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The Termination of “Normal” Culture

COVID-19 Weekly Culture Pulse Survey: April 13-17, 2020

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When millions of non-essential employees left their offices to work from home in mid-March, the company cultures they knew left, too. Even for frontline workers who stayed, the change has been a culture shock. And while the world places bets on when social distancing will end, one thing is becoming certain: the workplace experience that employees return to will not be the same.

Our latest weekly pulse survey of over 1,679 employees throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. reveals how employees envision the future. The headlines:

1. Three out of four believe the response to COVID-19 will change workplace culture in permanent ways. Not necessarily negative ways, but “normal” is gone and won’t be coming back.

2. Leaders are more convinced of this change than individual contributors.

3. Coronavirus-related disruption has caused nearly half of all workers to consider changing careers.

There goes normal

A full 77% of all employees surveyed say their workplace culture will never return to what it was before COVID-19. Contrast this number with our findings just three weeks ago when 65% of remote workers reported their company culture had not changed in any meaningful way. (All we can figure is time at home feels like dog years compared to the office.)

So what sort of new culture and employee experiences do they expect? In general, it’s a hybrid based on how the company reacted or adapted to COVID-19. One characteristic response:

“I think our new normal, after all this is over, is greater virtual work and less face-toface collaboration. We proved we can do it. Blended work just makes sense.”

Breaking this data down further, we see 83% of leaders plan on a new reality, compared to 66% of individual contributors.

Starting over

Challenges often give their survivors a new perspective. But many employees are drawing heavy conclusions. According to the survey, 48% are considering a career change as soon as coronavirus loses its grip. And not just in new companies; new industries. Look closer, though, and problems apart from the pandemic emerge:

Only 28% of these contemplators received recognition within the past month

63% worry about losing income, their job, or both

55% are classified as “essential” workers

“Every organization in my industry is cutting jobs. Why would I want to stay in this industry permanently? I don’t trust my company. They don’t talk to us about what’s happening. They don’t appreciate the front line. First opportunity to leave, I’ll take it.”


“I haven’t seen my leader in weeks. I get what seems to be anonymous job direction from ‘Management’ on shift schedule and new procedures. I haven’t even finished training. No one cares what we are going through on the floor.”


“We are still being held accountable for our sales quota even though no one is buying anything. We keep getting threats. What are they going to do? Fire us all? I’m leaving as soon as I can find something stable.”

As the stats and quotes suggest, the pandemic may have triggered issues, but many appear treatable with recognition, appreciation, transparency, and a little leader empathy.

The moral of the survey

It may be tempting to try to resurrect the workplace culture you had in February. But even if that were possible, it wouldn’t be productive. According to the data, new ways of working have taken hold. So instead, focus on quickly defining your desired culture and deliberately move toward it.

Begin by listening to employees and their perspectives to identify the experiences they value, and don’t value. Embrace positive changes and let go of old philosophies and processes.

COVID-19 will continue to upend every company’s culture in ways large and small. As discussed in a previous pulse report, organizations have an excellent, if temporary, opportunity to improve their cultures now. We’ll discuss how and provide more insight in our upcoming annual culture report.

Stay tuned to our COVID-19 weekly culture pulse surveys for insights that will help your organization to weather the storm.

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