Employalty: The Framework Of Employee Commitment
How do you get employee commitment and engagement? It's a question that's been asked millions of times. The internet will show an equal amount of answers and theories, and in my employee engagement, culture and leadership podcast, Sticky From The Inside, we've talked about a lot of them over the years. But can we summarise all the wisdom and theories into a single, crystalised, practically deliverable thought? In the lastest episode, this is the question we examine with my guest, Joe Mull, author of the book "Employalty: How To Ignite Commitment and Keep Top Talent in the New Age of Work."
Joe Mull's introduction to the dynamics of workplace commitment came quite unexpectedly. After a 30-minute deep dive into the topic during an early podcast interview, he was asked to summarise all he'd said about building a devoted, committed workforce in one sentence. A daunting task, considering the complexity of the topic. It was this challenge that made him realise the need for a simpler, more concise way to answer the all-important question: where does commitment come from in the workplace? This realisation marked the beginning of his journey into creating an effective framework that would answer this question.
As someone who has long championed a stronger combination of compassionate and commercial leadership, to help everyone have more fulfilling work lives, I jumped at the chance to speak to Joe, about the book and the insights his extensive research and experiences had given him. The following is a full transcript of that conversation, where Joe reveals the stories and insights that led him to build his Employalty framework. You can also listen to the full episode on the player below:
Introduction To The Podcast
00:00:10 - Andy Goram
Hello, and welcome to Sticky From the Inside, the employee engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing, consistently successful organizations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone. This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that.
Each episode, we dive into the topics that can help create what I call "stickier businesses". The sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.
The context of creating Stickier Businesses
Okay, when I wrote the introduction that you've just listened to nearly three years ago now and set the mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone by creating what I call stickier businesses. That's businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they also love what you do and importantly, why you do it, little did I think that I would record an episode that tries to tackle all of that in one go. There's a very good chance that's exactly what we're going to do today. So if you're ready to unlock the secrets to creating a workplace where employees don't just show up, but they thrive and truly love what they do, please stick around.
Today, I have got a great guest on the show who's as enlightening as they are energizing. His name is Joe Mull, and he's the author of a fabulous book I'm just reading called "Employalty", which is all about how to attract and retain what I would call superstar employees. Now, together today, we're diving headfirst into the realm of social science and research, uncovering the secret ingredients to activate people at work and turn jobs into lifelong loves. If you've ever wanted to get a better understanding of what ignites that fire within certain employees or what truly makes someone light up with passion for their work, this is the episode for you.
But we don't just talk theory on this podcast. I like to give you practical takeaways that can help you back at the ranch. And today, I know Joe's going to share his simple, evidence based framework for creating extraordinary employee experiences. And I think if you use this, you can help turn that workplace into a hub of commitment, growth, and enjoyment. So whether you are an HR guru, a manager, shooting for the stars, or just someone who's curious about what makes work truly click, this is the episode for you. So get ready to scribble down notes, soak in the wisdom and infuse your workplace with stickiness from the inside out as we chat to Joe.
Welcome to the show, Joe!
00:03:29 - Joe Mull
I am so excited to be here, Andy. Thanks for having me today.
00:03:32 - Andy Goram
It's brilliant to have you here today, Joe. People who listen to this podcast know that I do like to read, but I'm not the greatest reader, and I'm having a great time reading your book. I've got to say, it felt like someone had dug into my soul and was regaling tales about all the things I absolutely love to talk, which is why I'm so excited to have a chat to you today.
00:03:56 - Joe Mull
Thank you, my friend. That is really lovely feedback. I enjoy some aspects of the writing process, particularly storytelling and how to paint pictures for people. And we sought out different kinds of workplaces than we sometimes get to read about in business books. Right. We read about big companies, but most people work for small to mid sized businesses, so we wrote about hospitals, and we wrote about assisted living centers, and we wrote about electricians and plumbers and the trades. And I think that's part of the book that I'm the most proud of.
00:04:28 - Andy Goram
And that is such an interesting thing that you notice when you read that book. It's no longer about Apples and McKinsey's and Deloitte and all the kind of usual suspects. This is about real people doing real work, not necessarily stuck in an office and having to follow the kind of theories that everybody talks about when it comes to engagement and purpose. This is people on the front line doing the do. And I think that's a fabulous thing about this book. The stories are so relatable, and like I say, you write well, my friend. You really do write well.
00:04:58 - Joe Mull
An introduction to Joe Mull
00:05:00 - Andy Goram
Before I run away with myself and just start getting stuck straight into the topic, could you do us a favour, please, Joe? Just give us a little bit of your background and tell me about what you're focused on right now.
