Episode 21 – ignite commitment and retain talent with “employalty” – with Joe Mull
Joe Mull is the author of 3 books including “No More Team Drama” and “Employalty: How to Ignite Commitment and Keep Top Talent in the New Age of Work”. He is the founder of the BossBetter Leadership Academy and hosts the popular “Boss Better Now” podcast, which was recently named by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as a “can’t miss show for leaders”.
Joe has taught leadership courses at two major universities and previously managed training at one of the largest healthcare systems in the U.S. Joe has appeared as an expert in multiple media outlets including Forbes, the International Business Times, on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and on Good Morning America. As you listen to Joe, you’ll find it no surprise that he is an in-demand speaker.
Joe dropped by to share his wisdom about encouraging employee commitment. There is much tension between leaders and employees and Joe gives practical suggestions about what leaders can do to make their companies “destination organizations”. We also explore the Employalty Scorecard and its critical ingredients for maximum engagement. I was specifically interested in the importance of flexibility as it relates to a job being an ideal fit. He paints a frank picture of the current world of work and the opportunities we must reach for.
00:04:00 The meaning of Employalty
00:04:39 Where does commitment come from?
00:07:45 Upgrades to quality of life
00:11:35 Commitment and retention appear when...
00:12:10 The Employalty Framework
00:13:41 Leadership resistance to flexibility
00:15:42 Leadership lack of trust
00:17:40 Not being treated as a human being with integrity
00:19:20 Percentage of rare bad apples
00:21:00 Trust first
00:22:48 The dehumanization of workers and suffering at work
00:25:56 Journey to advocacy
00:28:37 What do employees need to take responsibility for?
00:32:00 The importance of and lack of connection at work
00:38:40 What's happening with DEI initiatives?
00:43:32 Busting myths: No one wants to work anymore
IMAGE CREDITS (see images on Youtube video)
Family - credit Envato Elements
Fit person - credit Envato Elements
Tired person - Envato Elements
Japanese commuter train - credit Envato Elements
The Employalty Scorecard - credit Joe Mull
Folding laundry - credit Envato Elements
#workplacemyopia - credit Clare Kumar
Airport security and fluids - credit Envato Elements
Senior grocery store clerk - credit Envato Elements
Unhappy worker stuck in char - credit Envato Elements
Theo and Elliot - sleeping in various places, playing - credit Clare Kumar
#youcantunsee - credit Clare Kumar
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Highly sensitive executive coach and productivity catalyst, Clare Kumar, explores the intersection of productivity and inclusivity continually asking how can we invite the richest contribution from all. She coaches individuals in sidestepping burnout and cultivating sustainable performance, and inspires leaders to design inclusive performance thereby inviting teams to reach their full potential. As a speaker, Clare mic-drops “thought balms” in keynotes and workshops, whether virtual or in-person. She invites connection through her online community committed to designing sustainable and inclusive performance, the Happy Space Pod. Why? Because everyone deserves a Happy Space.
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Audio and Video Editing by: To Be Reel
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Joe Mull: You have to come to believe that underpaying people, overworking people, giving them no flexibility, creating an environment where they don't experience belonging. Working for a toxic boss, you have to believe that these things are a violation, that they have no place, that they are wrong in a way that violates our own humanity.
Clare Kumar: You're listening to episode 21 of the Happy Space Podcast, and today we're exploring how to ignite commitment and retain talent with speaker and author, Joe Mull.
Welcome to the Happy Space Podcast where we talk about designing inclusive performance through the lens of a highly sensitive productivity catalyst. Uh, that's me! Executive coach, speaker, and brand collaborator, Clare Kumar. Join conversations with authors, culture shapers, space designers, and creators of products, services, and customer experience as we highlight astonishing contributions, tempting a more tender world. We know that diversity leads to richer results. So let's accept that productivity is personal and commit to designing with respect for humanity. I aim to leave you with ideas to better support your family, colleagues, customers, community, and not least of all, yourself, for everyone, including you, deserves a Happy Space.
You know, I was impressed by Joe Mull the very first time we met. It was at a speaking community event a few years ago, and ever since I followed not only his professional journey, but also what's going on personally, and I was so excited when I learned he had been starting to work on a new book and when it came out, it was coming out, just being launched now, I was very excited to have Joe spend some time with me in conversation. He's somebody who advocates for humanity. And while he's exploring this essential ingredient of commitment, employee commitment in the workplace. And so he's got an approach and a very thought-through framework to really deliver that. It's so exciting. His new book is called “Employalty: How to ignite commitment and keep top talent in the new Age of work.”
