HR and business leaders have done an exceptional job throughout the pandemic. You’ve stood tall under extraordinary pressure, working exhausting hours in the constant pressure-cooker of change.
But now we’re gradually starting to get back to business-as-usual and the sands have shifted once again. We’re all doing the best we can to navigate this strange experiment – but our recent Hybrid Workforce Revolution Report flags some warning signs that maybe we could be doing more.
Here are three questions to ask yourself, to reveal whether there’s an opportunity to better support your people right now.
💬 Are you offering true flexible work?
Flexible working had been barging its way into the conversation for years before COVID, but progress had been slow. Only around 5% of employees worked mainly from home before the pandemic, for instance.
Demand among employees was typically high – especially among employee groups like working parents – but few organizations had caught up, despite the proven benefits of hybrid work. Flexibility was the exception more than the rule, and where it was happening there was usually no formal process or policy to support employees.
COVID changed that overnight, of course, with millions of employees proving they don’t need to be physically in the office to work. Now, our research shows 87% of employees want flexible working to continue and 83% are thriving or completely unphased by hybrid work.
It’s worrying, then, that a third of leaders say they want their people back in the office five days a week. Even despite 90% admitting they know flexible working is important to employees. (Important enough that 69% of employees would consider moving jobs if you forced them back to the office.)
To avoid an engagement and retention crisis, organizations must keep up with changing employee expectations. And more important, must take a proactive, measured, systematic approach to position hybrid working for success.
Here’s where to focus:
- On supporting employees working from home. Hybrid working will only prove sustainable if WFH is a genuine possibility – but our research showed a third of employees don’t even have a proper home set-up. Where can you help? Make sure you’re getting the basic logistical stuff right like access to a decent laptop, but also look for new opportunities to add value. Could you offer to subsidize internet, for example, or provide ergonomic office furniture?
- On updating your processes and policies. The new working environment presents new situations, challenges, and opportunities to support your people. For example, do the same disciplinary processes apply if someone’s consistently late to come online from home? Do new hires still need to arrive in-person on day one, and who’ll be there to meet them?
- On providing personalized support. Different employee groups have different needs. Underrepresented groups might have unique concerns or face unique challenges right now, for example. Managers might need particular support to manage hybrid teams. And younger members of your workforce might need tailored support, given HR Magazine’s finding that employees aged 18 to 24 have been disproportionately negatively impacted by working from home.
- On truly listening. Now’s the time to up the ante on employee listening – but it’s crucial not to fall into the endless survey trap without taking action. New research shows 83% of employees feel they’re not heard fairly or equally at work. One in three would rather quit their job than voice their concerns at work. Your workplace must be a psychologically safe space for your people to confide, or you’ll lose them.
💬 Are you urgently managing burnout?
Burnout has been escalating for years, if not decades. You probably know that alarming Gallup stat, that 23% of employees say they feel burned out very often or always and another 44% feel burned out sometimes. Not good for a whole host of reasons, like stagnating productivity, collapsing engagement, and mounting churn.
And as you’d rightly assume, the pandemic has done nothing to help. Our research found 66% of employees feel burned out right now – leaping to 81% among people leaders.
Burn-out has been a substantial challenge for years but taking control must now be an urgent priority. If not, organizations will almost certainly face knock-on implications for the workforce for years to come.
Indeed, we’re already seeing the warning signs, with 3.6 million Americans resigning in May 2021 alone. Gallup say 48% of the US workforce is actively job searching right now.
Let that sink in for a moment. What would losing half your workforce feel like? What would it mean, for all the projects left unfinished, clients left unserved, and teams let behind, picking up an ever-increasing slack?
Organizations will sink or swim over how well they manage burnout right now, with winners getting access to a massive talent pool of migrating talent that’s flooding out from the losers.
Here’s where to focus:
- On fewer meetings. Meetings had a bad rap even before the pandemic – and now, a situation nobody thought could get much worse has just worsened considerably. We found 45% of employees and 73% of leaders say spontaneous calls and same day meetings have increased since working from home, for example. Outline the rules of engagement for communication and collaboration. Carve out dedicated no-meeting times, so your people have a chance to make progress on their workloads.
- On boundaried working hours. 70% of employees we spoke to said they’re working the same or more hours from home. 62% of leaders say they’re working more hours. New CIPD research reinforces the problem, finding 53% of employees feel pressure to be available constantly now. That’s simply unsustainable. Managers and leaders must model the right behaviors and proactively encourage work/life balance.
- On concise communication. We found employees and leaders are inundated and overwhelmed with communication channels, with 70% of people leaders having to navigate more than three channels. We’ve talked before about communicating in the flow of work – that’s especially important right now. It’s about streamlining employees’ attention and ability to concentrate, rather than endlessly pulling them in different directions.
💬 Are you communicating the organization’s plans?
Our research over the years has consistently proved two things. One, to support employees through any transition, communication is crucial. And two, businesses are typically way worse at communicating than they think.
Our recent Hybrid Workforce report is no different, revealing a major communication disconnect between leaders and employees. 64% of business leaders said they’d communicated their post-pandemic plans well – compared to 68% of employees who said the organization’s plans are vague or haven’t been communication at all.
That gulf is even wider among male leaders, with 70% saying their communication had been strong compared to 57% of female leaders.
Getting a handle on communication is integral to employee engagement.
Here’s where to focus:
- On defining your roadmap. Organizational communication is too often like a game of broken telephone, with little correlation between what happens at the top and what’s heard at the bottom. That’s impossible to fix unless the roadmap from the top is absolutely crystal clear. Work with senior leaders to get this clarity.
- On knowing what you don’t know. The counterpart to being crystal clear is knowing exactly what you don’t know, and identifying where there’s uncertainty. Employees don’t need artificial certainty where you have none – they need honest transparent communication, and an insight into how the organization will think through challenges and react to change.
- On providing communication training. Strong communicators are more important to the business now than ever – and harder than ever, given 88% of employees struggle with miscommunication remotely. Even with a clear roadmap, dispersed leaders and managers are hugely responsible for how the leadership’s vision gets filtered down. Upskill your people leaders to communicate more effectively.
What challenges are you facing right now? How are you overcoming them? Where could you most use help? We’d love to hear from you.