Post-covid employee engagement
Fiona Passantino, Early May, 2022
The vacation that nearly wasn’t…
In early May, 2022, one of Europe’s largest airports was consumed by chaos. At Schiphol, KLM cancelled more than 70 flights while other airlines – Transavia, Tui and Corendon – rerouted theirs[i]. People reported waiting 3-4 hours, missing flights, unable in some cases to even find the right lines to start their wait. Every aspect of the journey was impacted, from baggage handling to checking in and even getting a morning coffee.
The disruptions were largely due to staff shortages.
Where did all this come from?
For as long as there has been work to do and an office to do it in, leadership has determined the rules; what time to come and go, when and how to have lunch or vacations, what to wear, how to communicate and even who got the office with the view.
This dynamic was formalized in the 1800’s in factories, and then extended to the 9-5 corporate office[i]. High-pressure creative industries sweetened the deal by offering some workplace flexibility and “work hard, play hard” perks consisting of glamorous parties and expensive off-sites. Covid took those perks away, making those jobs “work hard, play never” burnout mills[ii].
The numbers of people considering leaving their jobs rose from 41% to 44% in 2022[iii]. The “Great Resignation” is gaining speed and momentum, going global; the effects of labor shortages are being felt in sectors from travel, dining, entertainment and retail to government[iv].
In 2021, 52% of us reported working longer hours when working remotely.[v] Customer demand is growing which leads to longer hours and fewer resources. We work harder to compensate for the disappearance of colleagues without the investment of training, mentorship, permanent contracts nor the trust that made these high-intensity jobs rewarding.
The Great Resignation has been commonly blamed on Covid, but it’s been a steadily-building trend since 2009. That was the year when the average monthly quit rate increased by 0.10 percentage points and continued its annual growth trend ever since[vi].
Four ways to beat the flip
The post-Covid workplace may well be determined the workforce rather than the employer. Flexibility and autonomy are becoming the “new normal”; those companies that are demanding a full return to the old ways of working, refusing to bend to staff demands will see their talent pool dwindle, reputations suffer and their competitive edge weaken.
We will need to listen and talk to our people as never before, accepting the power flip as the new standard. Culture, engaged leadership, growth opportunities, constant listening and flexible work will become the new rules of the game.
Study and understand the current culture you’re in. Is your company a burnout factory or a people-centric environment? How is sentiment tracked and measured? He first step is a campaign of radical, deep-dive listening to first understand how people are feeling and what they need. Fixing culture is a long road that starts with awareness and ends with leadership commitment to make hard changes that are effective immediately and highly visible.
One of the first concrete negotiation points in the post-Covid workplace is about how and when employees return to the physical office. While high-traffic offices with full lunch tables make for a more dynamic, buzzing environment, work from home enables us to deal with the increased workload in a way that is more sustainable and focused. Trust is at the heart of this basic agreement.
In most places, employees are one re-org away from a new job with another company. With few permanent roles and more contractors, many of us unconsciously understand that the best way to move up is to move out. Employers that invest in their workforce, offering career paths, training and support sends a clear signal that the company is people-building rather than people burn-through. This is a guaranteed way to increase motivation and engagement, which bears fruit in the form of a better customer experience, higher product quality and superior overall company performance.
So often, leaders spend their days in back-to-back meetings behind closed doors, invisible to their population. Leadership visibility and engagement is one of the hallmarks of the successful post-Covid company. When leaders mix it up in internal social platforms or in person, waking the hallways, talking to the average worker at the café or restaurant, it makes a difference. High-visibility listening, the open celebration of success and mixing with staff are all effective new habits to adopt for a durable post-Covid reality.
[i] Elton (2022). “Updated: Schiphol airport in for hellish weekend with more queues and cancellations”. Euronews.travel. Accessed May 8, 2022. https://www.euronews.com/travel/2022/05/04/long-queues-remain-at-schiphol-airport-after-hellish-weekend-for-travellers
[i] Beckett (2021), “How The Pandemic Has Empowered The Workforce”. Forbes Magazine. Accessed on January 23, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2021/05/10/how-the-pandemic-has-empowered-the-workforce/?sh=6048e3a62c12
[ii] Jane (2022). “How to navigate the employer-employee power shift”. The HR Director. Accessed May 7, 2022. https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/future-of-work/how-should-you-navigate-the-employer-employee-power-shift/
[iii] Iacurci (2022). “The Great Resignation continues, as 44% of workers look for a new job”. CNBC. Accessed May 8, 2022. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/22/great-resignation-continues-as-44percent-of-workers-seek-a-new-job.html
[iv] Fuller, Kerr (2022) “The Great Resignation Didn’t Start with the Pandemic” Harvard Business Review. Accessed May 8, 2022. https://hbr.org/2022/03/the-great-resignation-didnt-start-with-the-pandemic
[v] Jane (2022). “How to navigate the employer-employee power shift”. The HR Director. Accessed May 7, 2022. https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/future-of-work/how-should-you-navigate-the-employer-employee-power-shift/
[vi] Fuller, Kerr (2022) “The Great Resignation Didn’t Start with the Pandemic” Harvard Business Review. Accessed May 8, 2022. https://hbr.org/2022/03/the-great-resignation-didnt-start-with-the-pandemic
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