Leaders that demonstrate soft or ‘power’ skills, and embrace the use of collaborative technology, engender greater connection to a company, according to a study by Slack.
The impact of the pandemic, the uncertain economic environment, and the burnout experienced by over half of Indian knowledge workers in the last year, have irrevocably changed what employees want from their leaders, according to new Slack research.
The study, Leadership and the war for talent, based on a survey of over 2,000 Indian knowledge workers, found that stability, salary and having a good manager are the top three factors for Indian knowledge workers when it comes to choosing the company they work for.
Survey respondents also identified teamwork and collaboration as key to driving organisational success, over financial success, with transparent and trustworthy leadership, flexible work and employee wellbeing also essential ingredients. When it comes to flexible working, over three quarters of Indian knowledge workers want to be trusted to do their job regardless of location or the hours worked. A very high proportion of Indian knowledge workers (81%) also say they want more meaning from their job, or to feel like they’re having an impact.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents are considering moving jobs in the next year; a number that rises to 84% when Indian workers reported feeling their leaders communicated poorly, while 5% admitted to ‘quiet quitting’ - fulfilling the requirements of their job but not going above and beyond. Given these findings, it’s critical for leaders to act to ensure their own leadership style isn’t having a negative impact on the engagement and motivation of their employees. This means focusing more on soft or ‘power’ skills - human-centred, interpersonal skills related to areas such as collaboration, social and emotional intelligence; analysing the time employees are spending on unproductive tasks; exploring ways to elevate productivity with collaborative technology; and figuring out how to meet the varying expectations of employees from different generations, who prefer to work in different ways.
Rahul Sharma, Country Manager, India, Slack said, “The last two years have litmus tested many aspects of workplace resilience, and an organisation’s ability to remain productive, and attract and retain talent. Organisations are looking for ways to minimise exposure to some of the more disruptive trends that have come off the upheaval of the last couple of years - such as employees quiet quitting or even being impacted by the broader ‘Great Resignation’. It’s a challenge that requires having the right digital infrastructure in place to remain productive and efficient, while also delivering a great employee experience. A digital HQ brings an entire organisation together to communicate, collaborate and solve problems, and it is also integral to employee engagement. Leaders must be finely attuned to their soft skills, which this study has revealed are now valued as highly by employees as salary, and how those skills are showing up in the organisation’s approach to flexibility, stability, wellbeing and culture.”
Poor leadership leads to burnout, quiet quitting
The research draws a clear link between poor leadership and a dip in employee morale and productivity. The study found that only half of Indian knowledge workers viewed their leaders as competent, consistent and inspiring, and a further third deemed their leaders to be stuck in their ways. Worryingly, only half of respondents feel their leader is concerned for their psychological safety.
A particular area of note was around leadership communication. Almost a quarter of knowledge workers who said their leaders do not communicate well reported being dissatisfied with their jobs - four times the rate of knowledge workers who said their leaders are good at communicating. These respondents are more likely to feel burned out, with 71% reporting feeling overwhelmed in the past 12 months, compared to 53% of workers who are positive about their leaders’ communication.
There was also a correlation with employee motivation and poor leadership communication, with 16% of Indian knowledge workers ‘quiet quitting’ - more than three times the overall proportion of workers who have ‘quiet quit’, and four times the rate of workers who say leaders communicate well.
Collaborative technology as potential ‘power tools’ for boosting leadership
The Slack study showed a strong correlation between those that hold their leaders in high regard and those whose leaders embrace the use of collaborative technology. Interestingly, these respondents were also identified as being highly connected to their organisations. Interestingly, those who deemed their leaders as technology laggards in this area are more likely to quit their job.
Over four-fifths of respondents saw collaborative technology as enabling them to be productive and freeing up time by helping to automate work. Other key benefits that respondents attribute to collaborative technology are that it improves communication with leadership, boosts decision making, enhances the customer experience, helps get information to the right people quickly and speeds up the implementation of projects.
The real reason Indian knowledge workers don’t have enough hours in the day
Looking at the amount of non-productive time that Indian knowledge workers say they are spending on routine and often mundane tasks, it is clear to see the potential impact that collaborative technology can have on organisational success.
For example, nearly two in five respondents feel that internal processes take up too much of their day, with over a quarter spending over an hour a day on these types of tasks. A similar number find that communicating across the company, within big teams and across time zones is slow due to delayed responses.