00:05:10 - Joe Mull
Sure. Well, I've spent about 20 years teaching leaders how to be better bosses and how to make work work for all. I've always sort of nerded out a little bit around the social science research, around what makes people love their job, and I've read all that employee engagement stuff and been plugging into that world for a number of years. But my favourite part of my work is in the speaking. So I do a lot of keynote speaking. I do a lot of training and workshops and travel all over for that. And I love thinking about how can I translate complex ideas into simple frameworks that have a lot of utility and how can I do that for an audience in a way that is just captivating? And so that's really been at the center of my work for a lot of years. I was previously the head of learning and development for one of the largest healthcare systems here in the United States. And then I went out on my own about ten years ago and have been writing and speaking on these topics ever since.
00:06:06 - Andy Goram
Well, it's a great opportunity for speaking to you on this today, Joe, so I'm really appreciative of that, and I'm interested. You do a lot of speaking, and I've clearly working my way through the book. I think the whole genus, the idea, the stimulus for you writing this book is an interesting story in itself, because that sort of came out of a speaking engagement on a podcast, right? I guess a bit like this. What happened, Joe? Tell me, because I really would love to understand what was the trigger for you getting all these thoughts together and putting it together in Employalty?
Where does commitment come from at work?
00:06:41 - Joe Mull
Certainly. I was doing a podcast interview, and for about 30 minutes, it had a really rich conversation with the host about where commitment comes from at work. We ended up listing so many of the different things that leaders have to get right and business owners have to have in place in order for people to join an organization and stay long term and want to give it all they've got. And at the very end of the interview, the host said this. He said,
"Alright, Joe, let's get you out of here on this. Let's put a nice bow on this for everyone. In one sentence, where does commitment come from at work?"
And I went, "Well, I don't think I can give it to you in just one sentence." And then I proceeded to recap our entire 30 minutes conversation in the world's longest run on sentence. I don't know, Andy, if you've ever had the experience where you start talking and you can hear yourself talking, but you can't stop talking, that happened to me, and my answer wasn't wrong. It just wasn't concise. And I kept thinking about that afterwards and thinking about, boy, no wonder leaders and business owners struggle to create engaging workplaces and to activate commitment. It feels like at times we have to memorize volumes of information and research around what we should be focusing on to be great leaders and to create an engaging workplace.
And so I really set out to come up with that one sentence answer to that question, where does commitment come from in the workplace? And this was all happening at a time when I was really growing frustrated with this national narrative that was taking place here in the United States, post COVID, around what was being called the great resignation and so much turmoil in the labour market and staffing shortages, as people describe them. And so all of those things came together and resulted in me writing this book.
00:08:33 - Andy Goram
And it's great. And there's a couple of things I want to just pick up on there. I love what we're going to get into because I do think you simplify the complex. If I could describe the faces MDs, FDs, HRDs make when you start to try and have a conversation with them about culture and engagement and purpose, it's normally one of complete overwhelm. If you're working with great people who know this stuff's important but don't know where to start, that face is like, "Oh my!", it's fear. This is a hugely complex thing. How am I going to... and this is, I think this is the stuff that puts a lot of people off, really digging in and leaning into this stuff, because it can be just amorphous. It can be just like, well, where do you start? Right? But I think you break it down brilliantly in the book, which we'll get into. But before we kind of move on, I also think what was lovely to see the title of the book Employalty, right? You could look at that and go, well, this is about employee loyalty, right? But there's a huge underlying current under that. There's a third piece, right? Joe, explain to us what the third piece is, that we don't miss out. Because I think it's like the most important part almost.
The problem with commitment at work
00:09:41 - Joe Mull
You know, the joke is, when you write a book, you title the book for the problem people think they have. And then when you get into the book, you unveil the problem that they really have. And so we're playing a little bit of a trick on readers here. Because you see the word employee and you think it means employee loyalty. But it's actually a portmanteau of the words employer, loyalty and humanity. As we evaluate everything going on in the world and what people are looking for out of a workplace, and when we understand what activates commitment at work, what we know is that employers must make a commitment to a more humane employee experience because that's what activates commitment at work. And so we write from all of the social science research and from the very real-world experiences of employees in a lot of different places about how to do exactly that, how to create a more humane employee experience. And the result is you get commitment and people stay and they go tell others to join your organisation.
Are you a Departure or a Destination Organisation?
00:10:41 - Andy Goram
And that's what I love. And this feels to me like there's a bit of kismet in here. The stars are aligning. This message is bang on with my own thing around stickier businesses and all that malarkey. And particularly, I think, the differentiation that you make between the output, I guess, or the outcome of this approach being a destination workplace versus how you describe lots of other businesses as "departure organizations", which I thought was a really lovely turn of phrase. Just explain to the listeners exactly what you mean by that.
00:11:17 - Joe Mull
Well, as leaders and as business owners, we have to choose our identity in this world. Right. I say in the book that the era of trying to find the best person for the job is over. What we have to do now is create the best job for the person. And that requires a mindset shift. And we have so many beliefs about how work should be thoughts and ideas and even misperceptions about what drives people to care and try about a job that we end up getting caught up in some predictable patterns that are pretty antiquated around work. Some of them are around pay, and some of them are around effort. And the truth is that when we have people who are no longer getting what they need from our organization and they go seeking it elsewhere, you're a departure organization. And if you are the kind of organization that creates a more humane employee experience and understands that if I get certain employee experiences, right, people are going to join and stay, well, that makes you a destination workplace. And so at this moment, whatever industry you're in, you have to choose to either be one or the other.
