Series 8, Episode 1 of the Future of Internal Communication podcast
Dan Pontefract is a renowned leadership strategist, author, and keynote speaker. With more than two decades of experience in senior roles in the technology industry, he speaks and writes on the topic of people at work and how to create more inclusive, engaging workplaces.
His latest book – Work-life Bloom – explores the key elements that humans need to flourish at work. Most poignantly, he explores the optimal mix of work-life factors needed to create fulfilling lives and careers.
In this episode, Cat, Jen and Dom invite Dan to share what inspired him to write the book and to unpick the requirement to maintain healthy boundaries between work and the rest of life. How we work has been reshaped by the pandemic; Dan shares his thoughts for the role internal communication has in helping maintain thriving teams.
Cat Barnard (00:02.424)
Welcome to a brand new episode of the Future of Internal Communication podcast. I'm Cat Barnard, as ever joined by Jen Sproul and Dominic Waters. And today we have an exciting guest for you. We have all the way from Canada joining us, Dan Pontefract, who I kind of think that some of you will have heard of because he is the author of, I think, four books, coming up five books.
He's a leadership strategist, culture change expert, award-winning author and keynote speaker. And his books focus on the topic of people at work and effectively how to engage people in the workplace and build more...
thriving, inclusive, successful workplaces. And so he has a new book coming out this autumn, which is called Work Life Bloom. And Dan has been sharing with me snippets of the book as it has evolved. And so for that reason, I felt it would be a really apposite moment to have a conversation about the book.
and what that hopefully offers to engaged leaders who want to build thriving work teams. And I think it would be a great topic of conversation for internal communicators also. So with all that in play, Dan, welcome. Thank you very much for joining us today.
Dan Pontefract (01:52.91)
Oh, Kat, it's great to be here and to Dom and Jen, thank you for this invite. Can't wait to get into... Is it work life bloom or is it work life doom? That's the question really, Cat, that we want to get to first maybe.
Cat Barnard (02:06.104)
Well, I think it's Bloom. I, but I, I guess I live in a world where I do see huge potential for the future of work. However, when you flip open the business pages on any given day of any given journal, I think you could easily be mistaken for believing that it's work life doom. So that's a really great way to kick off. You have written this book, Work Life.
bloom and I am curious to know what the catalyst was for the idea behind the book.
Dan Pontefract (02:48.014)
Well, first of all, I do believe I am some sort of marriage masochist. It does keep me married to my beloved Denise writing books, because I get out of her hair and I have none to get into. So, that's the clear first delineation. But in all seriousness, Cat, you're right. A lot of my books they all center on the power of humanity inside an organization. And so, when I was researching
for this particular book, I thought I was going to write a book about agency and solely agency, so human agency, about how we need a hell of a lot more self-determination at our place of work and how leaders might make that happen. But then I kept getting tripped up by the fact that agency isn't something that you just welcome at the work door at the workplace.
And so I started wrestling on my very long bike rides, as I'm a cyclist, about agency and you must have agency in life. And so I kept flip-flopping on my teeter-totter between those words, work and life, with agency at the fulcrum. And it was one of those bike rides where, and I kid you not, it's February, I live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, it's very much like England, we don't really have winter, we have wet.
And in February, the wet in this particular part of Victoria, on Vancouver Island, had sprouted a just a field of daffodils. And the daffodils were just, in my mind, quote, blooming. And so I'm like, oh, wow. And so I'm thinking about agency and the fulcrum of work and life. And then I saw this blooming field of daffodils. I was like, wait a second. We've got it all wrong.
I then started thinking about the teeter-totter and the word balance. Like, well, it's never balanced. There's work-life imbalance. It's just never possible. And then because of those aforementioned books, I started writing about with the power of humanity, and the word or the term, I suppose, employee engagement came up. And I said, Jesus, there's no such thing as employee engagement either, because, you know, ultimately, if...
Dan Pontefract (05:11.382)
Our lives shape our work, nevertheless, our work shapes us. You can't park your life at the work door and you don't bring a workless life into your life. So here I am, bike ride, daffodils, right? All this stuff happening, thinking about agency, thinking about this teeter totter and the fulcrum, the words work and life. And then it just suddenly dawned on me. I said, well, I'm a hypocrite. Here I am, you know, an ex-executive of places like SAP and TELUS, which is like...
basically Canada's British Telecom. And I've been an executive of leadership, culture, development of people, organizational structure, what have you. And I have been espousing for years, work-life balance and employee engagement. And I realized on this bike ride that I'm a hypocrisy enabler.
