How much of our investment in employees is lost? And what does cake have to do with it?

Depending on the sector your business operates in, you may spend between 40% to 80% of gross revenues on employee salaries and benefits combined.

Salaries alone can account for 18% to 52% of your operating budget, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

At such a HUGE financial cost, to survive and be successful in our businesses, it is critical that we generate the greatest returns from our people budgets. And yet, well….we don’t. Not even close!

Our talent pool is increasingly recognized as one of the last remaining major business upsides that is yet to be fully realized. Put simply, we have a long way to go before we start generating the best returns from our investment in people, and that means we are allowing precious cash resources to slip through our fingers.

This challenge is not limited to one or two industries, or the few ‘bad’ companies in each sector. No, this is a universal business challenge that persists in 2022.

It is surprising then, how ignorant we are to the scale of this challenge and how resistant we are to working out how to tap into the available upside under our noses. In large part this is because the #leadership, #management, and #culture trends and norms that have dominated for the past 50+ years are where today’s leaders and managers did their training. It is also the context that many employees have become used to and they struggle to see a different way of operating within the complexity of a modern organization. This means that the know-how and aspiration for change remains stubbornly low. Compound this with the fact that #HR professionals and the #CFO are often at odds with their approaches to optimizing people investment and the result is that we remain trapped inside a cage of our own making.

We are definitely seeing a push-back from disgruntled employees, which is leading to a significant refocus on people-first leadership and management, as well as holistic people development through #workplacewellbeing initiatives. However, we remain a long-way from where we could be, which is evident in the increasing rates of stress, burnout, voluntary staff turnover, disengagement, lost productivity, and all the associated costs, need I go on?

Accepting that we’ve been getting it wrong for all this time is a bitter pill to swallow, and of course we all know how the human psyche just loves to resist change! The sort of change necessary to truly access the upside we know is there, requires #investment, bravery, determination, time, and exceptional leadership; the type of exceptional leadership that few of us posses. Leaders are of course, also part of the untapped upside equation! Arguably, a substantial proportion of it.

I often see this resistance play out on #LinkedIn when an article or post comes out full of great statistics and tips on how and why we need to get better at this stuff. There are literally hundreds of self-proclaimed #leaders who comment with numerous and varied reasons to justify why it won’t work, can’t work, and should be denied and dismissed as nonsense.

An old Harvard Business Review article about ‘The Making of a Corporate Athlete’ recently resurfaced and did the rounds on LinkedIn. It explains that during a longitudinal comparative study of CEOs they found that those CEOs who experienced the standard cognitive-focused development, were significantly out-performed (in business performance terms) by those CEOs who underwent a holistic self-development programme that explored their physical, mental, spiritual, emotional development too. This was a 2001 paper and yet few CEOs or their coaches and mentors are tapping into this finding 21-years hence.

Amongst the comments that I found most surprising was one that came from an independent consultant and coach, who responded with:

“Interesting. At what point did we go from: Companies exist to create products which produce profits so companies can expand to companies need to create purpose and meaning for their employees? From spiritual growth is an individual’s area of responsibility to a company’s? And, do we really want companies to be in the business of human development rather than product and value development?”

My thought was, why do they need to choose? And if human development leads to better product and value development (not least because human development IS value development), then why would we deny ourselves this opportunity? This comment was so at odds with my own perspective, understanding, and desire to see businesses thrive that I spent a few days wondering, “what am I missing?”.

I think what I’m missing is this persons limited, outdated, unmoving, and fundamentally cynical view of what business is and what it has the potential to become. If that’s the case, I am fine with ‘missing’ it. But if it is something else, please do me a favour and add me a comment or drop me a DM!

For me, it’s like we’ve got the recipe for the cake wrong. It’s a bit dry and flat, but it’s edible and the cream frosting (read box-ticking people initiatives) helps disguise the cake’s shortcomings, so we continue to eat it, and are pretty happy about it too. But what if we innovated the recipe so that we could consistently make the most delicious, moist, tall, fluffy cake? The cake would be doing all the singing, the frosting would be taking a back seat as a gentle accompaniment, not a sickly, overpowering cover-up. AND….we could charge a lot more for our incredible cake! It’s a no-brainer. However, as a collective we seem really scared of experimenting with new cake recipes to the degree necessary to untap the full potential value of cake (read employees).

I am absolutely determined to help organizations and their leaders improve their cake recipes and there are many more just like me out there keen and available to help as well. We are workplace wellbeing practitioners and we understand what a great cake recipe looks like and how to bake one. Just like in the Corporate Athlete study, we take the holistic approach and that’s where the upside is often overlooked or missed.

It all begins with understanding what your current recipe is and where it is falling short, and then innovating solutions and improvements to better it. Working with practitioners like myself can help to take the fear out of change of this nature, it shines a light on where to make investments and where to leave things as they are, it provides a roadmap for executing impactful and rewarding people and culture evolution at both a sustainable and sustained pace, and it has the potential to untap upside through both ROI and VOI that most people have no idea is possible.

Make today the day you reach our to a strategic workplace wellbeing practitioner, it may take a bit of courage, but we are a really friendly bunch, and we thrive on making a positive difference to employees and organizations alike.z

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