It's really a book for our times and for leaders who are bravely willing to really look at what they need to do. Joe also hosts the Popular Boss Better Now Podcast. I love that name Boss Better Now it was recently named by SHRM, S h r m. That's the in the us the HR Association. A can't miss show for leaders along with podcasts from Brene Brown and Harvard Business Review. It's that good. We talked about the desire for trust and control that leaders experience, about the prevalence of making decisions around their rare bad apple. And we even talk about how rare that is, and we dig into the ingredients required for employee commitment. So Joel will bring to life the framework that he's designed. I really hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did, and if you can think of a leader who will benefit from the reflection that Joe invites that's stepping into curiosity and courage, then please share this interview. Enjoy.
So, Joe Mull, I am so thrilled that you're joining us today, author of “Employalty” and I love smushed words. I want to start by asking you, what gave you the impetus to create this book and to smush the words together?
Joe Mull: Yeah, so there's two great stories behind this, and the first is I've spent 20 years teaching leaders how to be better bosses and cultivate commitment in the workplace. And almost two years ago now, about a year and a half ago, I was on a podcast just like this, being interviewed by the host, and we had this really rich 30-minute conversation about where commitment comes from at work. And we got into so many different ideas and angles, and at the very end of the show, He said, “okay, Joe, let's put a bow on this and let's get you outta here on this in one sentence. Wrap it up. Wrap it up for us. Where does commitment come from at work?” And I went, “no, I don't think I can give it to you in one sentence.
As we just talked about, there are so many things we have to get right.” And then I just kind of rambled, recapping that whole conversation we just had. And as I thought about that afterwards, I thought, “you know, we don't serve leaders and business owners well if we're not able to give them a one-sentence answer to that question.” And so I decided that that was really the next thing in all the work that I've been doing for these past few years was what is the simple, clear framework that engineers commitment at work, that attracts people to an organization and leaves them to join and stay and care and try. And so I ended up marrying together the work I've done for a lot of years with what's happening in the job market right now in the aftermath of the pandemic, and I needed a word to capture this whole framework that we ended up building around that one-sentence answer. And I came up with Employalty. You know, you think it means employee loyalty, but it's actually a portmanteau of employer loyalty and humanity. We know that when employers make a commitment to creating a more humane employee experience that actually activates commitment at work for people.
Clare Kumar: I love that you said that because how are you going to inspire employee loyalty? They've got to feel that you're caring long-term. I think I think of back in Japan, how before things shifted in about 1990, you were hired with the company, you stayed with the company, and the company was loyal to you. Is that kind of what you're getting at here?
Joe Mull: Well, yes and no. I think that for so long there's been an expectation of a, of a kind of a transactional relationship that employers expect to be more transformational, right? The expectation is that in exchange for employment, which I give you as a worker, you're going to give me back loyalty, dedication, effort, but if you've been employing people for more than 10 minutes, you know, that's not really how it goes. There's some things we need to get right as employers, as leaders, if we really want people to be emotionally and psychologically committed to what we're asking them to do.
And right now what's happening is a massive recalibration of how work fits into people's lives, right? And after years of people being overworked and underpaid, that were followed by a global pandemic that created a kind of values reshuffling for people. A lot of folks look around and say, “I don't like the role and the space that my work is taking up in my life. It's not allowing me to be with my family. It's not allowing me to be at my best, to be healthy. I'm overworked, I'm underpaid. I'm exhausted all the time. Something has to give.” And so all of these things sort of have baked into the pie at this moment. To create a demand for a more humane employee experience.
What people are pursuing right now are upgrades to quality of life. If you think about everybody that you've talked to who has changed jobs in the past two years, and you ask them, Why'd you switch? You get a whole bunch of answers, Clare, you get, I need better pay. I want more fulfilling work. I want a better commute, a less toxic team, a better boss I want a better career path. I would argue that all of those answers roll up to one bigger idea, which is that I am looking for an upgrade to my quality of life.
Clare Kumar: Yeah, I talk about that a lot actually. You're bang on. I think we continually try and better our situation. Whether it be financially or the conditions. I remember when I lived in Tokyo, I've trailed my then-husband out there and he was a controller in an organization and I was like, “oh, what am I going to do?” Tried teaching some English classes and realized I was doing more harm than good. But what I, what I noticed in that was I, I would watch other foreigners there teaching classes. And they would have a roster of clients. They would have to travel an hour and a half east, and then the next day they would be traveling an hour and a half west, and then a 45-minute commute. Just all jumbled and very energy-consuming.
And as they stayed there, they got a client closer to where they lived. So it wasn't always about money, it was around the conditions or what I call the construct of work, right? And yeah, so I think, I think it's human nature and I remember I was asked in an interview once, Well, you know, I was talking about how to be… the point I was making about bettering being appealing to someone who was in a lower paying job, and I said, it's kind of universal. We're always just trying to get a little bit better. So I love that you're noticing that and that's exactly, exactly what I think that's happened, and especially in the last little while, I call it workplace myopia, where work continued to dominate and take more of people's lives and erode their personal lives. Everyone got to have a little pause and get back in touch with what gave them value and the richness and fulfillment and life more broadly. So in your framework, which I love, so it's not a one-sentence answer now it's, here's a, here's a, here's a framework and here's a book.
Joe Mull: It did evolve. Yes. There is still one sentence though in terms of where commitment comes from at work. So we analyzed more than 200 research studies and articles on why people quit or take a new job or stay long-term with an organization in a post-covid world. And we kept coming back to three giant factors. So I'm going to give you, if I was going to be able to go back in time onto that podcast, and that gentleman asked me, “All right, Joe, in one sentence, where does commitment come from at work? Here's what I would say.” Commitment and retention appear when employees are in their ideal job doing meaningful work for a great boss. And now, these are the three factors. These are the three areas of the employee experience where if I'm an employer and I am winning in these three areas, I am not struggling to attract and retain people.
And I have people on my team who are highly engaged and committed. And each of these, we call it a framework now because each of these three ideas has dimensions to it, right? So ideal job is about compensation, flexibility, and workload. When my compensation, my workload, and a certain amount of flexibility are right in my job. That's my ideal job. It fits into my life like a puzzle piece, snapping into place. That second factor is meaningful work, which comes from purpose, strengths, and belonging. When I believe my work matters, when it aligns with my gifts, and when I'm a part of a team that I'm accepted and celebrated on, that work is meaningful. And then the third factor is great boss. And while there's dozens of things that leaders have to get right in order for someone to call them a great boss, we think the most important are trust, coaching and advocacy. So that's the framework, Clare. That's the sort of Venn diagram of putting it all together to actually create commitment. And that's how you create a destination workplace.
Clare Kumar: I love it. So just unpacking that ideal job, meaningful work, great boss. What I was listening for and I'm glad was in there. Was the point about flexibility. Because this whole construct of making what's an ideal job, it's not just the task that's this whole construct or architecture around work. And it's, I couldn't achieve that in my corporate experience in the last role. I did not, and was not able to lobby for design petition. Like I was not able to secure the flexibility that I need. And that was the cue for my eventual departure from that work. And, I'm curious if we could dig into that aspect a little bit from your perspective. Is from a leadership perspective, I'm talking a lot about designing inclusive performance. What are you noticing in terms of the appetite for flexibility from a leadership perspective?
Joe Mull: There's still a lot of resistance to it because a lot of leaders haven't figured out how to do it yet, and a lot of leaders and business owners relegate the concept of flexibility to simply be about working from home. So flexibility is the number one most requested workplace benefit in the world according to SHRM, right? The society, yeah. For human resource management and. What we have to help leaders and business owners understand is that working from home is just one kind of flexibility. Work flexibility really is a quest for more influence or autonomy around when, where and how I work. And so when I speak at conferences, when I do workshops with organizations and we get into that flexibility dimension of employee, I ask people to start thinking about, where can you give some power back to people to make some choices around how and where and when they work? So maybe that's not working from home. There are some jobs where working from home just is impossible, like flight attendant. Right.
You know, there are just some things that you've got to be on-site, but maybe I have some autonomy and some influence around when I work, or for how long I work or where I work or who I work with, or the kind of work that I do, or the cadence of the schedule that I take on or the particular days of the week where I do certain kinds of work. And this is not something where you have to completely turn over control of your operations to the whims of people. It's just inviting them to be a part of a conversation about, “Hey, if you could change something about when, where, and how you work, what would that be?” And if we can give that to you, we actually start to ignite some more commitment and some more loyalty.
Clare Kumar: A hundred percent. So that speaks to that coaching mindset, that curiosity, which has to be part of leadership. But you mentioned turnover control in that last description. And I read a lot of articles that say it's leadership, it's a trust issue. It's a need for control, it's a lack of trust. Is that what you say would be fueling the resistance here or what, what else do you think is behind it? If it's not just that?
