The post COVID employee: an one-unseizable person market

We cannot talk about the post-Covid company without talking about the post-Covid employee, because he is an essential part of it. It is mainly the employee who has suffered, who has had to adapt, who has been impacted and who has suffered from the unpreparedness of his company in the face of new working methods made necessary by the emergency. If the digital transformation had, unfortunately, entered the company through the tools, the post-covid company will enter through the human aspect.

Then, no one knows what will happen, because we all know that good feelings never resist a long return to normalcy, but the period we just went through must have allowed us to learn enough things so that we don’t pretend nothing happened.

The post-covid employee: few new expectations

One can make the figures and studies say whatever one wants, but everything I have read here and there shows that the employee, at the end of the period we have just lived through (and which is not yet over…) :

Wants meaningful work
Wants recognition
Wants to work for a responsible company
Wants to be compensated fairly
Remains committed to telecommuting

I feel like I’ve been reading the same thing for the last twenty years or so, so at first glance, you can’t say that the pandemic has really changed people. At first sight only but we’ll come back to that.

One thing that is new is remote working, and although some people have had a bad experience of it, more often because of the context than the remote working itself, employees do not want to give it up altogether. But to which extent? There are as many opinions on the subject as there are employees, and this is not surprising: between the personality of the employee, where he is in his journey with the business, his current mission, etc., there is no single model of remote working that can be applied to everyone.

Let’s also talk about the notion of responsible business, especially when it comes to the environment. Indeed, as this study shows, almost everyone would prefer to work for a business committed to the preservation of the environment. Let’s accept the omen, even if I’m waiting to see what will happen when the wind dies down. But at what cost? “78% of employees would choose (with equivalent offers) to go work for an organization truly committed to the ecological transition.

The devil is in the details, so I ask you to think carefully about the “equivalent offer”. Yes they want to go to a business that is going in the right direction but as long as it doesn’t change anything for them, especially in terms of compensation.

Hypocritical post covid employee? Maybe a little. But since declaring himself pro-environment costs nothing and it is in the air of time he has nothing to lose by saying in a survey what almost everyone wants to read. But he is also under the influence of emotion.

Is the post-Covid employee uncompromising and unwilling to make concessions? Certainly, and this may be his main character trait. He knows what he wants and will not make concessions. We saw it with remote working and its employees who moved without warning to employers who discovered it with astonishment the day they returned to the office. They took their responsibilities knowing that this could backfire. It remains to be seen what will happen to all this in the long run.

The employee has emerged changed from the pandemic but this must be taken with infinite precautions:

No one has experienced the pandemic in the same way, depending on one’ s personal and professional background and personality.

In a crisis there is first a phase of stupefaction but things get softer with time. Will expectations and convictions still be as strong a year from now? When we will have to arbitrate between them, employment and salary?

The crisis has had its importance but it should not be overestimated either. Some businesses will rediscover their employees after 18 months of remote contact and realize that they have changed. Yes, they have changed. But in 18 months everyone changes, the difference being here that we have not seen people change little by little on a daily basis and that the shock of the reunion will only be a catching up of what we have not seen and said during all this time.

The employee did not learn much during the COVID

Based on the many people I know whose job it is to get employees to adopt collaboration tools in business, the pandemic has made their job much easier and helped them achieve their goals. Allow me to be less optimistic.

Many (too many) employees have discovered during the COVID tools that were at their disposal and that they did not use, little or badly. They also learned, sometimes with great difficulty, to install Skype or Zoom on the family computer. We started from so far that some will see it as a great progress, on my side I deplore that too few things have been learned.

First of all, we used technology to work remotely like when we were in the office. Remote work is not just adding distance between people: it is work before being “remote”, new operating modes, use cases to master. Instead of learning to work differently, we tried to replicate things that were already dysfunctional in the office. After that, are we surprised that the employees suffered?

So yes, employees have made more use of certain tools. But using is not adopting, let alone having an effective practice.