So it wasn't just about agency. Yes, agency is important. So then I started wrestling with Kat and Jen and Dom. Well, what makes up something that might be more balanced? How do you bloom? How do you bloom in both work and life? What are the factors that go into this? So then I spent a year researching that. So that's how the book came to be, to be honest, my own idiot self recognizing that...
Gallup and Aon Hewitt and many other HR consulting firms have been espousing work-life balance and employee engagement and the best one, bring your best self to work without equipping the organizational leaders with the right mechanisms to make any of that happen. So therefore, hypocrisy reigns over.
Cat Barnard (06:58.104)
It's a really interesting. No, I don't think it is. I feel really enthused by it because one of the things that's been going through my mind for at least the last three or four years is that everything that we talk about in relation to people performance at work, let's just call it that.
Dan Pontefract (06:58.702)
Pretty deep, dark answer for the first question, but hey.
Cat Barnard (07:26.432)
we talk about these modular components. And of course nothing is modular because everything is interconnected and everything is very fluid and, and how you feel about your work on your life on one day can be completely at odds with how you feel about it the next day for a myriad of reasons. And, and so we, we seem to exist.
at a point in time where there is so much literature out there about productivity and performance. Let's just call it that for the moment. That is very, if you do this, then that and very five steps to and very out of sync with how humans
how humans navigate the world. I mean, even if you think about like Daniel Kahneman thinking fast and slow, right? We think we're clever, we think we're rational, we think we're methodical, but we're far from it. And so what you've just described, I'm really intrigued for the book now because you're absolutely right. There is no modular formulaic pattern where...
Kind of creatures of mystery, aren't we?
Dan Pontefract (08:53.394)
about this, Kat, the firms, any firm, like a medium-sized, large-sized firm, maybe not all the small ones, because you know, when you're a small shop of 10 people, you pretty much know if people are engaged or not, you know, quote at work, and you're probably far more familial and know a lot more about their lives because of the close proximity that you are with these people every day. Now, so if you're medium, large size, many, many firms,
have their annual or maybe twice a year engagement scoring, where they ask people, how do you feel? But they ask these questions as if to gather up a number that says, well, 87% of our employees, my team members are disengaged at work, or only 30% are engaged, let's say. And here we are using questions that really focus on the work.
or the place of work, so work is both a noun and a verb, as everyone here knows. And so we're asking these questions without taking into full picture the full picture. So as if I can park my emotions from my three-year-old that has ADHD and won't eat at home, as if I can park my feelings at the work door because my elderly father
has just been diagnosed with dementia. How am I supposed to forget the fact that I'm probably 60 pounds overweight when I go into the office and my chair feels like it's gonna break? So these are all factors that come from life, but then the reverse is true as well. So when I go home and I'm thinking about my boss who just berated me,
at the kitchen table having dinner with my family of four. Or I'm thinking about how my colleague just subterfuged me by taking credit for a presentation I just did for a client. And now I'm sitting there with my partner and I'm wondering, am I gonna trust that person again tomorrow in the middle of watching Titanic for the fifth time and literally...
Dan Pontefract (11:13.058)
this is the point of when the ship is going down. So there's a metaphor there during that particular time with the better half. You get the point, right? And so if leaders have been conditioned to lead solely for the work, they're missing out exactly to your point, Kat, about the other compartments that come with it. And the fiduciary responsibility I believe that leaders have to create the best environment, not just at work, but to enable...
the right conditions or factors so that folks feel as though that they can go into, quote, life at five o'clock, four o'clock, whatever, when, and they feel that the organization and the leader has their back to allow them to be their best version of themselves, just so that they can be their best in both work and the life.
