By Kathy Solberg / Herald Forum
We’re coming up on two years since the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency. That’s 727 days or 17,448 hours or 1,046,880 minutes.
We have spent a lot of time looking at systems, ourselves, this world we live in. How we work, interact, show up in society. How that’s changed since the early months of 2020.
We see what the media has dubbed as a “Great Resignation.” Many are now responding with the “great recruitment” as we see that people are not just resigning but moving to new employment with organizations that offer better pay, better health coverage, more flexibility, more time off, or other benefits that are meaningful to the person making the change.
It’s been a long time since labor has wielded this kind of power in the marketplace.
Perhaps as employers, employees and a society that still talks about returning “normal,” it is time we looked more closely at ourselves.
As an employer, what is the culture of your organization? What kind of workplace is on offer? What have you been required to provide and what have you willingly given to ensure the safety and well-being of your team since the pandemic arrived? What has been withdrawn or continued? What new needs have emerged as the pandemic continues and impacts are widely felt?
As an employee, have you learned how you do your best work? What you need to be of optimal value to your workplace? What is most necessary to your growth and success, and ultimately, to the success of the organization, in the midst of so much change? What changed from a nice-to-have before the pandemic to now feeling not at all optional?
Maybe it feels like a luxury to even ask these questions about shaping a workplace. But to sustain our businesses and retain our employees, possibilities are worth examining.
A recent study by Marissa Baker, assistant professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, finds that just 25 percent of U.S. workers are in jobs that can easily be done from home.
Those of us in jobs that are difficult or impossible to do remotely are obviously at far greater risk of health impacts as well as job upheaval during the covid-19 pandemic. Disruptions could stem from huge increases in demand, as we’ve seen in health care, or from the opposite, as temporary or permanent closures occur across the retail and hospitality sectors.
Millions of front line workers, from medical professionals and police officers to grocery store workers and firefighters, have essential occupations that do not allow for virtual participation.
And data from the Urban Institute tells us that more than half of all Black, Native American, and Hispanic/Latinx workers have jobs that must be done in person and close to others, compared with 41 percent of white workers.
What to do with this data?
Prioritize health and well being. Physical health and mental health. And let’s not forget our spirit. Ask, how do we change to align with the changes in our world and work environment? As an employer, you need to look at how you support your employees’ well-being. Not only are employees difficult to find, but if you do not focus on retention, you will be on the gerbil wheel of turnover. As an employee, you need to know and adhere to practices to care for yourself. If you don’t know your boundaries, it’s easy to burn out; and hard to recover.
Assess the equity of your workplace. Look at how you pay, where you recruit, who you hire, and the level at which you show up as an egalitarian culture. Look at skill development. A lot of how we have shown up in 2022 virtually will be here to stay. Some of those skills were learned on the fly by necessity. Invest in expanding those skills so your employees can keep showing up in the strongest ways.
Create and sustain a culture of inclusion. Most of us are working to assure that we are more aware of diversity and inclusion in the workplace when it comes to great racial and gender chasms. When you create diversity, equity and inclusion positions, give those professionals the authority to implement change, so the addition of that role is not simply checking off a box for your company.
Engage the next generation of leaders. We need workplaces that encourage the talent of all generations to thrive. The emerging leaders I have worked with want coaching and feedback. They want to have an impact and grow in their role and expertise. They want a seat at the table and for their voice to be respected and sought out. Focus on flexibility and growth opportunities.
Know what your team wants and needs. Most companies are planning to increase wages in 2022. Even Social Security has made a cost of living adjustment of 5.9 percent, the highest increase since 1982. Other employee perks like bonuses, tuition reimbursements and flexible, remote working arrangements can go a long way with retention in a competitive environment. But it’s not all about compensation. A study done by LRN, a company started in 1994 to support the growth of ethical business culture by “inspiring principled performance,” finds that 82 percent of professionals would rather be paid less and work for a company with ethical business practices rather than receive higher pay at a company with questionable ethics. What do your employees value? Have you asked?
A while back I talked about overuse of the word resilient. I do believe that these times have fostered resilience in most of us. I do not see that our systems should be resilient. We need resilient people to create regenerative workplaces and systems.
Once you take deliberate effort to look at all of these facets of how we interrelate as employers and employees, make a plan to take action. I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about those who still think that normal is the place which they seek to return. We need to assess what we have learned in these two years. The future can happen to us or we can make intentional plans to create the systems and workplaces that we want. The choices is yours.
Kathy Solberg is executive director of Leadership Snohomish County. To learn more, go to leadershipsc.org.