“We’re simply not the same people that went home to work in early 2020. Employees in South Africa are rethinking what they want from work and voting with their feet when these new expectations aren’t met. The challenge ahead for every organisation is to adapt to changing employee priorities while still balancing business outcomes in an unpredictable economy.” – Colin Erasmus, director of Modern Workplace and Security at Microsoft South Africa
Looking back at the past couple of years employers should acknowledge that employee expectations have shifted and will continue to, as we move forward. Microsoft 365 and Linked In combined insights from many studies and a lot of productivity signals to create the Work Trend Index, for organisations to understand the new workforce challenges and key insights. The index focuses on four pressing trends that South African business leaders need to know in 2022.
Trend 1 | Employees have a new “worth it” equation
The events and accompanied experiences over the past two years have reshaped and shifted our priorities, worldviews, and identities as well as shed light on what’s more important versus what’s not. Employees as a result reevaluated their “worth-it” equation.
The factors of what people want from work vs what they are willing to give in return have changed. Priorities have shifted and according to the Work Trend Index, 53% of employees are now more likely to prioritise health and wellbeing than before the pandemic.
The great reshuffle is far from over and the data confirm for years ahead that many employees desire flexibility. Many hybrid employees are considering a switch to remote work and even more, remote employees are considering a switch to hybrid in the year ahead. It’s very clear that employees have a new priority to ensure they achieve a better work-life balance.
Tips for organisations: To meet your employees’ expectations, leaders will require a mindset shift that considers the experiences of the past two years because there is no going back. The leaders that will rise above are those who will create a culture that embraces flexibility and prioritise employee wellbeing by understanding why it is important to build thriving organisations.
Trend 2 | Managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations
Managers play a pivotal role in securing culture to stand or fall, but it’s a burdensome role to play when they feel stuck between leadership and the new employee expectations – which end up making them feel powerless to drive the change that the team needs. The Work Trend Index state that around 54% of managers feel leadership in their company is out of touch with employee expectations. Whereas 74% of managers said they don’t have the influence or resources to make changes for the employees.
The tension is clear as managers feel the disconnect between their leaders and the employees, and employees concur with around 84% of workers in different regions saying that they are not engaged. Managers are the bridge between ever-changing employee expectations and leadership priorities, but per the Work Trend Index, most of them lack the influence and resources to make changes on behalf of their team. Leaders have a new and urgent challenge in this uncertain economy and labour market to start setting up the standard for flexible work in a way that balances business outcomes with new employee expectations.
Tips for organisations: Over the past two years managers embodied and instantiated the culture of organisations. As managers, they will hold the key to unlocking the potential of employees and flexibility. Equip them with the resources and training necessary to manage the transition. Leaders need to decentralise decision-making and empower managers to make changes on behalf of their employee’s individual needs. Managers can use this template provided by Microsoft to create team agreements for hybrid work.
Trend 3 | The office should be worth the commute
As the world shifts more fully into hybrid work, the biggest opportunity for business leaders is to reimagine the role of the office and create clarity around why, when, and how often teams should gather in person. The Work Trend Index indicates that most people, in general, are unsure when and why to come into the office. Employees feel that they would rather spend commuting time with family or loved ones. The index also reveals that few companies globally have created new team norms, such as defining hybrid work meeting etiquette, to ensure time together with other team members is intentional. New norms should be set by leaders to help everyone feel included and able to contribute.
Leaders must establish the why, when, and how of the office, and this includes defining the purpose of collaboration in person, creating team agreements on office days, and rethinking how the space can play a supporting role.
Tips for organisations: Organisations that do not seize the new intention required to define the role of the office, stand the chance to risk missing out on the true benefits of hybrid work. Ask employees for initiatives to incorporate such as Team Tuesdays – where they make up fun team-building reasons to come to the office.
Trend 4 – Flexible work does not have to mean “always on”
The trillions of anonymised productivity signals across Microsoft 365 indicate flexible work in action. With the newfound flexibility, companies should be aware of digital exhaustion and the necessity to combat it. Despite the digital overload, people are making flexible work their own, taking control of their time and reshaping the workday. Productivity patterns in Outlook show people are becoming more intentional about taking breaks, avoiding double bookings, and establishing meeting-free work blocks.
According to Microsoft researchers, Mary Czerwinski and Shamsi Iqbal, making flexible work sustainable is important. They suggested minimising too many meetings; looking for opportunities to divide and conquer meetings with team members, asking teams to consider designating certain days or time blocks that are meeting- free, make it a team practice to ask if this meeting could be covered in an email or chat instead.
Tips for organisations: Teams need to create new norms around flexible work to reduce time spent in meetings and empower people to hit the off switch. This cannot be a solo effort, but a team-led movement to establish more sustainable hybrid work practices.
The past couple of years will have an enduring impact on work and the impact of which will be felt for many years to come. To make hybrid work, leadership needs to empower managers to be the culture keepers, rethink the role of the office, and make sure they understand their employees’ new “worth-it” equation. As the world continues to evolve, organisations that take a culture-first and learn- it-all from the people approach will come out ahead.
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