There is no way to gloss over it. The pandemic has forever changed the way we work and live. As we usher in a new year, one thing is certain: Uncertainty will be the foundation upon which leaders will need to continue to lead.
So, where to start?
The first step is recognizing that while we cannot control the unpredictability of the pandemic’s wrath and impact on our organizations and personal lives, we can choose our responses. By understanding the following workplace trends, leaders can make informed decisions and take purposeful actions that mitigate the uncertainty to the best of their abilities.
1. The year of employee well-being
Employees who have endured lockdowns and layoffs over the past twenty-two months have had the opportunity to reassess and re-evaluate their professional and personal priorities. They noticed whether their leaders demonstrated greater humanity, care and concern for their mental health and well-being. In a recent Korn Ferry survey, 89% of professionals say they are suffering from burnout, with more than a third (38%) saying they are burned out to a great extent. The vast majority (81%) say they are more burned out now than they were at the start of the pandemic.
Workers anticipate ongoing emotional and empathic support from their employers as many continue to work in isolation or struggle with the physical and psychological upheaval associated with new work realities. Research by Catalyst confirmed the powerful, positive impact of empathic leadership on an employee’s psyche and on the organization. Leaders who are aware of their employee’s stress are proactively addressing their mental health by maintaining regular connection and offering attractive well-being benefits. As a result of these initiatives, they will be more likely to retain their workforce. Organizations that recognize their employees’ contributions and show genuine interest in them as individuals during good times and tough times will remain desirable places to work.
2. The Great Resignation is not a fad
Prior to the pandemic, HR professionals strongly advocated for organizations to focus on the employee experience as the talent war escalated. The term “employee experience” is widely attributed to futurist and leadership expert Jacob Morgan, who defined it as the “physical, cultural and technological environments” in which an employee works. These influencers on an employee’s decision to stay or leave have not diminished. In fact, the employee experience is even more relevant in the context of our current health crisis.
Many workers have felt misaligned to their organization’s mission and purpose. They have witnessed insensitivity and a lack of communication at the senior level as leaders reacted to the pandemic’s significant business disruption. Under these circumstances, a great number of employees decided to rethink their careers and quit. As the pandemic rages on, there is little reason to expect that employees who are feeling disillusioned or disheartened will suddenly change their perspectives, unless there is a profound shift in the way organizations manage their concerns and reshape the employee experience in new ways.
3. Hybrid work remains desirable
Although remote work has been popular for decades, millions of workers found themselves working from home out of necessity rather than desire in the early months of the pandemic. However, work models continue to evolve and have changed drastically in a few short years. In one of the most extensive studies on the future of work, DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast identifies flexible work arrangements as an escalating trend; one that top HR professionals note as a crucial priority for next generation leaders. And findings from Accenture’s Future of Work Study indicate that 83% of workers prefer a hybrid model.
Forward thinking organizations are adapting to their employee’s growing desire to exercise their preference, i.e., to have the “best of both worlds,” recognizing the positive impact of such arrangements on job satisfaction, engagement productivity and mental health. Leaders who recognize the fact that some team members flourish while working from home while others perform better and are happier in an office will see a reduction in attrition and stronger, more collaborative workplace relationships.
4. Increased focus on DEI as a core organizational and societal value
The killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, galvanized people around the world in the fight against systemic racial injustice. It triggered an unprecedented corporate response within the US in particular, highlighting the need for organizations to address their own inadequate stances on diversity, equity and inclusion. (DEI.) Internal and external pressures have thrown the spotlight on responses from senior leadership to the killing of Floyd, as stakeholders, employees and customers are paying particularly close attention to the authenticity of their messaging. Corporate boards are also being scrutinized even more closely regarding their overall lack of diversity and training initiatives on DEI within numerous industry sectors have skyrocketed.
Leaders who are unaware of the consequences of discriminatory behaviours jeopardize both their own credibility and the reputation of their organizations. Oracle’s Report Addressing diversity and inclusion: Going beyond the benchmark noted the following: “2020 was a wake-up call for companies to reexamine their D&I initiatives. Advancing workplace diversity is more important today than ever before. Consumers are taking their business to companies with a proven commitment to D&I.” Employees expect their leaders at all levels to be exemplary human beings with an ability to make a positive difference by accepting and embracing all peoples. Workers around the world are now calling on their leadership to act in the face of racism, gender bias and discrimination against transgender workers. And if they see no action on the part of their employers, they will continue to use their voices to create change.
5. Accountability is being redefined
As more employees work remotely, leaders have an opportunity to change the dynamic by giving people greater autonomy and accountability to make decisions. Many leaders are doing an admirable job, while others have had difficulty letting go of control. Keep in mind that accountability is a two-way street, and the pandemic has highlighted the importance of leaders needing to be the best version of themselves. While the global community is still reeling from the economic and social impact, leaders in both small and large enterprises have a unique opportunity to show their teams what matters most during uncertain times, which is consistent, caring, and compassionate real-time communication. A delayed response could easily be misconstrued as disinterest or a lack of sensitivity.
Leaders who are demonstrating empathy, authenticity, and transparency will be in a stronger position when better times return. For those who are not cognizant of the psychological impact of a crisis on their people, their most valuable asset, the repercussions to their business and bottom line may be worse than the crisis itself.