Last year at this time, the world was rapidly changing before our eyes. People everywhere carved out socially distant routines that, for many, blurred the line between personal and professional life. Likewise, employers accepted new levels of flexibility and trusted that business could still get done. Amidst the tumult, organizations had an opportunity to co-create better cultures with their employees. Those who chose to seize it took steps to elevate the employee experience, align technology initiatives to culture, deepen their inclusion efforts, and transition leadership from outdated philosophies to modern, proven principles. HR became a hero on the field instead of a cheerleader on the sidelines.
Regrettably, many other organizations did not take the same steps. And to one degree or another, most companies continue to face tests that force them to question their futures: employees are resigning in droves, markets are wavering, and consumers are still wary—all as investors demand greater performance and higher returns.
No matter how tempting it may be to revert back to pre-pandemic modes of thinking and working, they have less to offer now. For organizations to be successful, their employees need to feel more uplifted and connected. Peak experiences need to happen more frequently. Recognition needs to be more personalized. Hybrid work models need support and fine tuning. And the metrics we use to define and predict success need a deep and dispassionate assessment. Simply put, we need to thoroughly rethink long-held beliefs about the employee experience and our approaches to building workplace culture.
To do this, the O.C. Tanner Institute assembled and analyzed the perspectives of over 38,000 employees, leaders, HR practitioners, and executives from 21 countries around the world. The results indicate that the Great Resignation is only beginning. The majority of employers have a long road to repair the damaged aspects of their workplace cultures and it will not be easy. However, there are also many reasons to be hopeful with excellent data and insights to pave the way.
This year we learned more than we expected to, and we’re excited to share our findings with thousands of organizations to help millions of people thrive at work.
INTRODUCTION: RETHINKING EVERYTHING
When normalcy left the building with employees in March 2020, we all had a feeling it wouldn’t be coming back. Now, a new landscape of work and business is emerging from the pandemic, and it has clearly, drastically changed. The days when employers seemed to hold all the cards, dictating working conditions and benefits, are gone. In many industries, employees now call more shots, insisting on flexible work environments and leaving jobs if necessary. But after a year and a half of remote or hybrid work and social distancing, the need for connection is nearly universal. Helping employees feel connected to purpose, accomplishment, and one another—no matter where or when they work—is more important than ever.
As we enter a post-pandemic era, the greatest challenges include creating meaningful employee experiences and connecting people across the organization. Generic, top-down programs for collaboration, recognition, and growth will no longer be effective, especially if employees work from various locations. Because the pandemic has affected employees in extremely different ways, personalizing the employee experience will be absolutely crucial to building inclusive cultures. Leaders will need to inspire great work in their people regardless of where it’s done.
Now is the time to reimagine the workplace and ask a few big questions, such as: What purpose(s) should the physical office serve? How do we create a workplace culture in this new environment where employees can thrive? And how will employees work with one another, interact with their leaders, and feel appreciated?
Organizations today have the opportunity to refresh their cultures—to exceed the best of their old normal, evolve their employee experiences, and focus on what will truly drive business results.
Let the rethinking begin.
CHANGES IN TALENT MAGNET™ AREAS
Each year we measure changes in the six core elements of workplace culture that together determine employee decisions to join, engage with, and remain at any place of work. We call them Talent Magnets because of their power to attract and connect people to their teams and organizations:
Figure 1. ALMOST ALL TALENT MAGNET™ SCORES FELL YEAR OVER YEAR
Current state of six essential elements that define thriving cultures.
Figure 2. THE TALENT MAGNETS™
Six essential elements that define thriving cultures.
An organization’s reason for being besides profits. It’s the difference it makes in the world, why the company exists. Employees need to feel connected to the purpose and understand how their job contributes to it. Once they do, their work takes on meaning. Organizations should clearly articulate the connection between work and purpose.
The chance to develop new skills, contribute to meaningful work, feel challenged, have a voice, and grow. Opportunity is more than the lure of promotions and pay increases. It’s about preparing and empowering employees to make decisions, inviting them to the table, and offering them projects that will expand their skills and relationships.
The thrill of accomplishment, innovation, breaking barriers, playing on a winning team, and experiencing victories. Employees must find success at the individual, team, and organizational levels, and their success should be nurtured and publicly celebrated.
Feeling valued for one’s contributions and being recognized for one’s worth. Appreciation is essential to employees—people need to know their leaders and peers notice and are grateful for their efforts and contributions. Appreciation is most effective when it’s delivered in timely, personal, and meaningful ways.
Caring about the employee as a whole—their physical, emotional, social, and financial health. Wellbeing ensures employees can be their strongest, most capable, most authentic selves at work. A comprehensive approach to wellbeing requires leaders to create an environment of inclusivity, work/life integration, and connection.
The mentoring, coaching, inspiring, and facilitating that allow individuals, teams, and, ultimately, the organization to succeed. Great leaders co-create a shared purpose for their teams and empower their employees to do great work. As the most influential of the six Talent Magnets, leadership cultivates the other five.
“Too many are asking whether we will go back to normal. To me, the problematic word is ‘back.’ There is no going back to pre-Covid times. There is only forward—to a new and uncertain future that is currently presenting us with an opportunity for thoughtful design.”
——AMY C. EDMONDSON, AUTHOR AND NOVARTIS PROFESSOR OF LEADERSHIP, HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
CHALLENGES ORGANIZATIONS WILL FACE
Our research identifies five main challenges to building culture in the new workplace. Carefully considering each of these endeavors will help organizations prepare and succeed as they move out of crisis and start refining or rebuilding cultures where employees can thrive for years to come.
1. ADAPTING TO A HYBRID MODEL OF WORK.
Much of the new workplace is undoubtedly hybrid. Organizations that refuse to allow at least some remote work will watch talent walk out the door. How can workplaces adjust to this new model? And what does a hybrid environment mean for things that are typically done in-person such as collaboration, leadership development, and connection?
2. CREATING NEW, MEANINGFUL EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCES.
Whether employees are returning to the office, staying remote for the long-term, or have worked in the office throughout the pandemic, their employee experiences have changed. Which of those experiences should stay, and which should continue to evolve? How can organizations create peak and other positive experiences that meet employee needs whether they’re physically in the office or elsewhere?
3. IMPROVING EMPLOYEE INTERACTION, RECOGNITION, AND DEVELOPMENT.
Before the pandemic, these important aspects of the employee experience typically took place face-to-face for almost everyone. But how should they look now? How can employers help employees feel seen and valued, and how can they leverage specific experiences to strengthen connection?
4. KEEPING PEOPLE CONNECTED IN CHANGING TIMES.
As we’ve all seen and felt, Zoom calls and Slack channels do not always adequately replace in-person interactions. The myriad technologies that help us stay in contact are also contributing to employee burnout. Organizations must rethink how they use such technology and be more intentional about creating opportunities to connect people to purpose, accomplishment, and one another.
5. FOCUSING ON WHAT IMPACTS BUSINESS OUTCOMES.
Employee engagement has been the dominant metric for the past decade. But organizations are beginning to question its true value, and the pandemic has made managing for it more difficult than ever. Does engagement directly translate into better business outcomes? Or does focusing on the work itself better predict results?
As you contemplate our 2022 Global Culture Report, please note there’s no single solution for every organization. Just as you’ll see how employee experiences must be personalized to the individual, culture is also unique to every company. However, organizations still have an excellent opportunity to renew and redefine their workplace cultures. By rethinking different parts of the employee experience, companies can create stronger cultures that drive business success, even as the workplace continues to evolve.
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