Joe Mull: I do think that's a part of it. I'm reminded of a conversation I had. I was doing a keynote for a hospital organization in California last year, and I wrote about this in the book. I had an administrator come up to me afterwards and he said, “Here's the thing about remote work, man. Like I just, you can't see 'em. You don't know what they're doing. You don't know if they're double dipping. You don't know if they're getting away with murder, if they're just folding laundry. Like, I just can't get next to the idea.” And I said, “well, those aren't, those challenges have nothing to do with remote work. Those are issues of trust”. What we have experienced for the past couple of years, especially since the pandemic, is that leaders tend to design systems and make decisions based on the fear of the rare bad apple.
Rather than on assuming that most of my workforce are people with integrity, are people with scruples. And so then we impose these complex systems of… and when we think about remote work, for example, of monitoring. Some of the stuff that you hear about these days, watching people on cameras, counting keystrokes, touch bases online every hour. It's absurd. And when you create these systems that are designed to catch someone who's trying to get away with something, it sends a really powerful message to people, which is that we don't trust you. Yeah. And when you send that message to your people, it actually makes them less likely to care about the work and to give it all they've got, because now I'm being treated as untrustworthy. I'm not necessarily being treated as a human being with integrity. And so I do think that trust is a big part of the resistance.
Clare Kumar: I agree with you. It's bringing up a memory right now. I've signed up to take a training that I'm very excited to take, and I just received access to the course materials last night. Looked at them and balked at it because all the way through the training materials, imagine a page with lots of texts on it, some draw drawings and whatnot, and underneath all the way through in numerous lines on an angle. Proprietary trademark information and my email address all the way through in multiple lines. I, as a highly sensitive person, freaked out. I'm like, “I can't take this course if this is the way materials are”. And you've told me you don't trust me. You've told me, you've communicated not just, you know, with a copyright notice, which should suffice, and you have legal remedies. But this, obliteration of the contents. I was like, wow so I'm following up on that.
Joe Mull: And i think a lot of leaders end up, you know, the people in their charge, they're paying for the sins of the people who have come before. So if I'm a leader who has gotten burned, right? Where maybe I did have someone who acted unethically, then I am going to be much more likely to impose those kinds of systems. I'm going to be much more likely to watermark all of my training stuff. But at the same time, we have to not give that rare, bad apple, the power to change how we show up for everybody else who is there with the right intentions of the right ethics.
Clare Kumar: Well, I'm happy. Like, I think of the travel requirement to have a hundred-millilitre liquid, right? London Airport is finally allowing two litres now, and it's, the bad apple that in 2006 that came in and has really messed up a lot of people. I don't know how much stuff has been thrown out, but yeah, there were bad apples. Do you have any insight as to what that number is or a percentage? Because I've had a leader recently, C-Suite leader tell me, “you know, it's not 2%.” But they couldn't quantify it. And so this inability to assess the risk, I think is also part of this.
Joe Mull: So in terms of the rare bad apple, where my head goes first in terms of data is what we know about engagement in the workplace and much of the research says that somewhere between six and 16% of the workforce would be considered actively disengaged, right? This is where people are acting out their unhappiness at work. These are people who are toxic to the workplace. And when we look at organizations where you have someone who, you know, they pull the new hire aside and they say, let me tell you how things really work around here. You know, they're the person who's undermining. They're the person who is just, you know, going out of their way, maybe even to sabotage performance. And on the one hand, it sounds scary, maybe that isn't a rare bad apple, Joe. Maybe that's, you know, 16%. That's like one-sixth of my people have the potential to sit in that bucket.
But there's a chicken in the egg conversation here because when you create an environment where people experience trust, when you create an environment where people get their ideal job doing meaningful work for a great boss, you dramatically lower the chances that you're going to trigger active disengagement in a person. And so you've got to almost trust first in order to eventually get to a place where your organization cultivates that higher level of commitment and integrity among people.
Clare Kumar: So are you implying leaders need to be brave here?
Joe Mull: And they maybe need to have a little bit of faith in people and you know, are you going to get burned every once in a while? Yeah, probably. But you know, people generally do a great job when they believe they have a great job. People tend to treat their employers well when their employers treat them well. And if we can operate that from that basic system, if we can ask ourselves what would make this place the very best place to be a blank, you know, whoever it is you're employing, that actually starts you down the path of solving the right problems.
Clare Kumar: I love that. That's a beautiful line. People that do a great job, if they have a great job. Reminds me of my first big corporate job and my dad was ill, and he actually was fighting cancer and then fell out of remission. And I had a very emotional moment at work, and my boss at that time saw me very visibly upset, sat down beside me and said, “You know, Clare, you don't want to let this ruin your career.” When my dad died, I took three days off. And I was silent. Didn't know where to put that. My next boss was, and my dad, unfortunately, progressed to be in ICU and I needed some time, and he's like, “Clare, take whatever time you need.” Who do you think was modelling employalty in that moment? It's like, the trust was there. You can't work when you are, you know, 23 years old and you're about to lose your dad. That's barely possible, right?
