Lockdown is easing, we’ve entered a new financial year and fingers crossed we’ll even get some sunshine! There’s a lot of change happening in the workplace too, which puts pressure on organisations and all their stakeholders. As we start to move into what people once again are calling “The new normal”, it might be time to think about the future of work and what this might look like for your business, your people and company culture.
How has the pandemic affected culture?
It’s becoming a cliche to say that the pandemic has affected just about every aspect of our lives… but it has!
For those of you who are familiar with the Kubler Ross’ Change Curve (see our simplified version below) you’ll appreciate that your people will be experiencing different emotions as they progress through this monumental change. You may have people who are still in the ‘Denial’ phase while others have moved into ‘Acceptance’. Understanding where your people sit within the change curve is going to be vital for organisations to motivate their people during this period of uncertainty.
This change has been particularly evident in the workplace and has hugely affected employee wellbeing, productivity and company culture. The question is, what areas negatively impact company culture as we begin the phase of returning to work and easing back into office life?
Recent surveys show that 4 in 10 people diagnosed with mental health conditions have serious concerns about returning to the office. However, 30% of those without a formal diagnosis are also feeling anxious about their return to work. This is a significant proportion of the workforce. It could create tensions and stress for your team if incorrectly managed.
Testing & Distancing
Those who need to be at particular locations are getting used to a new way of working as well, with tests and distancing marking their daily routines. These are also elements that are likely to be a reality for those with more office-based jobs as we start to return to a new normal. These measures are likely to increase stress and disruption to the daily lives of employees. This needn’t be a death knell for your company culture! Increasing flexibility when it comes to timing and hours will help to alleviate this, as well as clear communication of processes and expectations so that your whole team is on the same page.
Health & Safety and Vaccinations
It’s important to remember that once the pandemic is over, Covid won’t be gone forever. NHS data shows that 1 in 5 people who had the novel coronavirus had symptoms lasting for more than 5 weeks, and 1 in 10 had symptoms lasting for more than 12 weeks. Health concerns and worries about safely travelling to and from work, and indeed within the workplace are likely to cause stress and even tensions within the workplace.
Recent polling suggests that nearly half of managers would support mandatory vaccination to return to the office. A US survey of office workers showed that 70% wanted everyone to be vaccinated before returning to the office. With these topics being divisive and emotionally fraught, tensions between managers and teams could be inevitable. To avoid this, it’s key for leaders and HR teams to create guidance and reassurance that help everyone feel safe and welcome within the workplace.
More and more employees are demanding a voice. This can be seen in moves to unionise in organisations across the USA, notably Amazon. But even on a smaller scale, we believe that employees are increasingly wanting and demanding two-way communication in the workplace. Our customer data highlights that since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve witnessed a trend in respondents sharing increased emotional detail into their wellbeing and mental health. We have seen a sustained increase in the length of the feedback too. Put simply, people need to share how they are feeling.
We believe that this emotional honesty and openness will be something that remains a part of workplace culture for at least as long as the uncertainty around the coronavirus remains, and potentially longer. We recommend ensuring that your employees have the time, space and tools to communicate their needs to their managers and leaders.
Always On Culture
One of the biggest challenges of working from home has been maintaining a work-life balance. Meetings have been longer, chats more frequent, and more emails have been sent than ever before. Pre-pandemic studies showed that working from home had a range of negative impacts such as intensifying work, creating interference between work and home life, and increased working hours. These were also linked to negative health impacts in the long run. As more and more people feel like they need to be replying to emails and work requests at all times of the day and night, stress and burnout are likely to be increasing burdens on your team.
Polling shows that most people don’t want to return to the office full-time. However, tech giants Google warns hybrid working could hinder its culture, “As we prepare to return our workforce in more locations back to the office in 2021, we may experience increased costs as we prepare our facilities for a safe return to work environments and experiment with hybrid work models, in addition to potential effects on our ability to compete effectively and maintain our corporate culture.”
At The Happiness Index, we understand that hybrid working opens challenges but we also encourage businesses to be creative and progressive. We believe that a flexible schedule, with only a few days a week in the office, is possible with the right communication and transparency between leadership and the wider team. Company culture can be hard to get right, but there aren’t any absolutes. With the right approach, background and listening – there’s no reason hybrid working and company culture shouldn’t be able to coexist.
Workplace flexibility is the area of change that is here to stay. With many parents having enjoyed more time with their children and people getting used to seeing their families, increased flexibility will likely be the norm. Spain is trialling a 4-day work week, with questions about whether this will stick post-pandemic. Data shows that this kind of flexibility actually increases productivity, and so we predict that these kinds of changes will be increasingly popular.
Presenteeism is already a huge drain on the economy, last year Vitality data suggested the UK lost £92 billion to ineffective working due to presenteeism. Remote work could potentially further impact the effects of presenteeism. The key for organisations in terms of staying on top of this issue is to be aware of when people are struggling, which is harder when people are working remotely or in a hybrid model. In these cases, tools that facilitate listening will be particularly important.
Over the last year, we have gone through a sustained period of national trauma. Not only this, but many people have lost loved ones in brutal ways without their normal support networks and behaviours. Data published in The Lancet suggests that one in three survivors of severe Covid are diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Mental Health has been reaching epidemic levels around the world, and the latest data shows that this is only set to worsen. In the UK alone, referrals to mental health services increased by 28% during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the UK was losing as many as 70 million workdays to mental health costing employers around £24 billion. With the rise in mental health referrals, this is only set to increase. This could have devastating effects on your workplace and culture.
Even pre-Pandemic, burnout was a serious problem in the workplace. However, recent research by Microsoft shows that 57% of employees are feeling overworked and 47% are “exhausted”. These levels of stress and unmanageable workloads will have an impact on levels of burnout that were already high. This may have serious repercussions on workplaces and organisations as they struggle to keep up. Ensuring you understand workloads, and how your team is feeling about the amount of work they have on, will be key to maintaining a healthy workplace and company culture.
How will the pandemic impact your workplace culture?
Of course, all of these predictions are based on generalised assumptions. They may not all impact your workplace in the same ways or to the same extent. This is because culture is unique to the organisation, and to the individuals who make up your team – it’s essentially the company’s personality! These issues will likely affect some if not all of your team. The best way to ensure your culture reflects the needs and values of your people is simply to talk to them about it.
At The Happiness Index, we see this time as a golden opportunity to reimagine what your workplace and culture is going to look like moving forward. While this will need to be led by creative and out of the box thinking from your leadership team, the best way to approach wide-scale change is in consultation with your wider team.
This is where our future of work survey comes in – by talking to your people and understanding how their values, situations and needs have changed during the pandemic, you will gather key insight around returning to work and how the pandemic has affected them. This will empower you to create action plans and strategies to ease the process for them, boost staff wellbeing and create a thriving culture!