#HRTechChat: The “Ambition Recession” and Activating Employees with Pamela Stroko

Welcome back to another episode of #HRTechChat, where we dive into the latest trends and strategies in human resources and workplace technology. In this podcast episode, our host, Jennifer, is joined by HR expert Pamela Stroko to discuss a pressing topic – the staggering 59% of the workforce who are quietly quitting their jobs. Pamela sheds light on the concept of the “”Dead Zone,”” the time of day when remote or hybrid workers are not available to their managers. This lack of trust and connection to work has contributed to the decline in productivity and engagement among employees.

Pamela introduces a concept called the “Ambition Recession,” a term coined by Gad Levanon, which points to the decline in employee ambition and engagement since the pandemic. She highlights that we need to shift our focus from where people work (in-office, remote, hybrid) to the quality of the work and the experiences employees have within the organization. The key is to activate employees and connect them deeply to their work to foster greater engagement and productivity.

One solution Pamela suggests is using technology like the People Activation Platform offered by Pro Habits. This platform helps employees connect with their work by guiding them through daily tasks, setting goals, and providing feedback. It brings visibility to the work employees are doing and helps build trust between managers and their teams.

Another tool discussed in the podcast is BlueBoard, which provides recognition experiences as rewards. Instead of traditional gifts or events, employees can choose an experience that is meaningful to them, such as a vacation with family, attending a sports event, or going on a hike. These experiences create positive intent, energize employees, and increase their commitment to the organization.

The podcast emphasizes that organizations should focus on connecting employees to their work and creating meaningful experiences rather than just solving for the physical location of work. By activating employees and igniting their passion for their jobs, companies can boost productivity, engagement, and overall organizational success.

In conclusion, Pamela and Jennifer leave us with the reminder that within each individual lies the potential to be fully engaged and energized by their work. As leaders, it is our responsibility to find that spark and encourage it to shine, fostering a culture of productivity and enthusiasm.

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Jennifer Dole 00:00
Welcome back, everyone to another episode of #HRTechChat, the Podcast where we explore the latest trends and strategies in human resources and workplace technology. I’m your host, Jennifer. And today we have our special guest returning again to the show Pamela, an HR expert with years of experience. Welcome, Pamela.

Pamela Stroko 00:24
Oh, thanks so much. It’s so good to be back. We have such great fun with these and start a great conversation on market. So, I’m just thrilled to be here again.

Jennifer Dole 00:33
Yes. And today we have a pressing topic to discuss a recent Gallup research report that a staggering 59% of the workforce is quietly quitting their jobs. So, I guess we’re not done with this. And Pamela, I’d love to dive in today to what can we do as HR professionals and employers to activate these employees.

