by Amanda Rudd, MS, CWP
Undoubtedly, today’s workplace is different than what it was three years ago. The pandemic created new challenges and stressors, while amplifying the concerns and struggles employees were already facing. Employees worked masked, socially distant, and moved to hybrid work, remote work, or some combination of new and different. Many individuals resigned or looked for a new job, because it suddenly became clear that the workplace wasn’t working.
Reportedly, individuals left the workplace because they were experiencing burnout or feeling overly stressed. They were frustrated by employer’s lack of support or flexibility. For some, it was a must-do to support children or aging parents.
In today’s normal, it is clear that employees want – and expect – more in the workplace. At the same time, the ultimate ‘office experience’ is no more. Cereal bars, lunch buffets, ping-pong tables and on-site fitness centers may get individuals in the door, but not necessarily stay at an organization.
There is a large opportunity here – for organizations to build a more equitable 2022 “normal” workplace, to create a more inclusive, diverse, flexible, and empathetic workforce – where individuals can succeed for the long term.
So, what are today’s employees looking for?
Employees are looking for a human-first culture that prioritizes PEOPLE over process.
- Leaders need to know the whole person that is the employee – who they are, what is important to the individual, what they’re great at, and what they need.
- A human-first culture prioritizes solid company communication with a good dose of respect. Respectful communication is crucial to establishing a positive workplace culture that cultivates a positive employee experience.
- Recognition is also key when prioritizing people. Reward merit, a job well done. This is not done randomly walking down the hall – it is a consistent action. Research has shown that job satisfaction depends on a sense of accomplishment, recognition for a job well done, and work-life balance.
Employees want their leaders to advocate for them.
They want their leaders to do more, they want to know they are cared for and valued and feel a part of something greater than themselves. Part of advocating for employees is showing respect and empathy. Leveraging empathy shows an employee their value and validates their presence in the workplace.
Empathy also allows employees to feel they are a part of something bigger – a company with great culture AND emotional connection that WORKS for their lifestyle, their family, and their career development, is one that will be successful in the long-term.
Companies that haven’t put in the effort to address the importance of empathy through things like leadership development, employee communication and a healthy culture – these are the organizations that are going to be most affected, especially in terms of engaging employees and retaining them over time.
They want connection.
Building a strong connection between employees is challenging in any environment, and even more so in today’s digital world. Organizations and managers need to reframe team building from a passive action to a proactive one that prioritizes building social capital at work and seeks to create a culture where social support thrives.
The National Wellness Institute’s Wellness Promotion Competency Model highlights the importance of connection in organizational development, cultivating strong leadership, and promoting a culture of health. By leveraging technology in the workplace to deliver inclusive communication, employees can feel connected to the organization’s mission, values, and goals while recognizing the value in individual wellbeing.
One way to enhance connection is through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). ERGs give employees an opportunity to connect with their peers and have a voice. ERGs positively impact employee morale, mental health and wellbeing, all while boosting connection.
Employee Resource Groups are voluntary, employee-lead groups that are custom to each organization, and are an excellent way to foster inclusivity, boost culture and engagement, and improve health and well-being. From a talent perspective, Employee Resource Groups increase retention and productivity as well as cultivate future leaders. To be successful, ERGs should align with the organization’s mission and values and have leadership support.
Examples of ERGs:
- Networks for women (e.g., Women in Technology, Women in Construction, Women in Leadership)
- People of color
- Working parents
- Single parents
- Shared goals (e.g., volunteering, mentoring, or sustainability)
Elevate and support women in the workplace.
During the pandemic, women were pushed out of the workforce. A 2021 report from the National Women’s Law Center reports that since February 2020, women in the United States have lost more than 5.4 million net jobs.
The pandemic created a critical trend: for the first time in history women are leaving the workforce at vastly higher rates than men. 275,000 women left the workforce in January of 2021, versus 71,000 men.
How can an organization assist women in the workplace?
- Provide mentoring and professional development opportunities.
- Update performance review criteria and productivity expectations to reflect the challenges of the past two years. Women are pushing themselves to perform at pre-pandemic expectations and feel they are falling short. Women also feel that their performance is being negatively judged due to caregiving responsibilities.
- Expand family leave benefits beyond standard maternity and FMLA practices. Maternity leave conditions the woman, as well as sends the message to the employees in the organization, that the responsibility of having a child is that alone of the mothers. Paternity or family leave – like childcare – is an inclusion strategy.
- Offer childcare solutions – like childcare reimbursement, tutor sessions or subsidized care. Organizations have also seen remarkable success in offering on-site childcare.
Employees want a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
Today’s employees are homing in on what organizations are doing from this standpoint – the specifics – and they want more.
Employees are looking for diverse voices and diverse teams with tools and resources that create transparency as well as an examination of implicit, explicit, and structural biases. An organization cannot hire their way into solving diversity goals.
Lisa M. Coleman, PhD, Senior Vice President, Global Inclusion and Strategic Innovation, New York University states: “You can have diverse organizations and still fail to reimagine what equity and power looks like.”
Employees want a comprehensive wellness program that focuses on the whole person.
A genuine, effective wellness program is key – and wellness can be the ribbon that ties an empathetic, inclusive, connected culture, together.
About the Author
Amanda Rudd is the Senior Wellbeing and Engagement Strategist at Motion Connected. Amanda’s passion is to help individuals make positive lifestyle changes, affecting body, mind and spirit. Amanda has a M.S. in Exercise Physiology, Health, Fitness & Wellness Promotion, is a certified NWI Wellness Practitioner and currently serves on the NWI (National Wellness Institute) Membership Committee. By implementing evidence-based strategies and programs, she’s helped employees build healthier lifestyles for the past 15 years.