I am taking a moment to look back on 2022 as we close this year.
Our Lindauer clients and candidates report finding these past 12 months more tumultuous than most expected last January – no matter where they are located around the world. While organizations and leaders were eager to find greater normalcy following 2020 and 2021’s continuing pandemic impacts and racial justice reckonings, at the start of 2022 leaders seemed to think the largest challenge might be how and when to have employees return to the workplace in person, or how best to create productivity in hybrid or fully remote teams.
Instead, we witnessed leaders, employees, and their families buffeted in 2022 by inflation and economic knocks, record-breaking weather patterns, escalating violence, the flu-COVID-RSV triad, and geo-political upheavals. Many who moved their family in 2020 were not interested in a return to 8 AM – 6 PM workdays and commutes, passing up sometimes stunning job opportunities for a better quality of life. Concurrently, professionals of diverse lived experience discovered that organizational commitments to inclusion and equity made in 2020 were over-promised and under-delivered.
While tech giants and other global employers began to execute large-scale layoffs, nonprofit leaders remained in a swirl of top talent departures and extremely difficult recruiting with melting pools, counteroffers, and upward compensation pressure. Governing Boards and C-Suites, meanwhile, moved from adding extra employee support and pandemic stipends in the prior two years to pushing for re-balanced budgets, the launch of delayed fundraising campaigns, and raised performance stakes for every operating unit.
The game was back on and expectations were high in 2022, but the world was not quite the same.
Top executives at leading financial service firms were claiming companies had gotten too soft, that leaders had tipped the scales too far toward empathy and away from bottom-line business performance. While many read Gallup workplace data promulgated in early 2022, many leaders chose to ignore the findings.
Gallup reported that fewer than one in four U.S. employees in late 2021 felt strongly that their organization cares about their well-being, the lowest percentage in a decade. Yet employees who believed their employers cared about their well-being demonstrated a range of positive behaviors:
- 69% less likely to actively search for a new job
- 71% less likely to report experiencing high levels of burnout
- 5x more likely to strongly advocate for their company as a place to work and to strongly agree they trust the leadership of their organization
- 3x more likely to be consistently engaged at work
- 36% more likely to be thriving in their overall lives
Every single one of these measures has an impact on retention, turnover, and ultimately productivity. And the findings were “generally consistent across employee job types — from production and front-line to white-collar professionals. The decline was especially high among managers — 11 percentage points.”
Across social and digital media, the debate about business-driven leadership vs. empathetic leadership raged again. Elon Musk was splashed across headlines as the poster child for cut-throat, non-compassionate management, while (hard to believe it?) Mark Zuckerberg was touted as the empathetic leader for admitting Facebook did a poor job in communicating through their 2022 layoffs.
For all of us at Lindauer, 2022 was marked by trying to work with clients in unprecedented hiring dynamics, innovating and guiding in the face of new workforce challenges. Yet consultants also spent significant hours reaching out to clients reeling from a non-stop stream of tragic and violent events, seeking to support leaders and teams in the face of mass shootings; bomb threats at HBCUs; violence against Black, Brown, AAPI, Indigenous and LTBTQ+ communities; escalating antisemitism; and devastating hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires.
In November 2022, after a particularly daunting series of events affecting our employees and clients in states and communities across our client base, I wrote an email of acknowledgment to our Lindauer team. My colleagues asked me to share it more broadly, hearing from many in organizations who were hurting as leaders, managers, and employees as they tried to deliver work while managing the mental health and well-being of their workforce, their families, and themselves. You can find it here. I seemed to hit a nerve, and I was moved and energized by both public and private responses.
As we move into 2023, can one be both a compassionate and a results-driven leader?
I have always believed that it’s possible to be incredibly driven for bottom-line results while also treating team members with respect and compassion. To drive productivity measures and hold managers and team members accountable while supporting – and indeed urging – employees to tend to their own well-being. I don’t always get this calibration right. Sometimes as CEO I must clean up or tighten up, circle back with humility and care, or simply start in inquiry mode before deriving a go-forward solution. But I’ll keep on my path of trying to balance my leadership in the right measure.
We are always interested to hear from colleagues who are likewise on leadership journeys. Happy to be thinking partners, question-askers, or share data you can take or leave as you craft your own leadership forward. Well done navigating 2022, friends, and looking forward to 2023.