Earlier this month, we asked nearly 300 people to reflect on their biggest workplace struggles of 2019, to better create workshops and content that genuinely serve people. What came out of this exercise though, was a renewed motivation to help support the huge numbers of people that are genuinely unhappy at work, for reasons that are easily managed.
Scenarios that require collaboration and navigating interpersonal relationships are some of our biggest struggles, alongside feeling motivated, valued and fulfilled.
Relationships with bosses also scored highly, though relationships with co-workers less so. Considerations around productivity, such as managing workload and handling emails, are less challenging.
What do employees want?
We also asked people ‘If you felt completely professionally fulfilled, what would be different?’ to gauge the changes that participants wanted to see within their professional lives.
Professional autonomy and the ability manage one’s own workload was a common theme, with respondents stating
“I’d have total autonomy over how I worked my day/hours.”
“I’d like more autonomy and opportunity to manage my own work.”
“A manager that trusted my decisions and my ability to do the right thing, without always needing to check on me. I know what I am doing, I would like to be able to just get on.”
“I would be happier if I was able to use my initiative more and work independently.”
The majority of what would make respondents feel professionally fulfilled were emotional, rather than financial. (Only 8% of respondents mentioned money or salary specifically) and feeling less stressed and worried was a huge part of that.
“I’d be in a better place mentally and emotionally and it would help me in all other aspects of my life. I’d truly be working to live, not living to work which is how it feels at the moment.”
“I wouldn’t be dreading coming into work. I wouldn’t be stressed the second I open my emails.”
“I wouldn’t feel so stressed and I’d be able to focus on the parts of my job that add real value”
Focus and clarity
For many participants, a desire for professional clarity and focus was a recurring theme. Interestingly there was a correlation between this sentiment and wanting to feel valued and supported, suggesting a lack of direction or objectives, making employees feel lost and consequently uncertain of whether they were doing the right thing.
“Sit down and create more plans, structure is key!”
Clarity on what I do and my role within the business, especially how it can develop.
“A clearer understanding of what my job is and what exactly is expected of me”
“Have the time to focus on projects that will really move the needle and make a difference without distractions.”
“I’d feel motivated and have clarity in what I actually do.”
The ability to feel as though you are being heard, believed and listened to is significant in developing professional fulfilment. Interestingly, this notion featured heavily in our research on creating gender parity in the workplace. Without feeling heard, people can feel ignored, undervalued and underappreciated.
“Bosses need to believe me”
“Understanding of how to be heard when you know you’ve got a company changing idea, a good one”
“I would be able to bring forward issues and solutions”
“Have the confidence to suggest changes or discuss them without fear of being fobbed off or ignored.”
Unsurprisingly, a desire to work remotely or flexibly features regularly in professional fulfilment.
“Flexible working would be key. I work full time and I have a small child. I wish my employer would recognise that sometimes doing the standard 9-5 isn’t possible, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t still achieve as much working around that.”
“I recently took on a remote role that offers flexible working in a department I love. Previous to this I worked in an office in a role I wasn’t at all passionate about. I can already feel the difference in both my professional and working life.”
“Freedom with working hours (not feeling like I have to stay until 5, even though I’ve tied my tasks up by 4.30 for example).”
For some respondents, work is somewhere they “dread going to”, with “toxic bosses”, “sexist cultures” and “political sociopaths” and what is surprising and also pretty fucking sad from this research, is how fundamentally solvable many of these problems are. Within businesses we often group people together and cross our fingers and just hope they get along, communicate effectively and respect each other. In practice, it rarely just happens that way. Clean, productive communication rarely just happens in our relationships and friendships, so why do we expect that to be the case in business environments, when the pressure can often be so much greater? Our current workplace plasters of free breakfasts, beer fridges or team nights out are not meaningful rewards, and in the long term do little to facilitate genuinely happy teams. Nobody in this research requested more work socials, for a more fulfilling work environment. For so many of us we have moved on, we want autonomy to be creative, freedom to spend time with our family and the ability to take care of our emotional health.
Fortunately we have so many techniques at our disposable to ensure better, clearer communication, positive collaboration, inclusive, respectful, empowering leadership and conflict resolution. The reality is, however, is this takes effort and work, it seldom just happens. From the research from this study that so many of you kindly participated in over the course of the coming weeks we will be publishing indepth resources to help you create those environments that do enable true professional fulfilment, you can sign up to be emailed these below!
Please share any comments, thoughts or experiences with us.