Solving the REAL issue behind post-Covid hybrid workforce unrest
In this new post-Covid era we find ourselves in uncharted territory. The battle against the virus is in danger of mutating into a revolutionary war between leadership and the workforce.
And the troops are already revolting – with their feet! Study after study tells us that employees are frustrated with their leaders and are looking for new opportunities elsewhere.
Our challenge as leaders is:
“How do we create a cease-fire, form a lasting peace, and develop an alliance
with the workforce that moves our businesses forward?”
Status on the Front
As we opened up to allow people into office spaces again, the great desire to return to “normal” spurred a sudden and largely unwelcome demand to return to corporate buildings. Big Tech, including Google, Amazon, and Apple – the most likely to embrace a non-traditional workstyle – led the charge to bring people back in the office. And the employee backlash was hard-hitting.
Pushback along with concerns for the Delta variant caused Amazon to back-pedal and implement hybrid working delaying the full-time in-office requirement till early 2022.
Apple took a staunch stand which was met with immediate and organized employee pushback. A poll showed that more than 36% of their workforce would resign if the telecommuting policy was enforced. Consequently, their required hybrid 3-day/week in-house return date was repeatedly pushed out due to employee objections. It is now planned for early 2022.
Google tried to be more structured in implementing hybrid work but its policy still required employees to live close to the office. While acknowledging an option for permanent work from home, Google followed Facebook and Twitter’s lead by cutting salaries for the privilege of eliminating the commute.
All this while salaries for tech professionals increased by 28% to attract the tech talent they desperately need in less costly locations.
What leaders are failing to recognize is that the Covid quarantine fundamentally changed our thinking about work, reordered our priorities, and convinced us that we are just as productive remotely as we were in the office. Employees realized the lifestyle “cost” of a commute and the effect on their families. For years most managed their time and life around work. But in the last 18 months, the situation reversed. They needed to manage their work around life. They liked the result and they don’t want to go back.
So while Leaders make decisions on workstyle,
Employees are making decisions on lifestyle.
And the battle is on…
The Great Resignation. The Great Reshuffle. It’s about to explode into the Remote Revolution. Call it what you will, but it is just a result of leadership and a workforce at odds pursuing different goals.
If leadership doesn’t figure out how to create a work-life that fits the workforce’s demand – a real-life – the revolving glass door will see people move in only one direction: OUT.
Location used to be a corporation’s golden handcuffs on talent. The barrier to changing jobs (even within a large city) usually included the expense and stress of moving, uprooting children in school and pulling them away from their friends, and the impact on a partner’s career and/or social network.
This is no longer an issue.
For the companies that figure out how to embrace the remote worker, even in senior executive positions, the talent pool becomes a virtual ocean, and the cost of onboarding them is drastically reduced.
So, as companies backpedal on their return-to-work policies and delay their required in-house start dates, employees are busy searching job postings for options that allow them to have the life they now are accustomed to while doing the work they love.
And if they can’t? The employees will organize.
Apple is already seeing this as employees voice their demands as one to leadership. Other large companies, like Boeing, have had unionized management for decades.
The Hybrid Revolution of 2021 begins.
1. The Cease-Fire
We need to redefine “hybrid work.” Rather than a single part-time in-office /part-time home arrangement, we need to think of it as a variety of different work styles. A combination workforce some of which are full-time in-office, full-time home, and some part-time home and office. Or perhaps employees will create their own office hub near home or their children’s school.
This mindset change will open the doors for leadership to entertain creative ways to rebuild and develop productive, inclusive teams in a semi-virtual environment.
Embracing the different workstyle options tells employees that they and their lives outside of work are valued. It says they are trusted to manage themselves and the job regardless of where they do it. It says that their desires to live a healthy, rich personal life are respected.
With this message, you now have their attention. Better yet, you build loyalty and trust. They will show up to work and give you their best.
2. The Lasting Peace
It’s time to get to the table. With a new definition of and policy for hybrid work in place, both sides can lay down their arms and start talking. Really talking. This means leadership must take the lead, exhibit courage and be vulnerable. There is a lot of rebuilding to do and assumptions to clarify.
When everyone was in-office, there was a natural we’re-all-in-it together comradery. Employees were far more open to policies and decisions that weren’t favorable to them individually because everyone else was experiencing the same conditions. They were far more willing to make personal sacrifices for the organization.
After more than 18 months at home, the focus has shifted from a group focus to an individual one. For more than a year they have been dealing with how to make things work in their own unique situation. They are now quite adept at it and are not interested in changing what is working really well for them.
To create lasting peace, we need to discover the human side of each other. We need to be curious about the needs of the organization, and how they affect each leader personally while exploring the implications to the employees and empathetically working to find a solution.
Remember the famous Christmas Truce of the First World War? Both the British and German forces began singing carols to each other. At the great risk that they might be shot, troops crossed into the “No-Man Zone” to wish each other Merry Christmas, play soccer, and exchange gifts and food.
Leaders need to take the first step. We need to find a common value and vision that we can come together on and then step out in a gesture of good faith going more than halfway to demonstrate our commitment. This may take more than a few iterations.
3. The Alliance
The process of building trust will take time. It requires agreement on a common vision and guiding behaviors by which to carry it out.
An alliance needs an identity and a purpose. All involved must be able to embrace it and thus re-establish the community needed for people to once again “belong”. Expect conflicts will arise but deal with conflict toward a resolution that supports the vision and supports the agreed-upon guiding principles.
The organization must become more human if you are going to keep humans in your organization.
Servant leadership is no longer a buzzword for HR types but a requirement for success. This shift will be a challenge for many leaders, especially for those that achieved success in a command-and-control world.
Managers of all levels need training and development to adapt to the now varied work environments and the shift in employee priorities and needs.
But training isn’t enough. For the alliance to form and solidify the new values, behaviors, and vision must become a success metric. The core values and behaviors they support must be institutionalized and become part of the DNA of the organization. They need to be the basis of all problem-solving and decision-making. And they must be a major factor in management performance evaluation.
For most organizations, this process means a completely new start. The good news is everyone has the ability to change and do so successfully. Our recent history is proof.
Yet, despite the victory of the hard work described here, some leaders won’t make it. They will be casualties by choice.
The new workforce and business climate post-Covid can’t support leadership that remains firmly planted in the “good old days” of 2019. Companies that don’t call a cease-fire and work on a lasting peace will find themselves without talent and die a painful death.
Those that do embrace a more human approach to work will see their organizations align quickly, developing a strong community, identity, and purpose. Employee engagement will spur creativity and a sense of ownership in the success of the company.
And all will emerge from the battle stronger than ever before.
How healthy is your organization? Check out this quick Organizational Leadership Survey to understand where you are most at risk.