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Leaders Need To Listen To Workers Or Risk Losing Them

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at September 30, 2021

One of the key things the past 18 months or so have taught us is that expectations can be confounded at every turn. Yes, the pandemic has obviously brought great misery to families who have lost loved ones or have seen them suffer. It has also been extremely tough financially for those in sectors especially badly affected by the lockdowns. And yet — thanks in no small part to technology — many parts of the economy were able to continue almost as if nothing had happened.

So what are we to make of today’s ending of the U.K.’s furlough scheme, under which, at a cost of nearly £70 billion, the Treasury has helped pay the wages of nearly 11.6 million workers since the pandemic began. With many industries complaining of labour shortages, which are contributing to record levels of job vacancies, it is really unclear what will happen when the roughly 1 million workers still on the scheme become available for work. Economists seem unable to agree on whether the increase in the unemployment rate will be negligible, modest or significant. The likelihood is that there will variations between sectors, of course, but also between regions, with London, for example, likely to have more workers still on furlough, and between generations, with older workers on the scheme in disproportionate numbers. But, in truth, we will probably not know for several months. As an indication of how difficult it is to make accurate forecasts, it was announced today that the U.K.’s economy grew by 5.5% in the three months between April and June, compared with the initial estimate of 4.8%.

One of the factors clouding the picture is what is being termed “The Great Resignation.” This is the trend for workers to reappraise their priorities and either seek an entirely new career (or retire from the workforce) or look to work in different ways. It goes hand-in-hand with the increasing evidence seen in the U.K. and the U.S. in particular — and made possible by remote working — that people are wanting to move out of cities to cheaper, more family-friendly neighbourhoods. Research published this week by LHH, a coaching and training business that is part of the global HR solutions company Adecco, supports other studies in this area by finding that nearly two in five employees are already changing or considering new careers and 41% are considering moving to jobs with more flexible working options. A quarter of the workforce is considering moving to another country or region.

The market is ripe, says the report, Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era of Work. Two-thirds of workers are confident that companies will start significant hiring again, and fewer than half are satisfied with career prospects at their current company. John Morgan, president of LHH, said: “The key word is ‘considering.’ What we’re seeing is actually not yet a Great Resignation when it comes to non-hourly workers, but rather a Great Re-Evaluation in which salaried employees are seeing more possibilities available to them, which puts everything on the table. Companies need to recognize the warning signs that great talent could soon be walking out the door and address demands for increased work-life balance and career advancement opportunities.”

Further findings from the study show that a little more than half of workers globally want a hybrid working model where more than half of their work time is remote. Productivity has not suffered with remote work, with 82% saying they feel as productive or more productive than before. However, wellbeing appears to have been hit, with more than half of young leaders reporting they have suffered burn-out and three in 10 saying that their mental and physical health had declined in the last 12 months. Workers want to reduce their hours and be measured based on results. Half of workers in the U.K. logged more than 40 hours a week over the past year, but only two thirds of those polled believed that such hours were necessary to get the job done. 

“Wellbeing in the workplace has become a tipping point in employee satisfaction,” said Morgan. “Workers are not opposed to hard work or coming back to the office, but they want to do so on their own terms — with more flexibility and recognition both for their work contributions and their mental and physical health.”

 But here there appears to be a disconnect. For all the talk from organizations about mental health and support for their employees as they try to juggle the demands of home and work, fewer than half of non-managers are satisfied with senior leaders (unsurprisingly, perhaps, the figure for leaders is 80%), with satisfaction particularly low with regard to company culture and career advancement. 

Given what we know about working hours in the U.K., compared with those in mainland Europe and elsewhere, it is possibly not surprising that the U.K. is the only country polled that reported higher levels of anxiety about going back into the office than excitement at seeing colleagues. To compound this, more than half of U.K. managers have not found it easy to manage the workforce on issues of burn-out and mental wellbeing. Moreover, 35% of U.K. respondents said their mental health got worse during the pandemic, which was above the global average, and 37% admitted to suffering from burn-out. Only 13% believed their employers would provide coaching to help them deal with mental stress and burn-out, the third lowest score of all countries surveyed.

The challenge for leaders and organizations is clear.

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