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Leadership And Employee Wellbeing: The Year Ahead
Leadership is witnessing the intersection of various fields, be it psychology or technology, and the year ahead will see development around this intersection
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A lot has been said about leadership, be it the books written or the lectures delivered across platforms. The idea of being a ‘leader’ or a ‘boss’ has altered significantly over time, especially when it comes to employee engagement. Overall, the notion of a good leader has changed from on who orders, to one who guides. The idea of a leader as a guiding light has changed over the years significantly, and 2023 will witness further development in this arena.
It is no surprise that employee well-being has assumed center stage across companies, and top leadership is not exempt from this development. The idea of employee well-being can take various forms. For example, there is an increased focus on developing a culture of employee feedback, with a focus on the ‘psychological safety’ of employees. This means employees can take risks at work, provide constructive feedback, and will be assured of their employment or job safety and security. This is also good for employee productivity, pushing them out of their comfort zone. When the employees are asked for feedback and there is silence, it is time for the company leader to wake up.
Secondly, the focus on ‘neurodiversity’, that is, accepting that everyone's brain works and processes information differently, and not employing a one-size-fits-all approach. Take, for example, the idea of a hybrid workplace, research by Harvard Business School (HBR) across 5,000 respondents shows 59 per cent of employees value flexibility over salary, and 77 per cent want to work with companies that allow them to work from anywhere. This means employees want to work as per their comfort and how their minds work, as against receiving strong dictation from higher up the corporate hierarchy. "A ‘one-shoe-fits-all’ approach to workforce upskilling is unlikely to be effective in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. Instead, the need of the hour is to strengthen specific and targeted upskilling programs." says Punit Puri, Chief Human Resource Officer, Tata Motors Finance. The leadership focus must now have to be on employee freedom, skilling, and demand a lot more. Companies now work on providing adequate tools to an employee so they can practice flexibility.
Image source: LinkedIn
To achieve this, the focus of leadership must be on principles than strict policies, that is, it must be in the core values of the company other than externally imposed rules and regulations. This phenomenon can also be seen in an HBR study, which says 86 per cent employees believe work guidelines are a necessity when it comes to functioning in a hybrid workplace. The employees too want a leadership that can serve as a guiding light in a hybrid workplace model, while having breathing space as employees who hold a stake when it comes to company functions. A lot of these leadership trends are backed by high technological developments, that is, leadership and technology go hand in hand. Talking about this particular aspect, Srikanth Doranadula, Group Vice President, Technology and Systems, Oracle India says, “In my various conversations with leaders and decision makers across primary sectors, I found that businesses are more open than ever to embrace cloud and move towards their digitisation journey. Clearly, the future of cloud demands a new approach, the business landscape also in the country is likely to be much more innovative to build the future.” While Doranadula talks specifically about digitisation journey, it is clear we cannot dissociate it from leadership and employee wellbeing.
One nuanced and often ignored aspect of leadership is ‘proximity bias’, that is, being aware of favoring employees who come to the office more often, as against those who choose to work remotely. This is especially true in a growing hybrid work environment. As per LinkedIn data, women and Gen Z are more likely to apply for hybrid work. If leadership is not conscious of the idea of ‘proximity bias’ it can lead to diversity problems for the company, by excluding most members of a certain demographic. The notion of leadership has become a lot more intricate, and one is needed to read between the lines. Commenting on the changing trends, L&T Technology Services Limited (LTTS) CFO Rajeev Gupta says, “While a lot has been said about empathy, the new year will likely judge those who complement this empathy with credible substance. Diversity and inclusion will further witness traction and leaders are therefore required to strengthen their commitment and resolve towards it.” The work environment has witnessed a dramatic transformation in the year gone by and organisations are yet to completely align with redefined paradigms of the new normal world workforce. Against this backdrop, it is required that the leadership equips itself with the right mindset and approach so as to help calm unsettled nerves as one navigates the back-to-office work order. “Lastly, I believe two key qualities required of a leader in today’s age are agility and enabling digital transformation for the organisation. The current environment requires the leadership to deal with ambiguity and anticipate unseen challenges while leveraging the power of data using digital technologies to deliver growth and operational excellence.”, adds Gupta. Leadership is witnessing the intersection of various fields, be it psychology or technology, and the year ahead will see development around this intersection. "Organisations will have a greater role to play in facilitating its workforce to transition from an ‘employee’ to a ‘leader’ mindset in times ahead, significantly adding to organizational growth in the long run,” adds Puri. Employees are looking to work in an environment that serves as a win-win situation for all, and the top leadership should recognise and adapt to the changes.