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Gallup Podcast
How to Manage a Permanently Changed Workplace
Gallup Podcast

How to Manage a Permanently Changed Workplace

Dr. Jim Harter, chief scientist for workplace management and wellbeing at Gallup, joins the podcast to discuss Culture Shock, the new book authored by Harter and Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton. Employees love their newfound freedom to work remotely -- and expect it from their workplaces. How organizations adapt to this culture shock will determine whether they thrive or even survive and whether U.S. and global productivity will go up or down.


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Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.

Mohamed Younis 00:05
For Gallup, I’m Mohamed Younis, and this is The Gallup Podcast. This week, we talk about an issue close to home for many of us -- or perhaps we should say, close to the office. Dr. Jim Harter is Gallup’s chief scientist on the workplace and wellbeing. Jim, welcome back to the podcast.

Jim Harter 00:21
Thanks for having me again, Mohamed. Great to be with you.

Mohamed Younis 00:24
Before we talk about your book, I just want to ask -- you’ve spent a lifetime studying workplaces, work culture, how it impacts the bottom line for organizations, for people who work in them. But really, it wasn't until the pandemic that all of that became front-page news -- a topic that's not just talked about managers and executives, but really, everybody; it's become a social issue. What's that been like for you, Jim?

Jim Harter 00:47
Well, I think that the, the work that we do in workplaces has never been more important. And I think people are starting to recognize that it's part of the solution going forward. We have a chance to look at these macro trends, and fortunately, we've been able to trend employee engagement for a long time, globally and in the U.S. Also dig deep inside organizations to find out, you know, what's, what's causing change, what's leading to high performance, and what leads to high retention rates of employees, and what leads to great customer value. Those insights, I think, are, are really relevant right now, more than they ever have been, because organizations are, are challenged right now. There's a lot going on. Customer retention has never been at higher risk in organizations. And, and so I, I, I think of it just in terms of, of relevance. There's certainly been a lot of attention on these trends. I always think about the practical value and the applied side of it. And, and I think we've got a lot of opportunity here to make a big difference.

Mohamed Younis 01:46
I love the title of the book -- Culture Shock. Tell us a little bit about the title, but tell us about the book -- what is this book about?

Jim Harter 01:53
Well, right now, we’re dealing with, really, an aftershock of what happened with the pandemic, where everybody -- or at least most people -- experienced their lives and jobs in a very different way. To give you an example, 90% of people in remote-ready jobs in the U.S., when we ask, they say they prefer either fully remote or hybrid-type work going forward. That’s almost everybody wants some kind of flexibility. So there’s a lot of learning that happened through the pandemic, and I think organizations need to take that to heart, that people learned they can do their work differently. We asked them why they like, they prefer remote work, and they cite the dreaded commute as the No. 1 reason. Their wellbeing is better, and it’s better for their family. So I think those are legitimate reasons that organizations need to be thinking about -- and we can talk about that a little bit more, but the problem, I think, is that there’s an increased distance between employee and employer right now.

Jim Harter 02:47
So that’s an issue, but, as I talked about a little bit ago, managing has never been more difficult but also never more important in closing that gap between employees and employers, and I think the changes we’ve all experienced have been more permanent-type changes in how we think about work. You know, what’s on top of mind for leaders right now is customer retention. And so our goal with this book was to leverage all that research I talked about a little bit ago, so that we can give insights to leaders to help them navigate the future workplace, which I think could be in the best position it’s ever been, if we get this right.

Mohamed Younis 03:20
It's fascinating to think about it that way, because there is this gap between what workers want and really what employers want. Whether it's a private sector or public sector, if you're running a team of people that are trying to do something together, it was very, I think, socially appealing and acceptable to say, Remote is great. It's awesome. Technology is amazing. We can get so much done. There's been a shift now back to people really realizing, yes, there are benefits to remote and hybrid, but there are also a lot of benefits to some in-person time together and how to structure that. There's really been a big paradigm shift kind of in one direction and then sort of off in another and distant direction. Where are you now, Jim, through all of the research you've done for this, for this book? I know you're also a consultant; you've talked to a lot of leaders and organizations that are grappling with these challenges. What's the right mix?

Jim Harter 04:15
The mix is the right solution, and I think every organization needs to figure out what that is. But I think the, one of the big issues is it’s, there’s not good planning in place right now, and structure to it. And so when people come in to an office, they may not have their colleagues there. So what good is that? In-person time is really important; we knew that well before the pandemic. All the research points to in-person social time being the most valuable. It’s not the total amount of time that matters as much as it’s the fact that it happens, but we did find in our research that, for highly collaborative jobs, two to three days in person peaks engagement.

