Whether painted in ‘The mental state of the world 2021’ (2022) or the recently published WHO report ‘Early evidence of the pandemic’s impact’ (2022), the picture is grim. Far from being in the past, the health crisis trauma represents a negative force affecting politics, geopolitics, corporate board decisions, social behavior, family dynamics, and employer-employee relationships.
Evidencing this stress, employee engagement in the U.S. fell for the first time in a decade in 2021. The sorry state of affairs is leading to the so-called Great Attrition, with workers voluntarily leaving their jobs. It was once again apparent in this week’s U.S. job data. Some call it the Great Resignation, which is an interesting choice of word: meant as the act of resigning from a job, ‘resignation’ also signifies the sad acceptance of something undesirable.
One of the disturbing features of this phenomenon is its silence. There are no loud protests, demonstrations, or strikes. Twenty years ago, ‘organizational silence’ was defined as a situation in which employees withdraw and give up on challenging their firm to make it a better place. It now seems to prevail across many industries.
Silence is a mode of expression. As per an ominous dictum from the French Revolution, ‘le silence des peuples est la leçon des rois’, i.e., the people’s silence is the King’s lesson. Silence carries a message. More than resignation, it is an act of resistance.
Political trends in many democracies show the same pattern. The connection between leadership and the people has weakened. Agendas are hijacked by a vocal minority, thereby contributing to a vicious circle alienating the silent majority.
Executive teams are faced with a monster challenge. How to get employees to talk again?
Companies placing hope in employee surveys will be disappointed. Too often, this tool fails to provide a proper diagnosis, as explained in ‘Getting the truth into workplace surveys’ (2022). Besides, the herculean effort made by Human Resources to chase employees to achieve a high response rate only hides the latent issue from senior management.
New ways to engage with employees are necessary. Consider, for example, advanced Glassdoor analytics (see ‘Open Kitchen’ in 2019), internal social media, or ‘skip management.’
Following the latter, managers establish formal communication channels with lower-level individuals to discuss the business environment, strategy, and operations. The objectives include avoiding getting filtered information from direct reports, bringing power and influence closer to employees, showing care and attention to them, tapping the rich diversity of the lower ranks, and identifying future leaders. I found the concept interesting.
Innovative approaches are warranted to break the silence of the employees.