The pandemic and The Great Resignation caused a shift in the tectonic plates of how business leaders move their companies forward in the post-pandemic future. Organizations can no longer pay lip service that employees are their biggest asset unless they invest in them. That requires companies to lead with more walk than just talk and genuinely consider employees as a renewable resource.

One of the most important decisions a company can make is who they pick as manager. According to Gallup, companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time. More businesses are starting to ditch management styles from the Dark Ages, updating them with 10 rules of engagement that cultivate employee-centered versus employer-centered work cultures.

The 10 C-Rules of Engagement

  1. Curiosity versus judgment. Toxic cultures harbor blame and judgment, and employees are often seen as targets instead of renewable resources. The first rule of engagement is using curiosity instead of blame and judgment when work problems emerge. There’s less interest in judging coworkers, subordinates or yourself and more priority on understanding where problems come from and how to fix them. Curiosity about a work problem, instead of heavy-handed snap judgments, imbues everyone with deeper insights into possibilities and solutions to job problems and creates a supportive work environment. 
  2. Calm versus anxiety. Leaders who strike fear in the hearts of workers cultivate a toxic culture that compromisesemployee mental health. Dinosaur management styles such as threats, coercion and intimidation backfire. Absence of fear and worry promotes job engagement and productivity as well as the company’s bottom line. A calm workplace starts with cool-headed leaders who advocate for emotional safety, work-life balance, paid time off, vacations and a culture where employees are free to take Microbreaks throughout the workday.
  3. Clarity versus confusion. Under old rules, companies lack clarity in communicating goals and expectations. Employee-centered work leaders promote clear-mindedness and direction. Leaders are skilled at intently listening to employees and making them feel valued. Employees are encouraged to look beyond their immediate roles to the bigger picture where solutions and possibilities lie. Company leaders facilitate clarity within the organization, communicate clear expectations and ensure employees know their roles.
  4. Compassion versus cold-heartedness. Old fashioned companies lack warmth and caring for workers, place productivity and profitability above employees’ emotional needs. Employee-centered companies encourage emotional intelligence as much as business intelligence and treat employees as humans with care and respect, not as worker bees that churn out work. Top down compassionate and empathetic leadership is the glue that holds a company together. When employees feel heard and cared about and are treated with respect, companies have higher job engagement, less turnover and greater loyalty. Employees feel safe to be vulnerable and to share their own slip-ups, challenges and personal feelings. 
  5. Confidence versus intimidation. A toxic organization undermines the confidence of its workers by exercising tight control to get a bigger bang for its buck. Employee-centered leaders take the position of listener and facilitator, not talker and intimidator. They show confidence in employees by welcoming feedback and encouraging work autonomy. They recognize and reward employees for hard work—void of unreasonable job demands, deadlines or micromanaging. Studies show employees want to be recognized and appreciated while feeling confident in their positions. Leaders who practice this rule of engagement look for places where employees add value and reward them financially and verbally with positive feedback and affirmations.
  6. Connection versus isolation. Toxic organizations perpetuate isolation from corporate honchos and employees from one another. One-sided communication and iron-fisted management styles are the biggest complaints from the American workforce. In an employee-centered work environment, workers enjoy a satisfying connection with company leaders and colleagues versus isolation from them. Leaders check in with employees to keep them in the loop, let them know they belong and keep them connected to the company. 
  7. Courage versus fear. Obsolete companies have a rigid corporate scaffolding that stifles innovation, limits worker potential and hurts the company’s bottom line. In an employee-centered work culture, leaders reward employees for taking professional risks and breaking old molds. They encourage employees to ask what edge they can go to in their careers to create a more productive workplace, to consider what bridge they can jump off to sprout their wings and build the company and to find that limb they can reach to get to the fruit of the tree and boost company profitability.
  8.  Creativity versus stagnation. Old-hat leaders put more emphasis on the outcome than on the process, which leads to narrow focus and missed opportunities for seeing the big picture and creative possibilities. Employees say the opportunity for growth and autonomy is at the top of their wish list. Employee-centered leaders practice “personalization” and “customization” by providing flexible work arrangements—such as hybrid or remote working— to accommodate employees’ personal needs. They draw out creativity through brainstorming, soliciting employee ideas and asking questions that stimulate critical thinking—all of which instill a sense of ownership, team spirit, greater productivity and a longer employment history.
  9. Comedy versus drama. Leaders stuck in the past consider fun and laughter frivolous wastes of time. They thumb their noses at lightheartedness and the humorous side of life—even though it has the potential to uplift moods and build company morale—a joke, funny things your children do, a silly story that happened over the weekend. Somewhere along the way corporate America has forgotten that work is supposed to be enjoyable—even fun. Jobs don’t have to be grim, humorless determination where sweat equity and burnout are emphasized over job satisfaction. Employee-centered leaders consider comedy an essential ingredients baked into productivity.
  10. Celebration versus exasperation. Leaders pushing old rules of engagement ignore or minimize birthdays, anniversaries or holidays. Hard-fisted leaders hold worker noses to the grindstone and consider celebrations a distraction from productivity. This practice filters down the chain of command and bleeds into the fiber of employee relationships, corrupting morale. Employee-centered work cultures celebrate important moments with staff and create togetherness, if for no other reason than, for employees to feel connected to one another and to the company as a whole. “A psychologically safe workplace is one that recognizes the whole human and celebrates its humans for moments that go beyond the workplace,” said Dr. Meisha-ann Martin, senior director of People Analytics. “A Gallup-Workhuman study found that, when an employer recognizes life events and work milestones, employees are three times as likely to strongly agree that their organization cares about their well-being.”

When leaders practice these 10 C-rules of engagement and instill them in their employees, everybody wins. Workers are happier, more engaged and productive, and the company’s profitability skyrockets.“We’re no longer in a crazy time. We’re in new times, which calls for new rules of engagement when attracting talent—especially when recruiters and employers are struggling to fill roles,” said Workable’s content strategy manager, Keith MacKenzie. “The onus is now on employers to really step up their talent attraction game and loosen the requirements for a role. There’s a huge path to get there: find and hire those top prospects and develop them when they’re with you.”


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Founder and CAO of ComfortZones Digital and Author of 40 books.

    ComfortZones Digital

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is Founder and Chief Architect Officer (CAO) of ComfortZones Digital--the digital companion to mitigate workplace stress. He is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself."