Hopefully, we are finally seeing the beginning of the end of the tunnel in which the pandemic has plunged us, and businesses will try to return to a more normal situation, and in fact they are thinking about what a new normal will look like. If they have understood that they are going to have to change, I have the impression that they are far from understanding how much their employees have changed in a sometimes profound way and what this means.
A new work organization that may not be so far from the old one
So yes, businesses will change, but we shouldn’t expect huge changes, even if I still dare to believe in it a little
Remote work has been an incredible source of learning and some will draw the necessary conclusions to improve. But for most, with the disappearance of distance will come the disappearance of the revealing of their shortcomings, and getting rid of the “remote” will allow them to forget to care about work.
Tomorrow will not be like yesterday (but tomorrow has never been like yesterday) but believe me, everything will be done to keep it as close as possible. Sometimes for good reasons because there are things you can’t go against, sometimes for bad reasons.
But in focusing on what they can control (or think they can control) they forget the weight of what they don’t control: an employee they think they know but have changed so much that they don’t know him anymore, if they ever did.
Hugs and flowers won’t be enough
One thing is clear: businesses will take care of their employees as they return to normalcy and the office. That’s the least they can do after what they’ve been through. But, forgive my cynicism, it will be the return gift that will have to pass a bitter pill: for the rest they should not expect much change.
As I explained a few weeks ago, meditation classes, yoga sessions and other gyms will not be enough to satisfy their demand: it is work that must change in its organization and content.
Yes, there is a real problem with the mental health of employees, but the old tricks won’t do: employees no longer want us to compensate for the pain, but to remove its cause.
I read a while ago that some businesses, aware that their employees suffered during the pandemic, were giving them extra days off. Let’s be serious for a second. Two days off, an instant painkiller…then what? Will the recurring problems with work organization go away? Will the causes of the pain disappear? Of course not.
As for the many expectations they have, have they changed? Interesting work, meaning, fair pay… is this so new? I don’t think so. But what is new is that they may be much more inflexible than they have ever been and more extreme in their reactions.
If we seem to discover all of a sudden expectations that have been present for ages but are not so new, there is one thing that will indeed have radically changed: the employee and his “internal software”.
I read that HR managers were “horrified” to discover that many employees had taken advantage of remote work to move, often far enough away that a daily return to the office was now impossible.
I am not saying that these employees were right. I’m just saying that, knowing that it could have consequences on their jobs, they did it and assumed it, and that’s radically new. And it’s not without a smile that I imagine the businesses being presented with a fait accompli. For a long time, they talked about engagement and a sense of belonging on the employee’s side, but in reality, they only wanted to possess them. They are just discovering that employees don’t belong to them and if they draw all the conclusions, this could foreshadow a new, more constructive dialogue. But with ifs…
Employees have not only suffered, they have changed
So I was saying that the internal software of employees has changed. Not uniformly, not in the same direction for everyone, but it has changed. Some will no longer want to work at home, some will no longer want to come back to the office, some will want a business and a more present social link, others will want to stay in a configuration where they felt both more efficient and less “invaded”. To each his own balance, there will not be a formula that will suit everyone. There never has been, but now we have to stop pretending.
It doesn’t matter if some people experienced it very well or very badly, two things happened.
First of all, they have lived an experience and the nature of an experience is to transform people.
Then time passed. One year. 18 months sometimes. In 18 months you change but the daily contact with the business can slow down this change. And as it happens day after day, we don’t see it, or we adapt unconsciously so that we only realize it afterwards. Here people and businesses will rediscover themselves after more than a year for some. The shock will sometimes be strong and all the more violent because the change will have been accelerated by the experience and the distance.
While some people already know they don’t want the job they had before, others will realize it all at once when they return to the office.
Businesses focused on the distance and forgot the time
Over the past 18 months, we have talked so much about the impact of distance that we have totally forgotten the impact of time.
What is a year in a lifetime? It’s not much biologically speaking, but sometimes it’s huge mentally.
A friend recently said to me “my daughter was confined at 16, she turned 17 two months later, will resume a normal life at 18, how would we have put up with that at that time in our lives?” Frankly I don’t know, but she is definitely not who she was before the virus, nor who she would have become without it.
But it is not only the young people who are affected, even if we have talked a lot about it. Some people entered the crisis looking at their 40s in the rear-view mirror, today they see the wall of 50 years in front of them. Time has not accelerated, but the perception of the moment of their life, of their next deadlines, of their risks, of the missed opportunities is not the same at all.
For others, it is retirement that has suddenly appeared.
Moreover, during this time, friends and colleagues will have retired. Without a party, without celebration, sometimes anonymously. They missed their exit, but others will measure the passage of time by realizing one day in the open space that they are no longer there.
A year lost? A year to make up for?
When I listen to people close to me and not so close to me talk, when I let my ear linger in the subway, when I hear parents talking about their children, I often hear about a lost year or even a year that was stolen from them.
It doesn’t matter that this year was stolen to perhaps allow for many others, the impression is there. And the more time passes, the more it will be reinforced. When they have forgotten the crisis, there will remain this feeling that ” they are owed ” a year of their life.
Each of us will make up for this stolen year in his own way.
Some by over-investing in work to recoup missed career opportunities.
Others by quitting their jobs. Their business is not responsible for what happened, maybe a little for how it happened, but the grass is rarely greener elsewhere. No matter. They need some fresh air and their business and their colleagues will remain symbols of that time and when they need to leave them to move on completely. The business they join will not have done any better at that time than theirs, but it doesn’t matter, it’s new. They may be replaced by people who leave the business they are joining for the same reason they leave theirs.
Others have understood that the context does not lend itself to a wage increase. But those who, “too kindly”, had let the opportunity pass several times before the pandemic will become intractable on the subject in the future. They have understood that what was taken is no longer to be taken.
Others will have learned one thing in the past year: the need for a strict boundary between personal life and work. They’ll come back to the office but won’t let work get out of hand. Strict adherence to the right to disconnect and no more meetings at impossible hours.
Others don’t know what they want except “never again”. They will make their decisions. They will be good or bad, but it doesn’t matter, they will make them. And the business will have to deal with it.
We know the causes of resignations but we do not control their triggering
I know that many will say “we can predict the causes of resignations so we can change the situation”. This is even more true at this time when a few well-known factors will cause the bulk of the resignations.
But if, with or without big data projects, businesses have more or less known what pushes an employee to leave, the fact that he or she does or doesn’t take action and the moment have long been real unknowns. On this subject, I recommend reading an excellent article from the Harvard Business Review entitled: Why People Quit Their Jobs.
This study shows us that contrary to established beliefs, it is personal life events that trigger resignation.
The cause of the resignation is endogenous to the work but the triggering factor is exogenous.
This article is from 2016 so I will add a more contemporary element. With the end of the health crisis looming one way or another many people will experience pivotal moments in their lives or draw the consequences of pivotal moments they experienced during the crisis without being able to act.
No one can predict what will happen in the short or medium term, especially since many employees are still in the dark. But one thing is certain, the awakening will lead some to make radical decisions, the scope and impact of which are currently totally underestimated.
During the pandemic, much thought was given to how distance impacted people, not how time transformed them.