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book excerpt

This excerpt from Lead Yourself First! Indispensable Lessons in Business and in Life by Michelle Ray(Changemakers Books) is published with permission from the author.

How do you feel about your work environment? Are you happy or do you feel the need to move on? Workplace surveys indicate that, despite an economic slowdown, there has been a steady increase over the past two years in the number of individuals who plan to look for new job opportunities. Even if the trend reverses, the impact of workforce mobility and knowledge transfer on organizations cannot be understated.

The most common reasons cited for leaving or thinking about leaving a job relate to overall job satisfaction, relationship with one's immediate manager or supervisor, and low morale.

However, there are underlying reasons for turnover that are less obvious and have little to do with achieving a sense of professional fulfillment. The emotional and financial cost of employee departures, whether voluntary or otherwise, will always be significant and ongoing, despite prevailing economic conditions.

The solution lies in preventative maintenance. Organizations could avoid the burden of rehiring if they realized that much of the "pain" is self-induced. While it is true that some aspects of an employee's decision are outside of an employer's control, the most neglected area of focus in my experience relates to the intangible workplace motivators.

The highest priorities ought to be building an atmosphere of trust, open communication, and creating outstanding workplace relationships. Research conducted by The Conference Board indicates that in North America, job satisfaction has been on the decline for years. In all age categories, the level of satisfaction is below 50 per cent. If employers paid greater attention to developing a deeper understanding of the makeup of their teams, seeking to meaningfully improve communication, and creating more informal opportunities for people to connect and share ideas at work, a happier and more productive work atmosphere would ensue.

My first full-time job was in the media industry during the early recession of the 80s. Although my job description was more fitting for someone seeking an entry-level position, I was happy to be working after a frustrating, year-long search. I aspired to a career in broadcast journalism and jumped at the chance to work at a radio station that had recently changed its format to "news talk," the first of its kind in Australia.

I stayed at that job for over ten years and gained invaluable experience with an organization that created a culture that was the envy of the competition. The CEO was charged with a difficult task; to make the radio station profitable with a groundbreaking, risky format. When he joined the company, the station was languishing on or near the bottom of the ratings ladder. So began the climb to the top. The on-air personalities became household names and work never felt like work to most of us who had the privilege of being part of the thrilling ride to # 1.

Every new milestone in revenue and audience growth was repeatedly smashed for 48 consecutive months. The atmosphere was ongoing fun and celebration, due to the dynamic leadership of the CEO. I vividly remember his visits to my desk. He would pull up a chair and shoot the breeze at least once a week, showing genuine interest in my personal life and professional challenges. He did this with every employee (120 people), whether you worked in the newsroom, the mailroom, or the tea room.

Why did so many of us stay for so many years? In a word: "atmosphere."

Compared to many workplaces, mine was the antithesis of most that we hear about today. People felt highly motivated because they never had to second guess whether management was aware of their contribution to the overall success of the business. The workplace culture was inclusive; happiness was a critically important intrinsic and extrinsic value. I will always treasure the memories of those years.

I could not have imagined at the time how the experience would profoundly influence my current career in terms of my research and presentations on the topic of leadership and workplace morale.

In a nutshell, organizations place an enormous focus on attracting talent. However, once on board, less attention is given to creating an environment where people want to stay and voluntarily contribute to the overall goals and objectives.

During my consultations with businesses of every description, I've learned that the reason many people become dissatisfied in their jobs is because being heard, valued, and acknowledged by management and peers is an ultimately lower priority than the work itself. At all levels, everyone feels the increasing pressure of managing their daily workload. As a result, paying attention to the human element slowly becomes neglected. Yet, this is precisely the issue that necessitates the greatest consideration. In addition, it is fascinating to note this is the one area that is within an organization's control: the atmosphere within its own walls.

When organizations don't practice preventative maintenance through times of transition, there will be consequences in terms of management's ability to maintain high levels of employee satisfaction in order to retain motivated, talented people. There will also be consequences to you, the individual, unless you are equipped with a new awareness regarding the realities of workplace transitions. When circumstances change unexpectedly at work, having our own proactive plan of action ultimately will serve us well in terms of own career path and/or personal aspirations. For example, if we don't like a particular style of being managed, we always have a choice in terms of the decision to speak up, stay, or leave.

Whenever you find yourself out of sync with your job, finding the source of the issue can greatly increase your ability to lead yourself and take appropriate action. Has there been a recent "shock" to the system such as a change in leadership? Do you feel valued at work? Is someone else on your team bringing you down with negativity? Are you receiving the praise and recognition you deserve?

When the need arises to exercise our choices, you can take a hands-on approach rather than seeing yourself as a victim of circumstance. You don't have to remain "stuck." Instead, seek whatever means available to find the inspiration needed to take charge of your career and your professional destiny.

Michelle Ray (@michelleraycsp) is a Vancouver-based business keynote speaker, leadership expert, author and founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute. She will be at the Chapters Indigo Bookstore at Bay and Bloor Streets in Toronto between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm on Thursday, May 28.

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