According to the report The Future of Jobs 2020, COVID-19 has led to a more rapid change in the job market than expected. The knock-on effects of the pandemic on employee experience have been plain to see: an accelerated transition to working from home and more flexible working arrangements but also the loss of social contact and a breakdown of the work-life balance...While work-related reference points are being eroded, employee expectations are about their employers are changing: employees want hierarchical relationships to be relaxed, more freedom about where and when they work, and they are also increasingly looking for a more pleasant working environment. In order to keep up with these new aspirations, businesses need to reinvent themselves. The stakes are far from small: companies need to motivate (or remotivate) their teams as well as attract tomorrow’s talent. These are two HR levers which are essential to kickstart the return to work. What will the new post-Covid workplace look like and how will listening to employees help make sure we’re ready for it? Here is a break down of 5 essential workplace expectations which companies need to address in times of crisis.
1. Wellness at work: the work-life balance is on the line
The coronavirus health crisis has changed work habits: working from home has become the norm for many employees. From March 2020, between five and eight million people in France switched to 100% remote work overnight, and were often unprepared. Employees have had to develop new ways of working, which has caused its fair share of upheaval: no longer going to the office, more erratic hours and a blurring of the boundaries between home and work. As a result, in April 2020, 44% of employees showed signs of psychological distress. Employees are now looking for wellness and a new kind of balance. According to a study conducted by Ifop and Wittyfit in May 2020, 81% of French employees consider wellness at work a priority, a figure that has soared by 25% in just two years. 27% of workers are now asking for a better work-life balance.
Faced with extraordinary circumstances and their impact on the health of employees, employers have consolidated their approach, with a greater focus on improving QWL, and they have been implementing changes since the first lockdown: “Companies hurriedly put in place previously untested good practice measures to protect the health of their staff”, says David Mahé, president of the Stimulus cabinet. One of the post-Covid challenges they face is to instil a culture of wellness within organisations.
There are several areas you can explore to make wellness at work a priority:
- Focus your company culture towards a better QWL:
- Create a remote working charter with a section on wellness and health, including conduct and practices to be adopted, pitfalls to avoid, recommendations to combat a sedentary lifestyle, good management practices for managing teams, etc.
- Introduce actions to help with parenting: sign the Parental Act charter, which more than 300 companies have signed already, giving the second parent one month of fully paid leave. Some companies are even opting to set up facilities specially designed for parents. L’Oréal ,for example, has set up three crèches in Ile-De-France. The group has also created its own Parenthood Charter, which aims to make employees aware of their rights, providing services to employees and offering more flexible working hours (e.g. the option for parents of children under 12 years old to take up to 4 Wednesdays off per month).
- Encourage wellness breaks: during lockdown, many companies offered their teams yoga, meditation or virtual sports activities. These sorts of initiatives, which are the pillars of the new employee experience, must continue to be put in place with internal sponsorship. Initiatives may include paying for or subsidising gym membership, organising online sports sessions or an online lunch time sports programme. According to the French Federation of Business Sport (FFSE), there is a lot of demand for this sort of provision in French companies: 9 out of 10 employees would like to have access to a wellness programme at work.
2. In search of autonomy and flexibility: the (long-awaited) management revolution
76% of non-management employees say working from home is the number one thing they’d like to see feature in post-lockdown changes to the workplace! There is no doubt we are witnessing a vote en masse for remote working. 43% of new remote workers say the crisis has positively changed their view of remote working. Why is this? For 80%, it mainly comes down to the versatility and flexibility remote working offers. The other main reason remote working is attractive is still greater autonomy (44%).
The main challenge posed by the new working conditions is to maintain remote working. So far it's going well : 74% of HR managers are planning to further expand remote work in the coming years.
How can we instil autonomy and flexibility in the corporate culture in the long term?
By transforming its management software: the forced introduction of remote working is an opportunity to challenge old managerial practices, in particular the focus on micromanagement and presenteeism. The new set up of remote working offers a chance to switch to another type of management called servant leadership, popularised by Robert K. Greenleaf. This practice is characterised by emotional support, listening and recognition, and is reflected in employee expectations: according to a study carried out by Payfit, in times of uncertainty, employees expect a greater management focus on people as individuals. In practice, this means taking a more human and participatory approach to supporting teams, using a continuous feedback system, setting up collaborative workshops, encouraging more individual innovation and personal development. And managers are on board: 80% of them say they are prepared to offer teams more flexibility in their working hours.
If you don’t overhaul management, it’s not remote working, it’s remote control, Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts, Professor Emeritus of Management at HEC Paris.
3. Transparency and listening: more honest communication in times of uncertainty
During the COVID-19 health crisis, business communication increased dramatically: 88% of companies have launched a crisis unit and a communications strategy for their employees. 64% of employees considered it “good or very good”. Continuing to communicate with ever greater transparency is essential in times of instability. As the Edelman barometer “Trust and the Coronavirus” illustrates, 51% of French people want clearer information about their company's activities, (e.g. security, strategy, investments etc.). Likewise, in terms of bottom-up communication, 77% of employees would like to be consulted more and be more involved in their management’s decision-making.
What can be done to foster more honest and open communication?
