When it comes to American workplaces, as a collective whole, our society has reached a boiling point. People are not only anxious but in many cases are outright refusing to return to a system that was originally built prioritizing the needs of employers, often at a great personal sacrifice to employees.
With 40 percent of employees planning to change jobs by the end of this year, 2021 is being labeled the year of the "Great Resignation." Work has forever changed, and all the lies we once told ourselves about work -- that we need butts in seats to have better business outcomes, that productivity is related to a set schedule -- have all been busted.
Employees have very little interest in returning to a workplace that does not empower them to take control of their lives and support their well-being. A recent study conducted by my workplace, Limeade, found that 100 percent of employees surveyed who fell under the category of previously working from home are anxious about the idea of returning to the physical office. The findings also surfaced that some of their biggest concerns are losing flexibility and going back to their regular commutes --or in other words, "returning to the grind."
Employees hold a lot of the cards right now, and employers who fail to listen to employees and implement changes are going to hurt in a big way. On the contrary, employers who treat employees more like humans and less like bundles of risk to be managed as transactions are going to thrive.
So what does it look like to create a workplace that is more human-centric? Here are five ways employers can start treating employees more like humans:
If you're not sure where to start, ask your employees how they feel about transitioning into this next chapter of work. Our survey found that 56 percent of employees say their organization hasn't even asked for their feedback about return-to-workplace policies and procedures. This shows a major disconnect. Employees are a huge part of the equation here, and if employers are reopening their doors without bringing employees into the fold, this is a recipe for disaster.
There is a major asterisk to the "ask" recommendation: Only ask about things you are willing to act on. Share any results transparently, and make sure your policies align with what employees shared.
3. Be Flexible
Create as much flexibility as possible so employees feel empowered to make choices that best support their well-being. Have leadership make it clear that well-being and self-care are the most important, and that the company is here to support employees. Leaders should also be modeling this behavior.
4. Get Intentional
When navigating in-office time, be intentional. Have teams choose to come into the office on days when they want to do collaborative work and make a day of it. Cater lunch, do some team-building activities, and use that time to enhance and bolster strong team culture.
5. Fix Workloads
In addressing workloads, it's time to move beyond lip service and time management tips. Things need to come off people's plates and stay off. Find ways to increase efficiency or staff according to the body of work that needs to get done. Can't afford it? Take a look at the cost of turnover and see if you can afford not to.
The fact is: Employees are struggling with social anxiety and other mental health challenges that impact both work and home. Sure, some are excited to return to the physical office, but others have concerns about returning to the day-to-day grind. The most likely scenario is that employees are looking for a Goldilocks setup, a balance. It doesn't have to be "all or nothing" -- either you're back in the office five days a week 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or I never see you in person ever again. The right solution is most likely going to be somewhere in the middle. Trust your people and give them the power to have input and make the choices that are best for them. In the end, it will be good for people and for business.
This moment in history is a once-in-a-century opportunity to transform work into a source of purpose, energy, humanity, and positivity. Leaders and organizations that lean into the discomfort of change and set aside outdated norms and assumptions about work are going to not only attract and retain top talent but thrive. Those that cling to power and control and center policies on the comfort of those in positions of power will pay the price. Right now is an opportunity to improve and change the way we approach work. Let's get this right.