It’s the topic of the moment, the source of our anxieties and a great opportunity for change. We’re talking about the move from remote to hybrid working. It’s a chance to bring together the best of both worlds as we move into the next phase of our working lives.

The initial change was relatively straightforward: we went from “everyone in the office” to “nearly everyone at home”. It was a change that took place from one day to another, something which we would never have imagined to be possible. It was a true “evolution” that nobody expected, triggered by external factors.

But now the ball is in our court: after we’ve seen plan A and plan B, we can now choose the path we want to take going forward. We have all the tools we need to change the things that didn’t work previously. We can also learn from the things that didn’t work after the start of the pandemic. The things that paralyzed us, such as organizations and traditional systems that resist change. We can resist going back to the errors of our ways.

Lots of researchers are talking about this as a “fragile” time. We’re halfway between an old mindset and a new one. We’re still looking for our own ways forward, running the risk of losing resources and energy along the way. It’s a risk that companies just can’t afford to take.

Professor Tsedal Neeley has been studying remote, virtual and global work for over 20 year. In March, she published the book “Remote work revolution”, commenting in a recent article:

All or nothing is easy, when everyone is in the office or working remotely. But we’re talking about a mix with hybrid work, entering into a grey zone where people ask themselves “what will the final version be?”. It’s comfortable to think about temporary ways of working, but it becomes difficult if we think about what our long term working patterns will look like, and how to move them in the right direction.

The professor talks about how to tolerate this new level of responsibility and move forward into a new era of evolution.

1) how many colleagues have talked about the pandemic being like spending 40 days at sea, but working more and better than ever? We’ve always known that flexibility boosts productivity, but this unexpected strike of independence has really allowed people to find their own ways of working. It’s allowed them to express creativity in the everyday, trying things that they would usually have been too scared of making mistakes from, to talk openly about their mistakes. The sea view (to continue the analogy) helps them to work better. But many companies have asked people not to work on holiday, some even going so far as to make remote working difficult on Fridays to discourage people from moving around. But what happens to the 70% of people that found themselves more productive through the pandemic?

2) this morning a banking friend told me about how being able to work from a different region allowed him to stay closer to his mother during a difficult time when she’d broken her leg. It’s just one of the thousand cases where remote working has allowed us to rediscover our family and caring dimensions, allowing us to be present while staying productive, and to feel proud of ourselves for the ability to be many things at the same time. We can see more layers of humanity, tolerating and welcoming areas that were traditionally off limits, such as working hours and physical spaces for meetings. We’re moving closer to our working roles, and our companies too.

Research has shown that openly encouraging people to move in this direction helps to build trust amongst colleagues. It also helps employees to feel more engaged at work, as they feel seen and valued. Does this increase loyalty towards the company? Of course it does.

3) “I’m not sleeping well, I’m feeling anxious because I feel like I’ve lost control”: there are so many managers that are feeling like this at the moment. Bringing people back to the office might help to calm their anxieties about losing control, if we think about the presenteeism paradigm. So many companies are reducing remote working to two or three days per week, perhaps even limited to half days (which makes no sense if we think about productivity), with top down guidance from companies to workers. Negotiation has taken on a form of control, but there’s something much more important lying beneath. It’s the battle for trust.

All of the data that we can see show that people feel it when they are forced to go back to the office. They say: you trusted me during the pandemic, why don’t you trust me any more?

In the complexity between the before and the after, we’ve found ourselves in a technological abyss where we can choose when and how we want to work. The only key that we have to finding the answers is trust. We need to keep trusting our colleagues, workers and even ourselves. We need to trust in our ability to be independent and responsible, knowing how to do our jobs and finding new ways to improve, to be okay with not being governed and controlled. We don’t even treat our children like that any more.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here

Tension persists, uncertainty is still very much with us. Nobody expected this state of uncertainty to go on for so long. Psychologists know that this continued state can have a long-term impact on the way we are. The human brain can’t live in an endless state of “alarm”. Our brains’ alarm mode is also called “the abduction of the amygdala” and it happens when we’re unable to forsee what’s going to happen in the immediate future.

