this will allow you to get below the waterline and see what’s actually going on. Most people won’t risk vulnerability unless they feel safe, heard, and understood.
Leaders can’t address the deep issues impacting behavior, performance, and chemistry without knowing what’s beneath the waterline.
Compassion can be the difference maker to keep people engaged and stay on the job longer.
4: Engage Workplace Conflict as a Collaborator
With these critical components in place, you will be well-positioned to leverage the inevitable conflicts in your workplace for what they actually are: growth opportunities.
As a leader, your influence stretches further than you’ll ever see. Addressing conflict at work can – and will – infuse health and peace into entire communities.
Think about it. What if you could help a conflict-averse husband and father learn how to engage fully with his family?
What if you could help an overly assertive yet relationally unaware intern gain emotional intelligence? How might that boost her career aspirations?
When you engage with your employees as people – integrated, complex, and whole – they will grow to see you as an ally.
Conflict often pushes latent issues to the surface. Don’t neglect this golden opportunity to collaborate with your team for their growth in a multitude of ways.
Workshops to Help You See Beneath the Waterline
Full Sail Leadership Academy has workshops expressly designed to help you see beneath the waterline. Both literally and metaphorically!
Our goal is to get you on the water – and beyond.
We start with classroom instruction, so you’ll gain the understanding needed to spend a day sailing as a team.
We’ll get you out on the water, working together, but we won’t leave you out to sea!
You’ll receive a personalized, post-sailing action plan. We’ll work with you to create measurable goals that your team can achieve over the next 12 months.
With this plan in your hands, your team will have a shared understanding of the issues below the waterline that your company must address.
Can you imagine what a force for good your company could be if everyone was sailing in the same direction?
We can. That’s why we’re here. It’s our mission to make the world a better place by making better workplaces.
Reach out today! We will be honored to guide you to get below the waterline and cultivate a healthy workplace.
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