Joe Mull: And you’re speaking to really what's a big part of the root cause of so much job switching in the past decade and a half, which is the dehumanization of workers. And there's a whole chapter in the book where we found all of this research around how the farther down the path you go of treating people like a commodity, and only interacting with them around the ways in which they function as a member of your organization. If we only interact with people around the tasks and duties of their jobs we've actually dehumanized them and we've created suffering at work that actually people are moving away from now.
So one of the arguments of creating an environment where people will be loyal and give it all they've got. Is creating that more humane employee experience. So I always use examples very much like in line with what you just described. When people experience personal tragedy or difficulty is the first conversation we have with them about the work. Because if that's the case, that's a problem. But even things Clare, like, you know, when we don't tell people what their schedule is next week until this week. That's inhumane. How am I supposed to live a life outside of work if I don't know when I need to be at work or jobs where people are required to stand the entire time or they are expected to ask to use the bathroom at certain times.
You know, I'm thinking of the older woman who works at a grocery store, right? I'm not going to stop buying cereal at your grocery store because the grandma checking out the groceries is sitting on a stool. It's absurd. And a lot of these cruelties are reserved for people at the bottom half of the socioeconomic ladder. You, you're not going to ask an accountant to ask for permission to go to the bathroom or tell them that they need to stand all day while doing their work. And so there are inhumanities that have become a part of the systems and the processes that we're used to at work that are actually driving people away from work.
Clare Kumar: A hundred percent. I said recently in a meeting that it's actually inhumane to expect someone to sit for eight hours a day, eight-plus hours a day. I'm thinking of all my accounting clients out there right now who are in busy season working six or more days a week, and most of them sitting in a chair for that entire time. It's not okay.
Joe Mull: And really having that core belief system is, is probably the most necessary ingredient of employalty, right? I can give you this scorecard. I can run down the three factors. Ideal job, meaningful work, great boss. We can look at the dimensions of all of those, and I can send you back to your organization and say, work hard to engineer these things. And you're going to find and keep devoted employees, but until you believe that the absence of those things is inhumane, change is not going to happen. You have to come to believe that underpaying people, overworking people, giving them no flexibility, creating an environment where they don't experience belonging, working for a toxic boss, you have to believe that these things are a violation, that they have no place, that they are wrong in a way that violates our own humanity. Only then does change start to happen.
Clare Kumar: Hundred percent. How did you come to be this advocate? I mean, I interviewed Tom Peters recently 45 years of advocating for this. I've been talking about things like this for 30 years now, more formally on stages like you, but what was your journey to come to this place advocating for humanity?
Joe Mull: I am a bit of an academic, I've always been fascinated by what makes people tick. I've always sort of nerded out a little bit around the social science research. Around, you know, intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation and what you know, and understanding that motivation isn't something you do to someone. It's something that they experience when the conditions are right. And when you actually spend time reading these really smart people who again and again have studied and worked to understand what activates people at work, what gets people to move from, I have to do this, to, I want to do this. You actually get a whole list of conditions and these are the things that we're talking about. And so yes, I am advocating on behalf of employees everywhere and talking about a more humane employee experience. It sounds squishy, right? It sounds soft. But an argument can be made that this is not an altruistic thing, this is a business imperative. There are capitalistic reasons to invest in a more humane employee experience. And so, I suppose, Clare, I came to it through the lens of what aren't leaders doing that I need to teach them based on the science.
Clare Kumar: Oh, this is why I love you, Joe. My degree is biology, so I come at it from the human physiology, human psychology piece of it too, sort of saying, how can you disrespect human animals? I mean, I learn a lot from my cats, right? I look at my cats, they have a mix of activities in one day. They do not sit in the same place for eight hours and then decide to move. I'm like, we're human animals. We need this kind of level of understanding and design for human experience. And I think it's twofold. I'm seeing an opportunity: Number one is leaders have to design for inclusivity and all the things you're talking about to build that engagement and loyalty.
Employees also have a responsibility to be self-aware and self-manage. If we have this top-down and bottom-up approach, if we can meet in the middle with all that goodness, we'll be unstoppable. But we have a lot of, we have a lot of people that are burning out because of hustle, culture and a feeling of compulsion to keep just serving and pleasing and, you know, deprioritizing self and not being in touch with, you know, how important sleep is, all of that kind of thing. What are you noticing that employees need to take responsibility for in this?
