For the majority of 2020, COVID-19 has most certainly been the most salient and ubiquitous disruption that has impacted nearly every organisation in the world thus far. Our employees, however, remain a key factor in the success of our companies. This means that employers will have to adapt quickly to changing realities to keep both employees and prospects engaged and satisfied. In this regard, work-related changes have been made on such a rapid, widespread scale that they have irrevocably altered employee experiences, the landscape of our economy as well as the ways in which we view work. It will be crucial to identify these resultant new expectations and benchmarks as we move forward in a post-pandemic world. Before we talk about future expectations, however, we must first understand how COVID-19 has changed our current employment landscape.
What are COVID-19’s impacts on the employment landscape?
The pandemic outbreak has seen the widespread implementation of mandatory social distancing policies. This meant that many of us have had to adapt to work from home arrangements on a much bigger scale than what we were used to before and will likely do so for the foreseeable future. Our recent COVID-19 Global Impact Study found that 60% of respondents will continue having the option to work from home for at least some time after the pandemic. Within this group, another 97% of them also stated that telecommuting is something that they will always or occasionally make use of as they move forward1. These major changes in our work environment come with their own novel challenges that should be accounted for in day-to-day operations. For instance, much of employee interactions have shifted online, driving new and necessary dynamics that are needed for communications to be on par or even better than what we were used to in the workplace. Online interactions need to account for the lack of essential physical cues and have thus required us to cultivate better communication skills to get our messages across effectively.
Similarly, decision-makers and HR personnel have been pushed to demonstrate the ability to put their employees first. This can be shown in different ways, such as by quickly adapting healthcare policies to protect employees, or by improving the transparency and quality of communications. With the extra flexibility and benefits offered during the pandemic, it is only natural that employees will expect this to be the norm even after it is over. These expectations are also somewhat justified in terms of performance and efficiency. After all, productivity has remained high despite the sudden, massive changes to our working habits. A Deloitte study2 found that over 70% of respondents felt that they are more or just as efficient when working from home. Given the additional benefits for our work-life balance as well as physical and mental health, flexible working arrangements have certainly proved to be an untapped source of potential when it comes to improving our quality of life. The support of these positive changes has thus led employers to begin thinking about how to permanently adopt them to meet changing employee expectations.
How have employee priorities shifted?
Firstly, employees will be on the lookout for more comprehensive healthcare plans and benefits that will continue to remain adaptive in the future. While organisations will already have policies in place to support and protect their own employee base, the ongoing crisis and the changing expectations of employees will have elevated these priorities to a critical everyday thread in the fabric of their corporate culture. A major part of these expectations is a desire for employers to be more agile and ready to react when disaster strikes. Being able to come up with the necessary contingencies quickly and efficiently will allow us to better protect our employees. Being agile is similarly essential in managing both the immediate priorities of today and remaining future-focused. Even as an employer, there are still many factors out of our control. We need to be ready to make tough decisions, pivot quickly and act decisively, especially with regards to keeping our employees healthy and safe through adaptive and comprehensive healthcare policies. Some examples of these policies include the provision of personal protective equipment, giving employees more paid sick leave, improved group insurance plans and better access to avenues of mental health support as well as virtual health and wellness programs. While all these practices and policies will likely have been adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees will still expect employers to remain equally supportive of their health and welfare needs even after the pandemic.
Another change in the mindsets of employees would be a greater focus and commitment to work-life balance, with an emphasis specifically on remote working and flexible work arrangements. With the pandemic forcing most of the workforce to work remotely, the smooth transition into telecommuting proves that companies have the capacity and technological capability to keep their businesses running smoothly. It thus makes sense to continue extending this option to employees even after the crisis as the benefits of continuing these policies are huge. Past studies3 have shown that greater work flexibility does wonders for both employers and employees. Employees benefit from improved physical and mental health, which then reduces burnout and boosts job satisfaction. In turn, employers experience greater overall productivity, return on investment as well as better reputations. The main concern with remote working, however, is that employees expect their managers to trust that they are working as usual, but with greater autonomy and self-authority. To ensure that this trust is kept on their end, employees might also possibly overwork themselves, given that the line between their professional and private life is increasingly blurred when working from home. There is thus a need for better communication to prevent this by setting firm guidelines and managing expectations between employer and employee.