Pamela Stroko 01:02
I think it’s a great place to start, let’s start with the context of everything going on around the quiet quitters. Because some of the stuff that just came out in the last week or two, I find fascinating, like, what I learned yesterday was that in addition to all the other issues we have, we now have something called the dead zone. I don’t know if you’ve heard of The Dead Zone, dead zone, the dead zone and the dead zone is in that family of ideas of bare minimum Monday, bare minimum Friday, Freedom Friday, quiet, quiet, quitting loud, quitting, loud staying, it’s all out there. So is and I think this is, this is an interesting take on it. The Dead Zone is that time of day where if your remote worker, or your hybrid worker, and you’re not in the office that day, the dead zone is the time of day that your manager might want to reach you and you’re not available. Okay, managers are complaining that, oh, my god, the dead zone starts at two o’clock, or it starts at three o’clock, or it starts at four o’clock. And these people just aren’t available. And I think the heart of the dead zone is trust. If you’re working remotely, you have kind of your own control over when you start, when you do the work and when you fit up. And it may not be nine to five, or eight to four, seven to three, it could be anywhere within a range of hours. So maybe the time the manager wants to talk to you. And it could be that the distrusting manager wants to do it at five o’clock every day, to make sure that you’re engaged in working, you’re not available. So, they’re calling it The Dead Zone. Yes, and you’re using the dead zone. I mean, somebody, they’re using the dead zone as a way to say, see, this is why everyone has to come back to the office. Because if you were in the office, we wouldn’t have a dead zone. And I really seriously, seriously. No, you wouldn’t have a dead zone, you have a dead zone coffee break in the morning, you have an extended lunch you have for a walk. You know, you gotta have it, whatever it is. But I think it’s that that since I can’t see you, I don’t know what you’re doing. And that’s why I trust that you’re working. I don’t trust that you’re working. And I think this is this is this continues to be a bigger challenge than I ever think anyone thought it would be. So, in the last couple of weeks, we have more and more companies saying the goal is to get everybody back to the office 51% Or excuse me, 59% of companies right now say we want full in office, everybody there. And that’s a lot compared to where we started. It is. And then you look at okay, on top of that there are companies that say well, four days a week, you know, Disney’s at four days a week. Then you have companies who want two days a week in the office three days a week in the office. And what I find fascinating is we are still talking about where work happens, not the work. Exactly, exactly. Think that’s the challenging part. So, you started out and I have to just share a couple or more of these numbers. You started out with 59% of the folks that are quite quitting. Party. They’re still quiet. Yes, it’s not over and by the way, just to clarify when people are quiet quitting, they still work for you. Everybody listening, okay, still paying them? Yeah, you’re still paying them they may not be fully engaged. They may not do anything extra; they may find that zone of the bare minimum They may find the zoner I will do just as much as I have to do to not get noticed for not doing a lot. Um, so they’re still working for you. And, you know, there are lots of reasons that people quite quit, you know, the, the logical reasons are. Sometimes it’s stress, you know, we’ve seen so much about burnout. Yeah, great. Lack of recognition, huge, huge, huge, you know, we have a lot of recognition companies out there. But still people kind of pull back if there’s just not enough recognition, we have career growth, there’s just no opportunity to grow when people know it. And when they get stuck, and they feel stuck, they don’t feel like giving extra. And then we knew enough engagement, not enough connection. Not enough ways for the person to personally feel connected to the work. And I think that’s a big challenge. But think about this. So, you’ve got your 59% quiet quitters. Okay. And let’s assume we’re going for 100%. Then Gallup says, in the same study that you have 18% of the people that are loud quitting, now, loud quitting, this is so funny. So loud, quitting are the people that are Gallup would say that are destroying value, they’re disengaged in such a way that they’re destroying value. So when you do a little bit of quick addition, here, you come up with, you know, nearly 70%, you know, 6070, or excuse me, nearly 80%, sorry, of people that are either disengaged to a deep level, and they’re destroying value or people that are just kind of moving along. And so, it’s not a surprise, when you then read the economics of what’s going on. And then the economics of going on, what is everybody talking about? We see a decline in productivity. And some people are mystified as to why that is. Well, to your point, if 59% of the people are just like chugging along, you can see why that is. You know, there was I love old movies. I love watching old movies. And there’s a Tom Hanks movie that he did with oh my god, I’m going to blank on who he did this with. But essentially, it’s called Joe Versus the Volcano. I don’t know if you ever saw this movie. I remember that. Yeah, it’s a great movie. It’s great people. I mean, it’s not going to win an Academy Award for any deep message. But it’s a great fun movie. Well, one of the things that happens is Joe is one of the 59% of the quiet quitters. And every time he goes into this, just really Dre gray drab company, this music comes on, it’s like, go D go dough. D, you do. And you see him marching through the day. And you see everybody, like, go D door be like working with a whole company of ers. You know. And, and I can tell you having been in a number of companies over the years, you know, we, you know, working for Oracle and seeing customers working for other companies and seeing customers, there are some companies that are really alive and really energetic. And there are some who are not, again, when you go deep, yes. And so and so that’s something I think we’re contending with, and it was this morning, I found the latest labor report. They came out from Burning Glass Institute. Gad Lebanon wrote this wrote this report. It’s really fabulous. And I will admit here first time I am a gad fan. I have been for years. I love his thinking. I love his writing. But he talked about this decline in productivity, and he gave it a name. And I love this name. He said it is an ambition recession. Is that great? That’s it. That’s it. We are really middle of an ambition. Recession. Yes. So drove us. Yeah. However, we got here, we’re here. And you know, some people say it’s COVID. Some people say we never quite recovered in the same way. And I think if you had an expectation that we were here, and we had COVID, and it looked like everything it looked like and now we’re through COVID If you had an expectation that the other end of COVID would be we go back to where we started from that was never going to happen. No. And it’s not happening. We see that it’s not happening. But when he talks about low labor productivity, he had a great explanation for what She said, you know, you have low labor productivity, but people still need to get the same amount of work done. So, what happens is they then go and hire more employees to do this amount of work. And those people aren’t available in the market. So, shortage, yes, in many cases, you’re not able to, to do that you’re not able to get the employees you need. So, you see this ambition recession, how it’s like you might get a little more from people, but it’s not there. And there are lots of reasons you see these dips in productivity. Sometimes people attribute them to this bare minimum Monday, to quiet quitting to the bare minimum Friday. I mean, it is Friday. Yeah, it’s Freedom Friday, when I look at that. I’m like, so what days are we working now? Like, what days? What days? Are we really working? Is it Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday? And if you’re a company that you have people in twice a week, do you only get two productive days? I mean, it’s, it’s confusing for people no doubt is confusing for this confusing. Now even more confusing, and I found this fascinating was okay, for how many years now? We’ve been talking about the great resignation since 2020 2021. Yep. Yep. So, Stanford economics comes out and says, well, we think the great resignation is over. And I’m like, I looked at that guy who like, based on what.

