27 September 2023

Creating a caring workplace

Start the conversation

Anne McSilver* discusses how to put learning and care at the centre of work culture.

Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed on a global scale how organisations and leadership respond to crisis and tragedy.

Many of these have included calls for flexibility, time off, or education to better understand the root causes of these injustices.

But what’s needed in the years ahead are systemic solutions that foster work cultures of empathy and support, resilience, and agility.

This means rethinking how organisations put their people front and centre.

It starts with how leaders show up and demonstrate care.

According to a recent Employee Well-Being Report, care is now a top driver of employee engagement.

The insights reveal that employees who feel cared for at work are:

  • 3.2x more likely to be happy at work (representing a 35 per cent increase since the onset of the pandemic); and
  • 3.7x more likely to recommend working for their company (representing a 49 per cent increase since the start of the pandemic).

We tapped Shubhang Dave, head of people science, for Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, at LinkedIn, to learn more about what’s driving employee happiness and how learning leaders can support care and well-being.

Q: With relatively high levels of happiness at the start of the pandemic, we are now seeing a steady decline.

Why is that?

Shubhang: There are a couple of prevailing explanations for this.

The first relates to where people are at during this stage in the pandemic: yes, vaccines have become widely available, and it’s natural to think people should be in a better place than a year prior.

However, let’s remember we’re asking about people’s happiness at work.

People continue to feel disconnected from colleagues.

They’re asking more questions about what really makes them happy at work and making choices as part of the Great Reshuffle.

In many parts of the world, they are being called back to the office or struggling to adapt to the realities of hybrid work.

The second explanation involves zooming out and contextualizing these trends within prepandemic happiness levels.

The decline is simply part of what’s been a slow, albeit bumpy, return to the happiness levels we observed around this time in 2019.

Happiness at work spiked in the early months of the pandemic and has been coming down since.

Q: We’ve seen the emergence of two factors being critical for employee happiness: care and learning.

Do you see any link between the two?

Shubhang: Absolutely.

It’s a simple fact that when we care for people, we help them feel safe, both physically, as we’ve observed throughout the pandemic, and, increasingly, psychologically.

And it’s in these psychologically safe spaces where people are free to ask the questions they might consider “stupid,” explore the unknown without fear of judgment, and ultimately learn and grow.

It tracks if you consider the employer-employee relationship as well; if I know my manager and organisation truly care for me, I’m going to be much more motivated to seek out opportunities to learn things that benefit both the organisation and me.

Q: In case it’s not clear to readers, what is psychological safety?

Shubhang: Simply put, psychological safety is about creating an environment where people can speak up, be themselves, succeed, fail, and everything in between without fear of consequence or damage to their self-worth.

Q: How can leaders better support psychological safety and be role models for learning?

Shubhang: Through humility, sincerity, and exhibiting the same behaviours they want to see in their people.

I’ll share an example of when I’ve seen this done beautifully.

In 2020, our People Science team recognised the importance of deepening our understanding of diversity, inclusion, and belonging — not just to support customers on their learning journeys, but also for our own personal growth.

We started a study group where people, regardless of level or direct experience in these subjects, could put their cards down, learn about an eye-opening topic every week, bravely share their own stories, and stumble and admit fault along the way.

Our leaders at the time were as much a part of this experience as anyone else — not claiming to have the answers, reserving judgment, and demonstrating the vulnerability we wanted everyone to feel free to express.

That study group is alive and well today in large part because of how that sense of safety and constant learning has been maintained throughout.

Q: We’re also seeing in the Great Reshuffle that employees are demanding jobs better suited to their happiness.

Is this power shift here to stay?

Shubhang: I certainly hope so, although I’d like to think it’s not so much a power thing as it is an equalizing of sorts.

At a certain point in time, employee turnover may start to subside, but what’s hopefully changed for good is that organisations value even more what helps their people be at their best, and people feel empowered to keep influencing their experience and destiny.

Q: Why do so many leaders feel the instinct to be the smartest person in the room and how can they fight it?

Shubhang: I’m sure there’s a neurological reason for this I could dig up from an old textbook, but frankly we’re wired to think this way from how we’re rewarded in school.

A good student may be the smartest person in the classroom, but a good leader does their best when they surround themselves with bright people and trust them to do their best work.

Here are a few questions leaders can consider to invite more perspectives and smarts into their decisions:

  • What’s the most effective way for us to deliver on an important project?
  • What might we not be thinking of that could help us deliver even better results?

Q: Do you have any examples of organisations that are actively demonstrating care and support for their employees’ well-being?

Shubhang: So many, which is heartening.

Most are experimenting with different tactics to give people flexibility, downtime, and an outlet for nurturing their mental health.

But, let’s not forget the fundamentals on this:

Simply modeling and encouraging good leadership behaviours can go a long way.

That includes leaders taking time off to care for their own well-being.

Q: Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

Shubhang: I hope the concept of care at work is truly here to stay.

It’s long overdue to bring more humanity to work.

Let’s make it stick.

*Anne McSilver is a brand storyteller specializing in content marketing and communications strategy.

This article first appeared at linkedin.com.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.