Dan, just jumping in, you know, it's one of those things as I hear you talk that just makes me sort of reflect and mull over and all these kinds of, as you've talked about these words that we've now, and the way we view what we're trying to create, the environments, but for me as well, as you listen, I kind of go, we want people to be engaged at work. What is that? What actually is that, right? So this is what my head goes to, because isn't, as you say, is it
The workplace, it's not transactional, it's not a rational place. It's an organism of emotion and a feeling and all those things that go in there that makes behavior and how we feel and what our life is like. Our life is one big organism, but we keep saying we need people to feel engaged at work. Is that what you want them to do stuff? You want output? What does that look like? So what are we trying? And I sometimes wonder if just trying to strive for that great score.
misses this whole point around the organism and the environment that we create to do things. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but sometimes I struggle with, we want people to be engaged. I'm like, what does that mean? Because I think it means different things for different people. And we miss that point sometimes as well.
Dan Pontefract (13:19.79)
Well, let me call out a couple of firms. So first of all, the term engaged, if you believe in marriage, means that legal accord to be in partnership with someone else. So is that what we're talking about? That I, the human being, am engaged to work, to marry myself to my work. So let's stop there and stop using the term engaged in that way. But if I look at Aon or I look at Gallup, let's look at Gallup first. Gallup has the proverbial...
Q12, these 12 questions that algorithmically somehow add up to whether someone is engaged, not engaged, disengaged, or chronically disengaged, i.e. setting the building on fire. And what we've learned from Gallup's research since they started doing this since around 1999, 9 to 2000, right? It's almost been 25 years, that across the globe, it hasn't materially moved.
It goes up and down, plus two points, plus three, plus one, minus two, minus three, right? It hasn't moved. Globally, engagement sits at about 20%, i.e. 20% of all employees in any organization globally are quote engaged, 80% are not. What does that mean? Now, let me come back to that in a second. Aon uses something quite different, and they basically ask algorithmically, so to say summatively, they ask three things.
Do you say good things about the company outside of work? Do you wish to stay at that company in which you work for? And will you strive to go above and beyond the call of duty in your job? I bite a performance piece, Jen. Those three, in essence, a couple others, but that's what they're asking. And that means if you say yes to all of that or whatever the answer might be, right, you're quote engaged. Okay.
We have problems when we're asking calculations like this with the separation of what I am as a human being back to, you know, there's work and there's life. I don't believe, by the way, work is part of life. I believe there's work and there's life. You bring life factors into work and you bring work factors into life. There's an integration, like it's a knot that has to be tied. And it's certainly not balanced. So...
Dan Pontefract (15:37.974)
How do I say this? What if we were for so long conditioning leaders by virtue of employee engagement and work-life balance, we've been doing it wrong for the past 25 plus years? And what is that creating? What have we created in society as a result? So now you start looking at some of the outputs of what we've created. So, rhetorically, team.
Has anxiety gone up in the last 10 years? Has stress gone up in the last 10 years? Has obesity gone up in the last 10 years? Has addiction gone up in the last 10 years? Has levels of destituteness gone up in the past 10 years? Has anger gone up in the past 10 years? Has fear gone up in the past 10 years? Has sadness gone up in the past 10 years? All of those I have researched, and I can assure you with a touch of...
um, solemnness, that they're off the charts.
Now, this is not all on leaders. I believe we human beings also have a part to play in all of this, right? But I do believe that we've been serving up the wrong formula for what the hell employee engagement, work-life balance, and bring your best self to work actually means.
is so reflective, just the way you explain that. And even though you say you've researched them, those things that has gone up, I can say that I feel that in every part of my life, work and life in the conversations and the way that I have things. And I think one of the things I want to touch on as well is you say about engagement and scores, they haven't actually really moved for 25 years, right? But all these other factors, as you say, have gone up in how we feel in society.
the pandemic happened and sort of hailed this new sense of caring about people, about human communication, about being empathetically led, about being emotion, about feeling like actually we don't need to hide our life from our work. We can bring our life to our work. And therefore, as my employer, I expect you to make that feel okay and good and treat me humanly. Do you think that the pandemic has made...
Because even with, as you say, those scores haven't changed. So has the pandemic really changed the way we work, but it hasn't changed how we feel about work in a positive way as we come out the other side? I don't know what your reflections are on the sort of, the hail of the pandemic to make more human-based organizations.
Dan Pontefract (18:22.746)
The pandemic is equally a saint and a sinner.
