An astonishing proportion of research conducted worldwide answers questions to which we all intuitively know the answer.
Howstuffworks.com offers a delightful top ten list of the best (or worst) of these, with findings like “High Heels Can Make Your Feet Hurt”, “Sword Swallowing Can Be Dangerous”, and “Employees Hate Meetings”.
But the very fact that the average person – or business leader – ignores the obvious, underlines the need for conducting precisely this kind of research.
That was the thought that came to mind last month when HP Inc released global research findings that show most knowledge workers have an unhealthy relationship with work. Most people’s first reaction to this blindingly obvious truth would be an eye-rolling, “Really?”
Yes, really. And the obvious is ignored by most leaders.
The first “HP Work Relationship Index”, a comprehensive study of employees’ relationships with work around the world, surveyed more than 15,600 respondents across various industries. It found that the world’s relationship with work is at a breaking point.
The study analysed, among numerous aspects, employees’ expectations of leadership, and the impact work has on employee well-being, productivity, engagement and culture. It found that a mere 27% of knowledge workers currently have a healthy relationship with work.
It showed that employees’ expectations of work have increased significantly, particularly over the past two to three years, and identified six critical areas where improvement was demanded:
1. Fulfillment: Employees yearn for purpose, empowerment, and genuine connection to their work, but just 29% of knowledge workers experience these aspects consistently.
2. Leadership: New ways of working demand new leadership styles, according to 68% of business leaders; yet only one in five workers feel leaders have evolved their leadership styles accordingly.
3. People-centricity: Only 25% of knowledge workers consistently receive the respect and value they feel they deserve, and even fewer are experiencing the flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance they seek.
4. Skills: While 70% of knowledge workers value strong power and technical skills, only 31% feel consistently confident in their proficiency in either.
5. Tools: Today’s workers want a say in the technology and tools their employer provides – and want that technology to be inclusive. However, confidence that companies will implement the right tools to support hybrid work lies at is just 25%.
6. Workspace: Knowledge workers want a seamless experience as they move between work locations – and a choice in where they work each day. Effective hybrid workspaces, easy transitions, flexibility and autonomy will be pivotal.
“There is a huge opportunity to strengthen the world’s relationship with work in ways that are both good for people and good for business,” said Enrique Lores, president and CEO of HP. “As leaders, we must always reject the false choice between productivity and happiness. The most successful companies are built on cultures that enable employees to excel in their careers while thriving outside of work.”
What can be done? The authors of the report offer advice that is obvious, but not straightforward.
They say business leaders should cultivate emotional intelligence and transparent, empathetic leadership, and they must put visible emphasis on putting people first and placing their teams at the centre of decision-making.
The reasons why this would benefit business are also obvious: A high proportion of knowledge workers report less productivity, more disengagement at work and greater feelings of disconnection. Even when they feel neutral about their relationship with work, more than 71% consider leaving the company. When they’re not happy at all, that number rises to 91%.
As they say in the classics, “Really?”
The truth is, as obvious as this all is, it is likely to be ignored by most business leaders. Or, at least, those who still want meetings for the sake of having meetings, despite all the research warning them of the consequences.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee