Anyone remember martini lunches?

Remember the martini lunch? Or have I just dated myself?Photo of a martini glass with martini and a lemon peel, on a marble bar-top and a blurred, dark background

Mind you, I don’t actually like martinis. But back in the very, very early days of my career, I did participate in lunches at which everyone ordered a drink.

Up until the pandemic, employees connected with each other in the office. They went to lunch together (generally without a martini), they went out after work for happy hour (aha! there’s the martini!), they played softball in summer. And from that, a sense of belonging and engagement arose. Gallup even did studies on the value of having a BFF at work.

But then, pandemic. And all that went away.

One of the reasons given for “We all need to be back in the office!” is to reclaim that sense of community, cohesiveness, and collaboration.

Let’s rethink this.

Today’s employees don’t necessarily want to come back to the office full-time, if at all.

But we still need to create a sense of belonging and connection, right?

Yes, of course. But dragging people back into the office – especially since going out to lunch and for happy hour won’t be an option for those who are still covid-cautious – isn’t the way.

Employees today want to feel a sense of company purpose.

Some CEOs of big companies are saying this loud and clear. I listened to an interview of Søren Skou, CEO of the giant shipping company Maersk, during this morning’s dogwalk, from FORTUNE magazine’s “Leadership Next” podcast. He stated it in so many words: in today’s world, belonging and connection to the organization will be based on the alignment of company purpose with employee values.

He’s not the only one saying this. It’s popping up everywhere – or, at least, where there are smart executives tuned in to the changing needs of organizational culture.

If your leadership isn’t clear about purpose – and that means beyond good old (and don’t mistake me; highly necessary) shareholder value – then you’re not going to create a culture of engagement and community formed around that sense of purpose, no matter how many days in the office you mandate or how flexible you decide to be about working from home.

Not to be too flippant about it, but “purpose is the new black” for companies who want a strong corporate culture that attracts and retains excellent employees.

And by the way – just like the little black dress doesn’t do anyone any good if it’s left hanging in the closet – you’ve got to do more than just proclaim your purpose.

You’ve got to wear it.

The other thing I’m hearing a lot about? How first-line / front-line managers are becoming more and more responsible for decision-making. Which – frankly – they’ve typically not been taught how to do (and yes, it aligns closely with company purpose as a guideline for decisions).

Let’s fix that. I’m opening the doors on a Community for first-line managers: a Community of Practice, Learning, and Experience, offering first-line managers the support they need. Check it out.