Better communication, as mentioned, is thus the final major shift in employees’ priorities. Good communication has always been a key concern in the workplace, especially when it comes to retaining employees. A 2020 Deloitte study found that 62% of workers who planned to stay in their role reported that there was effective communication between them and their employer, while 66% of workers who were planning on leaving felt that there were communication gaps4. This issue has become even more crucial now that the majority of our work interactions have been shifted online with remote working. Employers have generally made a concerted effort to communicate clearly while also emulating the experience of the workplace, ensuring that employees remain happy, engaged and productive. These goals have been achieved with the employment of new measures, such as more regular check-ins, virtual team meet-ups, organised social ‘events’ online and even new digital channels dedicated to more light-hearted, friendly communication. Even more encouragingly, these new platforms have led many leaders to adjust the manner in which they interact with their teams, ensuring that they are compassionate, considerate, transparent in encouraging open dialogue. In turn, employees value these genuine and personal interactions as they are much more authentic and humanising, which then encourages them to convey their thoughts, feelings and needs without doubt. As such, maintaining the authenticity and effectiveness of communication would be crucial for employees as we move towards a post-pandemic world.
How can we better prepare to adjust to these expectation changes as employers?
To prepare for these adjustments, we must first understand and anticipate the expected changes that are unique to our company and its employees. A good start, for instance, generally involves measuring employee expectations via quantitative and qualitative surveys. While quantitative surveys are more commonly used to gather feedback, qualitative surveys can also allow employers to better understand more sensitive and emotional concerns as compared to quantitative ones. These formal invitations for feedback will then allow us to do away with cookie-cutter templates and adjust our company’s policies more effectively to meet the needs that are specific to our employees. It also entails a form of effective communication between employer and employee, as they are important opportunities for our employees’ concerns to be heard.
Beyond gathering sufficient feedback, try prioritising policies that will impact employees the most to kickstart the readjustment process as effectively as possible. You can also consider practising scenario-planning based on the feedback to inform a go-forward approach and maintain a future-focused mindset that will allow you to remain agile as an employer. While all this may be achievable by your own merit, you can further boost your competitiveness by leveraging on or collaborating with industry experts. These experts can offer valuable knowledge and resources that may give you an edge in the implementation of new policies. For instance, group insurance providers are usually able to help with the provision of comprehensive and holistic corporate healthcare policies. At Cigna, we also go one step further by creating bespoke solutions that are capable of meeting your unique needs. This way, you can be assured of adaptive and innovative solutions that can be quickly modified to meet changing realities, even in unprecedented situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Cigna Virtual Clinic , care packages and webinars on adjusting to the new normal, for example, have proved to be especially helpful as of late.
Ultimately, having a growth mindset and the willingness to adopt new and better practices are key components of thriving organisational cultures. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced rapid change onto the working world. As a result, the benefits and rewards that employees’ value most are changing and will likely continue to evolve in the years ahead. Whether it is better communication through more targeted feedback or affording employees greater autonomy, employers will have to apply their learnings from the current environment and develop plans that will address the shifting priorities of employees in “the new normal”.
1. Cigna. (2020). COVID-19 Global Impact Study: New Directions.
2. Melian, V., & Zebib, A. (2020). How Covid-19 contributes to a long-term boost in remote working.
3. Shagvaliyeva, S., & Yazdanifard, R. (2014). Impact of Flexible Working Hours on Work-Life Balance.
4. Deloitte. (2012). Talent 2020: Surveying the Talent Paradox from the Employee Perspective. Deloitte University Press.