Early Warning Systems
The National Weather Service tracks indicators of hurricanes, tornadoes, major storm systems, and other weather-related events using an intricate process that assesses meteorologic conditions and storm progression. Radar images, alive with motion, show developments in vibrant color, informing and encouraging the populace to prepare.
Early Warning Systems are critical to providing people with the lead time to safeguard their homes and businesses against potential damage. As situations progress to imminent danger, Emergency Warning Alert signals are broadcast through television, wireless, and weather apps in the affected areas, warning people to take cover and get to safety immediately.
The global pandemic has created conditions in several sectors that coalesce into an early warning system related to labor. Members of the medical profession have been on the front lines of this crisis since its inception and the toll is well past the early warning stage. Medical workers report burnout and many are leaving the profession entirely. So much so, that it is fair to say the medical labor situation is in a full-blown emergency. It wasn’t hard to see this one coming, but the solutions are much more complex.
Another sector in distress is the tech industry, where workers report chronic burnout, limited career progression, and unrealistic demands. According to research by TalentLMS and Workable, nearly three-quarters of tech and IT workers surveyed report that they intend to quit within the year. IT workers keep all the systems of our world functioning, and they were then tasked with immediately transforming physical workplaces into remote work without the lead time they needed, and they did it beautifully. So much so that we failed to recognize the toll it was taking.
We called them heroes – these people who worked beyond their capacity for months on end with no relief in sight. The flip side of ‘hero’ is a human whose life is out of balance, who is forgoing personal care and investment in relationships. The novelty of heroism has worn off. It doesn’t compensate for exhaustion, personal sacrifice, and frankly, lack of compensation for the extraordinary effort.
Small Signs of Big Trouble
In the multifamily space, we need to consider our early warning systems when it comes to team member burnout. Manager relationships, smart listening, and intentional connectivity are some internal tools to detect early signs of disengagement. The manager/team member relationship is of prime importance to employee engagement, but it only works when the manager is fully aligned with the cultural values of the organization. Every leader needs to have their ears attuned to any small comment that could indicate a bigger problem. Remarks that reveal dissatisfaction can masquerade as sarcasm, or complaints about extreme ‘busyness’, or even dark humor. Those types of comments should tickle the ear of the listener and encourage a quick check-in – something like, “Hey, sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate. I want to check in with you. What can I do to relieve the pressure and help you get your balance back?” Those soft small check-ins are a huge tool in the effort to create harmony between stated core values and the team member’s experience of your company culture.
One of our Collective Conversations featured Jen Piccotti with Swift Bunny, a company that offers feedback, insights, and actionable plans that serve as an early warning system for employee satisfaction. The Swift Bunny system gives a line of sight into team member engagement and provides leading indicators of potential turnover risks. Retaining talent has always been a priority, but in a tight labor market, it is all too easy to shift attention towards attracting and hiring new people to fill vacant seats. Existing team members need and deserve recognition, support, and appropriate compensation. Neglecting your current team is a sure path to more employee turnover.
Many companies employ an Exit Interview process to help them learn from soon-to-be-former employees. A far more innovative and useful early warning system is the Stay Interview. The stay interview is a periodically scheduled conversation between a manager and a team member designed to learn the drivers that keep an employee on board and to suss out opportunities for company improvement. Consider the stay interview as a performance review for the company, not the employee. What should we keep doing? Stop doing? Do better?
Stay interviews work best in companies that value trust and candor, and where the stay interview is a safe space to speak honestly without fear of negative consequences. Managers should come prepared to ask meaningful questions, seeking to build trust with and accept constructive feedback from the team member.
There are some indicators of late-stage disengagement. When an otherwise communicative team member goes silent. Or when a regular PTO pattern changes abruptly. By then it may be too late. Once an employee decides to interview with other companies, you’ve lost them. While you can try your best to overturn that decision or offer incentives to stay, the immediate-, mid-, and long-term success rate for that hail Mary play is low.
What are your early warning systems when it comes to talent?
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