Organizations are dealing with a phenomenon that Microsoft Chief People Officer Kathleen Hogan has dubbed a “human energy crisis,” which she defines as a depletion of the human capital resources that are critical to any company’s success. The last few years have put a fine point on this challenge, with a series of societal disruptions that have raised stress levels – and workplace burnout – to new heights.
According to the 2022 Microsoft Work Trend Index, an external survey of thousands of workers worldwide, 48% of employees and 53% of managers say they are burned out at work. With more attention on employee wellness, more than half of respondents (53%) admit they’re now more likely to prioritize their health and well-being over work, and mental health was cited as the No. 1 reason for leaving a job in the prior year.
This human energy crisis is upending workplace culture, employee retention, and company performance. “It’s impossible to create and innovate with a sapped internal battery,” Hogan wrote. “As new challenges arise around the world, empowering the people tackling those challenges is more important than ever.”
Although HR teams have taken the lead on addressing the crisis, CIOs and their IT teams play an important role as well. Organizations’ investment in collaboration and other employee experience technologies, coupled with analytics for mining better insights to inform workplace stressors, can drive changes required to recharge depleted teams and create a healthier environment that delivers benefits for both employees and the business.
The shift that many organizations have made to hybrid work has made it more difficult to create a cohesive and community-oriented culture. Technology plays a critical role in helping people stay connected in a world in which they’re no longer physically together throughout the work week. IDC’s 2023 Future of Work research predicts that automated, cloud-based, and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled work practices will drive increased productivity, allowing companies to be more responsive to the needs of employees and customers. Broader access to digital collaboration and automation tools will drive a 20% spike in revenue by 2024, IDC projects, while integrated analytics within an intelligent digital workspace ecosystem will increase positive business outcomes by 70% by 2026. Conversely, companies stuck in reactive and tactical hybrid work models will likely underperform and see a decrease in employee productivity, the IDC research found.
By partnering with HR and other business leaders, CIOs can help infuse technology into new employee experiences and business processes that will serve as “renewable energy sources” to recharge and reengage the workforce. Consider these three possibilities for improvement:
Replace KPIs that induce “productivity paranoia.” In the new world of work, there’s a growing disconnect between employees and their managers when it comes to tracking performance. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index found 87% of employees claim to be productive on the job, yet 85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has eroded their confidence in employee productivity because they lack the traditional visual cues.
As a result, employees are feeling more pressure than ever to prove they’re actually working. Too many are addressing this “productivity paranoia” by increasing their working hours or overcompensating on the number of emails and Teams messages they send, which depletes energy but doesn’t necessarily increase productivity. Instead of worrying about whether people are logging enough hours, managers should help employees prioritize the work that’s most important; measure outcomes and impact, not activity; and use employee feedback to improve the well-being of teams.
In this spirit, Microsoft modified its KPIs, moving beyond productivity and engagement metrics to measuring how well employees are thriving, which it defines as being energized and empowered to do meaningful work. “Everyone wants to know their work matters and has meaning,” Hogan wrote for Fast Company. “Being seen, valued, and told you are making a difference is a force multiplier for energy creation.”
Double down on collaboration and community. Whether people are working together in an office or collaborating remotely, creating supportive team connections is critical, both during work hours and on a personal level. An emerging category of employee experience platforms takes traditionally fragmented experiences and tools and melds them into a single environment where employees can be productive and stay securely connected to each other and company culture through communities and resources.
Collaboration and communications tools give distributed employees a central meeting place to have conversations and engage no matter where they are working. Organizations also need to make the most of in-office time to rebuild social capital and nurture corporate culture.
“To foster a supportive team that refuels its energy supplies together, companies need to get clear on team agreements, ensure meeting inclusivity (in person and online), empower authenticity, and encourage fun,” Hogan wrote.
Focus on continuous learning and meaningful career growth. Prioritizing learning and development can enrich individuals while helping the business grow. Leaders should provide access to resources like career days, mentorships, and opportunities for continued skilling to foster employee retention and spark excitement for growth. CIOs play a role here in helping HR and professional development teams deploy AI-infused digital learning systems that employees can access anytime from anywhere to bolster skills at their own pace. Within both the IT organization and the greater enterprise, it’s important to create new structures for internal mobility, giving employees flexible career paths as opposed to a single track climbing up a structured corporate ladder.
According to the 2022 Microsoft Work Trend Index, 76% of employees said they’d stay longer at their company if they could benefit more from learning and development support. “Providing access to enrichment to help our people plan their next career move is a foundational aspect of our learn-it-all culture,” Hogan wrote. “In fact, we’ve seen the key factors that drive thriving are tied to career: Making good use of skills, building critical capabilities, and expecting valuable career experiences. This can’t be done without support from managers, leaders, and mentors.”
Renewing the critical resource of human energy requires creativity and a leadership commitment to reassessing culture to prioritize employee well-being. Without positive people outcomes, CIOs and their C-suite colleagues will find little success in driving the business forward.