Jim Harter 04:49
But there are other things that matter even more than that. I do think in-person time, from everything we looked at, matters a lot, because there are things that happen in person that wouldn’t happen otherwise. You know, I tend to relate some of these findings to things I experience. And I was with our team a few weeks ago, and we had a group of us in the office, and we solved a problem in 10 minutes that we may not have even thought to solve. And it might have just kind of gone on as a problem or an issue that continued to fester, but we got it solved because we were in person; it was efficient. Some, some things just happen better in person: innovation, fun, there are things just physiologically that happen in person that are just different.

Jim Harter 05:23
But we also have to acknowledge that we learned a lot through remote work about how much of our work can be done independently. We don’t have to commute every single day. But how we decide when we’re going to be together is the biggest issue to be thinking about right now, as kind of a basic issue that isn’t fully resolved in organizations right now. Most people decide where they’re going to work based on what their leadership has told them or what their manager has told them needs to happen -- or what they think is best for themselves. Only 13% of people that we surveyed say they decide where they’re going to work based on a discussion with their team. That’s the reason most highly related to engagement. So there do need to be some kind of standards so people know when to expect their colleagues in the office. But there also needs to be a discussion -- we called it, in Culture Shock, “smart autonomy.” So autonomy is really important to human beings. It’s part of human nature; it’s something that we crave. But we need to make it smart. And to make it smart and rational, we’ve got to have a discussion about our work and a discussion about when being together makes the most sense -- and plan around that.

Mohamed Younis 06:25
It’s interesting now, because with hybrid, it’s like we’re all -- you’re talking about autonomy, and there’s not a lot of autonomy in us all deciding together when we’re not going to be and going to be in the office. So it’s a really twisted new reality, where freedom means something totally different, and total freedom -- as in real life -- creates the kind of chaos where the benefits of having that flexibility then start to kind of wither away.

Jim Harter 06:54
I think there are three filters that teams and organizations should consider when they’re making these kinds of decisions. One is, of course, your individual productivity -- what works best to get your work done that you do individually? And I think that’s the part that people really dug into a lot during the pandemic, because it’s right in front of them. They realized they could do a lot more of that at home than they thought before. But also, the second one is collaboration -- how we work well together. We’ve got to filter it through, when is our best collaboration time, and what kind of value do we get? And even have people talk about how collaboration happened in person, and how it can happen remote, in some cases.

Jim Harter 07:29
The third -- really important, and maybe most important -- is the value we bring to customers, whether you have internal customers or external customers you deal with. The second and third have a lot to do with things that happen in unpredictable ways. Dealing with a colleague’s needs could happen in an unexpected way. Dealing with a customer’s needs could happen in an unexpected way. It’s not always predictable. That’s called “discretionary effort,” right? We’ve got to do something we didn’t really plan on doing, to meet an objective for a customer or for a colleague. So planning in-person time so that those kinds of things happen effectively, I think, is really important. And for many people, they’re going to meet customers when they’re in person and have different kinds of discussions with them than they would have more transactionally if they weren’t. Now, of course, first thing I said when the pandemic hit was, “Thank God for technology.” You know, and it did do a lot for us. But it still doesn’t quite replicate what happens in person.

Mohamed Younis 08:23
What would be the most important insight, Jim, you would want people to take away from this book?

Jim Harter 08:28
Customer retention is on leaders’ minds right now. And I've been asked a lot lately, What's the most important thing for managers to focus on? And, and I would, after everything we had a chance to look at leading up to this, the publication of this book, we've got to keep our eye on customer retention. Managers need to be focusing on it because that's what's, what's front and center for leaders. Now we talked a little bit earlier about this separation between employee-employers. That's the negative right now, in terms of the choices everybody's made about where they work, is we are seeing in the data an increased separation between employees and their employers. Even if you ask employees whether they feel responsible for the quality of service customers receive, drops -- particularly among young people but also older, fully remote workers, we're seeing drops. That's a problem.

Mohamed Younis 09:18
And when you say “drops,” you mean -- so that means people who are remote have lower than people who aren't there in person.

Jim Harter 09:23
Lower than pre-pandemic. Yeah, so it's, so they have declined in their commitment to customers, basically. So what happens -- and you have to kind of play this whole thing out -- when people are more remote over time, and they start feeling more separation between their, themselves and their employer, they also psychologically have more separation between themselves and the customer. And that plays out in the data. That's a problem. So I think the solution is to close that distance between employee-employer that's, that's widened suddenly. And the only way to close that distance is to have incredibly great managers inside your organization who are in touch with people and have at least one meaningful conversation a week with each person. That's the solution. And if we equip managers to have a weekly meaningful conversation with each person -- we can kind of break down what goes into that -- then you're starting to close that gap.