Jennifer Dole 11:36
People aren’t quitting anymore because they’re afraid of not being able to get a new job.

Pamela Stroko 11:41
Maybe that’s some of what people are saying. But that’s actually not true in reality. So, I went back and looked up the last couple months. So, in June, over 4 million people quit their jobs. In May, it was right around 4,000,003 point 9 million something. And so consistently, and if you go back to January, February, consistently, we’re at 4 million people leaving. So how is it that you declare the great resignation? How do you do it with that? With those numbers? I don’t know. But I have another idea. If the great resignation is over, then I think we’re in the period of the great, I want something more. I think we’re in the period of great, I want to make a difference. I think we’re in a period of time I need to be more connected to work. Yeah. And I think all of those things are going on, and particularly the connection to work. I mean, there are managers that are asked like, well, why is it if we have remote work that people don’t work as hard? I mean, they have this conception, people don’t work as hard. I don’t think it’s about working as hard. I think people don’t feel connected to work. They don’t know how to connect to work in a different way. We haven’t, in large measure, we haven’t become agile in where we work, how we work when we work. And we’ve not made that seamless for people. So, I think that’s a challenge. And so, it’s not about, you know, the great resignation being over it’s about, we are still going to see these trends until we fix the connection between the individual in the work itself. Yeah, so that comes back to like, how do we activate people? Have a great idea. I’ve been thinking about this. And I think that there are great technological applications to this as well. So, one of the companies I’ve read about and gotten to know, over the years is a company called Pro habits. And Tim Bristow is their chief operating officer Tim is a I’m a as much as I’m a Gantt fan. I’m a Tim fan as well, Tim, Tim is great. And they have something called the people activation platform. And so, think about your manager, I don’t think I’m getting the level of productivity the level of work. Well, you’re not getting that because people aren’t connected to work. Well, the people activation platform helps you connect people to work. So, imagine you’re coming in today and you have a number of things you want to get done. And you look in and there’s a message on your phone. Uh, hello, Jennifer, welcome to Wednesday, whatever day it is. And you know, today you’re going to focus on ABC and then it just gives you a description of what that work could be. And then you commit to do it or not, or you can put it off to another day, and then give you suggestions as to how to go about doing that. Then at the end of the day, you say what you did. And these things go on day after day after day. At the end of the week. You can actually see what you delivered, and how you were connected to the work. And if you were a manager, you could see everybody’s connection to the work. And the companies that have used us have turned around productivity, they have lowered safety costs in manufacturing, they have increased customer engagement, increased employee engagement. And so that activation platform does exactly what it says it does. It gets people more connected to the work and delivers higher productivity and higher quality work. And I think you think about how tech can be a solution. That’s just one piece of how you can do this. And I think people should take a look at that.

Jennifer Dole 15:46
The thing that I love about that, Pamela, is that it brings visibility to the work that you’re doing. Yes, I think about that dead zone that you were talking about. And the platform like pro habits would show your manager what you’re working on, and what you’re accomplishing.

Pamela Stroko 16:05
Yes. And if you’re a manager that doesn’t want to be dead zone, then one of the one of the goals that comes up is today, I’m not going to have a dead zone. If you really want to do that, but you’re right, it shows what’s happening. And that gets to the trust issue. It gets it the productivity issue, it gets to the ambition recession issue, I may use those three or four more times. Because I like it so much.

Jennifer Dole 16:34
That’s a good one. It’s activation, you know, I mean, it just gives people the purpose and the connection. I mean, how good does it feel to check something off your to do list?