Dan Pontefract (18:29.538)
When Friday the 13th, 2020 happened, in essence, in March, all of us, wherever part of the world, Italy, maybe a little earlier, but you got the sense then, right, that the world was shutting down, World Health Organization says, it's a pandemic, batten down the hatches, see you whenever we see you next. And you're right, Jen, there was a definitive and sharp...change in humanity.
Leaders were far more empathetic, far more humane, far more patient, because I think they did look in the mirror as well, and that vulnerability of OMG, this is happening to me. I just saw my neighbor get pulled out of their home in a gurney or whatever, right? I think it's terrible. I mean, we've lost eight million people around the world because of a one fifth the size of Canada. Like that's a lot of people. So there was, I use this past tense, was. So it created this saintness of leaders to say, oh, I should check in on my people. They've never worked from home before. Unless you're Mike Ashley of Sport Direct and forcing your people to go work in Sport Direct, but that's another story. There were a lot of Nimrods out there like Mike Ashley as well. This is for the UK audience, obviously. So, you know, I know my stories, but.
What happened, the center part is that by... I mean, I'll be cheeky, but by the fall of 2020, we started to inch our way back into, eh, we'll be all right, you know, leaders, that is. Like, eh, why don't you come back? Or, eh, I think we've given you that six months now. I think you're ready to work harder again. And then...
basically by 2022, two years later, it had all been eviscerated that palpable saintness that leaders invoked as a result of pandemic. And here we are, you know, summer-ish, fall-ish of 2023, and we've gone the other way with now senior leaders and executives and C-Suite saying, get your arses back into the office. I don't care. I said, we're going to have a hybrid work model
Dan Pontefract (20:52.186)
So get your asses back into the desks. I want to see you working, hammering away on a keyboard for obviously white collar management roles, et cetera. So, saint and sin. The sin is now provocatively darker than I believe it's ever been because of the pressure that senior leaders are under from their boards and their C-suites and just the general way in which society conducts itself in the business world. It's terrible.
Who's the consequence? Well, now the sin is now, it envelopes both leaders and non-leaders. There's a degree, of course, where leaders are impervious because they're in the leadership role and they make more money and they have more power, et cetera, but it has inflicted both leaders and non-leaders now equally to the degree that what we were before the pandemic, it wasn't quote as bad.
So we're in a very deleterious state, Jen. I really do believe this. And when I start interviewing focus grouping, you know, young millennials and Gen Zed, not Gen Z, I'm Canadian, we're English, it's Zed, it's not Z. So when you start interviewing and focusing on these folks, you know, there's a reason we're having things like, you know, early Finnish Fridays and...
you know, the Mondays malaise, or mail it in Mondays, as some are calling it, right? Like, there's a reason, because there's this inflection point of, you don't care about me, you boss, you organization. So, you know, as the English might say, like, I'm going to take a piss on my job, and I'm not going to actually care anymore. So we're a problem. Like, we really are, and I'm worried as hell as this 52-year-old.
trying to be a Gen X translator between Xs and Boomers who are still leading and Millennials and Zeds who are like, WTF team, is this what I sign up for? So yes, long-winded way of saying Gen, saints and sinners.
Dan, I think we're 20 or 20 or minutes into our conversation. And I'm feeling a bit like I did at the start when I first saw Saving Private Ryan, because so much happens in the opening moments of that film. And so much has happened in the opening moments of our conversation. So to mix my metaphors, we're surrounded by the corpses of slain sacred cows, I think. So I'd like to go into one or two of them. And in particular, the whole point around work-life balance, because that's something that'd be great to get more insight from. Because...
I haven't yet obviously read the book, it's coming, but I know from our initial conversations that one of the things you say in there is, I'm going to quote this, that work and life are I think both complementary and contradictory forces. So my first question is really could you give us a bit more information about that? It's a very interesting statement, but what lies behind it and what do you mean?
Dan Pontefract (24:03.962)
So if listeners, Dom could envision a new Johari window, which is a fancy way to say a two by two matrix essentially, and my Johari window, if the two by two matrix is what we're envisioning, on the y-axis is work, on the x-axis is life, and if you're not familiar with what x and y is, y is the one that's on the left and x is the one that's at the bottom.