00:12:22 - Andy Goram
And I think this is what is underlying in the book, this kind of changing landscape of what's going on, changing attitudes, and yet even within that, use some pretty powerful words. We've already used the word commitment already, but it seems to me at least very intentional of the use of the word devotion when you're talking about employees. Now, cynics, naysayers could sort of like start throwing stones and all sorts of things at us having a conversation about, "Well, we want devoted employees in today's landscape", and they might think, "What are you smoking? Because is that even possible?" I mean, you're strong on this, right? Those two words, devotion and commitment, well, why were they important for you, do you think?
Is devotion to work an appropriate thing to expect?
00:13:06 - Joe Mull
Yeah, well, so admittedly, I probably use the word devotion as a synonym to commitment, which I also use essentially as a synonym to engagement. So, candidly, I'm probably using the word devotion in some spots because I just can't keep using the word commitment. But I think a part of what's in there in terms of your question is, is this really an appropriate thing to expect or ask for, right. Devotion to work. And when I talk about devoted employees, I'm using that language, one, because we know that's what leaders are looking for and that's what business owners are looking for. That's the goal. Right? I want people who are going to be devoted or committed to what we're doing here. I'm not talking about devotion in terms of it being an unhealthy level of all in commitment that takes in our lives.
When I talk about devotion, I'm talking about devotion to my mission, to the mission of our team or the mission of our organization. And what I'm really talking about is people who are willing to part with discretionary effort. We know that there's a space between doing the minimum and giving it all you've got at work. And only employees who are emotionally and psychologically committed to their work, access that space, that extra gear, if you will, that in the literature is referred to as discretionary effort. That doesn't mean we don't have work life balance. That doesn't mean that we aren't creating boundaries at work so that people can have a life outside of work. It just means that when they're there, when they're working, when they're with us, they are fired up to give it all they've got because they care deeply about what's happening there.
Employee commitment is a commercial imperative
00:14:46 - Andy Goram
100%. Listen, and I don't want to carry on sounding like a fanboy of the book, but genuinely, it's touched me, it's connected with me, and we'll talk about connection later. But I do think that these themes are incredibly important. But the one piece I love in here as well is the fact that this isn't a nice thing to have. This is not just about making people feel lovely at work. It's business. We're here to get performance. We're here to drive results. And we use a dirty M word here money, right? This stuff gets a financial payback, right? It can drive revenue, drive profits, cut costs, all these things. It's here for a real commercial reason.
00:15:30 - Joe Mull
Right. So we talk about in the book and I know maybe it feels like we're teasing the framework here and I know we're going to talk about it in a minute, I promise. But the framework really is a kind of internal psychological scorecard that every employee, in every job, in every company on earth is walking through the doors with. And if you can check the box next to a handful of these experiences that people have on their internal psychological scorecard, you do a couple of things. First of all, you become nearly impenetrable to Poaching. If I'm getting everything I want or need from my employer and my work experience, it's very unlikely that another organization is going to be able to steal me away, or tempt me to go work someplace else.
The other thing that happens is you supercharge effort. When people get everything that they're looking for on this internal psychological scorecard, we end up seeing them go, wow, it's like hitting the lottery. I move from I have to do this work to I want to do this work. And so my effort goes up. And when my effort goes up, every metric you care about in your organization goes up. When you have a completely committed workforce, you get better quality, better service, better outcomes, better revenue, better reputation, better customer experiences. And so I think it's really important to name that early on, and I'm so glad you brought this up early on, because when we talk about a more humane employee experience, that sounds soft. When we talk about things like culture and leadership and retention, they sound squishy. But this is not soft.
This is a business imperative. This is an adapt or die moment for companies of all sizes and shapes to think about how they've thought about work for years and how they might need to think differently about it in order to really get people to join and give it all they've got.
Employalty: The entrance ticket for success
00:17:21 - Andy Goram
Yeah. I mean, you describe this, forgive me, I'm really well known for butchering quotes. But I think you sort of sum up Employalty as the entrance fee... Entrance ticket for success. Right? I mean, this is the message, my friend. This is exactly what we're trying to get across here, right?
00:17:39 - Joe Mull
Yes. And you didn't butcher that. I think that's almost word for... I think we call it the entry fee for success. Yeah, you're absolutely right. I talk to executives and leaders a lot about that this isn't easy and admittedly so. Right. The things that we have to do to become a destination workplace are not easy. They take time, they take money, they take resources, they take effort. And you can run a business with lower pay. You can run a business without any of the experiences that we know matter to employees. You can run a business with a minimum staffing threshold, for example, and the result is going to be one set of problems, right? You're going to have churn, you're going to have turnover, you're going to have a lot of folks, maybe who are just coasting or doing the minimum. And that's one set of problems you can choose to have. Or you can move over to the conversation that we're having, which is another set of problems. Right? How do I pay people more? How do I create an environment where people are working for a great boss and they're moving up in an organisation? That's a different kind of hard. But when you choose that set of hard problems, it's the only version of this where the result is a more committed workforce, a better set of customer experiences, higher revenue, less retention. So choose your hard, but pick the one that gives you the better result.