Mind the generation gap
The survey shows significant generational differences in employees in India in terms of what they expect from their leaders, making it clear that people management is not a one-size-fits-all.
- Gen Z are the most concerned with wellbeing, having a highly social culture and a desire for empathetic leaders. While they are more likely to be inspired by leadership, they are the most likely to switch jobs.
- Millennials also want a focus on wellbeing, transparent and trustworthy leadership, and a great employee experience. They are the most likely to feel a disconnect between leaders and employees, and have the highest levels of job dissatisfaction. This group leans in most to the use of collaboration tools.
- Gen X place the greatest importance on flexibility, and transparent and trustworthy leadership, and are the least concerned with wellbeing. They want their employers to have a consistent purpose, supported by robust processes. They are the least interested in technology and innovation.
- Baby Boomers are middle of the road on most things, but are particularly favourable towards robust processes, clear KPIs, accountability frameworks and having a clear level of autonomy in their work.
Cooling down the burnout
The research also showed some clear differentiation between what Indian knowledge workers in different industries are feeling and looking for:
- IT & Tech: Respondents from the Tech sector gave the highest scores to their managers for being competent and communicating well. Subsequently, close to three-quarters of workers (72%) in the sector say they are happy to go “above and beyond” for their employer, a bigger proportion than any other industry. However, knowledge workers in this area are the most likely of any industry to state that it takes them too long to find information internally, and that communication across the company between big teams and across time zones causes delays in response times.
- Financial Services: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the share of India’s banking and finance workers who rate a business’ financial success as important (52%) is higher than any other industry in the survey. A high proportion (79%) of workers in banking and finance say they have a great deal of autonomy in their work, and they also give their employers better marks than other industries for having a good social culture. A high proportion of leaders in the sector communicate well, according to their employees (93%). Generally, though, knowledge workers from this industry are the most likely to say that communication is siloed between teams, leading to them often not knowing what is going on
- Retail: 69% of retail workers say they’re likely to be looking for a new job next year, putting them among India’s most likely new job hunters in 2023. A very high proportion of retail workers (92%) say communication from leadership is transparent, an important result given teamwork and trustworthy leadership both outweigh financial results in terms of what retail workers perceive makes a business successful. An even higher proportion of retail workers (94%) say they love it when new collaboration tools are introduced, equal highest of any industry. However, more than half (54%) say that email is still their primary means of communicating with customers. It is perhaps unsurprising then that knowledge workers in this industry find communicating with customers and partners takes up too much of their time, and that their day is primarily spent on 30 or 60 minute conference calls with not a lot of time left for work.
- Government: Civil servants and government workers in India are more likely than most to have felt burned out in the past year, with 58% saying they’ve felt overloaded. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that 13% of government workers say they have ‘quiet quit’ in the same period - a rate double that of most other sectors in India. The government sector also ranked last in the survey on the question of whether leaders communicate well. 9 out of 10 government workers say they love it when new collaboration tools are introduced, yet only 29% of workers say these tools improve communication with leadership - the lowest proportion of any industry surveyed by some margin. Government sector leaders seem to have a way to go in their adoption of collaborative technology for communication, with only half of respondents saying their employers lead by example on the use of tech, again the lowest proportion of any industry in the study.
A new perspective on the office
While 54% of Indian employees across industries prefer working entirely on-site, when asked about the impact of working from home, 83% of employees in the Government & Defence sector expressed that they have much more of a voice when working from home. More than three-fourths of the employees in the BFSI sector along with the IT & Communications sector also feel that they have much more of a voice working from home.
While employees are increasingly working from home, the office environment is still valued, the Slack study found. When asked what respondents felt the office was best suited for, Indian knowledge workers cited social connection, team building, customer meetings, development conversations, and focus time and deep work. Activities like progress updates, company town halls, learning programmes and knowledge sharing sessions were perceived as less critical to be held in an office. This suggests that a lot of time can be potentially saved by conducting these activities virtually using collaborative technology.
Slack’s new research, conducted by Honeycomb Strategy, was based on responses from 2,000 Indian knowledge workers within organisations of 100+ employees. You can view the full report here: Leadership and the war for talent.
This is the second iteration of this research with The Reinvention of Work study, carried out in October 2021. A similar piece of Slack research, the Slack State of Work report, a global survey including 2,000 Indian knowledge workers, was carried out by GlobalWebIndex in March 2020, prior to the pandemic.
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