Let's imagine work on that left axis or the Y. It ranges between amazing and awful. So work can be totally like amazing. It's like, I get it, my boss gets me, I feel trusted. I feel like I belong, there's value. I understand the strategy, there's purpose here. There's norms that allow me to be frictionless in how I achieve the actions and the objectives
goals of my role. So it's amazing. But the flip side, right? I've got to your question about work-life balance, the work, if it's awful, like I feel untrusted, I don't belong, there's no equity, this organization is all about profit and not stakeholder capitalism and so on, right? I can feel quite awful on that Y axis. So that's work, but...
As you mentioned, like again, if our lives shape our work, nevertheless, our work shapes us, there's gotta be life somewhere. And that's the X-axis, the one at the bottom. And if you think about on an X-axis on the far right, is life very clear to me or is it confusing? So what's clear? Clear is I have meaning that I can bring into work. I have meaning that I continue into life. I have relationships and networks.
when I can call Kat up and say, hey, Kat, I got a new book. That's a relationship saying, is there a way we can have a chat about this? That's my life leaks into work, but my work leaks into life. Because I know that Kat's there, oh, I can go have a coffee with Kat next time I will, Kat. My apologies, I totally forgot about that. Remember that? Yep, won't do that next time. And have a coffee with her. That's a relationship. Well-being, my wellness. Again, back to if I'm fit or not, if I'm sane or not, sane being like I'm...
Dan Pontefract (26:23.29)
cogent, right, with what's going on in my life, I have to bring that into work. Anyway, if in this Jahari window or this two by two matrix, we're thinking about work and life being these two...
Dan Pontefract (26:40.762)
two factors that have to integrate, not balance, then you have yourself really not in my balanced or imbalance. The question is, well, what am I when there's different permutations of work and life? So let me explain the two by two now. So let's imagine on the bottom left quadrant, work is awful, let's just call it, and life is confusing.
So you don't feel great at work and you're still wondering about yourself. You're kind of like, well, I don't really have a lot of relationships. I don't feel well. I don't feel respected. I don't have that agency in my... I've been talking about earlier, like the self-determination, the autonomy. So maybe I'm what I would call in need of renewal.
That's not bad. That's you assessing yourself and saying, well, work and life are not going so well. I need to plant some new seeds. I need to either find a new role or find a new boss. I need to find in it myself or people to help me, coaches, etc. to renew me. Again, not bad. We all go through needs of renewal in our lives. I've been there many times where I've had to leave a job.
because both my job and my life are kind of like a bit weird at that point. I got to go. I got to go find someone. Some people, they have to leave a partner because their work is inflicting on their life, but the life is really desperately in need of something. I don't have skills. I don't feel agency. I don't feel respected in the home. So I got to leave my partner. Whatever the case may be, you get that point. So that's number one. On the bottom right, let's assume now work sucks or it's awful, but life is pretty clear.
So, the factors that make up you as a human being, again, relationships, well-being and so on, they're going really well, but work is definitely not going well. So I call that stunted. So there's seeds there, but you're in need of some work factor upgrades because you're kind of wilting, right? You're like, oh my God, I got to go to work. So you've got the Sunday night blaws.
Dan Pontefract (28:53.21)
Because you're thinking about Monday morning on Sunday night, you're like, oh, God, I feel good as a human being, but I don't want to go to this gig. My boss is an idiot or my organization doesn't care about anything or whatever. Flip side is on the top left. Work is amazing. Yet you're confused ultimately about what you stand for, who you are, what you're trying to become. So what I call that is budding. This is obviously a garden metaphor. So budding is, oh, my gosh, I really love what's going on around here. But.
someone needs to help me out with my individualistic attributes. And then, of course, instead of balance, I argue, we need to bloom in both work and life. So, on the top right of the 2x2 matrix is you blooming. It's like you have work that's amazing, you have life that's very clear, and it's colorful. There's blossoms, right? It's those daffodils in the field I alluded to earlier.
Now, the key about this, Dom, is you can't balance the work and the life because that's a recipe for disaster and it's a zero-sum game to begin with. And I think when leaders think that, well, we just need to do better balance between work and life, well, no, you need to understand better what those conditions or those factors are in both the work and the life. That's what's key because so many people are crying out for work-life balance.
But it's what makes up yourself to feel like you bloom in both work and the life that allows you to feel a greater sense of your humanity. I hope that answered the question.