00:18:59 - Andy Goram
Yeah, and I would add the word sustainable in that as well. I think if you play our game and I'm calling it our game, my brother, because I think we're in this together, right?
00:19:08 - Joe Mull
We are in this together, absolutely.
The back-up of social science
00:19:10 - Andy Goram
I think this is where the sustainability comes from. No more yinging and yanging in between. One year that's great, and one year that's bad. Based on how we've acted. This is about sustainability. You're right. We have teased the framework and we will get into it. Right? Because I do want to get into it. I'm a sucker though, and maybe sucker is the wrong word. I'm an advocate of social science and research and you make a big thing about being evidence based and you talk about a whole range of different stimula and research that backs up that largely what a lot of people refer to as anecdotal kind of stories, and feedback that people get. This stuff's important. Are there any particular bits of social science within the research you did for this book, that are kind of like your absolute favourite go tos? Like, this is the thing I refer to the most.
00:19:55 - Joe Mull
Yeah. So that would probably fall into two buckets for me. Okay. The first bucket is why do people leave? What leads someone to exit an organization? And we point to dozens and dozens of really reputable, both academic and corporate types of research in this book that point repeatedly to the experiences that people have with their pay, their boss and their teammates. Also baked in there somewhere is what are my prospects for the future? What is my workload and how does it impact my life outside of work? But there was one research study that you mentioned to McKinsey, and they do a lot of wonderful research in these areas, and they were seeing a lot of turnover in the job market, people exiting jobs post-COVID for three primary reasons. I didn't feel valued by my workplace, I didn't feel respected by my manager, and I didn't feel like I belonged in the organisation. So right there we've got some big ideas around pay, around my boss, and around that team cohesion, and maybe inclusion in terms of what we talk about. So I come back to that a lot in the conversations I have around some of these bigger ideas.
The other piece of social science research that has really been at the centre of my work for years is around the significant influence that direct supervisors have. We've started a podcast a couple of years ago called Boss Better Now. We have a Boss Better Leadership Academy because we know that a person's direct supervisor, what we call their boss, is the single most influential factor in the employee experience. We know that 75% of people who leave a job indicate that their boss is part or all of the reason why. And so it's been said, and it is true, that in a lot of cases, people actually don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. And so when we recognize the importance of that relationship and that experience, it starts to give you a little glimpse into what we have to get right in order to attract and retain talent.
The framework for employee commitment
00:21:59 - Andy Goram
What a wonderful segue into the framework itself, Joe, because we have teased the living daylights out of this so far. Let's get into this framework because I think this is now setting the roadmap for success going forward. I love the way that you build it in the book. I think the Venn diagrams where it all kind of comes together are brilliant. I'm going to draw those and stick them on the Instagram channel as part of this episode, because I think they just make something incredibly complex dead, dead simple. Really cool. But without me sort of like going on and on and on. Talk us through the framework, my friend. Take us through this kind of evidence based framework that sets up this entry ticket for success.
00:22:45 - Joe Mull
Sure. So we analyzed more than 200 research studies and articles on why people quit a job or take a new job or decide to stay with an organization. And we sorted all of those findings into three core areas. And so we can say with conviction that finding and keeping committed employees really comes down to giving people their ideal job, doing meaningful work, for a great boss. And if I could go back in time to that podcast about two years ago now, and that gentleman at the end of our interview said, "Give it to us in one sentence, Joe. Where does commitment come from at work?" I would say,
"Well, commitment and retention appear when people are in their ideal job, doing meaningful work, for a great boss."
Now, there are dimensions to each of these, what we call factors. These are the three factors of a destination workplace. The dimensions to the ideal job factor are compensation, workload, and flexibility. If my compensation is right, my workload is right, and I have some flexibility around when, where, and how I work, that's my ideal job. That job fits into my life like a puzzle piece snapping into place.
The second factor is meaningful work, and that comes down to purpose, strengths, and belonging. If I believe my work has purpose, if the work I'm doing in my job aligns with my strengths, my talents, my gifts, and if I experience belonging on my team, then that work is meaningful, and I move from having to do it, to wanting to do it.
And then that third factor is great boss. We just talked about this, Andy, that it's such an influential factor. And there are dozens of things that leaders have to get right for someone to point to them and say, "Man, I've got a great boss." But we think the three most important are what we call trust, coaching and advocacy. As a boss, do I grant trust and earn trust? Do I engage in ongoing coaching conversations with my direct reports? And do I advocate for them right? Do I act in their best interests consistently? When we do those things, we nail the great boss factor.
So that's the Venn diagram that you're referring to. Ideal job, meaningful work, great boss. Those nine dimensions inside each, and that happy little space in the middle where all three overlap is commitment.
00:25:02 - Andy Goram
And it goes so far beyond this simple Venn diagram. Three factors, nine pieces that cover all that stuff, because I really liked the added dimension of what I call the three R's in there, right? So I guess the outcomes, what you get if you deliver these things. And like any good Venn diagram, if you deliver two parts, you get something, but you're missing a third part. And the way you tell stories around that, I mean, someone listening right now, they won't have a clue what I'm going on about, but explain where the three R's play their role in your Venn diagram, right?
Reputation, retention and revenue
00:25:40 - Joe Mull
So we talk about reputation, retention, and revenue, right? So what we know is that if you are, you get your employees to do all the things that we've been talking about in this episode, right? You want them to join your organization. You want to stay long term, but you also want to activate their commitment, right? You don't want them to just go through the motions and do the minimum. You want them to care and try. But if you only do two out of the three parts of this formula, if you will, you're not going to get that whole comprehensive set. So you have these three factors of ideal job, meaningful work, and a great boss. And sad as it is to say, you can nail two of them, but you still won't necessarily become a destination workplace. Because here the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, right?
So, for example, if you give someone their ideal job, right, you're nailing compensation, workload and flexibility, and they've got a great boss who is earning and granting trust, who is advocating and who is coaching, you're going to get retention, right? Because people say, "Hey! My pay is great, my schedule is great. I've got a great boss", and you might even get some revenue out of that. But if they're not getting meaningful work, if they're not getting the purpose and the strengths and the belonging, you're not necessarily going to get that reputation piece, right? You're not necessarily going to get that retention piece. Because if I don't find my work meaningful, I may start to get bored, right?
Or for example, if you have meaningful work, right, somebody is coming to work and they have purpose, their work aligns with their strengths, they're experiencing belonging, and they're working for a great boss who coaches them, who trusts them, who advocates them for them. You're going to get that reputation, right? You're going to deliver an outstanding customer experience, and that's going to result in higher revenue. But you know what you're probably not getting? You're probably not getting a lot of retention because what's missing is compensation, workload and flexibility, that ideal job piece. And at some point, I may go from being a single bachelor who can devote a ton of hours and get by on a lower salary to now, I'm a family man, and I've got a couple of kids, and I need some flexibility around when I'm at work and when I'm maybe at home to get the kids off the bus. And if my job doesn't provide that, I may have to go looking elsewhere for it. And so if we want to get retention and reputation and revenue, we have to have all three of these factors of ideal job, meaningful work, and great boss.
The importance of employee commitment
00:28:15 - Andy Goram
And I think that is the piece, that summary there, of getting all three, is where these three factors all kind of really click and make sense and where the money thing ties back in. Because I guess whenever I end up talking about this stuff with people, two things either come up. One is about making money, and the other thing is about, yeah, well, it all sounds lovely for employees, but we've got to get them to work, right? And I know you touch on it in the book, but if you get a similar question, Joe, or you get a similar comment about, yeah, well, it's not all about the employee, we got to get stuff out of them. How do you approach that sort of stuff? Because you do talk about, hey, this is no easy place, right? This is not somewhere you can just hide and get paid great cash, right? You got to earn that stuff.
00:29:07 - Joe Mull
Right? I think one of the big ideas that we try to repeat in the book and point to as a takeaway is very basically that people generally do a great job when they believe they have a great job. And so you can't require commitment. You can only nurture it, you can only engineer it. It's a reciprocity, right? We wrote about this a little bit in the beginning of the book. It's how do I treat the people here better than they would be treated anywhere else? When you do that, that actually results in people going, "Wow, I've got a pretty great thing going here. I want to be a part of this. I want to give it all they've got."
But the pay piece is really interesting, isn't it? Because for so long the perception has been that what is the minimum amount that we can pay people? What is the minimum amount that we can get away with? Right? Yeah. Because we want to be revenue generating. And of course that is true. But there's a national conversation that's taking place here in the United States right now, and I would gather that it probably is happening in most of the developed countries on Earth, about this massive shift that has taken place over the last few decades to really maximize shareholder value, especially in publicly traded companies and owner revenue.
For years back in the 40s and 50s, there was a sort of shared perspective that if we as business owners are generous to our employees, they will be generous to us in terms of their effort. And so there was a mutually beneficial relationship, a symbiotic relationship there, where I will prosper if I help my employees prosper. But in recent years, there's been this maximizing of shareholder value and where, how do we keep costs for employees down as long as possible? And what's resulted here in the US has been that wages barely moved for nearly 40 years. The median salary for the average worker here in the United States rose 10% from 1979 to 2021, whereas cost of living has increased 400%.