Joe Mull: You're catching me just a few days after I had to let somebody go. And so my answer to that question is really coloured through the lens of that experience. And I always joke that as someone who teaches leaders how to be better bosses, I can always count on the universe to send me a consistent and steady stream of experiences as a leader in my own business, that remind me of, you know, keeping my finger out the pulse of what people deal with every day. You know, I think employees have a responsibility to understand that. Businesses, organizations, do have a responsibility to their shareholders, to their stakeholders, and that some businesses, believe it or not, are in business to make money, and so there is a kind of meeting in the middle that often needs to happen when creating some of the conditions that we're talking about. Let's use remote work as an example because there's all this friction taking place right now. Between organizations who are mandating a full-time return to work and employees who are saying “No way, like, we've proven we don't, we, you know, we can do this in a different way. I'm not giving up all of the new benefits that I'm enjoying in my life because I don't have to commute or I get to work from home”, and let's be honest, there are absolutely a host of benefits that that organizations get when people gather.
They're related to innovation, to communication, to creativity, to camaraderie, and so it's completely reasonable that leaders want to make sure they're enjoying those benefits and engineer them for the organization. At the same time, employees who just push back and say, Nope, I will not go back to a full-time engagement are probably limiting their opportunities. So when I advise organizations on how to navigate some of this friction around remote work, truly, the hybrid model is the way to go. It's recognizing that we do need to gather from time to time. There are benefits to it, but also you know that that horse has left the barn. You cannot tell people that they can't work remotely anymore when you mandated that they do it and do it successfully in order to keep your company afloat. And now they can see the benefits from it. So there does need to be a willingness on the part of employees to, from time to time, and in certain places, find compromise.
Clare Kumar: Agreed. I have a hashtag I use sometimes #youcantunsee, right? You can't unsee the fullness of life as an employee. You can't see as a leader that your employees have proven this works. Right? So we can't deny that. I love the benefits you outlined in terms of coming to work, you know, creativity, and camaraderie in particular. One thing that I'm struggling with is I hear everybody talk about, well, almost everybody, days at work, and I wish there could be more nuanced. I wish there could be meetings or appointments at work. You're going in for specific things, which I hope have both content and collaboration and task focus. But this building of relationship, this camaraderie, if you will, and connection, that's so important. What are you sensing, what are you noticing around the intent to weave in connection into work experience? I'm hearing more about mandated days and people will figure it out per team, but I'm not hearing a lot about, oh, we're going to make sure everybody has, like Thursday has lunch today day, and everybody's coming in because we're going to have communal time together.
Joe Mull: Right. And I think the reason that we're probably not hearing about it is because people are drowning in work and we don't have time. Those things feel like a luxury. Especially if I'm understaffed, if I'm struggling to fill positions. You know, I used to have five people here at the front desk in the, in the local primary care clinic, and now I've got two and the phone's constantly ringing, turning things off so that they can catch their breath for an hour.
Feels completely out of reach. Even though we know from a performance perspective, it's going to be completely necessary for those two folks at the front desk. At the same time though, Clare, I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with leaders who have said, “We are missing out on connection. Especially when I've got remote workers, or especially when I've got some of my team on site and some folks in some other locations may be scattered throughout the country. How do we nurture connection in a digital world?” is a huge question I think a lot of leaders are struggling with, and we write about that a little bit in the book, especially around belonging, right?
‘Cause we know that feeling celebrated and accepted and included is a central ingredient we know. That people will turn down a higher paying job offer because, you know, I just really like the people I work with. Yep. And we see, we've seen that consistently for years. That's not a new thing. And so the folks who are having the most success around navigating that are the folks who are recognizing that. Even though we're drowning in work, we still need to make time and space for that, and they're, they're being creative and finding ways to do it that don't take a lot of time. It's a fun icebreaker question for 10 minutes at the beginning of the meeting. It's grabbing a snack and bringing it in for everybody. It's making a point at least once or twice a year for those folks who are scattered around the country to fly them in and have a day or two together where only maybe 50% of that is work, but the rest of it is fun and laughing together because that all contributes to camaraderie.
Clare Kumar: So important. I love that collective wisdom there and the advice to practical things to do to actually embed it in. I asked in one of my leadership workshops recently to a group of people, they're all in different organizations. What's your approach to building in connection? And some people had zero strategy and other people said, “I weave it into everything that I do”. That reminds me of an interview I did with Julie Morgenstern, who's in productivity and parenting. She's giving some parenting advice and she said to parents, she said, “10 quality minutes with your kids with present time. If you do that every day, they will feel seen. They will feel heard”. So I like your point that it doesn't have to be a massive you know, it's several days a week. Our focus thinks no, it's embedded in.
