How to beat the labor shortage: build a company culture based on good

Author Mark Babbitt
Mark Babbitt, author of Good Comes First

By Mark Babbitt At one point not too long ago, it seemed an economic recovery was inevitable. But, COVID variants combined with politics-as-usual—along with what many people believe to be a labor shortage —stopped many businesses and industries from regaining momentum. 

While we can’t solve the COVID crisis as quickly as we’d like, we can beat the labor shortage. At the same time, we can greatly improve the chances of keeping key employees before they join “The Great Resignation.” 

And we can do this relatively easily by ensuring good comes first for our employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders. Put more simply: We can show all our stakeholders that we value workplace respect as much as we do results.

A Labor Shortage? Or a Respect Shortage?

new study by MIT Sloan Management Review shows us that the most important factor in employee experience is that leaders, managers, and peers treat them with respect. Specifically, as stated by Sloan, that “employees are treated with consideration, courtesy, and dignity, and their perspectives are taken seriously."

This approach to doing good isn’t just a fleeting notion; it isn’t some form of manipulative, pie-in-the-sky, rah-rah slogan. Instead, this hard data shows that “...the feeling of being respected at work is 17.9 times more powerful a predictor of culture score than a typical topic.” 

Shockingly to many Industrial Age leaders, the study shows that workplace respect is more important to employees in today’s marketplace than compensation, benefits, perks and training—combined.

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And in today’s marketplace, when employers don’t treat employees with the respect they feel they’ve earned or expected, employees vote with their feet. With seemingly high optimism that a better opportunity must be out there—they walk. 

The Old Normal Versus a New Reality

Before the pandemic, employees learned to live with “that’s just the way it is.” Perhaps they didn’t know any better—they didn’t expect better.

More recently, though, employees have taken a moment to reflect. During the pandemic, many enjoyed more autonomy; some even considered work-from-home life “freedom.” They decided where and how they performed the work; in many cases, they were free to set their own schedules. 

Along the way, workers had an epiphany: While living a more balanced life, I can enjoy my work!

But now, many old-school leaders look at employees and say (in what employees can only hear in a disrespectful tone), “Forget all that freedom and autonomy. Come back to work, and we’ll pretend none of this ever happened.”

In turn, employees say, “No, thank you.” More importantly, they’re saying, “I quit.”

They then seek out opportunities where more empathetic, less autocratic leaders treat people with respect.

Create a Culture That Equally Values Respect and Results

This is why the foundational principle in our new book, Good Comes First, is “equally value respect and results.” After all, employees of all generations desire and deserve workplaces where they are respected and validated for their ideas, efforts, and contributions. 

The trouble is that we’ve rarely asked executives to lead a culture change effort at all, let alone one where workplace respect is valued and measured just as often as results. After all, since the Industrial Age began, they’ve focused almost exclusively on results; specifically, revenue, profits, and market share. So they don’t know how to change their focus; they don’t know how to inject respect.

But as we now know: Respect matters—not only to team members but also to a company’s bottom line. In our experience, when respect and results are considered to be equals within a company culture, common business metrics like employee engagement, customer service ratings, employee retention and referrals—and, yes, productivity and profits—rise 25% to 40%. 

And at companies that intentionally create a culture where employees can expect respect while they help drive results, there is no labor shortage. In fact, many of the best companies are filling their talent pipeline with good people who’ve left not-so-good jobs.

Culture Change: A Proven Way to Beat the Labor Shortage

Many leaders and HR teams see the “labor shortage” as inevitable. They believe they can’t stop good people from walking out the door. 

But by creating a company culture based on doing good, companies small and large are beating the labor shortage. And it all starts when team members can expect respect while they enthusiastically help drive results.

Mark Babbitt is a speaker, author, blogger, culture architect, executive coach, and career mentor. He serves as President of WorqIQ and CEO and Founder of YouTern. In addition to Good Comes First, Mark co-authored A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive. Followers also find Mark's advice in Entrepreneur, Inc., Forbes, and many other publications. An in-demand speaker, Mark was named one of Inc. Magazines' Top 100 Leadership Speakers.

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