Workers’ Sense Of Worth Grew During Covid And So Did Their Expectations, Says Microsoft
Almost a year from publishing its first study, Microsoft shared the results of another iteration of the Microsoft Work Index, a study run across 31 countries and 31,000 people, along with an analysis of trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365 and labor trends on LinkedIn.
A year on, some things have changed, as one would expect considering where most organizations are now. Yet, some findings confirmed what we had seen in 2021: that flexible work is here to stay, leaders seemed out of touch with employees, workers were highly productive but also exhausted, Gen Zers needed re-energizing due to a lack of networking opportunity and finally, talent availability grows with hybrid work.
A year on and a return to the office goalpost that has shifted a few times, organizations seem finally able to welcome back their talent. Still, the process is certainly far from being homogenous. Organizations have a different understanding of what hybrid means and the welcome back to the office can feel more like forcing people back. What comes out loud and clear from the Microsoft study is that Covid changed our relationship with work. Fifty-three percent of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic. In addition, 47% of respondents say they are more likely to put family and personal life over work than they were before the pandemic. This number grows to 55% among parents and 56% among women.
Hybrid work fits squarely in that newfound sense of worth and desire to rebalance work and life. Employers must be ready to accommodate these needs or risk losing talent to competitors who will offer what they are looking for. The study shows that many hybrid employees (51%) say they will consider a switch to remote over the next twelve months, and even more remote employees (57%) say they’ll consider a switch to hybrid. While these two data points could be confusing, they clearly speak to the role hybrid work can play in providing the flexibility needed to lead a more blended life while offering opportunities to stay connected with coworkers. It also clearly shows that deciding what is best for your talent will not be a one size fits all affair. Needs will be different based on seniority within the company, the type of job, how long someone has been with the company, and their home circumstances. It is also critical to understand that fully embracing hybrid work requires more than just offering “work from home” days. It means making sure employees feel seen in the office or at home. And by being seen, I don’t just refer to having the right tools for actively and efficiently continuing to collaborate with those returning to the office, but also how they remain top of mind to managers when it comes to career progression. Forty-three percent of remote employees and 44% of hybrid employees say they do not feel included in meetings, yet just 27% of organizations have established new hybrid work meeting etiquette.
The “Great Reshuffle” is far from over. Forty-three percent of employees are somewhat or highly likely to consider changing jobs in the coming year, up slightly year-over-year from 41%. Moreover, some generations, who might not have been able to build a stronger loyalty to the company and affinity to coworkers due to Covid, are even more likely to consider changing employer. For example, more than half (52%) of Gen Z and Millennials combined may change jobs in the year ahead, up three percentage points since last year. By comparison, only 35% of Gen X and Boomers say they’re considering a job change.
The need for flexibility goes across roles, with 47% of leaders saying they are likely to consider applying for jobs not near their homes in the next year. Managers are also finding themselves between the company’s requirements and the employees’ desires and expectations. Over half of managers (54%) feel leadership at their company is out of touch with employee expectations. And 74% say they don’t have the influence or resources they need to make changes on behalf of their team. In some respects, the pandemic decentralized management, not just geographically but more in terms of employees being empowered to make more decisions about the way they worked from the tools they used to the time they worked. That need to deliver a hybrid work solution that feels tailored to the needs of the teams calls for more middle management empowerment than we were seeing before Covid. Leaders forcing managers to get people back to the office to replicate how work was before Covid or in the name of productivity will negatively impact moral at all levels and eventually lead to talent loss including management. Fifty-four percent of leaders fear productivity has been negatively affected since going to remote and hybrid, although 80% of employees say they have been as or more productive since the shift. Getting people back to the office must be driven by the desire to rebuild connections, especially for those employees who joined during the pandemic and have yet to form strong relationships with their coworkers.
As I mentioned earlier, a company’s loss is another company’s opportunity. Employees have more options now than they ever had. According to LinkedIn, in March of 2020, 1 in 67 U.S. jobs offered a remote work option. Today, that number is about 1 in 7. And remote jobs on LinkedIn attract 2.6 times more views and nearly three times more applicants compared to on-site roles.
If there is one lesson businesses took from the pandemic is that agility and flexibility must be at the core of their business. The transition out of the pandemic requires the same. Flexible work, but more importantly, a flexible mindset from business leaders who understand their talent is not the same as two years ago. Their needs have changed, their priorities have shifted and their options have grown. Failing to understand that and approach the next six to 12 months as a return to how things were would have a considerable negative impact on the recovery many businesses are hoping to see. This is particularly true of technology companies that will also continue to face supply chain challenges, inflation and low consumer confidence.