And I always love a very clear four box model and that is, but that then poses the question about how individuals and I guess their leaders help manage the boundaries. So if for example, someone is in the stunted category, so if I understand it correctly, life's pretty good but works less good, then as a leader, you might read into that, that my job is to
help my person perform better by equipping them to deal with their life better or make improvements in their life. But I guess that then gets people to lots of different areas of how far can I go? So how do you manage those boundaries?
Dan Pontefract (31:09.53)
That's exactly it. I call them the soil and the water tests to continue the metaphor of a garden. And so a soil test is you having continuous conversations about the overall health, wellbeing, the wellness of that individual in both the work and the life. Like when we're not asking questions about people's skills or do they feel agency or do they feel respected outside of the work.
Is there meaning in your life? What are you doing outside of work? If we're not having those conversations, then how do you think people are gonna quote, be their best selves, their most authentic selves when they're at the work? Like it just, that's the point about employee engagement, work-life balance, and bring your most authentic or best self to work. These are all anachronistic, antiquated thinking. And it is...
I hate to use it again, but it's like that fiduciary responsibility, I truly believe in the leader that has to have these holistic conversations now. So let's give you an example of, I don't know, well-being. Well-being is not just, so this is a life skill, I call it. So it's a life factor. Well-being is not just physical, of course. It can be emotional, it can be financial, it can be clearly physical.
Should we not as leaders be having conversations at least, right? Not to, you don't, you're not teaching them how to balance a checkbook or whether or not they should be investing in their long-term retirement plans, but you should be having conversations in my opinion in this day and age of being the holistic leader for both work and life about, well, so how's it going? Like, where are we at on the pay scale? Are we good? Like, how are things like...
Are you able to make ends meet? Because what happens if you're not having an open dialogue, hence communication, what are we left with? A lack of communication. When you don't have a rapport, the communication happening, you're literally left in the dark for what's going on outside of the work. So then you start querying, oh, geez, Jen, I don't understand why you've been underperforming the past six months.
Dan Pontefract (33:34.934)
I mean, you just come in here and you're aghast with disdain and you seem so...
derogatory to people around you. Like your attitude has totally changed. And you're not asking questions about why that might be? Because she's clearly, Jen is bringing her life into her work and there's a performance issue now. But if you don't have those conversations, Dom, good gosh, how are you ever gonna know? So a blunter way to answer your question is, have a chat with your people.
Dan Pontefract (34:14.612)
as often as you can about how things are going.
And that's something I think we've found recently in the IC index conversation.
Cat Barnard (34:19.24)
What if I may, if I may dive in.
conversation came up very strongly as one of the things that people look for from their leaders. So I think I just have to echo that. It's not about, from what you're saying, it's not about imposing yourself on someone. It's not about trying to dictate their life outside work, but it is about acknowledging that people are affected by the life outside work and having conversations about it to see where you can help, if that's appropriate. I think that's a really key distinction.
Dan Pontefract (34:55.51)
It's exactly it. So I call it being forthright and open. So there's nothing wrong with being forthright and open to have these connected, humane conversations about one's emotional, social, physical, and financial health. Because they're going to bring that into work anyway, if it's going belly up. And if that's the case, what are you left with as a leader?
you're going to have an underperforming or not performing as well, or back to Jen's point, right? A disengaged or not engaged team member. And that's the thing I'm getting at is that, well, why are employee engagement levels so static for 25 years? Because we're not doing this.
Cat Barnard (35:43.828)
I'm really intrigued. I think this is really interesting. I've not thought, you know, I know you and I, Dan, have talked a little bit about our parallel past because we both worked in telecommunications in the 1990s. And one of the things that I found myself scratching my head over for the longest time is it never used to be this difficult. And I've really struggled with whether or not it was the
rise of mobile technology itself or the internet that has left us feeling increasingly disconnected from one another. But you saying, what if we've been looking in the wrong places? What if we've been asking the wrong questions? What if we've been presenting all of this stuff as wrong? Really has got me and I was listening to you and you kept saying conversation, discourse.
you know, discussion. And this podcast is clearly all about the future opportunity for internal communication. So with all of those things interconnected, what role do you think internal communicators should be playing in helping to maintain healthy, thriving or blooming teams? Like, what is the work now?
