Meeting the Changing Needs of a Post-Pandemic Workforce

By Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer, Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

The turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic altered the attitude of employees in ways that corporate leaders never imagined. The enormity of the crisis and its impact on individuals led to workers taking stock of both their personal and professional lives.

I became aware of the sea change in the mindsets of members of their teams as I worked with executives in several industries and witnessed them grapple with the effects of transferring much of their business to a remote environment. I noticed how they completely reevaluated their work-life balance and in the process, often reaching the conclusion that their companies were not treating them as well as they would desire.

My personal observations were validated when Oracle recently published its AI@Work: 2021 Global Study titled “Back in the Driver’s Seat: Employees Use Tech to Regain Control.” Oracle’s survey of nearly 15,000 employees, managers, HR leaders, and C-Suite executives in thirteen countries found that a staggering 93 percent had used the past year to reflect on their personal and professional lives and think about the future.

That reflection led to significant findings that companies cannot ignore: 88 percent of respondents maintained that the meaning of success had been redefined for them with work-life balance, mental health, and flexibility becoming top priorities. Of major concern is that 85 percent stated they were not satisfied with their employer’s career support and 83 percent wanted to make career changes in the upcoming year. For me, these are among the most important takeaways from the Oracle survey and require serious attention from executives.

In my new book Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership, I have a chapter called “Turn Crisis into Opportunity”—and that’s exactly what senior leaders need to do. They have to be in the vanguard embracing the needs of this changed, more reflective workforce or risk losing their employees to competitors that have proved more adaptive. Crises stretch senior executives, but real leaders can turn unprecedented challenges into ways to stimulate and strengthen corporate culture and reignite employees’ belief in the business for an even brighter future.

Purpose drives profits

How can they do that? Executives need to recognize that people want to break out of the pandemic prison and aspire to more meaningful personal and professional lives that go beyond picking up a good paycheck. As I state in my book: “The flourishing businesses will be those whose leaders recognize that purpose drives profits and profits sustain purpose.” Making a profit is essential, but purpose is what drives commitment and passion—an underlying message that I take from responses to the Oracle survey.

My advice is to go beyond work-life balance. Look for ways to create the sense for employees that their jobs do not feel like work. Empower employees. Give them flexibility and autonomy while challenging them to achieve more and contribute to the organization’s purpose.

According to top McKinsey & Company executives, those businesses that accelerated the adoption of new ways to work have “produced previously unimagined gains in speed and productivity, even as the very nature of their workforce was transformed.” Changes have included introduction of technology, and decisions being made by those farther down the chain of command.

Another key finding of the Oracle survey was that 85 percent wanted technology to help define their future and 82 percent even believed robots can support their career development better than humans. This is surely a reflection of the greater use of technology that had to be embraced as the pandemic took hold.

As a culture change strategist, coach, and trainer I’ve been impressed with how my clients adapted to online training. It not only gets results (if done well) but is also cost effective. Ideally, you need to replicate the interactive, behavioral, and performance-based experience of face-to-face classes in an online format. Knowledge retention is a priority which means it’s vital to make the online programs interactive from the moment an individual logs on followed by engaging each other in breakout rooms, writing on a “white board,” entering comments in a chat room, responding to polling questions, virtually raising hands, and listening to the input of colleagues.

My observation is that we need to capitalize on the increased adoption of digital services that the pandemic sparked. It is an exciting opportunity to deliver content that complements in-person coaching and training. Companies that don’t embrace technological advances will falter and lose out to their competitors that do.

The learning landscape has changed in ways that will foster a new way of thinking about learning, development, and collaboration. The adoption of fully digitized approaches to recreate the best of in-person learning through live video and social sharing is an essential enterprise strategy. This transformation makes it possible to scale learning efforts in a more cost-effective way and permits greater personalization for learners—and, in turn, greater effectiveness.

Companies around the world have had to vault ahead in adopting and applying digital technology. The future will be owned by nimble organizations that can adapt to any crisis. Becoming that type of company requires paying attention to workforce needs, especially as professionals become tech savvier. As a key finding of the AI@Work study showed, 85 percent of employees want technology to help define their future, especially as their trust in AI technology’s effectiveness in guiding their career development continues to grow.