Joe Mull: A couple years ago before I wrote this book, I wrote a book called “No More Team Drama”. And it was really to answer a question, why do some teams become high-performing, close-knit groups while others become mired in drama and dysfunction? And one of the core pieces of advice that we give in that book is that leaders need to make time and help members of teams find things in common with each other that have nothing to do with work. And when you do that, when you engineer that we access each other's humanity. And when that happens, we become more forgiving, more tolerant, right? So if Clare, if you and I figure out that we have a mutual love of running or hiking or fishing, or we've got kids the same age or whatever, we find something that you and I share in common and we're able to converse and connect around that, then when I screw up, it's much more likely that you're going to go, “Joe's a good person. He's just, you know, had an off day” and you're going to be more forgiving because you've accessed my humanity in that way. So even just that simple idea of creating opportunities for people to find things in common with each other that have nothing to do with work is a path to that connection.
Clare Kumar: Agreed. Agreed In 2001, I think it was, I was working in a telecom company and my team was in three different cities. I was in the fourth city, and I came up with the idea, I think we need an intranet. We need an internet where we can share personal information. So now I can know more about Joe and I can know when he has kids and the other he's, you know, that he likes to sing and that because then I'm going to care. And it's almost like it's, it's you're building this under this fuller understanding of someone so you actually care about them first as a human, and then you'll support them as a colleague.
Joe Mull: And this is something that, that has been studied for years. Social science researchers call it distance, right? The distance that we have from someone influences the degree to which we will modulate our behavior in their presence and the degree to which we are willing to be forgiving of them, right? If you think about comments on a Facebook post or on your local online newspaper. When we don't know anyone, there are no consequences for showing up as the worst version of ourselves. But when you start to connect with people and you find those things in common, you're actually creating an environment where you care a little bit more too about how that person sees you. And it doesn't have to be really complex things. It doesn't have to be sophisticated team retreats. Even just giving people a chance to work together on something for 10 minutes can be a game changer in terms of those relationships.
Clare Kumar: It's small. It's small, but intentional actions to build that understanding of each other as people. Brilliant. Brilliant. I have one big question for you because my big concern, as I mentioned, is inclusivity in this mix and organizations have DEI targets, they have initiatives. I am hearing very little about those initiatives in any conversation where it's, I want people back in the office. And there are people who are disabled, there are people with caregiving responsibilities, there are people with temperaments who do not thrive in an open-concept office environment, for example. What are you hearing about carrying both of the responsibilities and how DEI, is it in the mix of discussion? I see them as two separate discussions and it's like, oh, yes, we have that over here, but I'm not sensing that they're really being full and fully woven together in the design of work.
Joe Mull: You know, I think for the leaders in the organizations who are having the most success at attracting and keeping people, They are tuning in as much as they can to exactly what you've just described, and what I'm hearing is that it's really through the lens of understanding exclusion. Understanding that exclusion is cancerous to an organization. Understanding that as soon as someone experiences exclusion, they're gone. They're mentally checking out and not leaving, or they have put up a flag, they're starting to look for new opportunities and the likelihood of us retaining them or retaining their commitment is incredibly low. So, in the framework that we write about in the book, under that meaningful work factor, one of those dimensions is belonging. And when we talk about belonging, we talk about it across the spectrum of DEI. And actually the concept of belonging of not just avoiding exclusion, but experiencing inclusion.
Of being celebrated and appreciated for who I am, both the naturally occurring human differences that show themselves across our society, but also the contributions that I make to the team. And this has really evolved so much and so much research has come out around belonging that that letter's actually being added to the acronym now. We're seeing organizations who are creating DEIB initiatives and what it's doing, Clare, is it's sort of reverse engineering even greater attention to DEI. In ways that I think people have known they needed to pay attention to, but maybe were surface-y for a while, and now they're saying, “wow, I really need to think about the day-to-day lived experiences of my employees.”
And so to your point about maybe a neurodiverse employee or someone with a disability who working from home actually makes it more possible for them to do great work, these kinds of initiatives can and should spark the necessary curiosity that leaders need to better understand and to check their assumptions, right? If I'm a leader and I say, I want everybody back in the office because I think these people are getting away with murder, if I can reach for some curiosity and I can operate under the assumption that most people are good people, and if I can ask myself, okay, I've got a lot of people who would rather work from home, what would make a good person prefer that?