And so we're living in a moment right now where we are paying for the sins of this wage stagnation and there's a wages reckoning taking place. When we have people who say,
"I can't work here anymore because I can't afford it."
It's not because they're entitled. It's not being driven out of greed. It's being driven out of survival. Everything costs more for people. And when we haven't moved wages in so long, they end up going around and looking for a way to improve their quality of life. And that's the thing here, at least in the States, and again, as we looked at, we do have some information, some data in the book about other countries and other continents on Earth. The big picture has been across the board that there are now more jobs available than there are people to fill them across a host of industries. And when that numbers game is in place, people can go looking for an upgrade and that's what they're doing.
One of my favourite things to do at the start of my keynotes is ask people, "What motivates employees to care and try at work?" And sometimes, I'll use this fun polling technology where everybody pulls out their mobile phones and I give them a little QR code and they can answer this anonymously. And I'll do this as a word cloud, if you know what a word cloud is. Everybody answers a one or two word and they all go up on the screen and kind of morphs and shifts and changes. And the largest words in the word cloud are the answers that are being given most by the audience. And it never fails. Andy, when I ask what motivates employees to care and try at work, the largest words in the word cloud are always related to, yeah, salary, wages, bonuses, right? But guess what? Money and benefits and wages and everything related to compensation has very little to do with effort, has very little to do with care and try. It has everything to do with join and stay.
00:33:12 - Andy Goram
There you go.
00:33:12 - Joe Mull
So that first dimension here of this model, that first factor of ideal job, really has everything to do with getting people to walk through the door and not want to leave. When you get compensation, workload and flexibility, right? They will come, they will stay. But then those things are sort of off the table when it comes to effort, right? When it comes to getting people to want to do a great job. That's where these other factors come in of meaningful work and great boss.
The urgent need for change
00:33:42 - Andy Goram
There's so many things in there, my friend. I mean, some people might be familiar with, I think it was the Aon Hewitt kind of measurement system for engagement that was like, say, stay, strive. And I think we added thrive to the end of it, right, in that whole kind of employee journey. But the join, try, stay is a nice simple version of that. I think the piece around shareholders. I mean, I've kind of, in my past, been one of the guys pumped up to go on stage and try and rally an organization in some sense of purpose, you're up there going, "Hey, let's work harder and make some more money for the people who've got loads of money already." And that just doesn't work, right? That's not a rally cry for anyone, right?
And you talk about this wage reckoning. I mean, it is tough right now and we might sort of dig into this a bit more in a sec, but if you think that wages reckoning is going on and you combine people's kind of attitude to work now post-COVID, looking for better and you project seven or so years ahead to this job and skills shortage that is fast looming. Right? Because of the change in the generational shift and the upskilling and the baby boomer loss and all that kind of stuff. If you're not on board this bus right now, creating environments where people really, really want to stay, develop, give their best effort, feel like they're really contributing, but are seen, heard, valued, understand why those things are, you are going to be in trouble. I don't care how big an organization you are, how small an organization you are, this is going to affect everyone.
And I think this is no longer going to be this kind of,
"Oh, it's a kind of hangover from COVID and everybody's feeling a bit loved up and everybody wants to talk about being lovely and human."
No gang. This is an opportunity we have now to take the very best things that came out of COVID of looking over the fence at your neighbour, and making sure they're okay, and looking out for people and taking a greater sense of just self; the people that we're in a community with. And I'm no hippie, right? That's not me. 27 years commercial corporate dude. But this stuff works. And like many things, I think, that are being thrown us in society right now, this is an opportunity for us to kind of change for the better. But it is going to take some commitment. It is going to take leaning into this stuff. Yes. It is going to take talking to guys like me and Joe here and other people all kind of getting on board with this message, because I'm afraid, and I generally have a concern for great businesses, how they operate. Now, if they don't really dig into this stuff, we're going to lose, we're going to lose some great businesses and we're going to have a completely disenfranchised workforce. And then I don't know, and I'm not trying to create a massive doom and gloom picture. I'm just sort of saying I think we're at a point in history when it comes to employment and employees and employability and what business is shaped around. This is one of those moments I think. Am I overdramatizing, Joe? Or do you agree, my friend?
00:36:44 - Joe Mull
I not only agree, but the data tells us that's the case. Right. When you look at voluntary quitting trends across developed countries on Earth, and you look at hiring across most developed nations on Earth, what's clear in the data is not that people are quitting. It's that they're switching.
00:37:00 - Andy Goram
Switching to improve quality of life
00:37:01 - Joe Mull
We have consistently had more hiring at levels above quitting in nearly every industry category that's tracked here in the States. And when you really ask people why they're switching, you get all sorts of answers, right? So I will do this a lot in workshops. I'll say, "How many of you know someone here who has changed jobs in the past year or two?" And nearly every hand goes up. And for some of the people in the audience, it's them. And I'll say, "Okay, why are people switching jobs? What are the reasons that you're hearing? What are the reasons you've experienced?" And in about one to two minutes, I can get two dozen answers.
