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Making work, work for everyone

This article was written by Waka Wang and Joe Gosney for Corporate Citizenship - part of SLR. Corporate Citizenship provides ESG strategy, reporting, social and environmental impact and other sustainability consulting services to multi-national companies.

2022 has been another tumultuous year for companies, many of whom are still battling to retain their talented workforce and grow their business. The Covid-19 pandemic, which upturned the world of work, is no longer able to dictate business trends, and yet the ‘great resignation’, widely believed to be a symptom of pandemic chaos and uncertainty, has continued.

At the start of the year, many predicted there would be a slowdown in resignation letters as the pandemic waned, only for time to prove the opposite true. Data has continued to show that people are leaving their workplaces in droves, and while the resignation rate has begun to plateau over the last few months, it is unlikely that it will be coming down in any meaningful way, any time soon.

Why has the great resignation continued with such fervour?

One explanation put forward by experts, suggests that the great resignation is not purely driven by a change in priorities, but rather is a product of general discontentment with the way one works. Proponents of this theory suggest that the seeds of discontent experienced by the workforce do not originate with the pandemic, but instead were sowed much earlier.

This idea is given credence when we consider that quit rates were rising long before the pandemic began. The shake-up the pandemic caused, in which we were forced to adapt and therefore accept that there is more than one way to work, simply served as the catalyst to bring these qualms to the surface and inspire people to question how they work.

Will this trend continue?

With the looming spectre of a global economic slowdown and rising living costs on the horizon, one would expect that many will likely pause and reconsider whether they should be leaving their jobs outright, as opportunities begin to dry up. However, even though a potential recession could slow down the rate of resignations considerably, the talent marketplace is expected to continue to be incredibly tight, further emphasising the need for decision-makers to take action.

Of course, a recession will do nothing to address any discontent within the workforce. Even as resignation rates begin to slow, we are already seeing indications that they are being replaced with a growing trend of ‘quiet quitting', where burnt-out employees are saying ‘no’ to taking on additional work outside their job description.

Why should companies be looking to address their workforce’s concerns?

As is clear by now, employees who are unhappy with their current working standards, have no qualms about taking their talent and knowledge elsewhere, if the opportunity arises. In contrast, those who feel valued by their employers and are able to adapt their work to meet their needs, are more likely to invest in the company long term, and generally prove to be a more motivated and productive workforce. To realise the benefits of a content workforce, companies should look to engage with the three key challenges that we have summarised below.

  1. Re-establishing trust with your workforce

The challenge

recent report by Microsoft demonstrated that there is a disconnect between employees, who are embracing change, and their bosses, who have continued to resist changing work styles. Fuelled by ‘productivity paranoia, this resistance to change not only inflames current grievances, but also puts additional pressure on an already struggling workforce, who are now being asked to ‘prove’ they are productive.

The response

Firstly, senior managers need to trust that their employees will continue to be productive, even if they want to work in novel ways. Wanting to understand how your employees work is reasonable, but companies should look to reassess their reliance on tracking tools and traditional metrics, that equate hard and productive work with long hours and a full calendar. Instead, companies should explore metrics that focus on the quality of work produced, as well as the wellbeing of their workforce.

Secondly, companies should show their employees that they care, by setting up a continuous feedback loop – listening to feedback and criticism from their workforce and responding with action. Timely, actionable employee insights are the most effective when it comes to addressing issues within your company, and these can be achieved by checking in with employees and asking for feedback on a regular basis.

  1. Creating opportunities for growth

The challenge

Across the workforce, employees have demonstrated a strong desire for growth opportunities, demonstrating a willingness to jump ship if they feel that upwards momentum is unattainable. Providing opportunities to learn and grow is now the number one driver of great work culture for employees, and businesses need to be receptive to that.

The response

If companies want to stay competitive in the job market, they will need to prioritise internal mobility and create opportunities for employees to develop in their careers. This means:

  • Making learning and growth core to work – providing resources and learning experiences that address skill gaps.
  • Recognising that people want opportunities to broaden their skills, even if that does not result in a promotion.
  • Creating an internal job market that makes it easier for people to change roles internally, allowing individuals to build their careers and find purpose while helping the organisation thrive.
  1. Establishing an attractive workplace that values workers

The challenge

The pandemic forced many people to re-evaluate the things they consider important in their lives. One thing that has risen above the rest as a priority for many, is the need for a proper work-life balance. Accommodating hybrid working practices has been one step towards allowing workers more control over how they work, however there are other opportunities that remain unexplored. Allowing asynchronous working, reducing the total working hours in a work week, and increasing annual leave and wellness day allowances, have all been demonstrated to empower employees and improve wellbeing. However, while these are popular changes that workers want to see implemented, many decision-makers remain sceptical about introducing such practices into their businesses.

The workplace practices listed above are frequently referred to by the media, and are often portrayed as ambitious strategies in both their form and scope, appearing to demand wide-reaching changes to the way a business operates. The apprehension of corporate leaders is therefore understandable, as such practices have the potential to cause significant disruption if implemented incorrectly, with some appearing to be incompatible without a large restructuring of the business.

The response

The important thing to remember is that these changes do not need to happen overnight. Continuous, piecemeal change over time will achieve the same benefits in the long term. While not as eye-catching as a sudden upending of workplace norms, this ‘slow and steady’ approach will allow businesses to restructure themselves to accommodate these work strategies more readily, while demonstrating to employees that they are willing to listen and are capable of change. For further inspiration, check out Corporate Citizenship’s partners at Virgin Money, who are already testing the waters with their ‘A Life More Virgin’ initiative, exploring the efficacy of novel working on their business and workforce.

The verdict

Workers the world over have made it clear that there will be no return to the pre-Covid world of work. Employers therefore have a choice: take the plunge and come to the table with an open mind and a willingness to embrace change and listen to their employees; or resist change and fall into obscurity.

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