At a breakfast meeting this past Thursday morning, a panel of business and community agency  representatives discussed the findings of our community’s Annual Economic Outlook Report.  The report is based on 2016 data, the most recent year for which all information was available.  The report is generally favorable revealing that the county’s economy continues to grow.  Friday morning’s paper carried the headline, “Economic Outlook breakfast has sunny outlook”. During the panel discussion, Robert Firely, a partner at Herbein and Company, commented, “Workforce is a significant issue that is affecting many employers locally, statewide, and nationally.  Many employers are having difficulty finding qualified employees.”  Let me add to his thoughts; finding the employees is only half the issue, the bigger challenge is retaining them.  So how can responsibility, accountability, and empathy serve to enhance workforce development, productivity and retention?  It begins with you!

Let’s consider the current and future landscape.  We are leaving the Information Age, where analysis and thinking were critical skills.  We now find ourselves at the cusp of the Imagination Age where imagination and creativity become the new drivers of economic value.  Hence, our greatest resources are to be found in our workforce.  However, today’s workforce is experiencing everything from an alarming skilled labor shortage to an increasing lack of employee engagement.

  • According to a survey of small business owners by U.S. Bank, 61 percent said they were experiencing extreme to moderate difficulty in finding quality skilled workers in order to expand their businesses.
  • By 2020, the nation’s construction industry estimates it will face a 2-million-worker shortfall of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and others.
  • Only 33% of workers report that they are engaged at work.
  • 51% report that they are actively seeking another job.
  • Only 22% believe leaders have a clear vision for the future of the organization.
  • Only 15% believe their leadership makes them feel motivated or excited about their future with the organization.

Research tells us that an organization with an engaged workforce has higher employee satisfaction, lower turnover, higher productivity, increased profitability, and higher levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Hence, this organization has a strategic advantage over its competitors.  In the Age of Imagination it will be an Accountable Workforce that is our greatest asset, as imagination and creativity are driven by those who are on the frontline.  Hence, our goal will be to create a Culture of Engaged Accountability.  How?  Through the use of empathy!

Let’s begin by clarifying three terms, responsibility and accountability and engagement.  Responsibility is something that is imposed.  It is something that is given to someone; a job title, a list of duties, a project that needs to be completed.  Responsibility is not about the tasks given, it is about the standard tied to result.  Some refer to it as a detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor.  Accountability is much different as it is owned. For an engaged employee, accountability is a matter of personal investment, pride and ownership. Misunderstood accountability occurs when the term “accountability” is associated with someone assigning you a task—and holding you to it.  Engagement occurs when an employee gives their best each day, is committed to organizational goals and values, is motivated to contribute to organizational success and works in an environment that contributes to their own sense of well-being.  That environment is created through the use of empathy by all members of the workforce.

Behind every engaged workforce, you’ll find empathy.  Empathy, which is about understanding our emotional impact on others and making change as a result, is more important to a successful business than it has ever been, correlating to innovation, growth, productivity, and earnings per employee.  The 2018 State of Workplace Empathy Report revealed that both employees and business leaders see the unquestionable value of more empathy in the workplace:

  • 96% of the employees believe it is important for employers to demonstrate empathy.
  • 92% believe ,that empathy remains undervalued
  • 87% of CEO’s agree that a company’s financial performance is tied to empathy
  • 77% of employees said they’d work longer hours for an empathetic employer
  • 60% would accept a pay cut for an employer that demonstrates empathy

Think about it, an engaged workforce is one of the most important resources a business can have.  Studies reveal that organizational culture can be the factor that attracts talent or contributes to its loss.  Among other factors, that culture is often shaped by empathy.  So here’s the real kicker; it doesn’t cost a cent ($) to utilize simple empathetic strategies that will serve to enhance relationships and contribute to the development of a Culture of Engaged Accountability:

  • Listen: A big part of empathy is listening. Employees want to feel heard. They want their thoughts and feelings, especially as it pertains to the workplace, to be valued
  • Acknowledge and Relate: Reflect back to the employee. Make statements that prove you’re listening and can relate to their issue.
  • Prove Understanding: If an employee is sharing their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and suggestions, show them you understand. Ask pertinent questions to gain more information and further understanding.
  • Be Genuine: Any lack of sincerity will work against your goal to show empathy.
  • Trust: Along the lines of sincerity, there must be a level of mutual trust. The concept of trust in business relationships between a company and its customers, and the employer and employees is paramount to a good relationship where employees are engaged.
  • Show Appreciation: One of the strongest phrases you can say to an employee is “Thank you.” A sincere sign of appreciation shows the employee that they are valued.  Take it to the next level and write a personal note.
  • Show Interest:  Employees have a life outside of work.  Ask about the kids, the grandchildren, the spouse, how did they fare in the storm. Demonstrate you interest in them as a person, not just an employee.

Josh Gattone, a work futurist writes, “AI will radically reorient the nature of work.  The emotional economy that emerges will be dependent on workers who have the skills to utilize their unique “human” talents.  Moreover, those specific talents will become the most sought after abilities by employers over the next half decade.  Your workforce will be the most valuable resource you company has.  Empathy is a proven way to make sure ;they remain with your company.  What are you waiting for? It begins with you!

Embrace the Challenge!