The last few years harmed the population and we can’t ignore it. Being cut from most social facets, working individuals juggled many demands in the unpredictable environment balancing between urgent job-related requirements and intensive caregiving. This pressure has taken a toll on how the workforce feels and behaves.
The post-pandemic reality in 2022 shows a 25 percent increase in mental health problems and 75 percent of the workforce experiencing burnout symptoms, with the top three drivers of burnout being: “lack of role clarity or consistency, no support from coworkers or managers and unrealistic deadlines or pressure to meet goals.” It is difficult not to conclude the obvious: Most, if not all, of the above drivers are related to the organization’s leadership philosophy or perceived behaviors and culture.
Unable to fully recover from the pandemic, employers are now facing the threat of recession. This is not the first recession in recent decades, and we know the usual responses in economic stagnation. Companies might jump into traditional quick solutions such as cost-cutting and restructuring to ensure short-term objectives, tightening control and “squeezing out” more performance from an already exhausted workforce. But the workforce has changed, and the labor market has as well. We may live in an employee-led labor market for the first time in history.
Expectations and behaviors of the workforce contradict traditional measures. A tired and stressed individual behaves differently, especially having alternative professional options. A few years ago, signing the contract and not showing up on “day one” was impossible. This nightmare is a reality today, especially for early talent starting their first jobs.
Some organizations might fall into the trap of doing more of the same things better and lag behind the trends and new realities of the workforce and labor market. The discrepancy is understood partially. Until recently, we were living in the employer’s led labor market. Usually, in relationships where the parties are not equal, the dominant one creates and blindly follows the rituals of supremacy. Organizations created controlling processes and “ways to do things” that were praised and awarded for their efficiency.
We still see the legacies of those processes. For example, companies often fight the attrition risk with traditional methods like reward packages and career or development promises. But the research shows only 60 percent of candidates are willing to go the extra mile for career advancement or a double-digit increase.
In an attempt to identify the lessons to take to 2023, companies will benefit from the holistic perspective of the system and external trends, as briefly touched upon below.
Leaders need to engage more and control less
If there is one main contributor to employee engagement, it is the manager. Organizations need to promote a culture that welcomes an empathetic, team-centric and inclusive leader able to find the harmony between motivating for the highest performance and focusing on individuals’ well-being and further development. One-time training cannot achieve this; the more appropriate approach allows learning to happen in microlearning moments. Those moments have time to integrate the knowledge through small learning nuggets and promote an element of experimenting with new skills or behaviors.
Increase understanding of workforce and labor trends
Organizations need to get everyone on board with current changes in the labor market and how they impact the activities internally. The organization must adopt a broader view of the workforce, the workplace and the work itself. Employees require flexibility and cannot turn heads from the home office. People are not preserving the culture only when they are in the office; the home office does not reduce performance and the solution is not to rush into “going back to normal.” Now we are into the “normal,” and organizations must adapt to the new realities and not fight against them.
Non-mechanistic human capital processes
We have been talking about more or less the same talent process with minor adjustments that can look like a “band-aid on the bullet wound.” Companies recognize that some of the fundamental assumptions in talent management are outdated (as 9 box performance/potential matrix or traditional performance management) but are still not courageous enough to promote a more inclusive approach. Maybe the change is not a revolution but a small step in the right direction. Talent leaders must find how to find the right balance of control mechanisms in standard talent processes so they don’t provoke more damage than benefits. For example, companies suffer from attrition, but on the other side people leave because of a lack of career opportunities. What will happen if we allow more room for courageous appointment decisions?
Employee (and candidate) experience
War for talent might be a self-inflicted state. Employers must consider that attractiveness and retention might need more than traditional drivers in the employee-led market. Or they need to be aware that only some potential candidates are seeking those attributes and the talent pool is objectively smaller and easily targeted by others.
Even though we are entering into potentially tricky territory the next few months, organizations cannot stop people’s development and cultural interventions. The trends in the labor market and workforce behaviors are not favorable for decisions that secure the well-being of only one side of the employer-workforce relationship. Workers need support to be innovative, agile and resilient. They need a leader and culture where they can belong and prepare for the future. Skills and career development will anchor the employee experience and provide employability to the workforce beyond current and immediate job roles.
Organizations must ensure an outstanding employee experience that turns its workforce into ambassadors in today’s world that believes more in individuals than in organizational communication campaigns.
Instead of a powerful conclusion, shall we reflect on extracting the key learnings for 2023 and what to prioritize?
- What are the pain points of employee experience?
- What stops leaders from being more impactful in leading today’s workforce?