"I need better pay, better schedule. I need a less toxic work environment, more fulfilling work, opportunities to grow, better work life balance, a shorter commute, work from home opportunities, better benefits for my family."
We can pull out 20 plus answers very quickly. And what I will tell the audience is what I'll tell you right now, Andy, which is that it sounds like these answers are very different, but they're not. They all roll up to a single bigger idea. And that bigger idea is that people are switching to improve their quality of life.
We have had decades of people being overworked, underpaid, burned out. Right? Burnout was at an all time high in most workplaces prior to us ever hearing about COVID. COVID just took an already exhausted workforce and broke it. And so we see a recalibration taking place around how work fits into people's lives. And so this has been happening now for more than a decade, right. This idea of the great resignation that we've been talking about. It's not a blip or a fad. It's not a moment. It's an era. And it's one that's expected to continue. And the organizations who will more easily find and keep devoted employees are going to be the organizations who innovate in many of the areas that we've talked about here today around ideal job, meaningful work, great boss. And we're seeing that now, right? You're seeing companies experiment with four day work weeks and new and diverse kinds of benefits packages, flexible schedules. And to your point, there are capitalistic reasons to do this. It's not just all squishy, be nice to people, love your neighbour. It's when we invest in making work work for people, they turn around and work harder for us.
00:39:14 - Andy Goram
Yeah. And then it's easier to meet those table stakes of a decent compensation. Right. Because it's a symbiotic thing. Everything grows. In theory, everyone benefits. If we continue to play that game. It's when we don't continue to play that game and then we squirrel all the profits away, that it all becomes a bit of a nightmare. Gosh I just think we've got an opportunity here. Whenever do you get a chance to stop the world reset and go never. We've had one. Let's not waste it, right? Let's not waste it. Gosh! Where do I go? Before I let you go today, there's a couple of things I still want to cover. Right. There's some wonderful stories in the book. We've already referenced the fact that they are how do I they are relatable stories. Whenever you're doing your keynotes or running workshops, is there any particular story that seems to resonate the most with people when you tell it that you maybe want to share with us today? Is there a story that your go to?
The concept of the dream job
00:40:13 - Joe Mull
My favorite story in my keynote right now is actually not in the book. It's actually a story about the Little League World Series. I don't know if you have such a thing over there.
00:40:26 - Andy Goram
We don't most of us be aware of it, my friend. Most of us will be aware sort of stuff.
00:40:31 - Joe Mull
So the Little League World Series is played mostly by eleven and twelve year old kids here in the United States. And we field teams from every state in the US. And then a whole host of countries across the world send teams as well. And last year I had been flipping through the television channels and I happened to come upon the Little League World Series. And one of the things that's great about the Little League World Series is that ahead of each of the games, the producers of the broadcast will ask these kids questions about themselves, to learn little nuggets of information that they reveal on the broadcast. And it just so happened that on the game that I turned on, the question that had been asked was, "What's your dream job?" And now these eleven and twelve year old kids answered this question the way that you would expect most of them to answer. Some of them said, "I want to be a police officer." Some of them said, "I want to be a nurse." Way too many said, "I want to be a YouTuber", which is a real thing now.
Brody Jackson - Chicken Nugget Taste Tester
But there was one kid on the broadcast who did not answer this question the same way as his peers. His name is Brody Jackson, and he lives in Webb City, Missouri. And his answer actually went viral when he was asked, "What's your dream job?" His answer, Andy, it might be the single greatest answer ever given to the question, what's your dream job? And I'll even sometimes bet my audiences that half of them will leave with me right now just to take this job based on the title alone. Because when Brody Jackson was asked, what's your dream job? He said, "Chicken nugget taste tester."
00:42:05 - Andy Goram
That is brilliant.
00:42:07 - Joe Mull
Chicken nugget taste tester. I mean, he understood the assignment. Right?
00:42:12 - Andy Goram
00:42:14 - Joe Mull
When he was asked, "Hey, man! How do you want to spend most of your waking hours?" He reached for the thing that made him the happiest. He reached for the thing that brought him the most joy. He reached for the thing that was the best fit for his life, at this stage of his life. And you know what? It turns out that it's exactly what most people in the labour market are doing right now when deciding whether or not to stay with your organization or join another. And so this conversation that we're having right now, is really about helping leaders and employers understand how to make their jobs, dream jobs, for people. To understand the ingredients that lead to that perception in employees.
Addressing myths and misconceptions about work
00:42:54 - Andy Goram
Brilliant. I think we could all have a bit more Brody Jackson in our life. There's no question. That is a brilliant story, my friend. The final thing is that it feels like you're addressing some myths and misconceptions people have about work. We've started to touch on things like pay and what have you today. Before we finish today, are there any particular myths or misconceptions you want to highlight? As I'm blowing these out the water here in the book, these are the things that people think, but they're not based in reality.