The human brain is a “great predictor” in fact. It’s able to foresee what may happen and how it will react to something before the event occurs, which makes things easier for us. We do a lot of things on auto-pilot, leaving our prefrontal cortexes – the most advanced part of the brain that imagines, resolves and collaborates – free to use a lot more energy. But when we’re unable to predict what’s going to happen, our amygdala comes into play. It’s one of the most basic, quickest and primitive parts of the brain that “robs” the remaining energy to keep us safe. That’s how we have adapted our everyday routines. But until we know what’s going to happen “later”, part of our energy will remain caught up there, along with all the uncertainty, ready to use the fight-or-flight instinct that’s so significant for our species. Can we do anything about it?

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, there is. We can actually do a lot to lower the amount of tension, maximizing the persistence to develop our superpowers, putting our prefrontal cortex into use. Doing so would mean we’d feel better today, but we’d also be able to remove ourselves from this strong crisis and strengthen us as we face complexities that are now part of our histories. Here’s what the psychologists suggest:

1) cultivate self-efficacy: focus on all the ways that we resolve small and large uncertainties each day, finding imperfect solutions that work. Now is not the time to look for definitive solutions: everything is changing so quickly that we need to know how to tollerate our own imperfections. Being able to see and value the good things that we’re able to do is the most useful skill that we have, increasing awareness of our efficacy and the perceptions of our ability to act, whatever life throws at us.

2) working on purpose: the human mind finds relief when it taps into something higher. When we take small steps forward each day, we need to be able to step back and see the “bigger picture” from time to time, seeing that everything has a purpose. It’s really about the purpose that we give to our own lives, the design that we continue to see as we trace it. A design that changes with every transition we go through. That’s why we need to keep looking at it with fresh eyes as we continue our journeys.

3) showing ourselves to others: trust and entrust. This state of uncertainty doesn’t leave us with any energy to fake it or draw up our bridges. Now is not the time to hide behind labels. We need to show ourselves to others with grace and respect, trying to see each other more clearly. Our “old style” roles – the ones that separated our working and personal dimensions – don’t fit any more. They need to be adapted and changed too frequently, together with the definitions and behaviors that they bring with them. We can reveal ourselves in a transparent and empathetic way, that human superpower that allows us to stay together, even when the signals that surround us might feel confused.

We can do these things each day, starting with the small things. We need to see what we’re able to do, despite everything. It’s about seeing the bigger picture of our lives, showing ourselves to others and being more attentive when we look at those around us. Now we know that it’s not just a pipe dream: it’s an effective way to lower our stress levels and strengthen ourselves in this incredible era of our history.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here

To work and compete in a digital world, we need people with the right training. Up until now, companies have invested in tools that have allowed their workers to work remotely, but adapting to the change that’s already taking place isn’t enough. It’s time to take a step forward and anticipate transformation. HR Directors need to develop new training programs that welcome the entire organization, providing people with the tools they need to make a difference in tomorrow’s markets.

Over the next two years, thanks to digital technology, 70% of workers will need to upgrade key skills to be able to carry out their everyday work. According to a report from the World Economic Forum, 84% of companies expect to accelerate the digitalization of their processes and increase the amount of digital tools used at work. It’s now becoming a priority for companies to upskill and reskill their workforce. Using digital takes on two roles: the goal of workers being able to effectively use technology and offer new training formats.

Focusing on digital soft skills

Employee training represents a key challenge for every organization. The trend monitored by the Innovation Practice HR Observatory at Milan Polytechnic  suggests that companies increase their spending on digital initiatives by 7.5% compared to 2020. Over the past few months of remote working, more than half of HR directors have encountered gaps in activities that support their people. The ‘digital change’ is driven by the need to guarantee continuity at work, as well as a desire to improve processes.

Today, 35% of organizations expect to increase their investments by up to 15% when compared to last year. This increase will focus mainly on training, analysis and developing new skills. As we move into an increasingly “hybrid” situation between the physical and the digital, corporate roles need to evolve. Many organizations are focusing on soft skill development programs, transferable skills, as well relational and behavioral changes to best maximize these new digital tools.

HR managers play a key role in this. They are strategic partners for management, with the aim of guiding internal development and sourcing external skills that can future-proof their businesses. That’s why it’s so important to instil a culture of life-long learning within their companies. HR Directors are called to create personalized journeys, both in terms of content and formats, that are engaging and efficient in digital settings.

Personalized, independent and flexible training

Everything seems positive so far. People working within organizations are aware of the changes that are taking place. Often, they’re more than ready to acquire new skills and abilities as they participate in continuous learning opportunities. As the technological transformation has offered new ways of working remotely, thousands of workers have developed a certain learning adaptivity. They have become more effective at learning new skills and abilities, allowing them to adapt to the changes that their job requires of them.

Today, more than half of organizations use digital tools to carry out microlearning. Training sessions provide continuous professional updates and facilitate the integration of learning within the everyday. This proves to be useful in engaging younger generations, as they’re interested in quickly learning through short content that they can immediately put to use in the workplace. It’s the new learning trend: personalized training that can be managed independently and fits into each schedule. 

Using data and HR’s new role

Some things have become much easier, thanks to digital tools. HR Directors can now easily gather and analyze data, allowing them to personalize experiences for each employee. AI algorithms are able to suggest relevant content and formats to individuals, based on their own interests and needs. They can also show the organization which skills they need to develop in order to remain competitive.

Data offers so much potential, but few companies are actively putting these insights to use. According to Milan Polytechnic, only 8% of organizations conduct analysis exercises to predict future trends. In terms of training and development, HR teams often limit their analysis to the here and now, without diving into the data that they’ve gathered about the results that training has brought. Without this important element, it’s impossible to measure the effectiveness of training initiatives.

Data analysis, using digital tools to support HR processes and people engagement are three elements of “Connected People Care”. It’s the new role that HR teams are taking on to care for their people, personalizing their services, staying up to date with market needs and staying connected with the entire organization.

It appears as though the things that previously worked as part of an economic community no longer do post-Covid. The US has been talking about the notion of the Great Resignation. People have discovered that they can consume less and live on less. This allows them to find alternative paths to the careers they’ve relied on up until now. Careers that had become an overpowering identity over the past 50 years, almost like a religion. It’s a movement of opinions that’s sweeping across the world.

It’s nothing to worry about. But it is something to reflect on. There are so many things we can do to improve our ways of working, and the crisis has only highlighted the gaps that have grown in our companies over recent decades. Covid gave us hope for a change that we’re scared we won’t see happening. We’re going back to the office and back to our old routines, to the traffic jams and the need to see people “when we’re needed“.

Are we falling back into a trap? It’s so easy to objectify ourselves, to see ourselves as cogs in a big system that we all rely on. Or maybe that’s just what we think? It offers an interesting viewpoint on some of the big challenges to human sustainability in the world of work today. Journalist Arthur Brooks wrote about it in his weekly column  “How to build a life” in Atlantic, starting with this pearl from Karl Marx.

In 1844, Marx talked about the capitalist system in “Estranged Labor”:

“The spontaneous activity of the human imagination, of the human brain and the human heart, operates on the individual independently of him. It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self”.

Workers are objectified in his view, made into miserable shells. The term objectification is often used when we talk about sexual discrimination:

Sexual objectification considers the other person an object that can satisfy sexual desires.

But Brooks uses the term as a way of describing people as production tools: a knock-on effect of the religious effect that we mentioned earlier, where work is something that people are part of, and not viceversa.

We were so deep in the trenches, as is so often the case, that we didn’t see it anymore. We were shocked out of it and suddenly could see things in a new light. So what can we do now? First of all, it’s important that we talk about it. It’s one of the most effective ways to break down the stereotypes that have been brought to light. And it’s very difficult to turn back. It’s hard to unsee something after it’s been revealed to us. It’s also useful to consider that resolving objectification would also resolve some of the pressing issues that companies are facing when it comes to human capital.

1) When objectification is determined by the environment, it’s the environment that’s seeing a partial and weaker view of the person. It’s more likely that they will be discriminated against: sexual objectification is just an example, but there are so many other instances that present obstacles for every form of diversity that’s trying to be seen, accepted and valued today.

2) When objectification is born out of a management style we see the “toxic boss” come into play. They use and measure people for their productivity levels, lowering motivation, wellbeing and effectiveness. There’s still an index that measures the damages and consequences of this.

3) There’s also self-objectification, which is probably the one that trips us up most. Sometimes, we can feel as though we have to show a  reduced version of ourselves, identifying solely with our working identity. But what effect does that have on us? The things that we no longer saw pre-covid are now clear as day in front of us. We’d lose the identity dimensions that enrich and recharge us, losing resources and abilities that mono-dimensionality steals from us. We move from self-esteem to a sense of purpose, which has an impact between our ability to feel efficient and active agents in the worlds that we live in.

Religion is something that we believe in, but work is always a choice that we can discuss and debate each day. It makes us ask who we are, how many things we are and how much we should give to each one. Each of us can become “full” when we’re entering into working, family and passion dimensions. There are so many options that it’s scary, but it makes us more able to live through the complexity that the world offers us each day.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here

Over the past few months, we’ve seen the effects of the workplace that the pandemic has kept hidden. We can quickly pick up when our colleagues’ moods. We can see that the extended period of uncertainty has made some people want to know there’s security in their professional future, while other people find that in staying still where they are right now.

It might seem impossible to keep everyone motivated and happy when people are feeling so differently. Managers and HR teams are also people who are going through the same period of complexity. We’re asking them to look at others and how they are feeling, but at the same time it can all feel a bit “big brother”. The current corporate dynamics between businesses and their employees aren’t dissimilar to an old couple. There are so many feeling mixed up in there, that it would be so easy to fall into post-pandemic quicksand.

I’ve been inspired by a Harvard Business Review article  “With so many quitting, don’t overlook those who stay” – a concept that could easily be applied to our personal lives too. Here are three practical takeaways that we can take from couple life to our professional relationships:

Don’t settle for exhausted relationships, even when routines might feel safe. Sometimes fatigue can determine the temperature of a relationship. Establishing whether it’s healthy can seem too much. It’s all to easy to fall into routines, feel assured by income coming in at the end of the month and telling ourselves that it’s “always better than working down a mine”. But professional relationships take up so much of our lives and they deserved to be cared for. We need to see them as essential, and start to get worried if they aren’t. Couples go through rough patches when people and circumstances change, but the way that we look at them doesn’t. When time passes and our expectations don’t keep up, we’ll feel less seen and see others less too. Times of crisis can go on for so long, settling for something because we need it. But if we’re not happy, we’ll not be very productive and we’ll always be waiting for something exciting to turn up to help us feel alive again. How can we break this cycle?

It takes two to tango. Often managers and people that work in HR teams feel and behave as though maintaining relationships depends solely on them. This old way of thinking leads to feeling like we have to control people. But if we look at it through the lens of a couple, we’re reminded that healthy relationships need both sides to take an active role. Both are called to take notice if something isn’t working properly, taking responsibility and to take steps to putting things right, if they want to keep going. If it works, but even if it ends, there are always two people in a relationship. There’s not one who transmits and one who receives, but rather two adults that have decided to dance together and choose this relationship every day. A choice made through words and acts, even when the music changes.

Parting ways doesn’t mean failure. Sometimes it happens. People leave each other, people resign. It’s interesting to see that in some workplaces, managers can see resignation as though the person has cheated on the company. People can feel abandoned, triggering emotional reactions, where separation is seen as breaking the pact they made. But sometimes separation needs to happen. It’s a decision to break away from a fatigued relationship. It’s a way of making space for new opportunities: organizational change, career moves, a way of finding solutions to problems that had arisen. Of course, it hurts. If that person was there with us, they would have been responding to our needs and we would have invested in them. But crisis is a catalyst for renewal. Maybe it’s the only thing that brings about real change.

Let go of those who no longer love us: we might even notice that we stopped loving them some time ago. It’s an opportunity to take a closer look at the people who are left, to make new alliances and break away from routine. By doing so, we’ll remind ourselves of all the reasons why we love what we do.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here

“A child on my CV” is the name of a Brasilian social campaign. It invites mothers and fathers to highlight things on their CV that would traditionally be hidden. We’re talking about caring responsibilities that are often seen as a distraction from work, blocking mothers’ careers indefinitely and making fathers have to choose which role they are going to do part time: being a father or being a worker.

The campaign invites parents to reveal the presence of children in their lives, posting a photo that shows the skills that have improved through their parenthood experiences. We’re doing something similar in Lifeed with “MyRealCV”, a campaign that has seen thousands of people take part in just a few weeks. We’re focusing on revealing the impact that parenthood and other life transitions can have on the way we learn. Transitions such as caring for dependent relatives, changing jobs, becoming empty nesters or even starting a new business.

I recently read the news about the American startup “The mom project” raised 80 million dollars to quickly grow and generate value in working mother “transactions”, up to a billion dollars. The shift is happening and more people are starting to take note. Technology has given us powerful tools that allow us to reveal talent that might otherwise be hidden through lack of visibility and networking. But what are these talents? And is it true, or is it just a nice idea that parenthood trains our skills?

I’ve been studying just that over the past 10 years. I’ve also been an entrepreneur for the same length of time. I’ve tested out the theory on myself nearly every day, constantly discovering new ways to connect aspects that were traditionally separated out – such as being a mother and an entrepreneur. This exercise gives me useful tips, and new perspectives, in both areas. Here are three I’ve noticed just recently.

1) I’m always ready for change: in fact, I encourage it. My daughter is 13 and has hit the teenage years. Everything has gained momentum this year. She’s taller, more mature, more of a woman, more complex. If I tried to see her as I did 6 months ago, I wouldn’t be able to understand or reach her. So I have to immagine and wait for the transformation to take place. I can’t see colleagues, employees or clients as static either: we’re all constantly changing.

It makes me think again about how we’ve been taught to be wary of change. Often changes quietly take place within existing frameworks, without surprising us too much. This way of thinking limits our complexity as humans. Just like our children change, our colleagues change. We even change! Often seeing and enduring our own changes is incredibly difficult. Children teach us to love these transformations, seeing them as something that’s necessary and welcome. A true work in progress. We can do the same at work, and I can do the same within my company. It’s a journey of understanding, imagination and surprise.

2) I know how to be there when I’m needed. I also have a 10 year old son who has just started middle school. He’s still a kid, but he’s just been thrown in at the deep end in a completely new world. In this case, he still sees himself as he used to be and he’s finding it tough. It’s my job to help him see what he can become. I understand that it’s a phase where I need to be there for him. As a parent I know that I can’t choose when my child will need me, so I need to be there in “general” and wait for him to come to me when he’s ready.

At the same time, my company also needs me to be there in certain aspects. Sometimes it’s more critical than at other times. Perhaps some people are going through a crisis, or they’re going through a “growth spurt” or the organizational dynamics are changing. Just like with my child, a meeting isn’t going to cut it with my team. It’s about making them feel that I’m there for them and that I’m moving the levers in the background. It’s about having a plan to dedicate more time to them when they need it.

3) I know how to let go: delegate, raise and let people make mistakes. This is a pain point with children, but also with staff! It’s challenging to know when to take a step back so that they can be independent (and they can feel a bit lonely at the start). There’s never a right time to see them grow up, so it’s worth trying this out sooner rather than later, rather than trying to protect them from everything. It’s our animal instinct: babies that know how to stay by themselves have more of a chance in life. We can’t always be there for them, and sometimes it’s nice to see them go a little bit further without us there. I’m still finding it difficult to do at work: it’s as though only I really know the project inside out, and I find it hard to leave that to other people. But my company is entering the teenage years. It’s still similar to me, but it’s ready to gain some independence. I never wanted to be indispensable, I wanted it to grow beyond my own capabilities. I want it to grow without always needing me.

We often talk about soft skills: those that aren’t technical. They don’t have clear formulas and they touch on humans’ ability to manage, understand and create within complexity. Empathy, listening, communication, problem solving, decision making and creativity are all soft skills. We can’t learn them in the classroom: they need to be practised in different contexts, motivated by different things and gaining relevance through real life situations.  Adding your child to your CV means breathing life into it. It’s a training ground that can generate resources that the world of work desperately needs today.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here

As the Great Resignation evolves from a mostly US-based phenomenon to a global reality affecting many industrialised countries, how can companies secure their future and even get a competitive edge in such a state of upheaval?

Gallup says it loud and clear: by upskilling their people, especially managers. Citing data from its American Upskilling Study, published in June 2021, the polling company noted how updating one’s skills was a priority for 57% of US workers, arguing that:

“One of the most disruption-proof, time-tested human needs is for development. People demand growth and development.”

The instability of the past year and a half has encouraged many people to rethink their career and life paths altogether, and understandably so. Most of us have experienced significant swings in our work-life balance: the challenges of combining parenthood with work have gradually (and thankfully) gained legitimacy in public fora. Meanwhile, in some countries with more traditional entrepreneurial backgrounds, like Italy, working from home and other flexible arrangements have become more widely accepted practices, rather than just temporary emergency solutions.

Yet only a handful of companies have seized the opportunity to make the most of these life-changing experiences, maximizing their potential in terms of people development. No wonder that those few companies are now the most sought-after and have turned into the Holy Grail for today’s strongest candidates looking to re-enter the job market. Talk about competitive edge.

While most people have experienced major transitions having a profound effect on their work situation, the roles and responsibilities of managers have possibly gone through an even more significant reshuffling. Not only have they been required to deal with situations often beyond their job scope, often striving to find the perfect balance between the company’s vision, their employees’ needs and their own responsibilities. In several cases, managers have become the tip of the scale in driving their employees’ decision to stay or to leave their company. Indeed, as Gallup says, “Great managers reduce turnover more effectively than any other role” in an organization and play a key role as ambassadors of the company’s people strategy.

And yet, while managers have the power to influence team engagement up to 70%, only three in 10 said they’ve had opportunities to grow and learn in the last year, or feel supported in their development. How can this gap be filled?

How can companies better equip their managers to deal with their new responsibilities?

To deal with the greater flexibility and uncertainty of the current scenario, manager reskilling should start from their soft skills. Listening to an employee’s concerns is no longer a task relegated to feedback meetings or annual appraisals. In fact, as the boundaries between personal and professional become increasingly blurred, the ability of managers to adopt a caring leadership style has now become a differentiating factor. The managers’ coaching role, too, has expanded its scope to include a wider range of aspects on which employees expect to be led: from time management to setting boundaries, from stress management to self-awareness.

The benefits of reskilling managers? A more engaged workforce, determined to stay rather than leave. A management team who finds new meaning in its role and has the power to make its employees’ lives more balanced and flourishing. And ultimately, an activity with a strong ROI, given the disproportionate costs of replacing an employee that leaves the company instead of investing in their growth.

As a round-up of recent studies published by Forbes has shown, empathy is no longer “simply” a key human skill. In fact, when leaders practice it actively, this competence can turn into a powerful tool to drive business results.

Brought to the spotlight by Daniel Goleman and his studies on emotional intelligence, empathy has generally been linked to relational benefits such as teamwork and social awareness. However, new research has demonstrated the constructive effects of empathy on performance-related areas like innovation, retention, and productivity.

The ripple effect of empathy

For instance, empathy is a key driver of innovation as it promotes active listening and a deeper understanding of others’ perspectives. It’s not coincidental that the first phase of design thinking, one of the most advanced approaches for developing new products and services, corresponds to empathizing with potential users. Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes broadens our horizons and encourages us to embrace different ideas

Empathy also fosters diversity, and therefore contributes to forging a more inclusive workplace. 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership. Empathetic leaders were also shown to help their employees better navigate the demands of work and life: 86% of employees with empathetic leaders said they felt more enabled to successfully juggle their personal, family and work obligations, hence becoming more productive.

In the post-pandemic scenario, these benefits become even more relevant if we look at them from two other perspectives: mental health and retention. In terms of mental health, which Gallup grimly defined “The Next Global Pandemic”, empathy also appears to be a powerful antidote to stress and contribute to positive experiences for individuals and teams. A lot has been said about the Great Resignation spurred by COVID-19 and the subsequent reshuffles of the way we work. Again, empathy has proven a very powerful weapon in retaining employees; 57% of white women and 62% of women of colour said they were unlikely to think of leaving their companies when they felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by their companies.

Leaders should switch to active empathy

So, what can leaders do to demonstrate empathy and reap its full benefits? As Forbes remarks, leaders should no longer limit themselves to considering their employees’ thoughts and feelings using cognitive empathy (“If I were in his/her position, what would I be thinking right now?”) and emotional empathy (“Being in his/her position would make me feel ___”). In fact, the biggest rewards come from applying empathy in a proactive way, for instance expressing concerns and inquiring about their people’s challenges.

Listening to employees’ stories and reading non-verbal cues are two basic key skills to develop to become fully attuned to what our people are experiencing. But they are not enough. To become truly empathetic, leaders should indeed follow up on the collected information and find ways to offer help and support when needed. Discovering that an employee is struggling with being a new parent or a caregiver makes you a good listener. Finding co-created solutions to soften those challenges and turn them into growth opportunities makes you an excellent people leader. And can make all the difference for your company’s performance.

The feminist movement in the 70s used a metaphor to define the battle for gender equality: breaking the “glass ceiling”. It’s a metaphor that has never been more relevant, especially when we read shocking statistics about women across all areas of life.

Statistics such as this: just 1.3 million out of 6 million companies in Italy are lead by women. Even though women have had the right to vote in the country for over 75 years, there’s never been a female Head of State or Government. What’s more, female representation in politics is still a lot lower than in other European states.

The social gender gap continues to be a weak spot in western democracy. The Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum shows that women are the only majority that are still treated as though they were a minority group. That’s why talking about female empowerment has become a sort of international mantra. A mantra that’s sometimes mistreated.

We’ve seen some little signs of movement recently, though. In 2021, Italy hosted the G20 summit. It was the first conference on gender equality in history, where President Mario Draghi highlighted that he’d adopted a “roadmap to reach and exceed the Brisbane target, closing the gender gap at work by 25% by 2025 in G20 countries”.

Change the track

So the gender gap and female empowerment are two sides of the same coin. Both need to be worked on in parallel for women to have a real and concrete presence across all levels of society. There are so many ways to get there, from a different approach to leadership to a fairer approach to salaries and welfare packages. We could even go so far as to champion equality of rights and responsibilities, starting with nuclear families and flowing right through to workplaces. One thing is for certain: the world needs a new way of looking at things. It needs new solutions.

But while women have the same opportunities as men, until they are able to compete for the same potential and objectives, this social, cultural and economic change will never happen. They need to have their voices heard, without having to change their way of being. 

It’s not about letting women run on the same race track as men. Instead, we need to change the track to make it more suitable in welcoming the potential that each gender has to offer.

Diversity enriches us

One of the roads we could take is an approach based on management models that focus on harmony in diversity and inclusion. This begins with favoring the link between corporate “Learning Cultures” and promoting D&I.

According to a Harvard Business Review survey, companies that focus on a learning culture are not only oriented towards increased learning, flexibility and mental openness. They’re also more likely to innovate and adapt to new situations.

So, if the world of work started to look at things differently, companies would gain so much. An open corporate culture that welcomes multiple roles and different identity dimensions (through care, collaboration and trust) will be able to strengthen wellbeing, engagement and productivity at work.

A culture that focuses on learning is a way of amplifying different voices that bring new ways of facing challenges and resolving problems. According to research, increasing the level of diversity and inclusion within companies goes hand in hand with putting the emphasis on learning at work.