Pamela Stroko 16:45
I know, sometimes I make lists to make lists, so I can check the things off.

Jennifer Dole 16:50
Me too.

Pamela Stroko 16:52
And it’s not that I don’t think I’m going to get it done. But what I think is, is that if I check if I write it down, I’ll for sure do it. And I’ll check it off my list. And you’re in. And in that helps. And it feels good. It Oh, God. Yes, it does feel good. The other thing I wanted to explore a little bit with you. Because I’m going to go back to, I don’t think the issue is where we’re working. You know, we’re still trying to fail to solve for, should people show up five days a week, or four days a week or three days a week? Why are we solving for place when we ought to be solving for the quality of the work? Yeah. And the quality of the experience? You know, as we were talking recently, maybe I’m pollyannish about this, but I could be. But I believe within each individual, there is a place and experience that gets activated. When you are fully engaged in your work when you’re fully activated. In your work. You know, sometimes the years ago, there was a researcher at the University of Chicago that talked about flow, and there’s a book called flow, it’s about how do you get into that place? And he describes this experience, where have you ever been working in you lost track of time? You’re so engaged in the work; you lost track of time that happens to me?

Jennifer Dole 18:19
Yeah, me too.

Pamela Stroko 18:20
It’s like, oh, my God, I think you know, what time is it. And it’s because I was really involved, engaged and wanted to produce a great piece of work. I think people still have that. They still have the, you know, I can get into the flow of work. And I think we have to be talking about that conversation, not where we’re sitting. And if you think where you’re sitting solves the excitement about work problem, you’re solving the wrong thing. You’re sitting, you’re true, you’re going after the wrong thing. Because I think the excitement of work, the flow of work, the making a contribution at work starts with you and me and everyone involved in the work or connecting about it. And that’s where the activation platform I think comes in. But I know we get short on time here sometimes. But I want to tell you another story. Two years ago, when I worked at Twilio, you know, those of you that know the talent acquisition space to Leo had talent acquisition for years. And then they were bought by Oracle. I went to Oracle. But when I was still in Twilio space, I met a gentleman named Bill Glenn and Bill Glenn worked for a company that was in the talent space, and we would partner on things. Bill has since gone to a company called BlueBoard. And we met up and I said, well tell me about what you’re doing. Now. Let me catch up. Let’s catch up. So, he told me about BlueBoard and then I started investigating it. So blue board is about creating a great experience for people, usually a recognition experience. And I know there are lots of recognition companies out there, and you can choose to do recognition, you know, a dozen different ways. But their unique contribution is this. And this is so cool. So, let’s say you’re a salesperson and you’re being recognized for being a top salesperson, a lot of companies will say, oh, you go to club, or you go to this event? Well, BlueBoard, you actually get to pick with BlueBoard, you get to pick the award. And I started looking at what people were doing. And I did a bit of research. And I saw people say things like, so instead of going to the club, or instead of getting a gift card, I saw someone go to Iceland, with their spouse, and they got a trip to Iceland, I saw people that were being rewarded for contributions to their companies. And they got to go like I saw this group of people dressed in Dallas Cowboy jerseys. And they happen to be wearing the jersey of Ezekiel Elliott, which is number 21. And I’m an Ezekiel Elliott fan. And I’m like, oh, my God, they went, and they got great seats, I got to see him play. It was very cool. And I’ve seen other things well, where people got like a day off with their family, and they got to do a family event. And then I started reading about, well, what happens when they do this? Yeah, talking about this was an experience of a lifetime, incredible. Eye, they’ll say things like, I got to spend time with my family. We’ve always wanted to go to that game. We’ve always wanted to do this. Someone may say, you know, I got to go on this great hike. And I’ve always wanted to do that. But never thought I could take the time or, you know, maybe the money was an issue. And so now that was the award that they got amazing. I love that. It is so cool. And so, for me, the big thing is, we’re not talking about just a just a basic award structure anymore. We’re talking about energizing people.

Jennifer Dole 22:12
We’re talking about adding people to their families.

Pamela Stroko 22:15
Yes, connection. We’re talking about moments of a lifetime. Like, do you think you’ll ever forget the trip to Iceland? I don’t think so. Right. Right. Talking about Northern Lights. You were in the Northern Lights. You know. I don’t know if Northern Lights are in Iceland. I think they’re over Canada. But anyway, I got to work ng getting lots of states. Yeah, you’re visiting lots of great places. I have to work on geography a little bit for our next our next podcast. But what excited me about that is in a time when we’re worried about, we can’t find enough talent. We can’t get down to stay. No one that has the experience of a lifetime leaves. Yeah, you’re more committed, they stay. They’re more connected. They’re more excited. They tell people about their great experience. They attract more people to the brand. And they are always pushing them to go earn another experience. They are they are I have to tell you about that. And this is always a little vignette. So, I have a cousin. Her name is Ellie. She’s nine now. But she said this like several years ago, and her mother decided that she was going to take like a week off and somehow an at least mine She connected. Mom has to go to work so we can afford vacation. And so, her mother says oh, I think I’m going to take this week off and I’ll be home, and she goes well, you can’t stay home you have to go to work so we can go on vacation. It’s true. It’s true. They learn at a young age, a totally young age.

Jennifer Dole 24:01
And so BlueBoard is going to be at HRTech in October out in Vegas.

Pamela Stroko 24:06
They are they are ready, go visit BlueBoard go visit Bill, stop by say hello, tell them I sent you tell them I sent you and learn about this because it and I actually think they’re going to be showing some of those experiences and talking about some of those experiences. So, it’d be wonderful for everyone to stop by. So, you know, you said kind of the moral of this story is you have to activate people to the work you have to have that people activation platform. You have to create great experiences for people. And you know, those of you out there saying, well, you know, what if what if we don’t want to do that, what if you know that’s not what we’re about? There are experiences you can have at every level that create positive intent with people and that’s what you need to focus on. How do we create this positive connection? Because I guarantee you, when you have positive connection, you are going to solve the declining productivity problem, you are going to solve the quiet quitting problem. You know, if you think about think about the quiet quitters for a moment, I actually need out any organization, I bet you can identify who they are. Because you could see people, you know, like, they’re just not as engaged. They don’t volunteer for things. They don’t do extra. And what if you could just increase the productivity of that middle of the quiet? quitters? 10%? Yeah, the difference that you would make, oh, my god, the difference you would make in organizational energy, organizational momentum, productivity and your volume profitability. I mean, I think it makes a huge difference. So when you think about culture, and you think about what do you need to solve for, you need to solve for activating work, you need to solve for great experiences, you need to solve for lifting productivity of that, you know, quiet quitting middle, if you will just 10% to see a real impact. And it is possible, it’s absolutely possible for every company to do and when Jen, post the post this podcast, I will include the ways that you can get in touch with those folks, because I think be great, I think you should at least have a conversation with them to do it, because they’re doing really good stuff. And, and again, thanks to gad for the ambition, recession, ambition, recession, yes, I’ll be posting his research on my LinkedIn feed later this week. But I think we should, you know, I’d like to monitor the ambition recession a bit and see where that goes. Because I think there’s a lot there. And I think it now gives us a language to unpack a little bit of what we see going on. Yeah. Well, this has just been such a great conversation following up to curating culture, which we did earlier.

Jennifer Dole 27:14
I just love talking to you, I love these conversations. I think it’s so valuable for our audience to be able to hear some of the research that’s going on and some of the data that’s coming out. And what I love about these stories that you tell Pamela is you always offer up a solution to

Pamela Stroko 27:33
Thank you, thank you. And so, I want to leave our audience with just one thing. And that one thing looks good. It was what we mentioned earlier that place exists in every individual to be to ignite that passion, to ignite that energy to ignite that ability to contribute. And our jobs as leaders is to find that. And so if you’re a leader, and you have people on your team that you don’t think are contributing in the way you’d like them to find that one spot, find the place where they’re excited and energetic into and can make a great a great contribution because it will make a huge difference moving forward and make a huge difference for your team and for their career.

Jennifer Dole 28:22
And as within each and every one of us.

Pamela Stroko 28:25
It is it is I know that sounds kind of schmaltzy, but it’s true. It is true. I believe it’s there I I’ve seen people excited about work and seeing people not excited Guess which one is more fun.

Jennifer Dole 28:38
Exactly. I think we know.

Pamela Stroko 28:41
We know. I think we know as always, my friend. It’s been it’s been my honor to chat with you. And we hope to see you all again soon.

Jennifer Dole 28:48
Yeah, we’ll be back again next month. Thank you.

Pamela Stroko 28:51
Thanks. Bye

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