Dan Pontefract (37:15.862)
I think it's two-part, Kat. There's the work of self, and then there's the work of sherpa. So, let me tackle both of those. So, the work of self clearly is, you know, we need a bit of a reset on how internal communicators and professionals in general are analyzing and actioning what it means to have this integrated relationship between work and life.
Like we can't be fearful to advocate for what we need to have a blooming work and a blooming life. And we can't be fearful as internal communicators slash professionals to have these needs met by our employer.
Like, it has come to a point where, if we want to call it post-pandemic, given the raging new...
Dan Pontefract (38:26.874)
COVID module that's happening. So let's not call it post pandemic. But if we've learned anything from this pandemic, that there's a fragility in life. And is it worth it? I.E. to not have these open conversations to become dialectical with our employer about what we want from both our work and our life. So that's point one. It's not just for internal communicators, of course.
but it's for professionals. It's the ideology of taking care of oneself and advocating for that with the employer. Let's start there. So communicators, go for it. But number two, communicators, my Sherpa point. Good gosh. I mean, as some people know, internal communication sometimes rests in HR or people and culture, sometimes it's its own unit and it sits directly into a vertical that's outside of HR, people and culture.
Either way, communicators have an incredible opportunity to become the sherpas of this new style, the sherpas of teachers, of, you know, if you think about philosophy, the Greek agora, go around on your soapbox, and well, in this case, you know, stone box, and you stand on your stone box,
and you pontificate to say, here is what we need to be doing. What do you think? That's dialectical in and of itself. But the point, I can bring it more down to 2023 and beyond, not a Greek agora mythology, is to say, look, what can internal communicators do to support, teach, transform leaders in what it is that they should be doing with this very dire need to have
these dialectical conversations. Teach the leaders to communicate. Teach them not just professional, formal, written, verbal communication that's corporate speak. Let's stop corporate speak. Let's teach them how to be the best informal communicators asking the right connective tissue questions between work and life.
Dan Pontefract (40:45.878)
And when internal communicators can do that, what they're doing is providing the Sherpa skills that allow leaders to climb Kilimanjaro or whatever mountain you want, which is the gravity of the situation that I see right now, that leaders don't know how to climb the mountain to get to this work-life bloom conversation. And if internal communicators could do that for me, just little old me here in Canada,
I'll kiss you, I'll come over anywhere you live, and I will hug you and kiss you and thank you for that, because it's so desperately needed.
Before, I know Dom's going to come in again in a minute, but I'm just going to jump in really quickly as well, because I think there's just so much that you said there that I think that really hopefully sparks that passion, that enthusiasm, that opportunity from our community. And as IOIC as well, we always advocate for effective internal communication. An organization is doing well and doing things when it's communicating in every facet of its living being.
receive, exchange, connect, do all those things. And it all comes from a place of, as you say, humanity. And what I just want to pick up as well is the thing that really touched me is this point about being fearful, that being human is so fearful these days. You know, I've had that where I've had people that have worked for me and they've come in and I've noticed something and I've sort of dropped a note going, do you want to meet me in a coffee shop tomorrow morning? And I'll sort of sit down and go, are you all right?
But there's a real, and then you get to things, I'm like, because these things seem to be happening, what can I help you with? And it changes that dynamic, but there's a real fear, I think, of doing that, of over, as a human, overstepping your own human boundary, and feeling, is that a space I should walk into as a leader or a manager? And I think that that's something that we need to encourage a sort of safety around, and how that should feel, and why it's so good.
And I guess the other thing I just wanted to pick up on as well, as just commenting on what you're saying is that we've talked, you've talked a lot about leaders. But the other issue, Dom referenced it earlier as well, we've done, we did a study of the UK workforce, right, and how they feel about communication. And what came up in that was, I don't know, I don't feel there's enough communication, conversation, or lineman just said, I don't feel comfortable, one third of lineman just don't feel comfortable having conversations.
And then the topics of culture and people where the culture and values was polarizing. Because I think this comes down to organizations trying to communicate that they care, but not living that they care. And I wonder as well as you talk about that, when you talk about leaders, do you see that as a, do you mean the senior top or do we think about the whole ecosystem? And I believe in the business of return on emotion I think is also what I'm trying to say.
