In Search of Better Ways of Working
Reimagining how we work to improve well-being, engagement and outcomes at work
When I started down the path of entrepreneurship, I named my company Betterwork Labs, because I wanted to explore and experiment around the idea of finding better ways of working so that companies could unleash the potential of their people, and more people could find work that worked for them.
Over the past year, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people about their work and careers, exploring the question of what “better work” could look like.
It’s not a secret that there are lots of challenges with the workplace today. Burnout is at an all time high, many companies have challenging (if not toxic) cultures that are driving the highest quit rates, and people are flat out leaving the workforce. Not to mention, the state of the world is on the edge as we deal with crisis after crisis.
But while these challenges exist, I’m inspired and motivated by the conversations I’ve had and the research I’ve done to find solutions to these problems. For now, jobs and careers are some of the best ways to unlock wealth, prosperity and meaning, and until we all win the lottery it’s what we got.
But I strongly believe there has to be a better way to work. While I’m still figuring out exactly what this is, I’ve come up with a framework, which for now, I’ll call the “Better Ways of Working (BWOW) to take a stab at what I’ve learned and what I’ve discovered through these conversations.
Introducing the BWOW Framework
Better Ways of Working consist of work that optimizes for the following characteristics
People invest a significant portion of their week and life in their work, therefore, an underlying principle of a BWOW is work that is impactful, for the company and impactful for the employee.
For the employee, it means finding work that they can connect to, whether it’s deriving their right level of meaning, or feeling a sense of purpose, but impactful in the sense that what they do actually impacts the business or the customer. For the employer, it means that outcomes and impact are what are optimized for, versus inputs, time spent, facetime, or other metrics.
In their book the 100-year life, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott explore what happens to our work and careers when we live to 100, and the implications for individuals and companies. If that does become a reality (or a fraction of it) the way we are today with trends on absenteeism, burnout and mental health do not bode well for working for a long time.
If we aren’t in a place where we mentally and physically are able to do our best work, individuals and society are in trouble.
Work needs to be sustainable, in the sense that part of working hard is taking breaks, resting, and managing ourselves so we can continue to work. Just like the best athletes in the world train incredibly hard and work very hard and rest to stay at their peak level, so should employees. Better ways of working design for that, and empower people to perform at their best and ensure they have what it takes to do that over the long term.
As human beings, part of our DNA is to connect and be social with others, and that is true for why we work. Consider the following:
More than 3 in 5 employees with high social connectivity report being highly engaged, whereas just over 1 in 10 employees with low social connectivity consider themselves highly engaged at work.
Employees who have strong social bonds with their coworkers are more motivated to perform.
Individuals who report having a best friend at work are 7x more likely to exhibit better engagement, customer relations, work quality, and wellbeing, as well as a lower risk of injury.
62% of adults in the workforce consider themselves lonely
Work allows us to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and to feel connected with others, which is part of how we are wired as human beings.
For Better Ways of Working allow for connection between human beings, to get work done, but also, to relate to and socially engage with one another. For some, this may be fellow teammates and colleagues. But for others, it could mean other people in your industry, people local to where you work, etc.
Collaborative work has risen significantly (more than 50%) in the last decade, as the world of work has become more complex and specialized, meaning that we’re more and more reliant on cross-functional teams and collaboration to get work done. Better Ways of Working design for collaborative work between human beings, as well as the individual and focused work that is needed to supplant this.
Technology plays an important role in this, and in fact, I’m fairly confident that we’d all be a much worse place during the past two years without all of the collaboration technologies that allowed us to work. But technology alone is not the answer. We need to teach people how to collaborate well, how to design work for collaboration, and what to do in order to show up to be able to collaborate well in different ways.
Who we are today isn’t the same as who we were 10 years ago. Furthermore, the ways in which we work today aren't going to always be the same moving forward. Better ways of working allow for us to be a continuous work in progress, allowing us to be open to learning, trying new ideas, and having an openness towards new ideas for working.
Better Ways of Working are designed to be human. In a world of constant change and the growing use of technology in the workplace, being able to work in ways that are designed for humans will allow us to flourish, deffiernate and make an impact. What this means today, is that we as employees need to look for opportunities to use our innate human skills to drive impact, and for companies and leaders to design work and environments where people can use their uniquely human skills.
What do we need to make better ways of working happen?
In short, a lot! But here’s a start, thinking about this at three levels, of company, leaders/managers, and employees
Company Level - Defined and Aligned Cultures
There are a lot of toxic cultures out there and it’s one of the biggest reasons why people are quitting or looking for new jobs during the Great Reimagination. And some of them are going to take a long time to fix.
But while removing the consideration that culture is subjective, a good way to start is to start defining who you are and what you stand for, and then ensuring what you reward, how you measure success, and what you communicate outward is aligned to it.
McKinsey’s research shows that companies who failed to communicate their culture and purpose actually were seen in a positive light than companies who did define their culture and purpose but who were not perceived to be in alignment with it. Many companies get into problems when their actions don’t align with who they say they are.
In addition to actually working on a diverse and inclusive culture that promotes psychological safety and trust, companies must define and align their cultures to ensure that they get the right set of people who want to show up and do work in that specific environment.
Leaders and Manager Level - Trained and Empowered Managers
According to Gallup, 50% of Americans have left a job to get away from a manager. Furthermore, according to Gallup, Managers account for “70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units”. Finally, only 41% of managers according to a West Monroe Study actually got formal training on becoming a manager.
I can promise you that nobody sets out to become a bad manager, but between the fact that many of the skills that make you an exceptional Individual Contribute run counterintuitive to becoming a people manager and the fact that many managers don’t get trained, one obstacle to better ways of working is in having managers who are trained and empowered to do the right job of effective people management.
While simply putting your managers through a one-time manager training isn’t going to solve a problem, creating a workplace where you’re teaching people how to effectively and consistently provide feedback, how to intentionally and safely have difficult conversations, teaching the fundamentals of coaching, and how to encourage and support employees will create more chances for people to do better work, and also help you attract better talent that want better ways to work.
Employee Level - Proactive and Purposeful Working
Every employee has the chance to look for and seek out better ways of working on their own. While you cannot predict the future of your job or your career, when you proactively and intentionally look for and seek better ways to work (like work that looks like the qualities demonstrated above) you set yourself up for finding work that works for you. This requires a mindset around managing your career, along with continuous development and monitoring, to ensure you’re finding the work that you want, and that works for your goals.
To be sure, within a specific company, an employee can only do so much on their own to manage things like a toxic culture, difficult workplace, or challenging manager - and providing employees with tools is only part of the solution and not the entire solution.
But for the employees who want to evolve their career and continuously find opportunities to find better ways of work, working proactively and on purpose and using a mindset for managing better work and better careers will help them create better ways of working in their existing role or job, or if they need to, find new better ways to work
I am paraphrasing here, but Brene Brown once said that we often think of human beings as rational beings that sometimes show emotion, but in reality, we are emotional beings that sometimes act rational.
At the core of Better Ways of Working, are the acknowledgement of the power and potential of human beings, and the commitment to creating workplaces that allow for that to contribute to something bigger than themselves that rewards individuals and the company.
My questions for you that I would love your feedback on:
What would better ways of working look like for you?
What is one change you’d like to make, to work in a better way?
Who is someone you know, who is finding a better way to work, or creating space for their people to work in better ways?
Thanks for these insights! I really appreciated hearing your perspective.