Jim Harter 10:15
Mohamed, there's another secret in there, and that's strengths. If you build a strengths-based culture where every manager knows each person they manage through their strengths -- they know something unique about them -- you've already started to close that gap, and you can, you can coach them from a distance in a very different way. You know, some of it's gonna be in person, of course, like we'd recommend, but that distance starts to shrink. I'm, I'm inspiring the people that I work with, and I'm helping them aim their strengths at the purpose of the organization, which is to serve customers.

Mohamed Younis 10:45
What’s the most common mistake you see maybe workers or managers making right now in our kind of hybrid-asterisk, hybrid-hyphen society we’re living in now?

Jim Harter 10:56
It seems like such a basic thing, but it, it is related to what we talked about earlier, and that's how people decide where they're gonna work. They just don't use the, the method that actually relates to higher levels of employee engagement and better outcomes for customers. And that's, that's deciding with their team, instead of just doing whatever they want. It's actually not good for us to just do what's best for us, because there's some unintended consequences from it. We start feeling more isolated; we feel less connected to the, the culture that we want to be a part of. Really, most people come to work wanting to make a difference. And there's nothing better than accomplishing something with a team of people. So I, I think that, that's one takeaway.

Jim Harter 11:35
And the other is an a, an assumption about how we should communicate and how often. That, that once a week, if it happens right, could be very short. But if you take a step back and think about that long list of responsibilities for a manager, if you do have a weekly 15- to 30-minute conversation with each person about their goals and priorities, about their strengths, about getting them recognition when they do good work, how they collaborate effectively with their team, and how that works best, you've actually started to solve for all the other issues, because you're aware. And you can easily communicate all the other things you're responsible for. And you can get ahead of issues before they escalate and have some insights about how somebody does their work before it's too late. So, the “old school” kind of mentality of we're gonna meet a few times a year at the, you know, at the most, and think that's going to solve for effective management, it just doesn't work anymore -- particularly in this hybrid environment, where people are coming and going, and managers more than ever need to be in touch with people.

Mohamed Younis 12:35
We talked a lot about managers. I want to end by asking you about workers. If I'm a worker right now listening to this, Jim -- and obviously, we're all workers, and we're all managers to some degree; we're definitely all leaders in our own right. If I'm a worker, and I'm listening to this, and I'm grappling with this new hybrid, not-hybrid, maybe-hybrid reality. My boss is telling me AI is gonna cancel my job. And I'm just, you know, there's a lot going on right now. What's your best advice to people in making the decision, Am I in the right job? And is that because of the hybrid, not-hybrid thing, or is it just that this work is not right for me? I feel like this, and I ask that because I feel like this is now another dimension of, Am I in the right job? that really wasn't there for a lot of us before. It was, Do I like what I do? Do I love the people I'm with? If there's a “Yes,” then I'm in the right job. Now, you know, I might like what I do, but I'm dealing with a manager that's forcing me to come in or isn't creating structure around time, people coming in. And I'm, it's not working out for me. How do, how do workers navigate that now?

Jim Harter 13:39
First and foremost, you need to evaluate whether the work you're doing is inspiring to you or not. And if it is inspiring, you've got to be willing to adjust to the times. You mentioned AI. The best approach to AI going forward is probably going to be people in particular jobs being really good at using it. There's another aspect to this that's really important from an individual worker perspective, and that's to initiate discussions around -- we mentioned, discuss with your team. Even if your manager is maybe not doing everything you want them to do or, or inspiring you that much, you, you can have those discussions with your team and make sure that you and your team are together at the right kind of times to meet needs. You can initiate recognition to colleagues; to do that, you've got to be in touch with what they're doing, just like your manager needs to be in touch with what you're doing to do that effectively. You can initiate discussions around clarifying priorities, to make sure that you're on the right track. That's never been more important. We're seeing expectations dropping significantly through this increase in remote work. And of course, that then translates into some of the customer issues that we're seeing. So I think the individual, particularly in this environment where people are together less often in most places, the individual needs to initiate the right discussions, so they get the right information.

Mohamed Younis 14:55
I love that. So basically, if it’s not there for you, one of the benefits of this world we’re living in is you can kind of build it for yourself with your team, by taking initiative. On that note, that’s Dr. Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist on workplace and wellbeing and author of Gallup’s latest book, Culture Shock. Jim, thanks for being with us.

Jim Harter 15:14
Thanks for having me again, Mohamed.

Mohamed Younis 15:19
That’s our show. Thanks for tuning in. For more from Gallup, go to and sign up for our newsletter, Front Page, where we break down all that Gallup is learning across the globe in one weekly email. The Gallup Podcast is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I’m Mohamed Younis, and this is Gallup: reporting on the will of the people since the 1930s.

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