Learning can be developed on so many levels, from the individual to groups within the company. The managers’ roles remain central, becoming ‘changemakers’ in relation to the status quo.  They also understand how to manage or build new systems that focus on learning, where women can offer a new and precious perspective. It’s a way of ensuring that their potential is considered equal to their male counterparts. Maybe once we’ve done that, we can really be proud of hosting the G20 2021 in Rome.

What makes life worth living? It’s a question we rarely ask ourselves, because we already know the answer… Or would we rather not know? Not know how much our life resembles the answer we would give, how much meaning we give to the things we own, rather than seeking things that are meaningful for us? Well, the good news is that pandemics encourage this kind of reflection. Pandemics, but also other major life events: losing someone, giving birth, falling sick, learning something. These events inevitably slow us down and reveal the hidden mechanisms that regulate our lives, making them visible, hence vulnerable, questionable, improvable.

That’s why the results of this year’s Pew Research Center research are even more interesting to look at. The ambitious survey interviewed 19,000 respondents in 17 countries, in order to find out “what makes our lives meaningful.” Notably, the questionnaire wasn’t made of close-ended questions. Instead, researchers  extracted data from the respondents’ narratives. A bold decision enabled by technology: rather than establishing what to find in advance, technology allowed to extract it straight from the complexity of human narrative, hence opening up to many more discoveries.

So, here is the question asked in the very same way, across the 17 countries, including Italy:

“We’re interested in exploring what it means to live a satisfying life. Please take a moment to reflect on your life and what makes it feel worthwhile – then answer the question below as thoughtfully as you can. What about your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying? What keeps you going and why?”

Who knows whether, in the days after the interviews, the Pew Research investigators have checked the mood of those who answered the question. In fact, there are at least two questions: the first is what keeps us going, what pushes us out of bed in the morning, in our cars, to the office, travelling, working, planning, pushing, pulling, back and forth, without interruption. The second is about the why: why do we do it? In the end, the research only mapped one type of question which combines these two aspects of our lives’ meaning. Let’s take a look at them, but keep in mind that they’re always made of two perspectives: the meaning of what we do as our “what”, and the meaning of what we do as our “why”.

In first place, family was quoted as a source of meaning by 38 percent of respondents in nearly all countries studied (with some notable exceptions like Spain, North Korea, Taiwan and Italy’s hybrid case). For some reason, the study makes a distinction between family and romantic love, which occupies the eleventh place with only 4 percent of preferences (7 percent in Italy), lower than nature, hobbies, family relations, society and learning. Therefore, family means “non-romantic love”: family ties, but most of all children, the household like a small self-sufficient community, which brings out love and responsibility, giving a meaning to everything.

And what about Italy’s hybrid case? In first place, we find family together with work (43 percent), which in other countries is generally in second place with 25 percent of preferences on average. Work is strong in all responding countries in the 30-64 age range, where it occupies second place; it goes down to third place in the 18-29 age group while it completely disappears after 65, leaving room for material well-being and health. Work is therefore seen as a right, as a form of citizenship, self-expression and an opportunity for personal growth, as well as a source of sustenance. Spaniards share the Italians’ view, putting work before family (40 percent of respondents), but after health and material well-being.

Finally, in most countries, the third place is occupied by material well-being, friends and physical and mental health. Again the results offer us a wide range of information if seen by age range. Friendship, for instance, is a pillar of life for younger respondents, while losing ground when getting older. Health makes an appearance in third place, while in adulthood material well-being prevails. You can nearly see them before your eyes, the dreams and ambitions that take shape as years go by, and continue to inflate and deflate in the face of reality. Work goes from third to second place when turning 30, winning over friendship, only to lose ground against material well-being at 65. Meanwhile, our health worries reach the top three positions.

With all this back and forth, it is remarkable to find the concept of family in top position: a word that can have multiple meanings, as it changes with culture, age, economic conditions and geographic location. Yet, family still prevails, like our roots giving sense to our being, but also fruits that confirm we’re able to exist beyond our limits, in a future that does not foresee our existence.

So, do we know what keeps us going? And how does it make us feel to think about it?

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here