Thought Pieces

With a communication and editorial career spanning over 25 years, Chicago-based James Warda shares his thoughts on what matters to employees at work.

I’m a big believer in following Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As humans, we want the same things – to know we matter, and to know that we matter to our managers. Does my manager recognise the work I do and the value I bring to the team? Do I feel like I belong here? Does the team seem like a family and are we connected to the rest of the organisation? 
You accomplish that by presenting a strong and compelling vision.
As communicators, we need to remember that employees generally want to know what’s in it for them, which is a basic human need. Do they fit in? Are they well compensated? Are they growing in their career? Can they trust their leader and manager? Really, the foundation of everything is trust.
What’s so much bigger now more than 10 years ago is whether the company is doing good through CSR and sustainability. It’s on the mind of the younger workforce coming in.
Opening up about mental health and wellbeing
Wellbeing is also on the agenda in the US. Many companies are promoting it and have been more visible with it over the past five years.
We’ve seen some progress – but need to see more – around mental health. 
Here, there is still a stigma around it in some places. When people hear “employee assistance programme”, they think that means counselling and therapy, and people don’t typically talk about that stuff. We talk about cancer or cystic fibrosis, where employees are willing to even share their stories, but getting companies to talk about their mental health programmes more has sometimes been a challenge.
It’s definitely more out in the open now. And the most important part is what comes next. Is there a negative impact on someone’s career because they’ve revealed it, or are they embraced for it? 
If you can get a leader to talk about it, great, but will they continue to lead and be promoted, or will employees see them leave the company? Remember, people are always watching and everything we say, do and are communicates something.
Helping employees open up
[Author and speaker] Brene Brown has talked about vulnerability at work. The greatest courage we can show is making ourselves vulnerable – and people respond to that. I’ve seen some progress.
Organisations are getting stronger at doing health assessments. It’s important to look at the individual holistically – physical, financial and emotional wellbeing. You might put more of a focus on financial issues – are people saving for retirement? How are they doing with their personal budgets?
You have to tie the three things – physical, financial and emotional – together. They are all connected. If you’re not financially doing well, you’re typically not doing well emotionally. If you’re not doing well emotionally, you’re typically not physically well. And that has a big impact in the workplace.

Read the full interview with James Warda at Voice Online.
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