The coronavirus pandemic has left a mark on all aspects of life. And when it comes to worklife, it’s clear that exiting our “Covid-state-of-being” does not mean going back to the office/factory/school as if nothing has happened. Too much has transpired since the pandemic started. Now, a little more than a year in, a number of surveys and reports are being published on the state of work — some tracking the current situation and others trying to gauge what’s in store for the future.
While the studies vary in objective, the findings point to a common thread — the pandemic has been impactful not just on how and where we work, but how much we work, how we perceive office culture, hierarchical structures, and work/life boundaries. The studies also highlight pressing issues such as zoom fatigue, lack of motivation, and burnout. And while it’s not news that things have changed in the past year, the degree to which they have changed may not be as widely understood. One of the expected effects of the altered work landscape is a big movement of talent once life starts looking more like pre-pandemic times.
We are at a crossroads of sorts as employers are in the position of needing to support a workforce under current extraordinary circumstances, while also keeping an eye on the future. Employees, meanwhile, see work, and how it fits into life in general, in a new light after a year of changed working conditions.
Many employees are now asking for greater flexibility, better health offerings, career counseling, and mentorship opportunities. The million-dollar question for businesses is how to support the current needs of employees while also building for the future. Some clues for where to start can be found in the many studies published lately.
What Studies Show
Some of the most alarming results have to do with employee burnout rates. Eagle Hill Consulting reported that 58% of employees were burned out, while a Spring Health study found that a whopping 76% were currently experiencing burnout. Burnout is generally defined as “chronic workplace stress that is not successfully managed”. Some of the reasons for burnout include trying to balance work and private life, heavy workloads, and lack of communication and support from the employer.
One of the feared effects of burnout is a high rate of post-pandemic employee turnover. A survey in hrexecutive.com shows that one in four employees plans to leave their employer once the pandemic is over. The number is even higher — one in three — for those who have children at home with remote learning situations. And a study by WerkLabs highlighted on hrexecutive.com shows that twice as many women as men are likely to leave their employer within a year following the pandemic.
The symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, negative thoughts, detachment from work, and reduced work performance, to name a few. Employers wanting to prevent a decline in productivity and creativity, or a loss of talent entirely, will have to actively work to mitigate burnout.
What Employees Want
When employees are asked about what they want their post-pandemic worklife to be like, a hybrid work model seems to be high on many people’s lists. A recent Envoy survey shows that 48% of respondents want to work some days remotely and some days from the office. The interest in hybrid work is not just strong among knowledge workers but in other industries as well, such as construction and manufacturing, for example, where some 41% say they would prefer a hybrid model.
47% of employees say they are inclined to leave their job if their employer does not offer a hybrid work model once the pandemic ends, and 41% say they would be willing to take a job with a lower salary if they could work within a hybrid model.
One of the reasons for the desire to work away from the office is safety concerns. The Envoy study reports that 66% of employees are worried about their health and safety when it comes time to return to the workplace, they fear their employers won’t protect their health to a sufficient degree. 62% also indicate that they think companies should require workers to get a Covid-vaccine before being allowed to go back to work.
Employers worry that implementing a more permanent hybrid work model will impact office culture negatively, that there will be a disconnect between people who are in the office more and those who are not. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Deniz Caglar, partner at PwC and co-author of Fit for Growth: A Guide to Strategic Cost Cutting, and Renewal (Wiley, 2016), says: “Your culture is not your office; it’s what you do as an organization, how you work together. What you do does not change because you’re working virtually.”
Many organizations are also concerned that productivity will go down and that engagement and loyalty will wane if more people are working from home more often. An article on SHRM.org details steps an organization can take to develop a successful hybrid work model to avoid some of the possible negative effects of a more remote workforce. The article points out that not everyone is going to be suited for remote work. That’s why it’s important to have a robust process for determining who is a good candidate — it comes down to things such as the specific job someone performs, personality, experience, and timing, for example.
The issue of demanding vaccinations from employees before being able to go back to the office comes with several considerations — legal, cultural, and ethical (as outlined in this Globiana article), as well as questions of access. So while vaccinations may seem to be the most straightforward solution to protecting people at work, they may not be the most workable solution at this point in time.
There may be some apprehension on the part of employers to make the hybrid work model more standard, yet, there are signs indicating that that’s where we are headed. Perhaps the biggest sign is that many leading companies, such as Ford, Citigroup, and Target, among others, in presenting their “return-to-work” plans have announced that a substantial number of their white-collar employees will be working according to a hybrid schedule and that this is to be considered the “new normal”.
As has been noted on so many occasions during this pandemic, there still seem to be more questions than answers. What is known, however, is that work has changed and employees have changed. It’s the employer who figures out a model to meet current employee needs while implementing changes to satisfy future demands, who will be successful in retaining employees going forward.
By: Felicia Shermis
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The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/03/30/hybrid-office-remote-work-citigroup-ford-target/?utm_campaign=wp_evening_edition&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_evening