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Dan Schawbel: Technology Is Isolating Your Employees

Is one face-to-face conversation better than 34 emails? Dan Schawbel, workplace guru and bestselling author, seems to think so. He says CEOs need to make sure their employees feel connected.
Dan Schawbel
Dan Schawbel

Dan Schawbel loves technology, but he also calls it a “double-edged sword.”

Schawbel, New York Times bestselling author, workplace consultant and author of “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation,” says technology can be a powerful tool for change, but increasingly, it can lead to an isolated workforce. Schawbel says that one face- to-face meeting is more valuable than 34 emails exchanged back and forth in terms of getting the message across.

In the book, he shares a story about this dynamic from a former speechwriter under President Obama, who was tasked to create a speech around the Ebola epidemic a few years ago.

“He was working with his manager, they were going back and forth through email. And then, at the end, right before they had to deliver the speech, they discovered [numerous] errors because [they were sending] emails back and forth. Had they had one face to face meeting or phone call, maybe they wouldn’t have run into that last minute issue.”

Schawbel shared his thoughts with Chief Executive on the dangers of technology, how a CEO can overcome the stigma of isolation and more. Below are excerpts from that conversation.

Tell me about your new book, “Back to Human”?

“Back to Human” is a leadership book for the next generation that helps leaders foster strong human connection, despite all the technology that currently exists in and outside the workplace.

One face- to-face meeting is more successful and powerful than 34 emails exchanged back and forth. Yet, it’s very often that we rely so much on email for communication, and sometimes people feel misunderstood when emails occur, and waste too much time going back and forth through email. And so, a lot of the more important conversations, you know, such as conflicts at work, should happen in person instead of through text, or social networking, or email. The goal with the book is to help leaders and their teams to use technology properly and not misuse it, because the thesis behind the book is that technology has created the illusion of connection.

The reality is that people who overuse or misuse it feel lonely, isolated, less connected and less committed to their teams and organizations because of it. The book breaks down different aspects of work where leaders can foster a stronger team relationship.

What is the “Work Connectivity Index”?

It’s an academic assessment that measures the strength of the relationships you have among your teammates. And it gives you a good sense of the relationship you have, how connected you are.  And if you have weak connections with someone on your team, they’re more likely to leave your company.

Part of the idea behind the book is that people should bring their whole self to work, not just their business self. The average work week is 47 hours a week for a full-time salaried employee, it is no longer a 40-hour work week. There is no work-life balance because almost everyone I talk to responds to business email on vacation.  So the new vacation in today’s society is not having your phone. It’s not being tied down by messages and alerts that are coming for you regularly.

In October, Schawbel and former Google Talent Chief Laszlo Bock will keynote Chief Executive’s CEO Talent Summit at West Point, sharing exclusive insights into what makes great teams, and great leaders. 

Click Here for event information.

There’s also a chapter on recognition. People don’t want to wait a year anymore for an annual performance review. And young people especially can’t stand the bell curve. The bell curve is a rating from one to five. And for the most part, only one person gets a five, even though that some of the fours should be a five. So those individuals end up leaving.

What I pushed forward in the book is to recognize people publicly, which is what people want, especially young people, on a more consistent basis. Offering this feedback so people can learn, and grow, and see what they’re doing right and wrong, so that they can correct that or do more of the good stuff, the things that are actually going to be beneficial to the workplace.

I have a chapter on empathy. It seems that one of the things that is lacking in society and in the workplace is to really understand where people are coming from and not just sympathize but just have a deeper understanding of what people are going through in their personal life and in the work life. And try and sit with them and have these top conversations, these critical and difficult conversations with them because it’s usually in crisis where the stronger bonds are formed.


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