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How to embrace human-focused leadership

18th Oct 2021
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Strong leadership is key to an organisation’s success. This is even more so in times of uncertainty and change, such as we are currently facing with the ever-evolving pandemic and shift to hybrid working. In order to support employee wellbeing in these turbulent times, and ensure sustained engagement and retention, leaders should focus on a human approach – getting to know their employees on a deeper, more human level in order to successfully meet their needs personally and professionally.

Here are my top tips for achieving human-focused leadership:

Build trust through connection

Connection fuels trust, and trust fuels belonging, commitment, and engagement. Trust also positively impacts wellbeing. Employees that trust their organisations report experiencing 74% less stress and 50% higher productivity, and 40% lower rates of burnout. In order to create a culture of mutual trust, leaders should focus on building relationships with their team that centre on personal connection.

There are several ways leaders can achieve this. Firstly, they should encourage open communication channels for sharing both positive and negative experiences. Many employees may feel uncomfortable opening up about the latter, so leaders can help by being open themselves, and by using conversational tactics such as “two roses and a thorn” – creating a positive atmosphere before honing in on any issues.

Alongside clear and open communication, it is important to lead with empathy. Leaders can do this by taking the time to check-in more frequently with their team. Workhuman research shows that frequent check-ins with a line-manager directly correlates with higher employee engagement, as well as promoting a sense of trust and transparency. Leaders should then make sure to actively listen to their employees, and make the effort to understand their perspective – even if it differs from their own. For example, if you require your employees to be in the office during these uncertain times, and an employee expresses concern about this, take the time to listen to their thoughts and see if there is any possible compromise. Listening and communicating clearly and openly are key.

Finally, an easy way to build connections with your team is by allowing some time within the working week for more casual conversations, centred on employees’ personal lives and experiences. For example, celebrating employees’ life milestones together as a team is a great way to foster more authentic connections, and thereby build trust.

Validate others

When leading from a human-centric perspective, it is important to acknowledge employees as the unique individuals they are. One of the most effective ways to validate others is through specific, authentic recognition. As a leader, make sure to recognise your employees for what they personally have done, as well as for their unique traits or behaviours that make them great to work with. This shows that you value your employees for their authentic selves. And when employees can bring their authentic selves to work, they feel a greater sense of belonging, and their engagement and productivity improve as a result.

A digital recognition platform ensures that this process is easy, frequent, and therefore more effective, and can also be integrated with other initiatives such as rewards. Regular recognition can have a huge impact – increasing employee retention and productivity, and even improving the bottom line. For example, LinkedIn employees who were awarded more than four times in a year through a social recognition platform had a retention rate of 96%. BP also saw similar results, with 66% lower employee turnover for those who received at least three awards per year. 

Champion psychological safety  

Employee wellbeing should always be a priority, but this is especially the case when many are still struggling with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest ONS insights show that personal wellbeing in the UK remains worse than pre-pandemic levels, with one in five adults experiencing depressive symptoms in early 2021. The mental health charity Mind now offers resources specifically aimed at advising organisations on issues regarding Coronavirus and work.

Leaders can aid employee wellbeing by creating a culture of psychological safety. First used by organisational researchers in the 1960s, the term has evolved over the years to encompass the feeling of being comfortable enough to bring your whole, human self to work. This includes the ‘safety’ to feel able to raise concerns with employers. Luckily, leaders can ensure psychological safety in the workplace by using all the tactics outlined above. Furthermore, Workhuman research shows that two of these – recognising employees more frequently, and establishing regular check-ins - are particularly effective in creating an inclusive and psychologically safe workplace environment. Remember also that October is mental awareness month and paying attention to the mental and physical wellness of your employees whether they are in the office or at home, and indeed providing support to them is critical – and it is the human approach.

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