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Values can fill the office-void

Gerry Ashison, Director - Auricoe

We all enjoy a good love story, in one form or another.

Whether in real life or on the silver screen, we don’t need Shakespeare to tell us love isn’t the draw – it’s the rollercoaster of other emotions along the way. Fear, loss, disappointment, or anger before reaching a place of hope and happiness.

Organisations face a striking parallel at present, possessing a golden opportunity to script their own story of enchantment, rising from the ashes of pandemic pandemonium.

Uncertainty doesn’t begin to describe the monumental challenge bearing down on HR leaders. There is a multitude of issues at play. Diversity is scorching hot following several horrific events, while office exclusion stares down inclusion with a sardonic smile. London weighting has lost all gravitational pull, with hyper-locality halting salary negotiations. And as if this wasn’t enough, mental wellbeing now lies threadbare. There are plenty of employees out there with bundles of energy, none of it positive.

There is an element of home working that mirrors attitudes to the Great British summer. Pre-March, we longed for an increase in flexible hours and the chance to work remotely? We also begged for the sun to come out and a sumptuous glass of fruit, drowning in Pimms. But when home eventually became the office, it paralleled the intense heat that we came to endure this summer – ‘where’s the blinking air conditioning?’

For me, the journey to the fridge beats a morning commute. For others, the lack of an office loud-mouth means emergence from the shadows, but both come at a cost. When folk congregate, we spot nuances, new ideas and nuclear approaches – we all paint on one another’s canvas. That is, until now. There is also a degree of irony when home-workers, with zero commute and zilch interruptions, register fatigue and a lack of focus. Both are now valid complaints.

I recently listened to Molly Harvey, of Harvey Global fame, on the TRN Podcast. Molly delivered eloquent testimony as to why energy levels quickly plateaued and even declined for many “what I’m getting from organisations is we are working from home, and we have a starting time, but we don’t have a quitting time”. How true. There’s no separation between work life, and life, life. No switching off. No structured breaks and only marginally less distraction. Interruptions even increased when teaching became our side hustle.

Video meetings offer unwanted overtime computing the unspoken word – body language, facial expressions, intonation, and overladen bandwidth, all draining life from my fingers, as I type. “When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful” says Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University.

Regretfully, existing employees aren’t sole victims; lest we forget new starters. They lack firsthand experience of company culture and have no previous for how colleagues are in person.

HR leaders are guardians of the culture galaxy, and this titanic task falls firmly at their feet. Where business strategy and people plans exist in separate solar systems, people people must create star clusters; their organisations at the centre. This task seems insurmountable, but simplifying the issues can help HR strategists arrive at the start line.

For remote work to work well, you need to maximise two things – trust and productivity. The absence of either can be crippling, but a values-led approach invites both parties to the party.

Employees must believe in their organisation; now more than ever. Belief builds trust. We need to remind our people what we stand for, guiding staff and plugging the gaps left by redundant offices. Values do this in spades.

Organisational values steer behaviour, from the top-down, and on every mezzanine. Our word is all we have to offer now and to stay true to company values strengthens trust in your organisation. Peeling promises off the page and into action doesn’t require herculean effort either – stories work wonders.

We all have tales to tell, and we enjoy sharing them. They help us to connect. Why not ask staff to recount their experiences of your company values. Employees will witness these core values in action, getting behind the company’s vision and raising awareness of company values. You may also be surprised by how much you learn.

Similarly, asking managers to narrate their values and inspiring employees to share their own produces significant benefit. Exchanging stories in this manner, about the things that matter most to each of us (our values), helps us to bond as human beings, not corporate machines. These granular connections are what we all crave at present.

Values carry equal importance when hiring and onboarding. Imagine seeing a culture led by values, emerge from a career site to the selection process and long into your new position. Powerful, no? 

Employees become part of more than a regular payday. Objectives are clear, and staff feel guided, with open discussions happening freely and often. There’s a willingness to share and a motivation to create with everybody buying into the same vision and values. Productivity is the happy by-product.

We’ve all been through the mire of late, and the tyranny isn’t yet over. Organisations that learn to walk the walk, backing up those lofty values statements, will emerge from this chaos, heads held high.

In short, we must put values-based emotion into motion. Employees and customers will fall head over heels.

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