00:43:25 - Joe Mull
Yeah. I think one of the biggest obstacles that we see in hiring right now is this perception that in some way it's about work ethic. One of the myths that gets bandied about here a lot is that it's so hard to hire because no one wants to work anymore. And this has become a kind of trope. Right? It's become an expression that people use. We have a local business owner in my community here, where I live in Western Pennsylvania who is constantly posting on social media, help me find good people. No one wants to work anymore. And then he lists the pay and the hours, and they're terrible. And it's been an interesting thing to watch people come back in the community and "No, no. Time out. It's not that nobody wants to work. It's that nobody wants to work for you." And one of my favourite sort of happy accidents in doing the research for this book was I ended up finding a researcher, a Dr. Fairie out of Canada, who studies generational tropes. And he actually says, this is the most persistent, most biased generational trope in human history, the belief that people younger than us don't possess the same work ethic that we do. And he actually found examples of this no one wants to work sentiment showing up in North American newspapers every single year going back 120 years.
00:44:41 - Andy Goram
00:44:42 - Joe Mull
And so when we want to take a minute to really understand what's happening, let's just look at the numbers as we talked about. There aren't enough people to do all the jobs that we keep adding to our economy. The issue is not that no one wants to work when we have a hard time filling positions or keeping people, we really want this to be the story. That it's work ethic, right? We want to blame people, when the truth is we need to fix work. We need to fix those pay and benefits and those schedules and those workloads. And so what I challenge audiences to do, and what I challenge our book readers to do, is to shift your mindset. There is no staffing shortage. There's a great job shortage. And when you shift that mindset, you turn the mirror inward and you start fixing the actual problems that prevent you from being a destination workplace.
00:45:29 - Andy Goram
Oh, Joe, I have so much more I want to talk about. And yet I'm not going to have time to do it, which is just gutting. It's bittersweet. This whole conversation for me. I've loved it.
00:45:41 - Joe Mull
Well, we could do it again.
Sticky notes and summarised wisdom
00:45:43 - Andy Goram
Yeah, man. I'm up for the episode 2. No question, my friend. No question. At the end of the episode, normally, Joe, I ask my guests, because I'm clearly a lazy person who doesn't like to work, to try and summarize everything that they've kind of talked. I think we've kind of summarized the future of work, today. So I have this little section called Sticky Notes. I'd like you to leave three little bits of wisdom where they could stick them on sticky notes around their screen, or carry them around with you. And in this know I'd written, how do you help someone start their own employalty movement? I think we switch that to sort of like, "How do you help someone get a bit more Brody Jackson at work?" Right? How do we do that? What messages would you leave on those three sticky notes, Joe?
00:46:29 - Joe Mull
My first sticky note would be something you heard me say earlier, which is people do a great job when they believe they have a great job. This is not complicated. It is really not that hard to find and keep devoted employees. Treat them better than they would be treated anywhere else, and they will join and stay and care and try. It really does come down to asking that question, "What would make this place the very best place to be a blank, right?" A plumber, a waiter, accountant. So that's my first sticky note. People do a great job when they believe they have a great job.
I think the second sticky note has to be ideal job, meaningful work, great boss. And if you have big sticky notes or you have small handwriting, you can put the three dimensions of each of those underneath, right? Ideal job, compensation, workload, flexibility, meaningful work, purpose, strengths, belonging, great boss, trust, coaching, advocacy. And then my third sticky note is something I just said, as you teed me up so perfectly for this. It was like you knew it was coming. Stop blaming people and start fixing work if you want to be able to find and keep devoted employees.
00:47:38 - Andy Goram
And that in itself is a brilliant end summary to this episode. Joe, it goes without saying, I've thoroughly enjoyed this conversation and definitely want to have another one. I think what I would love for you to do before you go, just tell us, where can people find out more? Because I will put everything in the show notes, but not everybody goes and visits the show notes and I do not want them to miss out. So where can they find out more about you, where can they find out more about the book? And where can they get hold of some tools?
00:48:05 - Joe Mull
Thank you so much. So you can find the book anywhere you like to order your business books from. It's on Amazon, it's on all your major retail outlets. If you can't find it where you are, then you can go to my website, Joe Mull.com, which is also where you can learn more about me, about speaking, about some of the other work that we do, and you can get in touch. If you're having trouble finding the book where you are, then we'll help you get a copy.
00:48:29 - Andy Goram
Brilliant, Joe. Thank you so much, my friend, for coming on. I've loved this. I'm really loving the book. And listen, everybody, if you get a chance to read this book, get a copy, get stuck in. It's fantastic. Brilliant. Thanks so much, Joe.
00:48:44 - Joe Mull
Thank you, Andy. It's been a blast.
00:48:46 - Andy Goram
Okay, my friend, you take care.
Okay, everyone, that was Joe Mull, and if you'd like to find out a bit more about him or any of the things that we've talked about today, please check out the show notes.
So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside. Going forward. If you have, please like comment and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram, and you've been listening to the Sticky from the Inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.
Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.