Learning & Development

Striking the Right Balance: Moving Beyond ‘Hardcore’ Work Culture to Empower and Engage Employees

In a world of ever-evolving workplaces, one term that’s resurfaced and made waves recently is the so-called ‘hardcore’ work culture. Discussions revolve around whether it drives employee productivity and engagement or ends up causing more harm than good. There are advocates and detractors. Finding the right balance between productive work environments that drive business success and nurturing cultures that support employee well-being is paramount for long-term success.

So, what exactly is this ‘hardcore’ work culture we keep hearing about? Picture long hours, micromanagement, and little room for flexibility. It’s a cocktail stirred by factors such as employee shortages, inexperienced managers, and a lack of insights into the workforce. Recent headlines about companies like Snap and Wayfair and their intense work environments have spotlighted the potential pitfalls of this approach. Those pitfalls are not unique to those companies; it’s a broader trend.

Our Q4 2023 Workplace Trends Report revealed that one-third of US workers plan to change jobs this year, with respondents citing poor workplace culture, lack of career growth opportunities, and unproductive manager relationships as critical drivers for looking elsewhere. On a broader note, Gallup has already documented the negative impact of sustained longer hours at work, which it estimates costs companies US$322 billion globally with higher turnover and diminished output. So, what does move the needle in improving productivity and engagement?

Better Goal Setting on an Individual and Organizational Level

One of the fundamental aspects of employee enablement and empowerment is fostering engagement. Tracking personal, department, and organizational goals and KPIs can drive a motivated workforce. According to Leapsome’s Workplace Trends Report, 85% of employees feel they understand the company’s direction and their role in it, but HR leaders estimate only 61% have this understanding. Despite feeling aligned with business goals, only one-third of employees are happy with their company’s goal setting and KPI measurement, meaning there is still significant room for improvement when measuring productivity effectively. Managers play a crucial role in this equation, empowering, guiding, and evaluating employees through regular 1:1 meetings. Our data highlights the strong desire for more manager feedback, recognition, and frequent performance reviews among employees, with 79% of employees saying receiving constructive feedback makes them more productive. Striking the right balance between employee expectations and company practices is the challenge all business leaders face and must take seriously.

Balancing Act: A Middle Way

While some argue that ‘hard work’ is essential for success, others emphasize the importance of a healthier workforce for greater, more sustainable productivity. We must reject extremes as we navigate the delicate tightrope between a ‘hardcore’ work culture and a more balanced approach. Neither a culture of relentless intensity nor an excessively relaxed work environment optimizes productivity and employee satisfaction. Facing challenges, being pushed out of your comfort zone, and working towards a stretch goal are essential to fulfilling work. Equally, psychological safety, manager support, and bringing your whole self to work are necessary for belonging and working productively towards a shared vision. The middle ground is where the magic happens, where employees feel empowered, engaged, and valued.

This middle ground is where people enablement comes into play. This multifaceted approach emphasizes organizational alignment, working environment, and individual support. HR leaders can work with managers to champion these pillars to create a healthy, productive, resilient workplace culture.

So, how can organizations transition to this middle ground successfully? Supporting employee development through better manager enablement is critical. HR leaders must equip managers with the tools and skills to foster stronger connections and better understand and support their teams. Managers are the connector between defining strategy and successful execution. Any initiatives an organization wants to undertake rely on managers to be successful since they are the ones helping set goals for their teams, track progress, and provide continuous feedback to ensure everyone is on the right track and working effectively.   

A Productive and Healthy Workforce

In conclusion, a ‘hardcore’ work culture may yield short-term gains but often at the expense of employee well-being and long-term organizational success. The key to sustainable growth is to balance employee enablement, engagement, and empowerment with accountability, opportunities for ownership, and a robust career development path.

Many more organizations are shifting away from the ‘hardcore’ work culture. For instance, among those whose mental health improved over the past year, 96% reported having a good work-life balance, and 94% described the feedback culture at their company as good. This correlation emphasizes the importance of addressing these issues to retain talent and foster a healthier workplace culture.

As we step into 2024, organizations must embrace a middle way—a culture that values both productivity and the well-being of its workforce since research has shown time and again that the two are interlinked. Improving workplace culture, promoting work-life balance, and empowering managers are all crucial steps toward retaining people and building a resilient and successful organization. The path forward is clear: create an environment where employees are valuable assets and engaged and empowered partners in the journey to success.

Jenny von Podewils is co-CEO of Leapsome. Leapsome is the all-in-one, intelligent people enablement platform trusted by CEOs and HR teams at more than 1,500 forward-thinking companies, such as Spotify, monday.com, and Unity, to drive employee development, productivity, and engagement. The platform offers an integrated suite of tools for Goal Setting & OKRs, Performance Reviews and 360s, Competency Frameworks, Learning & Onboarding, Engagement Surveys, Feedback & Praise, Compensation & Promotions, and Meeting Management. Leapsome was founded in 2016 by Kajetan Armansperg and Jenny Podewils. Visit www.leapsome.com to learn more.

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