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An Anonymous Survey of About 500 Employees Exposed a Bizarre Truth

It's an answer no one saw coming - and it's central to workplace happiness.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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  • I was sitting there on mute, as one does on a company call of nearly 500, among a sea of many faces I had never seen and names I hadn't heard. With my attention set on the speaker, my mind drifted into contemplation as to what I might have for lunch (or more aptly, second breakfast).

The HR executive on the screen shared insights from a recent staff survey. The bulk of the responses were textbook. That is, until she shared one thing that many said but that I never expected, despite being a survey respondent myself. 

The question was something like, "What would you like to see more of?" 

I assumed the responses might include things like more recognition, more opportunities for advancement, or maybe more support for continued education. But I was wrong, and the answer did not compute: what people really wanted was more meetings. 

More of the very thing employees everywhere have been saying for decades they want less of. 

As difficult as it is to imagine, there was a powerful reason why people wanted more meetings, and it's why the rise of the 15-minute meeting has decreased employee satisfaction.

A later question asked, "How would you describe our company culture?" And with that, a more effective strategy -- no additional meeting necessary. 

A slide displayed the most commonly used words to answer the question. Positive words like friendly and inclusive were larger, denoting that they were more frequently used, but there were also words like isolated and siloed tucked away in small text.  

There it was: the unexpected truth that as much as no one wants meetings, meetings can diminish feelings of isolation -- something people desire even less than meetings. But  more meetings are not the answer. Instead, we need better meetings that more effectively foster relationship-building, collaboration, and an inclusive corporate culture. 

Of course, there are a few key components to getting meetings right that managers often get wrong that can help prevent staff from feeling as though they are working on an island.

Small talk is a gateway to creating connections

As much as I love a deep dive into a tough topic, you can't get there without building rapport. And to do that, you need to start small with small talk. 

What we feel at liberty to share with others is framed by the relationship we have already built. We build upon relationships, strengthen them in time, and deepen them with rapport. And no matter how much you might hate small talk, it's the starting point of such relationships. 

In a fully remote environment, meetings are one of the few opportunities for water cooler conversations because remote staff need socialization too. Without small talk at the start of a meeting, building meaningful relationships becomes difficult and staff begin to feel isolated. Baking small talk into meeting times is a good starting point, but there's also a way to get it right so conversations flow. 

Small talk starts with management

Well-meaning managers often try to get staff to talk but fail miserably with little response beyond crickets. The problem is that many often try to get personal by asking others about themselves, their weekends, and whatnot while remaining tightlipped about their own lives. But communication is not a one-way street. 

Managers also need to share personal insights and anecdotes if they expect others to do the same. And the key way of doing this without crickets is by being the first to get personal. They set the stage by talking about themselves first, and then open the stage to others to follow suit. 

People need to see that it's OK to talk about themselves, their interests, and their lives outside of work. But if managers and higher-ups don't do this, then it doesn't feel like the right thing to do. 

Be inclusive with information

Meetings are an opportunity for staff to stay in the loop, but that only happens if managers are willing to be forthcoming with information. Meanwhile, organizational secrecy is common, and it's a sure-fire way to further separate and silo staff. 

There's a tendency among management to think that what others don't know won't hurt them. But no matter how well you think you've perfected the art of tiptoeing around, you're likely not so subtle that your staff won't get suspicious. Whether or not you leave them to craft their own theories (which are likely more elaborate and worrisome), it makes people feel disconnected and makes your work environment feel disjointed. 

Businesses that approach meetings more intentionally reap significant benefits, and not only in terms of employee well-being and overall satisfaction, but also in regards to helping staff more effortlessly produce higher-quality work. So next time you're planning a meeting, keep it small (because there is a right meeting size, as Steve Jobs proved), bake in some time to socialize, and be sure that the manager sets the stage by sharing first. 

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