Dan Pontefract (43:41.974)
Wow, Jen, yes to all of that. If I can be so bold.
Dan Pontefract (43:50.954)
The fact that if we go back and kind of use the pandemic just as an example again, and the first four or five, six months lockdown, etc., you saw an equilibrium manifest and materialized from those moments of, oh my gosh, I didn't know that you had a dog, because we're all on Webex or Zoom or Teams, right? Or, oh, I see you're all crammed around the kitchen table, you and your spouse and your kids are doing schoolwork and everyone's on...
So everyone's like, oh, that's so cute. You know, you're a family or you're this or you're by yourself. Has anyone come and checked up on you? Like, are you OK? Do you need a pal? Do you need companionship? Because you've been in your Soho flat of 300 square feet for the past three months and you didn't even open the door yet. And so where I'm going with that is, what happened? Those were...
Connected tissue, connective tissue conversations, there was empathy, there was sympathy and compassion, there was a lack of cognitive dissonance in essence, right? It just kind of all went to flatness. And it was like, we're equal, that was the equilibrium. So maybe we have to get our power mongers out of our head and like disassociate from that and say, look, not everyone wants to be senior leader.
And not everyone's trying to climb the ladder. Everyone's just trying to basically have a pretty good work, a pretty good life. So for those that, which is usually 15% of an organization that are directors and above, right, that's basically the math. Can those 15% sort of just recalibrate what it means to be human and the combination for themselves? First, work and life and the integration between the two, because no one ever says they worked really hard on their epithet in their grave. Right.
Worked really hard, worked 60 hours a week, who cares? So when we do that, when internal communicators can help with that as well, whether they're in HR or not in HR, like that's kind of the thing. It's like, hey, when you communicate, what do you stand for? You know, I have this thing that I say often in some of my talks and I say, how do you wanna be known when you leave a room?
Dan Pontefract (46:14.15)
And that room is a metaphor for an email, a text, a DM, a WhatsApp, a Snapchat, anything. That's communication. So if we're retooling, reteaching leaders how to be in those, well, how do you want to be known when you leave a dot dot? That's that humanity piece again.
Dan Pontefract (46:37.83)
When we ask the question, is it worth it, Jen?
I ask, I rephrase that question, I say, is it self worth it?
And self-worth is what we're talking about. What's your self-worth as a leader in the transaction and the transformation and the relationship between employer-employee and thus then between work and life? That's what leaders need to be thinking about.
Dan, I think it's very essential and I'd love to carry on that stream of thinking, but we do have to come into land. So I'm going to come to a summary question, but I've just been reflecting back on what you've said, and there's been a huge amount. I've taken at least three things. Firstly, there's no such thing as employee engagement, and I think what you've said is my words, but it's more about human engagement, about personal engagement, it's about
Dan Pontefract (47:09.598)
I got a bit existential there, so I'll dial it down.
People's performance at work is determined, yes, by their conditions at work, but also by what's going on elsewhere. That revised Johari's window that you talked about. And I think if that's the case, that means we need to stop looking at work and life as two contradictory things that encroach upon each other's territory and more like two factors in someone's performance held together by these connective tissues you've spoken about, both of which can influence performance and people's well-being.
I think the third thing is, I know I'm producing your thoughts into simple phrases, but I think the third thing is that as leaders we have a really strong role to play in this, not by being all-knowing, not by dictating what people should do, but by having effective conversations. The worth as a leader is to help people think things through and be safe and able to come and talk about anything that may be affecting their performance and wellbeing.
As Jen was saying, that's something we're finding more and more with coaching and training leaders. That's what they want to talk about when it comes to communication. It's less about being able to articulate, although that's important, much more about having conversations. So lots to come from this. I'm going to ask you a very unfair question as we do put the wheels down on the tarmac down, which is what's one thing that you think that you would like internal communicators to take from our conversation just now?
Dan Pontefract (49:04.527)
One thing only Dom.
How about I use the wise words of James Baldwin instead of me? And he once wrote, and I'm paraphrasing if I'm getting it correct, but not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. And what Baldwin's getting at there ultimately for internal communicators is we need to face this redesign of how we really are teaching...
leaders to communicate because the work-life bloom model is in essence a redesign of how we are having these conversations and communication paradigm changes. So let's lean on Baldwin for that one.