And ask for that and advocate for that. I might start coming up with some of these insights that even if people are afraid to tell me the truth, I might be able to uncover them on my own, because let's be honest, one of the things that we've advised leaders to do for years is that if you wanted to know what your people wanted from you or what they aren't getting, you should ask them. But the truth is, a) not a lot of people know what it is that they're not getting and have the ability to articulate it. And b) sometimes they're not comfortable saying it out loud. There's a power dynamic there at play. And so I, I've sort of given you a wandering answer here a little bit, but when it comes to the DEI piece, I think we are continuing on a trajectory of people paying more and more attention to it because the data tells us that belonging is one of the top three reasons that people leave.
Clare Kumar: Wow. I had a wonderful interview with Barbara Polk when I was hosting the NAPO podcast, and she said, it's not just a moral imperative, it's a business imperative, which speaks like you did to the beginning. Like, this just is good business sense. But I feel I see it being dismissed or thought of as a second thought. So I like this connection that you're saying you know, as we focus on the need for connection, which leads to belonging, it's going to answer a lot of these questions and your invitation yet again, to think as a coach and hold on to curiosity, if we stay in that place and check our leadership bias for, you know, the assumptions that may be there and stay curious, we can learn a lot about each other and make room for the various approaches and ways of working that, that will really see more people being able to contribute, which is my ultimate goal. Joe, I just adored this conversation. I want to open it up to you to say, is there something that you are dying to share. The listeners here are people who are making change in the world around, in inviting inclusive performance or, or want to learn how to do that better or even bettering their own ability to cultivate sustainable performance. So those are the two kinds of listeners we have… is there something that you'd want to add here that we haven't talked about?
Joe Mull: As I've written this book and I've been speaking around the idea of employalty, what has become sort of obvious to me is that there's been a bit of a mini crusade inside this conversation, and one of the mini crusades is that I don't ever want to hear anybody say again, “no one wants to work anymore.” So we've heard from so many employers and leaders, you know, I need help finding good people. No one wants to work anymore. And it's just the most tired, biased, generational trope in human history. We have proof of it. We found a researcher when we were doing the background for the book, who found instances of this sentiment in North American newspapers going back 120 years.
This is a favourite criticism of people that they levy at people younger than they are. And there's just no data to back it up. Right now what is happening has nothing to do with work ethic, right? The unemployment in the US is at record lows. There's only three months in the last 50 years where it's been lower than it is right now. And if you took every unemployed person in the United States today and gave them a job, there would still be 5 million unfilled jobs in the US tomorrow. So there is not this invisible mass of lazy people who have decided to just sit this one out. So what I tell audiences is we need to shift our mindset. There is no staffing shortage. There's a great job shortage. And when you start to figure out that the issue, if you're unable to attract people, isn't that no one wants to work, it's that they don't want to work for you. And when you figure that piece out, maybe you can start fixing the problems that prevent people from wanting to raise their hand and be a part of your team.
Clare Kumar: That deserves a beat, and you deliver it so well, I think with so much compassion of your own and your understanding of leadership in your own journey. So I'm really hoping leaders out there are going to listen to this and be invited to stay in that curiosity, not only about their employees, but about themselves and what opinions and assumptions are being carried forward, which may or may not be serving you. So yeah, Joe, tell everybody how they can find more about you, how they can find about your speaking work and the book, all of it. Just lay down where you would like people to go to find out more.
Joe Mull: Thank you so much. That's so generous. So the book can be found anywhere you like to buy your books. It's certainly on Amazon, it's on Barnes and Noble. But if you want to support your local bookstore, you can head over to indiebound.org and you can source a book from your local independent bookstore, we’re big fans of those indies. If you want to look for me online, you can find me at joemull.com.
Clare Kumar: Well, Joe, you've us lots to mull over. But Joe, really, I'm, I am, I've been impressed with you ever since we met the first time a few years ago and have been really privileged to follow your work and I'll be celebrating you out there and looking for, for the mindsets to change. And more employers do become that job that people are, you know, the organization people are looking for and the work that people are really proud and motivated to do so thank you for your great work and contributions.
Joe Mull: Well, thank you, Clare. This has been a lot of fun. Thanks for having me!
Clare Kumar: Thanks so much for listening. You can find all of the Happy Space Podcast episodes over at happyspacepod.com. That is also where you'll find a link to our online community. Please leave a review over at Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you tune in, and if you like what you heard, please share. After all, doesn't everyone deserve a Happy Space?