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The disconnect effect what leaders need to know to close the gap

In order for organizations to be successful in 2024 and ensure leaders and teams are aligned, organizations need to build a people-centric culture, focused on better understanding the disconnect so that the best business results can be achieved.

There is a growing trend on social media where employees who know they are about to be laid off film themselves getting laid off. While this trend has destigmatized getting fired and started the conversation that this is something that happens to most people in their lives, it’s also shed light on another point – that there is a continued disconnect between employees and employers on everything from managing difficult situations to mentoring and professional development.

The widening gap between what employees want and what employers are providing has resulted in employee job satisfaction hitting an all-time low in 2023. According to research conducted by The Arbinger Institute, just 22% of professionals surveyed give their company a rating of excellence. Even fewer non-supervisory employees (13%) describe their job satisfaction as excellent. In order for organizations to be successful in 2024 and ensure leaders and teams are aligned, organizations need to build a people-centric culture, focused on better understanding the disconnect so that the best business results can be achieved.

The Disconnect Effect: What Is It?

The same study by Arbinger revealed that executives feel nearly 3x more satisfied with the steps their company has taken to address the wellbeing and mental health of employees than those not in supervisory roles. Additionally, executives feel over 3x more satisfied with their company’s current level of communication and collaboration. 

If executives are out of touch with how their employees and teams feel, then it will impact performance and company growth. Not to mention the culture, leading to lack of employee engagement and feelings of resentment that can truly impact productivity and innovation.

When employees express challenges with collaboration, communication, efficiency, innovation, and more it may seem like leadership is turning a blind eye to their concerns, but what’s likely happening is that leadership has no idea about the problems that their teams are facing (or if they do, they don’t truly understand the impact of them). This is known as the disconnect effect. According to data collected by Arbinger, less than half (43%) of organizations offer conversations or communications with leaders regularly to employees. While the lack of open dialogue is a huge misstep on the part of organizations, it also helps to explain why there is such a gap between the way employees perceive their organization and how executives feel they are meeting the needs of their employees.

Employees feeling as though they are not seen or heard leads to increased job dissatisfaction and decreased productivity. In these instances, it is important for executives to remember that employees are people who want to be seen and heard, just as they do, and solving the disconnect effect all starts with bringing humanity back to the workplace. 

Bridging the Gap: How We Do It

Recognizing the humanity in peers is the first critical step to bridging the gap between executives and employees in 2024.

It can be as simple as getting to know your colleagues as people by setting up a 15 to 30 minute meeting to get to know them beyond their job title. Or regularly checking in to see how you have impacted those around you. Have you unknowingly made their jobs harder? How can you be more helpful to them in the future? Or maybe it’s just taking the time to communicate with those around you about their perspective, whether it be on a project you’re working on together or a topic that came up at lunch. Rather than making assumptions—it’s time to get curious about your colleagues. 

It can be challenging to build relationships with colleagues because you all come to work with different experiences and perspectives and oftentimes have competing priorities. We don’t know what we don’t know, and seeing colleagues as people, and getting to know them on a deeper level, is a critical first step in solving disconnect in the workplace. 

Executives at an organization need to dig a little deeper. As leaders, it’s crucial that they have the trust of their employees. According to Arbinger data, survey respondents indicated that they seek a leader with specific qualities, including trustworthiness, reliability, genuine listening, accountability, recognition of contributions, adaptability, and passion. Employees are looking for a leader who treats them like they matter and creates a psychologically safe working environment. A hallmark sign of a great manager is leading with empathy and understanding, and being able to foster safe, honest and self-reflective dialogues. By doing so, they are taking another step in closing the disconnect gap, ultimately improving relationships and boosting employee engagement. 

But it’s easier said than done. If employees feel as though you are not genuine in your empathy, it will negate everything else you try to do for them. Some ways to take a genuine, empathetic approach can include:

  • Showing appreciation for employee contributions
  • Taking personal accountability
  • Sharing both positive and constructive feedback on an ongoing basis (not simply providing feedback when something has gone “wrong”)
  • Being a good listener
  • Recognizing when employees are stretched too thin and working with them to determine ways to alleviate the stress
  • Investing in your employees and providing ample growth opportunities

Solving the disconnect in the workplace is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take hard work and a mindset shift to get everyone on the same page. Executives who approach leadership with a human-centric approach and employees who show up to work everyday feeling seen, heard, and ready to take accountability for their work will start to notice a night and day difference in their relationships at work. 

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