Every so often a major event, like war or a pandemic, requires everyone’s full focus to manage and conquer it. After the event we discover the world has significantly changed and returning to “normal” – as understood before the major event – is no longer possible.
Major societal disruptions create the need to discover new methods, new technologies and new societal norms to manage the lasting impacts on society. For example, during World War Two, women were needed to work to take the place of the men who were fighting the war. This was so successful that government’s attempt to get them back into the home as before – because returning veterans would need their jobs back – did not work. In short, society wanted to “return to normal,” but it did not happen. The war created new industries that required many workers, and employers were happy to hire women and women were happy to join the workforce and become an integral part of it.
Currently, as public health officials and politicians remove restraints, mandates, and orders from the worldwide COVID pandemic, the talk you hear everywhere is that we want to “return to normal.” But the need to combat the virus forced leaders in all areas of society to innovate to keep society functioning as much as possible and keep people safe. And a return to what was considered “normal” may not be possible.
Workplace Changes Due to the Pandemic?
From a workplace perspective, what has changed or what are lingering impacts because of the COVID pandemic?
- The normalization of working from home.
- Everything happening online – interviews, meetings, events.
- Businesses opening, closing, then opening again, creating chaotic payroll and benefits issues.
- If the business was essential, maintaining operations while dealing with absences caused by COVID. Also, dealing with pressure to pay sick days. Finally, people quitting work because they felt unsafe.
- Unprecedented emphasis on health and safety at work. Some divisive issues because of various mandates, especially vaccines and masking.
- Increase in mental health issues and the impact on production that employers can no longer ignore.
- The discovery that essential work is not necessarily at senior or highly skilled level, but it includes many so-called low skill and lower paid jobs. This clearly demonstrates that when employers evaluate work to determine compensation, they may not always consider the value a job brings to the products and services. For example, keeping a workplace clean became a very valuable job during the pandemic, performed by caretakers who put themselves at risk of infection. The same could be said for cashiers and many other front-line staff.
The Need for Flexibility
So how do employers cope with the long-lasting impacts on the workforce from the pandemic? One word: flexibility.
Employers must be flexible and willing to adapt when analyzing and creating solutions to the issues raised above. Employers who insist on working with the same pre-pandemic workplace policies may find employees leaving.
A survey conducted by Amazon Business Canada found that 2 in 5 workers (20%) will quit if called back to the office full-time. Given the difficulty in recruiting, allowing this level of exit makes no sense. To retain staff, employers must be flexible and consider the following actions:
- Develop a plan for a post-pandemic workplace that encourages employee input through various channels, such as surveys and interviews.
- Be empathetic to the needs of returning employees and provide support for them, especially where children and aging parents are concerned.
- Review all human resources policies and work processes to ensure they are flexible enough to accommodate the changes that the pandemic has imposed on all of us. Specifically, examine all health and safety policies to ensure they keep employees safe at work. For example:
- Provide incentives to stay home when a person is ill – like paid sick leave – so they don’t infect other employees and render the workplace unsafe.
- Create flexibility in scheduling work, both the hours and location.
- Consider providing employees with an Employee Assistance Program to support them in dealing with mental health issues.
- Review all benefits plans to ensure that they are relevant to current workplace needs.
- Recognize the value of the work the employee performs to the organization and to the client base. The pandemic has demonstrated that value does not always equate to rank or skill. Value should be made clear to employees and through the compensation review process to determine their value through wages and benefits.
- Do not lose employees unnecessarily. One key approach to retaining them is to develop them to perform their present duties better, prepare them for higher level duties, and train them for the inevitable impacts that technology changes and other disruptions may have on the organization.
Organizations must prepare themselves for further changes that may arise and remain flexible so that adjusting to these changes will be easier and take into consideration the needs of the organization and the employees. As a result, employees will not leave because they don’t feel valued, and they will be prepared for whatever the future brings.