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by Katherine Bond

Right now, we’re increasingly having conversations with our clients about “people problems”. The pandemic has changed how people think about work, and crucially, how they want to work, and what they’ll tolerate in their work lives. We believe that businesses need to understand what’s changed, accept the reality of this change, change their own thinking and approach to ‘people’ and get great at anticipating how things will continue to evolve.  In this insight, and in upcoming articles and podcasts, we’ll be unpicking the single biggest issue that we think businesses need to be seriously considering and responding to right now.

A seismic shift

The pandemic has changed the landscape of how we live and work forever. A cliche, perhaps, and the reality is that it’s accelerated a trend that was happening anyway – fast forwarding things by a good couple of decades. Not since World War Two have we in the Western World had the ‘opportunity’ to radically change how we live and work. An unplanned and unchosen opportunity, it also offers us a unique chance to reflect on what really matters to us and to question some (quite frankly) illogical and bonkers ways that we’re working, playing and interacting as individuals and communities. It takes a major global event – that viscerally and tangibly affects us, over a long enough period – to be shocked in to taking stock and actually making change.

The upshot? Many people are clear that they want something different. They are clear about what they don’t want (the daily commute for example, or prescribed hours and venue of work) and what they do want (to do more meaningful work for organisations which are making a difference and contribution). And the role that people want work to play in their lives has changed – there’s a real shift from work taking centre stage to work needing to fit in with life.

Threat or opportunity?

People are they’re willing to vote with their feet if they don’t get what they want now. And there’s no shortage of stats to bear this out – people are leaving and changing jobs in droves, opting out of the workforce or changing careers. The landscape has changed – and it’s changed forever. There is no return to pre-pandemic norms.

The impact right now is that recruitment and retention is an issue for every business in every sector. Will this continue to be your biggest headache? Or is there an opportunity to take competitive advantage here and respond to this shift in thinking and approaching things differently?

How is your business responding?

If you’re pumping money into recruitment consultants, raising salaries, creating more attractive packages, or rewarding longevity, we think you’re missing the point – and you’ll be doing this forever more, while watching an ever-accelerating revolving exit door.

If you think this is about providing greater choice and flexibility about where people work or creating a more attractive office space so people will want to come to the office more, then that’s a good start, but we believe you’re also missing out on the opportunity to really think about the problem fully. While flexible working and a more attractive workspace may go some way to addressing some practical aspects of what people want from work, it’s not addressing the more psychological or emotional needs of your workforce.

Understanding what people now want emotionally and psychologically is key. Work that is meaningful to them in companies that are genuinely trying to make a difference in the world. Work in great teams with good people, where they feel treated like adults and equals, not subordinates. Work that challenges and stretches them in a way that they feel in control of. Choice about not just when and where to work but in how to do their work.

A rethink

We don’t see many businesses that are culturally and organisationally set up to do this. Too many are still structured, organised and run in a hierarchical fashion, with archaic beliefs about people and performance that are rooted in the Victorian era. There are some exceptions notable exceptions of companies that have really tried to rethink their approach. Three great examples of companies that we’d highlight (all pre-pandemic by the way):

  • Tony’s Chocolate – who have put purpose and values at the heart of their business
  • Perpetual Guardian, who gave autonomy to teams to decide when and how they work – giving people responsibility and ownership as well as creating a shift organisationally to cross-functional team working
  • Gravity Payments, where everyone, including senior leadership is on a flat salary that allows people to live comfortably and have an equal share in the success of the business – creating an ‘adult’ culture where people feel valued, respected and equal

We believe that businesses and leaders, whatever level, need to think not just about organisational changes that are required, but about how they’re leading businesses and their teams in a less hierarchical and more adult way, thinking about people and what they want from their work.

And we’re looking forward to sharing our thoughts and exploring this with our clients over the coming quarter. Stay tuned and get ready to be challenged!