The Answer to Improving Job Satisfaction: Lead Like a Woman
This article was originally published in HR News.
The Great Resignation has been a wake-up call for employers, prompting a scramble to offer an array of new perks and benefits. Though improving compensation packages may produce positive impacts over the short term, there is a better, more-sustainable solution: women leaders.
Proof that a lack of cool benefits is not the problem is easy to find. In an interview published by Fast Company on March 5, 2022, Jim Harter, the chief research scientist for Gallup, said, "Two-thirds of the reasons people actually left jobs in 2021 were due to issues related to their engagement and their overall well-being." Gallup data also shows "42 percent of the reasons people are quitting are tied to how they feel about their bosses and organizational cultures."
Research done by Potential Project indicates women leaders create the best environment for job engagement and job performance. In particular, the Potential Project's Human Leader study, through which more than 2,000 employees across more than a dozen industries were surveyed, found that women who work for women have 6 percent higher job engagement than men who work for men. Additionally, men who work for women have 5 percent higher job engagement.
These are significant differences that influence whether an employee stays or leaves an organization, as well as how an employee performs while still with the organization. Keeping an employee engaged makes the difference between whether they show up or are frequently absent. Engagement also correlates with how productive employees are, whether employees impact colleagues positively or negatively, and how an organization does financially.
A widely cited estimate from Gallup puts the cost of lost productivity due to employee disengagement at $3,400 for every $10,000 of salary. Based on that and assuming an average salary of $60,000, women leaders who keep employees more engaged (and less disengaged) save their organizations $1.43 million for every 1,000 employees.
Showing Wisdom and Compassion Marks Effective Leadership
So, what are women leaders doing differently? At the heart of it, women leaders are much more likely to display a leadership style Potential Project analysts describe as "wise compassion."
For example, 55 percent of respondents to the Human Leader survey ranked women leaders as being wise and compassionate. Additionally, respondents most frequently (by almost 2 to 1) rated women leaders, rather than men, as able to make difficult decisions and manage tough situations while still remaining compassionate.
Just 27 percent of men were ranked as wise and compassionate leaders, and 56 percent of respondents ranked men poorly on these characteristics. This put the majority of men in a quadrant of leaders described as showing "ineffective indifference."
A deep dive into the survey data revealed that four specific skills were associated with a wise compassion leadership style-presence, courage, candor and transparency (see the accompanying chart). While men scored slightly higher on presence, women scored higher on the other three skills. The greatest difference was in regards to transparency.
Seeing the Key Leadership Skills in Action
When the four key leadership skills are practiced together, they create a virtuous cycle. Importantly, there is nothing about the skills that is inherently gendered. With presence being a given, all leaders looking to retain talent, prevent burnout and grow their organization should spend time reflecting on how they can show up for their employees with more courage, candor and transparency.
As we continue to navigate a rapidly changing and often terrifying world, it is more important than ever for leaders to confront challenges head-on and make difficult decisions with clarity and purpose. Prioritizing values must be paramount at a time when employees are seeking out employers that take principled stands.
Accenture CEO Julie Sweet displayed these skills in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Within days of the attack, Sweet announced Accenture would discontinue operations in Russia while continuing to support its 2,300 colleagues in the country.
Engage in Candor
Candor means much more than delivering tough feedback. For instance, in 2018, a racial profiling incident at a Starbuck's in Philadelphia moved then-COO Rosalind Brewer to address the deeply troubling event on a broader level.
There was simply no way to take swift action and correct where employees were falling short that did not involve naming the racism that drove the profiling incident. Since leading the effort to implement large-scale changes across Starbuck's entire workforce, Brewer, who is now CEO ofWalgreens Boots Alliance, has become a strong voice on antiracism, confronting difficult truths with compassion and candor.
Commit to Transparency
Not being transparent can induce long-lasting unease among employees and drive workplace culture into the ground. This is never more true than when it comes to decisions that directly affect employment.
In early December 2021, Better.com CEO Vishal Garg announced to 900 employees they were being laid off. The devastating news, shared during a Zoom call lasting just three minutes, came as a shock to everyone. The home financing company had recently completed a hiring surge.
The recording of the Zoom call quickly spread around the world, triggering an exodus of senior executives who disapproved of Garg's methods. His handling of the announcement also cost Garg the trust of employees who stayed and now fear they may be cut loose in another round of unexpected layoffs.
The need for compassionate leadership is stronger than ever, particularly as employees' worries and anxieties escalate due to events such as the war in Ukraine that are beyond anyone's control. Employers that wish to stave off resignations should proactively tap leaders who exhibit wise compassion. Doing that first requires taking serious steps to retain women in the workforce. Additionally, elevating more women to leadership positions could be the best possible answer for employees and the bottom line.