A New Battle of Wills

Have you heard a new call for battle in your workforce, especially since the Pandemic struck? Many employees and job candidates are standing up and requiring work conditions that haven’t been the “norm” previously. How is your organization handling this? As an HR Consultant with a background in strategic HR for 26 years, I can provide insight into today’s work climate.

In a 2022 survey of 3000 job candidates, 2 out of 3 were looking to move to jobs that would offer hybrid or remote positions. Of 9000 people surveyed worldwide, 72% preferred to work in a hybrid-remote job. Many job candidates filter search results to include only hybrid or remote job openings.

An Outcry to Work Remote

There was a new battle brewing before the pandemic within the workforce, but most decision-makers were running the business as usual, and the demand to work from home was mainly falling on deaf ears. Workers, especially millennials, were already calling for higher flexibility to work from home. Most employers were standing their ground and not entertaining this demand without reason, such as a disability. Even then, it was usually only a temporary agreement to have the employee work from home.

The pandemic changed things for many people. As the world went into shutdown mode, young children lost playmates and time at the park, teenagers lost their ability to socialize with peers, and parents shared workspaces with their families. Meanwhile, Generation Z, Millennials and many from Generation X got their lifelong dream- to work from home. The Pandemic facilitated many fresh battles of wills for different topics and political viewpoints. It also started a new war of wills between companies and employees around the globe. Flexibility to work from home was just one of those battles.

Social Media Platforms

People suffered in new ways throughout the pandemic. Aside from the severe health risks and people impacted by losing loved ones, a new mental crisis occurred as they dealt with their situations and feelings of being suddenly shut away from their communities. New outlets were sought to help deal with the mental side of the impact. People from all walks of life started their personal and family social media accounts on TikTok, Instagram, etc. Many talked about using these platforms as a stress release, to dance, have fun family time, or learn about other cultures worldwide.

However, social media became the new platform with a creative side towards bringing about corporate change- including discussions about what a person will or won’t do within Corporate America. It wasn’t limited to a younger demographic, though it may have started with younger generations. It spread – going viral – across the world. People started talking about “quiet quitting” and “acting your wage.” They doubled down on being able to work remotely or continuing in a flexible or hybrid work situation.

This unique set of catapulting circumstances, starting with the pandemic, gave a massive platform for worker demands to go viral worldwide. The resounding request has been heard loud and clear, with many voicing that they want flexibility in how they show up at work.

Corporate Reactions

Companies were responding. They started bearing down on their employees working remotely. It wasn’t because they thought people couldn’t work from home and be productive. There seemed to be a growing distrust towards whether or not people were working while they were at home, with all the trends on social media and an ever-increasing attitude of workers talking about companies and managers that they felt didn’t care about them.

Managers started distrusting that their employees were actually working while at home

Companies went from placing ads that would advertise as being remote to new job ads with all capital letters, “NOT REMOTE,” or something similar. Managers, who were getting pressure from their leaders, were taking a firm return-to-work approach. In many ways, it set the stage for new conversations on social media about toxic bosses and toxic workplaces. Employment lawyers and HR hashtags about “what employers can and cannot do legally” and “HR is not your friend” type discussions that got large followings. Yes, people weren’t taking this well and were fighting back by resigning, a trend called The Great Resignation, which started in 2021 and continued into 2022.

Companies started trying to figure out what was important to their workers. They ran surveys, town halls, and workshops to tap into their worker’s mindsets. Based on the results, they learned much about what was important to their workers. When companies did this, they got more than just “flexibility” concerns in terms of feedback. They got answers to questions surrounding the multi-generational worries about work and how it impacts their lifestyles. I captured general responses to these surveys in the “Supplementary Information” below.

Key Learnings

Many companies took the issues seriously, recognizing the retention risks if they didn’t. However, they often fell short or had knee-jerk responses rather than thinking about holistic solutions to an overall picture of what was happening in their organizations and why.

While many companies were reacting, they often failed to go beyond the optics of “just doing something” and, after the initial execution, to bring sustainable and scalable changes. They also failed to get consensus and buy-in to solutions they were coming up with.

Instead of gaining tangible ground in improving employee retention, some companies resorted to throwing money at the problem and tried to pay more to retain employees. They missed that this wasn’t a money issue as much as an employee experience matter. When people expressed concerns about a bad boss or toxic work environment, despite transactional or monetary additions to their pay structure, they still left the company because they came to the epiphany that their mental well-being couldn’t be bought.

The Employee Experience

Statistics show that only 12% of workers will change jobs for more money as the sole reason. 71% would take a pay cut for a better job or work experience.

