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Microsoft Chief People Officer: We are experiencing a global human energy crisis
From the warehouse, to the sales floor, to the office, workers are languishing, feeling burnt out, and exhibiting emotional detachment.
At the heart of any organization, people are the driving force.
And the past few years have not been easy on any of us. The pandemic, ongoing global unrest, and an unstable economy, among other significant changes, have challenged workers in ways like never before.
Today, I believe we are facing a “human energy crisis” that is taking a toll on employees. From the warehouse, to the sales floor, to the office, workers are languishing, feeling burnt out, and exhibiting emotional detachment. These feelings demonstrate that people everywhere are struggling to maintain balance in their work and personal lives.
According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index, a global survey of 20,000 workers, 48% of employees and 53% of managers report that they’re burned out at work. According to Gallup, seven in 10 people globally are grappling with their mental health.
Fortunately, there are many steps organizations and managers can take to respond to this human energy crisis:
MEASURE ENERGY LEVELS
Creating an open feedback loop can help leaders keep a pulse on team energy levels and identify red flags that may be depleting it. Weekly or even daily check-ins can be a simple way to measure how teams are feeling.
At Microsoft, we measure whether employees feel they are thriving. We’ve found that it is important to ask the right questions. Instead of asking “How are you,” we ask questions that get to the essence of energy such as, “Are you feeling empowered in your role?” And, “Do you feel like you are doing meaningful work?”
Leaders should consider splitting the survey results by role—such as managers, individual contributors, or early-in-career employees—as part of their analysis. This can help to surface disparities that may need to be investigated further.
RETHINK ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS AND FOSTER A TWO-WAY DIALOG
To address the human energy crisis, managers must demonstrate that they are listening and taking action. One of the most important—and often the most authentic—touch points to discuss feedback is during a one-on-one meeting. However, too often this time is spent simply going through project updates and checking off a list of tactical items.
It’s time to rethink this approach, so that we can all use this time more intentionally. Consider approaching each one-on-one with a two-part agenda: checking in on energy levels and getting needed work done.
What factors energize someone can vary, and it’s critical that leaders unearth what each team member needs, be it recognition, mentorship opportunities, prioritization, flexibility, time away, or something else. Making space for these conversations helps managers uncover what employees want from their careers, both at work and at home, and builds the kind of trust that can facilitate an open conversation.
While workers’ energy drivers may differ, everyone wants to know that their work matters and has meaning. Make sure to explicitly make that connection for people versus taking it for granted. Being seen, valued, and told that you are making a difference is a force multiplier for energy creation.
FOCUS ON PRIORITIES TO ELIMINATE PRODUCTIVITY PARANOIA
In our global Work Trend Index Pulse survey, we found that 87% of employees report they are productive at work, but 85% of leaders say hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence in that productivity.
This issue really starts at the top. In the same external research, 74% of managers say more guidance on prioritizing their own work would help their performance, and another 80% say they’d personally benefit from more clarity on priorities.
The reality is that people in all roles, at every level, can feel overwhelmed and could benefit from a frank discussion on what work to prioritize. This should be a two-way discussion that starts with the person closest to the work.
Make a recommendation to your manager around what should be a priority, and what shouldn’t be. I do this myself during my one-on-ones with our CEO, Satya Nadella.
One trick to communicating top priorities is to use an academic analogy. For instance, outline with your manager which class you feel you must get an A in, and what class are you okay squeaking by with a B. Tell your manager if there are any classes you may want to withdraw from until next semester.
RETHINK LEAVE AND ENCOURAGE LEADERS TO MODEL TAKING TIME OFF
It’s not enough to just tell your teams to take time off when they need a break. For leaders, it’s important to model taking time off. Leaders can do this by sharing stories of their time off or by talking about the flexibility they provide themselves. Doing so lets others know that they have permission to take their foot off the gas too.
It’s also critical that workers are encouraged to take time off not just by leaders and managers, but also by teammates. Teams should consider outlining a clear support plan for those taking time away from the office. Doing so will help create a culture that empowers people to recharge.
It is my deeply held belief that solving the human energy crisis is the newest, most urgent leadership imperative. It’s impossible to create impact with a drained internal battery, and refueling the people who are behind the innovation and creativity that drives society forward means modernizing how we approach work to make it truly sustainable.
Addressing the human energy crisis requires more than happy hours (although I enjoy them too)—it means making conscious decisions that generate renewable human energy. For leaders, managers, and teammates alike, being proactive about our own and each other’s wellbeing is a great place to start.