The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how people live and work. Organizations need to look at holistic employee well-being from a different lens. The unpredictability of the situation has made employees worry more about life and health than ever before. Progressive organizations offered active support to employees, especially when the pandemic was at its peak in 2020 and employees had to shift to a different model of working while caring for their families. But a recent update from Gallup suggests that in the year 2022, employees’ perceptions of organizations caring about holistic employee well-being have radically changed.
Let’s look at the timeline –
2014-2019: In the pre-COVID-19 world, employees agreed that organizations cared about their well-being.
2020: At the onset of the pandemic, most organizations showed the willingness and readiness to help employees get through this difficult time by providing mental support.
2021: Around this time, managers found it difficult to manage the remote workforce and were not able to engage employees actively. Support reduced and conflicts increased within teams. The great resignation made it more difficult.
2022: The first quarter saw a remarkable decline due to employee disengagement.
What really went wrong?
Despite facing life-threatening concerns, in the year 2020, employees were at peace due to organizations caring for their physical well-being and actively supporting them and their families through various wellness programs. The companies that respected human-centricity had engaged employees who strongly advocated the companies as great places to work. This is the year when both employees and leaders sailed in the same boat, making the remote work environment a reality. There wasn’t a choice but to work in a virtual setup, at least where it was possible.
However, as days passed, managers couldn’t handle the complexity a virtual setup brings in terms of employee engagement, communication, team building, and productivity. The number of work hours wasn’t restricted to 9-5 anymore. Personal and professional lives blended in unavoidable ways, draining out people furthermore. While working day in and day out, employees did not have clarity about the plan of action. Lack of communication from the top of the hierarchy regarding strategies and job roles made employees suspect intentions and resign as soon as opportunities arose.
Remote vs. onsite work became a subjective topic. A few looked forward to going back to their workplaces, while quite a handful preferred the virtual work world. It saved commute time that could be easily converted into productive work hours. Towards the end of 2021, when organizations started calling people back to the office, the clash of mindsets resulted in resistance.
Employees who preferred virtual work set up and felt safe at home did not support organizations’ decision to work from the office. The feeling of not caring for holistic employee well-being and safety cropped up, adding to the great resignation.
Expectations of holistic employee well-being evolved in the pandemic-accelerated change
In the pre-pandemic time, employees were quite happy if organizations gave importance to their physical health. Gymnasiums at workplaces, team bonding exercises, and other extracurricular activities got immense support from employees. However, in these pandemic-accelerated trying times, employee expectations have evolved beyond mere physical well-being. They expect support and care from employers at all levels – emotional, mental, physical, financial, and social. This shift has set the basis for an unwritten and unsaid psychological expectation regarding work-life boundaries. It is no more about being compensated for the time and effort. Employees now prefer being an integral part of the organization.
To meet these expectations, managers need to step into employees’ shoes and look at their roles from a deeper perspective.
Here are a few areas that managers can work upon to engage employees irrespective of the working model – remote, hybrid or onsite.
A Sense of Ownership:
An employee with a strong sense of ownership would say, “I am aware of the larger goals, and I am committed to achieving success. I can, and I will do it despite challenges.” This sense does not come to an employee if the supervisors do not make them feel important enough for the company. If employees are not aware of the larger picture, they will end up losing sight of the mission and miss the point, time and again, eventually feeling unwanted and uncaring.
To give employees the feeling that they belong, let them speak their minds, and not be a victim of groupthink. Listen to the ideas and carefully consider the challenges in implementation. Without listening, if an employee’s ideas are rejected, they won’t care enough the next time.
Recent McKinsey research found that 39 percent of all respondents say they have turned down or decided not to pursue a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion in an organization. An inclusive work environment doesn’t happen in a day. It requires sustained and dedicated effort. Extended isolation has filled employees with negative emotions. Racial, gender, and hierarchical discriminations and favoritism should be acted upon at once. The victims of these discriminations would continue moving away from the organization mentally and quit before quitting. This attitude will do no good to a company’s larger goals. Thus, managers need to practice fairness at all levels, making employees loyal members.
To attain ownership and inclusiveness for employees, managers need to ensure detailed and authentic communication. Communication in a virtual setup cannot be the same as that in a physical one. The excitement, curiosity, information, and willingness differ when people are unable to physically interact with one another. Thus, managers need to find better ways of getting people to interact, share, and help so that they all are on the same page. From the top-level, essential information should reach the employees in a timely manner. So, they don’t need to overthink the future.
For instance, the debate about remote vs. physical work environment has taken unnecessary time, making employees wonder how their lives are going to radically change, yet again. If organizations can maintain clarity, employees feel that they belong. Even if decisions are not made, there is no harm in communicating the same. When clear communication happens, employees can spend their time being more productive and stress-free.
Shifting to a remote setup wasn’t a choice for anyone. But with a few relaxations now, leaders can consider giving employees the freedom to work from wherever they prefer. There will obviously be some who would misuse this flexibility. But the freedom of choice would set a better example and win the trust of most who are willing to put in the productive hours for organizational development.
In the physically isolated setup, when an employee suggests a good idea or goes out of his/her way to do something, it should be acknowledged. The recognition adds to motivation and encourages the larger team to do better. Gallup suggests that employee recognition is a low-cost and high-impact engagement strategy. Simply by recognizing the workforce, organizations could be positioning themselves ahead of 66% of their competition.
Care and Support:
Research conducted by BetterUp on organization’s care and support for employees suggests,
- 3.4x more likely to have high job satisfaction
- 2.7x more likely to have high organizational commitment
- 2.1x more likely to be high in stress management
- 1.9x more likely to be highly engaged
This care and support are expected on all levels – emotional, physical, mental, financial, and social. Quite a few progressive organizations like Google, Adobe, Twitter, LinkedIn, AirBnB, etc., have set decent examples of caring for employee well-being. In turn, they have seen a constant increase in employee engagement and productivity.
Meaning and Purpose:
Especially in a remote environment, when people cannot physically connect with others, it is essential to have conversations about the purpose of a job role and what it means for the leaders as well as the employees. It will be difficult for leaders to deliver on this tall order as every job role has a purpose to be met. If managers can give it a good thought and clearly communicate with the employees, time and effort can be drastically saved.
Continuous Opportunities to Grow:
According to a Gallup report, 87% of millennials see professional development and career growth opportunities as “very important” to them in a job. Nobody prefers a stagnant and meaningless job. If there is no opportunity to grow, employees are bound to quit. These opportunities can be presented through constant training, reviews, feedback, direction, and motivation, regardless of the work environment.
The years 2020-2022 have created a changed working environment from which both leaders and employees can learn a lot. When both sides of the same coin are willing to alter perceptions based on environmental changes, growth happens in any work environment. If leaders can actively respond to today’s expectations of holistic employee well-being, business is sure to prosper.
PMC provides proven tools to help involve and engage people for workplace improvement; tools that supervisors can use for innovation and active workplace involvement. If you’d like to learn more, we’re here to support you.