Opinion  

Employee priorities have changed, workplaces must change with them

Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson

After the most disruptive two years most of us have ever experienced, company leaders now face a period of unprecedented change.

While it is easy to agonise over headlines like the ‘great resignation’, senior leaders should instead consider how to capitalise on these changes.

Opportunities have emerged – and will continue to emerge – from enormous shifts in attitudes and behaviours to personal and work life right across society.

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Adapting to new workplace attitudes

Let’s start with the most obvious: companies need to adapt to changing attitudes to the work/life balance.

Many companies that insisted on 100 per cent workplace attendance have now realised that they no longer need to; that their teams can, in fact, be trusted to do work where they can work best.

Some jobs do require the team to be in the same place of course (it’s hard to tin baked beans at home), while many people are now committed to working from home full-time.

This is one of those areas where the ground is shaky. We are in a reactionary phase right now: millions of people have led more insular lives over the past two years, with upsides including more time with their children and downsides including more social anxiety.

There’s a lot of 'I’m never going back' and 'I need a change' going on, but these are almost all reactions against how things were. So do not expect someone to feel the same in a year or two as they do now: as life settles into new patterns the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. The pandemic was a huge societal trauma and it is no secret that shocks and trauma can have unexpected impacts on people far into the future.

People will, however, continue the trend of choosing to work for companies that they believe in, doing work they are passionate about, wherever they can. But we will increasingly see alignment with their chosen lifestyle playing a much greater part in that decision-making process.

That does not mean all companies must offer super-flexible working: quite the contrary. Two companies doing the same thing can operate very differently (100 per cent on-site vs 100 per cent remote, for example) with an equal chance of success. They will appeal to two different groups of people, however. And those people will likely not be in those groups forever.

Not all will be lucky enough to make those choices, and there are other factors involved (like access to a global talent pool) but more people will make their choices based on a more diverse range of influences, in more areas of the economy, than at any point in history.

The guidance for companies is simple: be clear about your own vision and values, then operate your business in line with them. Do not be afraid to experiment and adapt because I would bet big on today’s answer not being the best one for the long term.