We continue to send attachments instead of co-editing.
Teams is reduced to a video conferencing tool
We still don’t know how to organize an efficient meeting
etc.

The tools have been used, yes. Were they used to do better than before? No. At the end of it all, are we going to say to ourselves “we have learned enough to change our practices” or “we can’t wait to get back to the office so we can stop suffering from misusing tools”? Unfortunately, we all know the answer, especially for managers.

The digitalization of work (using technologies without changing practices) has happened. The transformation of work has not taken place, and given the opportunity we are missing, I doubt it will ever happen.

So, despite what many people say, most employees did not learn much during the pandemic. Except to grit their teeth.

The employee understood many things during the pandemic

While he may not have learned much, and we can’t blame him, the employee understood a lot during the pandemic.

He understood, regardless of his level in the organization, that a flatter and above all simpler organization could work. Some managers found themselves on short-time working because they were only transmission belts that became useless the day some people understood that between the management and the field there were no kilometers, nor even floors and even less corridors: just a button on Zoom, Teams, Google Meet or other. And that fundamentally changed everything.

The employee understood who was essential and who was not. He found, even in difficulty and pain, a form of agility and reactivity that he lacked. He understood that the business could function in “ad hoc” mode and that with a little practice it even worked rather well.

The intensive practice of remote working has also allowed him to understand people better, starting with himself, as this extreme situation has exacerbated his personality traits. This will definitely change his relationship with certain people and roles.

The employee also understood what a results-oriented culture was in a business where the manager cannot, without making himself and others sick, go behind everyone’s back. He understood this without necessarily having experienced it, due to the lack of management accustomed to these situations. The corollary is an increased appetite for flexible work. A flexibility in terms of location that the business has understood, but also a flexibility in terms of time that seems less accepted.

But here again, we must be careful not to over-generalize. Depending on his job, his personal and professional context, his business, the form of management to which he has been exposed, he has been more or less exposed to all this and, above all, has experienced it in a totally different way. Some liked it and want to go further, some don’t want to hear about it anymore.

The post-covid employee does not exist

There are only two certainties about the post-COVID employee.

The first is that you’ll hear a lot about it because it’s what most of the back-to-work policies, “future of work” programs, etc. will be built around. It will be used to sell anything and everything, to justify everything and its opposite. The best and the most useless.

The second is that the post-covid employee does not exist. At least not in the form of a generic model that would make it possible to understand and therefore satisfy everyone. Even before the pandemic, each employee had his or her own expectations, but everyone seemed to accept the idea of “one size fits all” HR/People policies that targeted the “average employee” and therefore did not really satisfy anyone, but did not bother anyone either.

If we assume that the business is becoming “consumerized”, i.e. that it is importing more and more practices, tools and experiences from the world of the consumer (the employee being only a customer who walks through the office door…), we will have to understand that, like the consumer, the employee has become a “market of one”, a market of one person. He no longer wants to be recognized and treated according to his belonging to a category, to a segment, but rather by the perhaps 20% of characteristics that distinguish him from the members of this segment with whom he shares 80%.

The post-covid employee is therefore elusive because he does not fit into any mold. He is himself, with his past and his expectations. Responding to the issues related to them with a single model applicable to all would mean dissatisfying everyone. It is therefore more relevant to define a generic framework that sets the limits within which personalized systems can be built.

Image : Post covid employee by photoschmidt via Shutterstock

In this series :
The post COVID business: myth or reality?
COVID has not been a change agent but an excellent consultant
The post COVID employee: an one-unseizable person market
The post-covid manager: more indispensable and lost than ever.
The post covid organization: flatter, agile, flexible and fast.
Post-covid operations: formalized, simplified, automated and people-centric
The post covid workplace: hybridization in pain.
Post COVID business culture: the great reconstruction in the mess
Post COVID business values: a lot of promise and little effect
The post-Covid Digital Workplace: ATAWAD and open to all
Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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