- Share information on an ongoing basis to establish a climate of trust with employees. Minimise uncertainty by clearly explaining any financial measures or HR decisions currently under discussion, for example when there is a slump in business activity, possible job cuts, security, how work is organised or decisions on remote working etc. If you have a corporate social network or a dedicated channel on Slack or WhatsApp, you could write a summary email or a weekly post.
- Establish a system of bottom-up communication by organising regular chat or Zoom-type question-and-answer sessions on strategic themes between management and employees. In addition, to gauge how employees are really feeling and pick up on signs of latent issues that might be affecting morale, think about carrying out engagement surveys. You’ll need to make sure you respond with fast, visible and concrete actions. Listening can also be encouraged through participatory workshops on the company’s key areas (governance, decisions, etc.). Involving your employees is a form of recognition and is a key driver of engagement in times of uncertainty.
4. Redefining the corporate mission: striking a balance between what’s useful and what’s meaningful - employees want to get involved!
The unprecedented health crisis we are going through has prompted many people to question their usefulness in society, and in particular whether their profession is meaningful, with 55% of French people saying they have thought about this. The search for meaning is the second most important issue for employees after wellness. New concerns and aspirations about society are emerging which are shaking up employer brand strategies. According to a survey by Walters People, values and culture, which until now have been in third place in candidates’ list of criteria, are now in second place (41%).
How can we respond to these new aspirations about society?
- Highlight your social and human commitments. During the crisis, some companies quickly expressed a strong commitment to their employees. For example, the Hermès group turned down state financial aid and continued to pay its employees. Danone has protected all the employment contracts for its 100,000 employees, offering them exceptional health care and childcare benefits. These actions promote a sense of pride and belonging and should be continued and valued.
- Take a collaborative approach to redefining CSR: now is the time to reflect on your company's mission with your employees. What is your raison d'être and your impact on society? Which CSR areas (social, environmental, etc.) do your employees want to get involved in? A good example to follow: Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, created the “1-1-1” model. CSR is an integral part of the company’s operations: 1% of the capital, 1% of employee time and 1% of Salesforce revenue are allocated to philanthropic causes. Employees are at the heart of this approach: their annual objectives include an obligation to participate in the CSR initiatives of their choice.
According to a PWC survey, companies need to focus on three areas to make sure they're in sync with the employee experience of the future: become more digital, adopt flexibility as a way of operating and become employee focused.
5. The importance of maintaining social connections in “distributed” companies
The Covid-19 crisis has given rise to a new relationship which is now based on digital technology. One side effect is that one in two employees feels less connected to their co-workers, which suggests people have a strong need for social contact, even if it’s virtual. 95% of employees were looking forward to seeing each other again after lockdown. These expectations reflect the social and collective purpose of the office, which needs to be maintained. According to philosopher and sociologist Dominique Méda: “There is a huge risk of employees becoming isolated and feeling vulnerable [...] office interactions and the opportunity to form a community completely disappear when everyone works from home".
What can be done to (re)build a sense of community?
We need to reinvent the social connection despite physical distancing. You need to base this on something called ‘propinquity’ : the natural tendency to develop close interpersonal bonds with the individuals who are closest to us. The idea is to create proximity and encourage social interaction within a new, more hybrid work experience:
- Establish regular online rituals: even short team meetings, whether formal or informal - the main thing is to keep doing them regularly. Some examples of initiatives during lockdown:
- The Fed Group organises coffee breaks, where 6 employees take a few minutes on video to get to know each other or share their news.
- Employees of the new online bank Qonto meet on the collaborative tool Slack every Wednesday and Friday to take part in fun competitions like photo contests.
- Make the most of collective moments: now they are rare, physical gatherings should be entirely devoted to team building. Create opportunities for collaboration, such as more regular workshops and team building sessions that offer teams the chance to interact. Sports activities are especially good for helping employees to bond: the consulting firm Adone Consulting has created a “feel good” approach for employees, offering twice-monthly collective sports sessions or introductory sessions on alternative medicine.
- Offer more discussion spaces centred around common interests: social connections are usually formed in informal environments. Start conversations on Slack or WhatsApp around TV series, sport, cooking or pets (which your colleagues may have seen during lockdown!). These virtual spaces replace the classic coffee machine break and help participants to get to know each other better or to break up their routine. The news agency News Tank Higher Ed & Research has created a ‘breaktime’ channel on Slack to share anecdotes with employees. A really strong virtual community has grown out of light-hearted social interaction.
Work has a interpersonal and collaborative dimension, which has been significantly impacted during this period, ” explains Maurice Thévenet, Professor and HR Expert at Essec.
- Empreinte Humaine and OpinionWay survey published in April 2020
- “My business, my health (8/8). Wellness at work, TPE version ”, Le Parisien, September 2020
- “THE LOCKDOWN, WHAT NEXT? HR MANAGERS ARE GETTING READY ”, ANDRH, April 2020
- Survey on how HR anticipates the organisation of work in partnership with the RH&M group, OasYs and OpinionWay, among the 80 companies in the CAC 40 and Next 40 between 7 May and 5 June, 2020
- Study conducted by Liaisons Sociales and OpinionWay
- Interview in Les Echos, October 2020
- Wellness study, research on meaning, involvement in corporate governance, conducted at the start of the year by Ifop for Philonomist
- Study conducted in early May by Monster (May 2020)
- Interview for Europe 1, "It happened this week", October 2020