Insight article

Tackling employee disengagement with a compelling narrative

Workplace satisfaction, or lack of it, has always been a common topic of conversation within organisations around the world – so how does the story you tell as an organisation impact this?

Last year, workforce wellbeing reached a tipping point, with countless studies dubbing an influx of unhappy employees as the perpetrator of what fast became known as ‘The Great Resignation‘ of 2021.

The reasons behind this growing wave of unhappiness cannot be attributed to one factor alone, as an international study by Firstup has shown. Drawing on the experiences of over 23,000 employees from a vast range of organisations globally, it revealed that just 16 per cent felt that their employer need make no changes to improve their employee experience, and a mere 12 per cent felt that their organisation had sufficient boundaries in place to safeguard their work-life balance.

Perhaps most striking of all, over half of employees admitted that they did not feel valued in their role or understood how their role contributes to their organisation’s objectives. This was a point I was keen to focus on when invited by Firstup to take part in a panel discussion held to explore the reasons behind this research in more depth. For me, the statistic highlights why it’s so vital that leadership teams look very carefully at the way they are engaging their people at this time – especially those exploring and implementing new ways of working in this period of pandemic recovery.

In our experience of supporting large and complex organisations through change, businesses struggle to evolve when their people are no longer aligned behind a common purpose, identity, goal and mission – yet this can be overcome with a strong, compelling narrative.  

The power of true alignment 

Leadership teams need to consider, both collectively and as individuals, how aligned they really are around every single element of the journey they are leading the business on.

As a business leader, ask yourself these two key questions:

  • Are you inspiring your people about the journey the organisation is on?
  • As a leadership team are you collectively and individually role-modelling critical behaviours within your organisation?

Compelling context

Having a sense of alignment allows leaders to be influential, visible and really bring their change journey to life in a compelling, human way for all employees. In times of uncertainty and change, humans crave compelling context, transparency and something we can tether ourselves to – all things an aligned narrative supports. 

True connection

Once the narrative is in place, it allows everyone within an organisation from boardroom to shop floor to begin to make both a rational and emotional connection to the change journey they are on. From purpose to strategy to behaviours (and everything in between), it enables individuals to ask themselves and understand ‘what’s my role?’ And, ‘why am I valued in moving this journey forward?’ 

It also allows leaders to build ownership of the strategy to unlock engagement. When everyone, not just the c-suite, understands their role within the bigger picture of their organisation, and feels they can influence what happens next, this enables pace, agility, performance, and opportunity – all the things executive teams crave. It takes bravery for the executive team to share responsibly in this way, but middle managers too can play a crucial role in keeping the momentum by ensuring individuals continue to feel empowered and receive individual recognition for their work.

Despite some stark headlines emerging from this research, there are grounds for optimism and opportunity. Although workplace dissatisfaction appears rife, what leaders should be focusing on is that so too are ideas about how to improve employee experience – if your organisation has a narrative to harness them.

Robert Tennant

Robert Tennant

Head of Consultancy