HRD Roundtable Report: Rebalancing Employee / Employer Expectations in a Post-Pandemic World
After two years of adjusting to remote work through necessity, people professionals are now faced again with transitioning their teams and organizations into new working models. This comes with its own host of challenges – employee expectations have changed, and not always in line with what the business needs. What do we need to do to re-establish the balance?
Led by Sarah Shepherd, AVP HR Transformation & Employee Enablement, Manulife and supported by further insights from Nikos Drakatos, SaaS & B2B Product Leader, Workday, this discussion with senior HR leaders was conducted under Chatham House Rules. This report will contain the key discussion areas and all participants will be anonymised.
Balance and Expectations. Employees and employers are navigating an environment where the way we think about work seems to be continually shifting. Providing employees the opportunity to prioritize their wellbeing alongside changing ideas about how the work gets done was an area of focus for many organizations. How to create a feeling of inclusiveness in a world where employees are working in dispersed locations was an area all were struggling with, and while there is no “one answer”, all agreed this was a critical area for them to prioritize.
Is ‘Quiet Quitting’ a reality in your organization? How do you understand this new term?
‘Quiet Quitting’ is a term that has been hitting headlines for the past few weeks. The idea being that due to lack of engagement, some employees are deciding to work to the limits of their job description. Some employers see this as checking out, without actually resigning, as they will no longer be going above and beyond.
The group reported seeing variants of this trend in their organisations, but as an outcome of working to set healthier work/life boundaries. One HR leader shared how they feel HR should be working to encourage and embrace such a balance – if the work is still getting done, then why not? Is this not what we have been encouraging for years? As the past few years have been so difficult, perhaps this is a symptom of burnout, and people are just protecting themselves.
We also heard the view that this is part of the tension between employee and employer expectations. Old-school leaders may expect people to work late and start early, but people want control of their lives, and to choose when and how they work – including when they do overtime.
What trends are you seeing in employee expectations & desires for how they work?
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Every organisation and every role will have its own nuance here. Some people will want to come into the office, some will have moved too far to commute, some will be experimenting with flexible hours, time zones etc. How do you keep all these different kinds of workers engaged? We heard from one HR leader who is managing the results of a recent survey that put roughly 80% of their people ‘never wanting to go back to the office’. That is a result that cannot be ignored and will need to be taken seriously in their forward planning.
How have you updated your engagement strategies?
HR teams are finding that they need to help support behavioural and mindset change, not just policy options. There are specific skills that need developing for people to work successfully virtually like setting boundaries, managing burnout. There are also conversation skills – how do we promote open and honest conversations when it is more difficult to read body language?
The challenge in making individuals feel like part of a larger whole is not a new one – large, international, or simply dispersed organisations have been dealing with this for a long time. In the context of pandemic recovery however, it does feel more urgent.
This group has found success in various ways through things like more frequent town halls and executive Ask-me-anything sessions. Also though creating new meeting and connection guidelines, e.g., when, and how to schedule meetings that are respectful of time zones and working hours and proving their time is as respected as everyone else’s.
This requires follow through however – it is easy for bad behaviour to take over when it is no longer a focus. Leadership needs to hold each other accountable, to support others holding each other accountable. They can show this at things like informal calls, where sharing is encouraged. Leadership can get the ball rolling with sharing something personal, to show it is a safe environment. They should also make clear that their door is open for people not ready to share in public.
Part of creating a more inclusive environment is recognising that everyone is different, with different needs and expectations. This means there will never be a silver bullet for inclusion. Work towards what can be changed and figure out how you can make other factors a differentiator. What do people appreciate? For example, the version of hybrid that is necessary for your organisation may not be right for everyone, but the development or work/life balance perks that you offer will be more important to others. Or maybe you can be flexible, and that itself is a perk.
Many organisations struggle with reaching the hearts and minds of their people, as realistically, many people are not working to a ‘calling.’ Here again differentiators need to be more creative – is it access to new technologies, travel, growing a network?
Figuring out what matters & bringing in the managers
Surveys are still the go-to tool, with a focus on acting on the results quickly and visible. One participant suggested always choosing a top three items to be able to focus on giving employees updates on. While change can be slow, initial follow through cannot take month – it needs to be visible immediately.
Managers are also clear windows into employee sentiment, they manage the day-to-day relationship. They can create strong bonds that hold the business together. The shift to more supportive management styles has not been easy for everyone though. Many have had to work against their experience (and sometimes nature) to move away from presenteeism bias or command and control. HR teams need to help support managers with the right tools and support. Maybe that is guidelines on how to start 121s with a personal check-in, or when it is appropriate to ask people to share their feelings in a group setting. Maybe it is just boosting their general communication skills.
We also must recognise that managers are employees as well and should be supported to feel engaged in these new processes. If they are struggling, how can we help develop these skills? Or are they still appropriate for this position, do we need to review their responsibilities or direct reports? Going forward when hiring, should this be a capability that is tested for?
Additional resources shared:
To join in another session please register: Workday US HRD Roundtable Series 2022 (hrdconnect.com)