January 19, 2022
Employees are burnt out and employers are disconnected from ground reality, according to recent reports. What is the way forward?
More than two years since the Covid-19 pandemic brought large parts of the world to a standstill, all is not well with employees. Workers across the world have indicated that they are tired and burnt out after many months of coping with the impact of the pandemic’s disruptions on several aspects of their lives.
Headlines in the last year give us an idea of the extent of the crisis.
At least two of the reports cited above flagged a disconnect between the company leadership and its employees.
“Employers may be out of touch with the reality of their company culture,” said the study by HR software solution provider Personio. “And, unaware that employees feel burnt out or underappreciated, their employer brand is on the line.”
One of the areas of disconnect is in the perception among HR leaders of why employees were leaving and the reasons employees cited themselves. For instance, the Personio study found that HR leaders believe a pay freeze or cut and a worsening work/life balance were the top push factors, but workers cited a toxic workplace culture as a crucial factor too. A toxic culture is a bigger push factor in the UK and Ireland (18% citing it as a reason) as compared to Europe (11%).
The Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index Report said its research indicated that business leaders were faring better than their employees, and workers knew this. “Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call,” it said.
Titled The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work — Are We Ready?, the report outlined seven post-Covid work trends expected to shape the future of work. The first is: Flexible work is here to stay. It said that 73% of workers surveyed wanted flexible remote work options to continue and urged leaders to view hybrid work as critical to attracting and retaining diverse talent. Additionally, it cited 37% of employees surveyed as saying that their companies were asking too much of them at a time like this.
One of the main points of contention between employers and employees seems to relate to expectations about when employees should return to the physical office. A remote work survey published by PWC highlighted this disconnect as early as January 2021. It said that 75% of executives anticipated that at least half of office employees would be working in the office by July. In comparison, only 61% of employees expected to spend half their time in the office by that month. Similarly, 55% of employees surveyed said that they would prefer to work remotely at least three days a week once the pandemic receded, but 68% executives said they expected employees to be present in the office at least three days a week.
This disconnect played out in real life in Apple in June. Following the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, the tech giant had become one of the first big companies to allow its employees to work remotely. But more than a year later, on June 2, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a staff memo to all employees saying that they were expected to return to work three days a week starting early September.
Employees pushed back swiftly, writing in an internal letter obtained by The Verge, that Apple’s remote/location-flexible work policy had “already forced some of our colleagues to quit”.
“Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple,” the letter said. “Over the last year we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored….It feels like there is a disconnect between how the executive team thinks about remote/location-flexible work and the lived experiences of many of Apple’s employees.”
So, what must companies do to address employee dissatisfaction that is leading to a lack of productivity and high employee turnover, which leads to reduction in the available skills in the short term and hurts business performance in the long term?
The broad consensus is that businesses must prioritise their employees to stem attrition and improve performance in a post-Covid world. This means taking their wishes into account while charting out the organisation’s future.
“Businesses that haven’t prioritised their people during the pandemic could be sleepwalking towards a talent exodus, damaged employer brand and a productivity drought,” said the Personio report. “And the detrimental impact this will inevitably have on business performance won’t become apparent until it’s too late.”
The OC Tanner report specifically called for organisations to pay attention to their employees if they wanted to thrive in the future. “The organisations that thrive in the next 10 years will create cultures that value and appreciate their employees,” said the report. “Recognising individuals proves to them that they belong and are a critical part of the organisation’s success. Those that do this effectively, with the right mix of tech and touch, will see a powerful impact on their people and business results.”
Warning businesses about the risks of increased employee attrition, the Microsoft report said: “[Our findings show that] employees are at an inflection point. The way companies approach the next phase of work – embracing the flexibility people want to retain and learning from the challenges of the past year – will impact who stays, who goes, and who ultimately seeks to join your company.”
Mikael Eng, Design Craft Manager at DICE, a world leader in video game development, agreed that flexibility was critical to attracting and retaining talent in a post-Covid world. “The entire world knows now that you can make movies, games, apps, and [gain an] education from home,” said Eng. “If you don’t want to lose out on good talent you need to listen and facilitate this new future we are entering of a mixed workplace.”
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