Photo by Lynette van der Bijl

The world of work has transformed dramatically over the past three years.

Remote and hybrid work environments post pandemic combined with emerging trends such as the Great Resignation and quiet quitting are creating unprecedented challenges for organisations and the way they manage their workforce.

The new workplace revolution

The Great Resignation – where employees left their jobs following the post-pandemic ‘return to normal’ – was sparked by employees re-evaluating their careers and leaving their jobs in record numbers. As industries closed down during the early stages of the pandemic, many workers lost their jobs. A lucky few were able to retain employment, and in some cases – especially in the technology sector – actually thrive despite the ongoing uncertainty and disruption.

Free from lengthy commutes and noisy offices, pandemic-era productivity spiked, with one Deloitte report finding that employees were more productive during the lockdowns.

However, the intensity of work during that time arguably took its toll on employees. When restrictions lifted and companies started calling employees back to the office, huge numbers opted to retain the new-found work-life balance they enjoyed, with some studies suggesting a record number of resignations occurred during the latter stages of 2020.

Many of those that stayed in their positions, burnt out from the intense work and social pressure caused by the pandemic and its ripple effects, then engaged in so-called quiet quitting.

Quiet quitting is perhaps one of the most alarming trends in that it reveals a deep-seated disillusionment with the status quo and a powerful desire among employees to redefine the boundaries of their careers.

One Gallup study revealed that only 21% of employees are engaged at work. In fact, at one point a McKinsey study found that 40% of the global workforce were considering quitting their jobs within a three to six-month period.

Co-creating workplaces that work

Amid this workplace instability and global economic downturn is a very real need for companies to return to high levels of productivity and innovation.

To achieve this, organisations have to find common ground with employees and an effective way to retain top talent.

The bad news is there’s no guidebook for how companies should go about this. Creating a new world of work will require courage, collaboration and clear communication with employees at all levels.

This is likely to demand a complete redrawing of some traditional workplace boundaries, namely:

1 Workplace duties

One of the benefits that employees enjoyed during the pandemic’s work-from-home phase is that they were less likely to be assigned tasks that had nothing to do with their core job. In an office environment, employees run the risk of getting pulled in to support work that falls outside their own job responsibility. This can lead to longer working hours, stress and even burnout.

While there can be upside for employees taking on extra responsibility as a way of learning or expanding their network, companies need to be realistic about expectations and keep the balance between productivity and creating an unhealthy workplace. A recognition system for those who go the extra mile is also helpful in creating some reward.

2 Cultural alignment

One of the more insidious consequences of the work-from-home era has been a misalignment between employees and the organisational culture. While this holds especially true for new employees that joined the business during lockdown, even long-standing employees will have experienced some disengagement with the broader company vision.

The effect is a lower level of engagement with non-core tasks, such as attending company events or participating in team-building activities. In extreme cases this misalignment has left some employees entirely unwilling to return to the office.

There is no easy fix for this. Companies will need to work with employees to reframe their vision and culture fit for the new world of work. Employees in turn will need to acknowledge that, in order to achieve broader organisational goals and drive the business forward, some compromises must be made.

3 Vision to reality

The past few years have exposed some of the inherent duplicity in how organisations attract and motivate staff versus what their actual focus is. While creating healthy work environments with more focus on employee wellbeing is top of mind, this must be balanced with the need to generate growing profits, to fulfil shareholder commitments and to compete effectively in tough economic conditions.

Companies need to be clear with employees on their vision and values. There is a fine line to be walked between people, purpose and profit which is ultimately linked to shareholder value. Creating the right balance between these three will likely help to attract and retain the best talent for each environment.