Transitioning Back or Transforming Forward?

Genicia Pegues, Insights Consultant & Organizational PsychologistCulture, Employee Engagement, Future of Work, Strategic ListeningLeave a Comment

When we look for a job or evaluate our decision to stay in a role, we often start with a list of what we want and need: a short commute, a flexible schedule, an opportunity to contribute to a meaningful mission, or a people-first culture. Over the years, we develop an understanding of the things that are most meaningful to us – some big picture, others logistical – as well as those that we can live without.

Listening strategies help workplaces understand these drivers so that they can provide the return individuals expect for their contributions and talent, while also maximizing engagement. While your annual engagement survey is a good place to start, your strategy should remain flexible so that you can adjust to measure topics of relevance as they emerge.  

But what happens when the things we value most are forever changed or re-defined? Or perhaps, we ourselves change, and we realize our values have too.

With the promised return to some degree of normalcy on the horizon, many of us are pausing to ask ourselves these very questions:

  • How have we been changed?
  • How have we adapted our work style and our approach - and what learnings do we want to carry forward?
  • How do we expect to be supported by our employers?
  • What do we value and need from our workplace?

Transforming Forward

In a recent article from the Harvard Business Review, “How Has the Past Year Changed You and Your Organization?, authors Laura Empson and Jennifer Howard-Grenville discuss how the prolonged trials of the last year can be described as a liminal experience, which has three key characteristics:

  • A forced and prolonged separation from normal ways of being and doing
  • A break from the familiar that does not fully replace it (for example: providing “normal” client service using radically different means)
  • An end result of transformation

This is an important reminder that we will not simply return to "how things were". Instead, we are invited to transform and reinvent a new future. By reflecting on the impact of our experiences, we will have the opportunity to strengthen our cultures and organizations through our learnings.

Re-defining What’s Meaningful at Work

As you begin the process of charting the future of work for your organization, start by evaluating your employee engagement strategy. Old tactics and approaches may need to be reimagined to ensure efforts resonate with the new perspectives of your team. Think ahead to consider what will be most meaningful to your employees as they move forward from this chapter. How can you be proactive in meeting their needs?

Inclusion & Belonging

In 2020, Newmeasures’ research revealed that a sense of belonging was a key driver of engagement, and those who perceived a sense of belonging were 15 times more likely to be engaged and 27 times more likely to intend to stay with their current organization. Research released by Qualtrics in early 2021 shows that belonging has continued to emerge as the top employee experience driver linked to engagement and well-being. Furthermore, the call for organizations to act and make real progress towards building diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces continues.

As your culture transforms in this next phase of change, ensure these principles are prioritized. Create policies and programs that give voice and opportunity to every member of your team and that allow individuals to be their authentic selves at work.

Aim to provide a community where employees feel connected to their work and one another. Cultivate a sense of contributive value where all team members understand how their work is connected to the mission, especially remote employees who may feel more disconnected as others return to the office. In hybrid environments, implement standard practices that include remote employees in social experiences as well as work-related discussions.

Flexibility

The additional flexibility provided during the pandemic will have changed perceptions of how work can be done while allowing for more time at home. Employees may be seeking permanent policies to facilitate work/life balance. Consider hybrid models, flexible hours and designated work-from-home days. Define core business hours (the primary hours during which business is conducted) and seek opportunities to give employees more autonomy in how they manage their workload, while ensuring proper coverage during key timeframes. As you develop your policy, be sure to leverage the learnings of the last year by sharing knowledge and best practices. If flexibility is not possible, be sure to share the “why” with employees and help them transition back to a more structured work environment.

Professional Development

Career trajectories likely took a detour in 2020 and your people may be eager to make up for lost time. How can your organization help employees re-map their paths and start working towards their goals? Consider launching or re-launching mentorship programs, leadership development programs, job shadowing opportunities and internal mobility policies. Ensure you include remote employees in offerings and programs and consider tips for fostering development in a virtual environment. Most importantly, equip managers to have career conversations with their direct reports and to formalize a development plan.

Furthermore, the scope of responsibility for many employees has expanded or shifted over the last year. This may be an opportunity to partner with associates in crafting their role going forward. Is there an opportunity for aspirations and development to be linked to organizational needs?

Benefits

Physical, mental and financial well-being will continue to be top-of-mind for employees as they recover from the pandemic. Caregiving assistance, wellbeing reimbursement and other emerging benefits should be considered to ensure your organization stays competitive and provides the support your people need. Often, organizations offer competitive benefits that employees don’t know about. Develop communication campaigns to increase awareness of these offerings (for example, your Employee Assistance Program) and encourage active participation.

Looking to evaluate where you stand? Contact Newmeasures to learn how our Benefits Optimizer survey can provide you with insight on where to focus.

Teambuilding

The isolation we have all experienced will likely have colleagues hungry for new forms of connection and collaboration – but it may also take time for teams to find their groove. Workplaces can proactively provide opportunities to help teams ‘break the ice’ as they rebuild trust and relationships. Collaborative projects can be assigned and social events can be planned and prioritized, even in remote scenarios.   

Communication

For many organizations, communication has been more frequent throughout the last year as leaders recognized the need to guide their teams through uncertainty. This may be the norm going forward – consider continuing regular updates and create channels for two-way communication and idea sharing.

Furthermore, in many cases employees will have become more comfortable in expressing vulnerability. Create space to continue these conversations by encouraging managers to check in personally and allow for feedback. Finally, keep using new technologies that were leveraged remotely to enable employees in all locations to participate and have a seat at the table.

Reward, Recognition & Time Off

Take time to celebrate! We’ve all made it through some tough times – and it’s the remarkable achievements of our people that made it possible. Recognize these contributions and help colleagues ‘breathe out’ through fun and rewarding perks.

Many employees are also experiencing burnout following increased demands of the last year and the blurred lines between work and home. The chance to unplug, take a vacation or recharge with loved ones may not have occurred. Give employees permission to practice self-care and take the time away from work that they have likely accrued and deserve.

Co-create Your Future

You may find your organization in a place where you are revisiting your business model or updating your cultural focus and practices. This is an excellent opportunity to co-create with your employees. Involve your team in the process and ensure their perspectives and ideas are taken into consideration as decisions are made. Let them be part of the change and have a say in your future. What could be more meaningful? 

Ready to take the first step? Leverage a pulse survey or your annual engagement survey to understand what your people value most, how their experiences have shaped their perceptions and generate suggestions. Results will equip you to implement data-informed action that resonates and guides your organization through change.