Have you wondered why you do the things you don’t want to do and struggle to do what you want to? Remember when you kept putting in your old password after changing it to a new one? A paper published by Duke University research showed that 40% of your actions are not your conscious decisions but your habits. Charles Duhigg, the award-winning business reporter for The New York Times and author of The Power of Habit, said, “Without habit loops, our brains would shut down, overwhelmed by the minutiae of daily life.”
What has habit got to do with the post-pandemic workplace? Since the pandemic, employees have formed a new habit of working from home. Unlike smoking, which is dangerous to your health, working from home during the pandemic increased productivity, and many businesses reported record profits. Employers are getting more working hours from employees due to the blurry lines between life and work.
Erin Merideth, a behavioral scientist and leadership workforce strategist, said employees feel loss more than gain. A call to return to the office for many employees feels like a loss of their flexibility and well-being. So, issuing threats, ultimatums, or resorting to fear tactics to bring employees back is not the way to engage and energize your workforce. Elon Musk’s email to employees to return to the office or resign has triggered a lot of conversation about how to bring employees to the office.
According to Duhigg, “Positive reinforcement works much better than negative in almost every situation.” Especially during volatile and uncertain times, leaders should remember the famous saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Leaders must create a compelling why to motivate employees to return to the office. One of the ways to demonstrate this is to show you care—listen to understand what employees want and exceed their expectations.
What employees want
The pandemic has changed who we are, how we work, and our relationship with work. According to McKinsey, 70% of employees now demand purposely work. They are looking for meaning, not activity. According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index report, “The top five reasons employees quit in 2021 were: personal well-being or mental health (24%), work-life balance (24%), risk of getting COVID-19 (21%), lack of confidence in senior management/leadership (21%), and lack of flexible work hours or location (21%).” Contrary to popular opinion, promotions or compensation was not among the top 5 reasons. That said, competitive pay is top of mind for employees, with inflation nearing double-digit in today’s environment.
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“The pre-pandemic employee contract was based on delivering results, which working from home has achieved.“
What leaders need to do
Successful leaders anticipate, meet, and exceed the needs of their customers. Similarly, threat your employees like your customers by doing the following:
Redefine the meaning of work: The pre-pandemic work contract was transactional, and employees delivered their side of the bargain. Post-pandemic, their priorities have shifted, and they want to do something meaningful with their lives. Also, a work from home research of 30,000 workers showed 6 in 10 employees were more productive working from home. So, demanding that employees return to the office (less productive) feels like an overreach and a breach of contract. Bill George, a Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO, and best-selling author said, “Purpose is the new paycheck. Yes, people want to be fairly compensated, but more than anything, they want to feel good about what they do.” My client voiced a similar sentiment during a coaching session, “I am exhausted. I do not see how my work makes a difference in people’s lives in a way that resonates with me. I want to do something that energizes me.” Clearly, leaders need to connect the dots for their employees— show how their businesses improve lives and society, not just shareholders.
Re-imagine the workplace. Post-pandemic, creating value for all stakeholders should be the primary goal of purpose-driven workplaces. In this scenario, the office becomes any place that drives value. LinkedIn Glints Survey data showed that 1 in 67 jobs was remote before the pandemic. Post-pandemic, it is 1 in 6. It is a clear signal that the future of work is hybrid. We know from history that leaders and organizations that stayed in love with the past instead of embracing the future became obsolete. Early adopters of the hybrid office will make the biggest gains in a highly competitive labor market. If you ask any leader if they care about their workers, the answer would be a resounding yes. If that’s true, an essential aspect of caring is listening to understand what your employees need and want. The next step is figuring out how you can create the right environment and be the leader they need you to be. So, the question you should be asking is how can we operate in a hybrid environment in a way that creates meaningful employee experiences, delivers value to stakeholders, and improves the lives of people and society? Whatever you choose, ensure you come up with flexible, easy to adopt, and equitable solutions for all stakeholders.
“The employee value proposition has shifted from “work for me” to “work with me.“”
Employee experience is your secret weapon: According to Accenture, companies with great employee experience outperform the S&P 500 by 122% and are 21% more profitable. Employees are packing out stadiums to watch games, attend worship places, and travel to densely populated holiday destinations. When it comes to returning to the office, they resist. Kim Perell’s gives us a clue as to why. “Time is not refundable. Use it with intention.” Employees are prioritizing who and where they are spending their time. The office picture for many is a place of politics, toxic cultures, and limited advancement opportunities. This mental model needs to change to one where employees can imagine bringing their whole selves, doing purposeful work, and creating shared and meaningful experiences with their teammates.
While it may be true that distance makes the heart grow fonder, prolonged distance can make it sick. For this reason, people prefer not to have long-distance relationships. Also, in online dating, pleasant experiences ultimately transform into face-to-face meetings. Why is that? There is no substitute for physical human interactions. Similarly, leaders must design spaces, update systems, and use tools that foster meaningful connections to win employees back to the office. Accenture recommends investing in three employee experiences: digital, professional, and personal. These experiences will ensure employees feel their work is purposeful, have a sense of belonging on their teams, and show leaders care about their well-being.
In his hit song, A House Is Not A Home, Luther Vandross reminds us, “A chair is still a chair when there is no one sitting there. But a chair is not a house, and a house is not a home when there’s no one there to hold you tight.” The relationships, not the building or furniture, make a house a home. Similarly, employees do not look forward to returning to the cafeteria or attending countless meetings. Instead, they look forward to reconnecting with their peers, strengthening and deepening relationships while solving problems that improve people’s lives.
Employees can look forward to returning to the hybrid office. According to Duhigg, habits can be changed—they aren’t destiny. “There is one rule: a habit has to deliver a reward that you enjoy.” Simply, each experience employees have going into the office must feel rewarding. After a streak of positive experiences, a new habit loop emerges. What experiences are you going to create for your employees? The answer lies with them; ask.