ORGANISATIONS HAVE NO ALTERNATIVE, BUT TO TEMPER BOTH METTLE AND METAL OF A NEW STRUCTURE, THAT IS PART TRADITIONAL TOP-LEVEL HIERARCHY AND PART AUTONOMOUS AND FLEXIBLE CULTURE. BUT IN SEEKING BALANCE IN A HYBRID SETTING, THE DANGER IS IT DESCENDS TO A TUG-OF-WAR, IN WHICH BOTH PARTIES WIN AND LOSE TERRITORY. EQUALLY, AMBIGUITY AND A “SUCK IT AND SEE” APPROACH, WILL INEVITABLY COMPOUND A LONG AND DRAWN-OUT TRANSITION, AT A TIME WHEN BUSINESSES NEED TO BE IN GOOD SHAPE AND FUTURE READY.
The accepted norm was that employees were subordinates and that the most effective leadership strategy was top down. Now, after everything we have experienced these past two years, it’s time to put talent first or fail to remain competitive. But this requires more than the redrawing of an organisational blueprint, it necessitates a fundamental overhaul of leadership thinking. COVID-19 was wretched, but it forced a realisation that a diverse work culture is possible and demonstrated that remote working is effective.
Essential to the future hybrid workforce will be trust, transparency and understanding. Encouragingly, according to research, a massive 88 percent of respondents agreed that their organisations genuinely value employee feedback – a result consistent across organisations of all sizes. Less impressive though, is the fact that only around two thirds (64 percent) feel that their firms learn and act on it. Whereas less than half (47 percent), think that they have a solid process in place for capturing this information, this needs to change fast, because by their very nature, organisational narratives need to constantly evolve. They are shaped by people stories and they have to be adapted based on employee feedback – then clearly and consistently communicated by leadership. My view is that while successful teams require strong and aligned leadership from the top, it’s also essential to embrace and encourage an autonomous and flexible culture. Creating opportunities for people to provide feedback and valuing their opinions, rather than just paying it lip service, leads to better engagement and productivity, at a time when organisations are struggling to recruit candidates. Now when employees are demanding greater flexibility and autonomy, many businesses are suggesting that workers should be in the office full-time (40 percent) now or in the near future or a minimum of part-time (39 percent). While a third of business leaders who have asked employees to come back to the workplace already, have found some workers resistant or reluctant to return. A high prevalence of employees saying that they are not prepared to return to the workplace means hybrid and flexible practices are now expected, rather than preferred.
Unquestionably, the study reveals a complex picture of transition to hybrid working, with some organisations taking a firm stance – 19 percent of businesses saying they have terminated contracts due to a refusal to come into the workplace – while a further fifth (20 percent) have threatened to do so. With more conflict on the horizon, another 18 percent expect they will need to issue demands to their workers to bring employees back into the office. Many businesses (23 percent) reported that their employees contracts, don’t stipulate they need to work from a specific location. Overall, almost half of business leaders (44 percent) report that employee litigation in the year ahead, is a major risk to their business, with complaints as a result of asking employees to come back into the workplace post COVID-19 (37 percent) being the top concern. While the reality is that most companies will have the law on their side, pushing for a mass return to the workplace will naturally force employees to vote with their feet – meaning higher attrition rates. But why are some companies failing to read the room?
In 2022 we welcomed back a workforce seeking something to believe in – and they need to know that the organisation they give their time and talents to has a vision that aligns with their personal views of this increasingly challenging world. The cumulative challenges of a rugged two years, compounded by current concerns around inflation – continues to take a toll on employees’ physical and emotional wellbeing. A better employee experience, one that considers the whole person who comes to work every day, is the way employers will beat the competition. For business leaders, ensuring that benefits and policies strongly support the emotional, physical and financial health needs of their employees will help optimise engagement and performance and maximise retention. What is certain is that firms that keep harking back to tradition, versus those that embrace technology and the democratisation of work, will rapidly lose ground in commercial competitiveness and the battle for talent. That said, faceto-face moments are still very important. Teams do well when they can meet in person for collaborative projects – this is where the magic really happens – it also leads to employees feeling more valued and engaged.
Whilst HR policies are an essential framework and the basis of the starting point for managing employee needs – flexible HR practices must aim to treat every employee as an individual. Flexible characteristics such as extending bereavement leave for someone when a member of their family passes away as they are not ready to come back to work, can help support an employee when they need it the most. From the other perspective, an employee may wish to return to work before the end of the leave policy in order to keep busy. This type of approach goes beyond saying we care about people and demonstrates we actually mean it. Business leaders must treat employees compassionately as human beings – not resources. Building stronger relationships with people is a vital part of building loyalty and increasing long-term performance and underpins effective organisational design.
Organisations will need to move to a more holistic strategy, that puts employee experience at the centre of the organisation’s productivity and success. Staying ahead of the game and not falling behind, means remaining dynamic and open to new ways of working. The real challenge here isn’t creating meaningful mission statements, it’s living up to those promises. It only becomes authentic if employees have the flexibility, resources and support to truly live the values. This is only effective, if you ignite the spark that motivates people to proudly embody those unique experiences you’ve worked so hard to create and help people really feel different about work.
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