Bad bosses like Mark Zuckerberg will face a backlash. America's workers are fed up.

Leaders have to ask employees what they need to feel like they are doing the best work of their careers. Generally, they don’t need to be pushed even harder.

Edward Sullivan and John Baird
Opinion contributors

Mark Zuckerberg recently told his employees at Meta that he was “turning up the heat” and expressed the hope that less committed workers would quit.

Maybe he wanted to inspire his best employees to work even harder, but he probably just made enemies. Those who stay will like him even less and may even be inclined to join unions.

Sadly, Zuckerberg is not atypical among corporate executives. But he and other emotionally immature leaders will face angry workforces if they don’t learn to lead with heart and begin to understand what motivates people.

Workers need to feel appreciated

They need to make work more interesting and fulfilling, not just tell people to work harder. When people feel appreciated and fulfilled, they do work hard.

Much has been said about the Great Resignation, but what about the millions who didn’t have the option to quit because they are putting kids through school, have aging parents, or are beset with high student debt? Many of them have told us they are at the point of burnout doing the jobs of two or three workers as their colleagues walk out the door. Turning up the heat could drive them over the edge.

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Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to "turn up the heat" and hopes that the company's less committed workers will quit.

We work with executives at companies like Apple, DoorDash, Geico, Nike, Sweetgreen and dozens of others to help them learn to lead with more heart. We’ve learned anecdotally, and a bevy of research supports this idea, that leaders who treat their employees as human beings (rather than human resources) and focus on what their teams need, build better businesses in the long run.

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But every so often, we encounter the “uncoachable” leader – the one who focuses exclusively on squeezing every drop of output from employees and doesn’t think about setting appropriate expectations and creating psychological safety for their teams. Those uncoachables are in for a rude awakening.

Unions are making a comeback

It seems like everywhere you look, workers are banding together to demand better pay and working conditions. New unions at Starbucks, Amazon and Google have resuscitated the dying labor movement.

While the well-paid knowledge workers and engineers of Silicon Valley rarely inspire sympathy, many of them suffer the consequences of unrealistic expectations and toxic bosses. Employees of Silicon Valley giants like Meta could be the next to organize if the Zuckerbergs of the world don’t get their act together.

If bosses truly want to improve the workplace, there are some conversations they must have with their employees.

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First, leaders have to ask employees what they need to feel like they are doing the best work of their careers. Generally, they don’t need to be pushed even harder.

It’s so easy for leaders to focus on what they need from their employees, with so much pressure to deliver products and services and meet deadlines. But when a gardener's plants are wilting, she doesn’t simply turn up the heat or raise expectations. She takes it upon herself to change the plants’ environment with more water, more light, or more nutrients.

Leaders need to understand what motivates their employees, and it’s not the same for everyone. Some people want to win, so having a big challenge, as Nike did in the 1980s when it was vying to take on Adidas, can work. Other people want to learn; Google’s leadership has been legendary in giving employees one day a week to work on a project of their choosing.

Help workers talk about their fears

Second, leaders and employees need to talk about what they fear and worry about the most. This might seem counterintuitive; bosses generally don’t like stirring the pot. But most negative or toxic workplace behavior stems from unresolved fears that express themselves as the classic fight, flight, or freeze response.

Additionally, everyone wants to feel like they are great at something, so it’s important for leaders to tap into their people’s gifts. All too often, employees who are underperforming are simply in the wrong position. Lateral moves or other changes in context can infuse lagging employees with new energy and excitement.

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Finally, it’s crucial to remember that all of us need a sense of purpose. People will run through walls if they feel like they are being of service to someone who needs help.

Why is Zuckerberg asking people to work harder? Is it to save the company's crashing stock price, or does he have a higher mission he wants people to join?

Smart leaders take steps to understand their people. Simple conversations about what they need, what keeps them up at night and so on will build trust, loyalty and motivation. Which is what all of us need to do the best work in our careers.

Edward Sullivan is the CEO and John Baird is the chairman of Velocity Coaching. They are co-authors of "Leading with Heart."