Experiential factors are falling into the picture of why people will stay or leave their jobs. High on the list are flexibility and work-life balance. Essentially, people want a say in how and where they will accomplish their work. I recently talked to someone who used a different phrase than we have heard lately. Rather than “work-life balance,” she used the word “work-life integration.” She is a very hard worker with outstanding accomplishments to show for it, but she wanted her loved ones around and to work from her home as the primary workplace. Yet, another person I spoke with was dying to get back into an office space. He said he would leave his home each day throughout the pandemic and drive around the block to feel like he had a commute again. And still another person said that they had gotten a break from seeing their manager and difficult co-workers who followed that manager’s lead because they weren’t in the office environment during the pandemic. They got a taste of not seeing people that upset them, sometimes daily, and they wanted to maintain the mental break from that as part of their health.

With so many differing perspectives on what the ultimate employee experience is, how does a company work through those and come out with high employee retention rates?

Find Solutions Together

Regardless of whether people want to work remote or not, there is no doubt that few welcome being told they have to return to the office environment if they have proven that they can do their job remotely. This has created a divide between leaders and employees, and it narrows down to how people want to be treated and the ability to maintain freedom and flexibility. There are four things a company can do to dig into what solutions will work for them.

Learn: Practical things organizations can put in place are unique to each organization. Learning what the primary issues are at your organization is first. Do you believe people aren’t talking to each other about your organization’s problems? They are, so try to attune yourself to what is happening and show you are interested in how to best move forward together.

Collaborate: Involve people, especially your key players, into the conversations who will help create buy-in to solutions that you collectively come up with. Ask how they see things currently and how they want to see things in the future. Get help from someone who has done culture or employee workshops before.

Act: Some companies leave things half finished by stopping after the collaboration and solution discussions. Taking action is the next step. Move to the solution and assign them to leaders to carry them out.

Assess: Keep this initiative front and center. Operationalize the results. Never forget the work you did, and never stop learning, collaborating, and acting on things you find that come up in the future. Always assess the results to check if the solutions are working.

Glean from Others

People are people, and some of their concerns encompass these critical aspects:

Growth: Generally speaking, people want to see personal and professional development in some way. Even if it is learning a new task or a lateral move – it is okay if it means they will grow in knowledge and skills. Develop a program that allows people to acquire new learning opportunities.

Praise and Recognition: People want to be recognized and appreciated for their accomplishments. They want to work for a company that genuinely cares about them. Develop a program that will do this both at the peer level and at the managerial level. Lead with empathy for your fellow people and require your managers to do the same.

Healthy Competition: In speaking to my oldest son, a millennial, he shared something that made me remember that people will create competition with others- even if it isn’t provided through their company. In his job, he said that patient satisfaction scores were high, and he and a co-worker had a fun personal competition going in this regard. They tracked, recognized, and rewarded each other without any thoughtful intention. Imagine if the company implemented something intentional that encouraged improved patient satisfaction scores. Find ways to help your employees feel their wins and successes.

Safety and Wellness: We learned that pay is not the sole factor in creating job satisfaction and loyalty. A little research will show what things mean the most to people, in general. The following things carry significant weight with many in your workforce right now. Follow me on LinkedIn to see my next blog on these very topics:

  • Healthcare
  • Social Responsibility Program
  • Stand Alone Mental Health Care Programs
  • Safety
  • Flexibility
  • Work Environment Perks
  • Leadership Training and Development
  • Learning and Development Opportunities for Staff

If you are in the percentage of companies that aren’t making any concessions or can’t make any, in terms of working hybrid or remotely, consider what you can do to help influence employees back into the office.

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Supplementary Information

Companies started trying to figure out what was important to their workers. They ran surveys, town halls, and workshops to tap into their worker’s mindsets.

Complaints about the culture

It isn’t a surprise, as the heavier issues surrounding managers taking firm stances and people taking it as threat-based commentary that would force them back into the office, culture, and toxic workplaces would become front and center in these surveys.

So, companies started culture transformation initiatives.

Concerns for DE&I were brought to light.

Inclusion and diversity are highly valued by the same people responding to the company’s cultural work they enacted.

So, companies threw DE&I officers into roles they had never run before.

Toxic Work Environments, Bad Bosses

Culture transformation workshops highlighted an issue with what people called a “hostile work environment” (a legal term in the USA), toxic work environments, bad bosses, and poor leadership.

So, companies started talking about leadership transformation but fell short of ensuring all leaders participate.

Concerns for equal pay for equal work

Pay practices were brought to light. Yes, people talk about their wages. This also came out in surveys and workshops across organizations.

So, companies started trying to equalize or address their pay structures to keep their best or most valued employees. They fell short of balancing or addressing the fairness of pay because they focused too hard on a “what’s it going to take” approach to keep their top talent.