Workplace Culture

Leaders’ Guide to Winning Back Employees in 2022: Closing the Gaps in Employee Expectations

By Brent Kedzierski

Nov. 30, 2021

Historical novelist Mary Renault said, “There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: the expected for which one has refused to prepare.” This guide presents four interconnected gaps in meeting workforce expectations. If these gaps resonate as the “expected” for your organization, then review the solutions 1) with an eye on how you believe the gaps will further unfold within the context of your organization, and 2) considering how well each solution could play a role in creating an improved employee experience. 

The Control Gap – Solution

A sense of control is perhaps the deepest need for humans and the root of all human behavior. As in life, people don’t feel good at work when choice is taken away. It is with this backdrop that the idea of what work looks like and who decides is shifting. People see the trickle-down effect work has on their life and want change. The desire for greater control, flexibility and empathy is driving many to break away from the controls, constraints, politics, and bureaucracy common across organizations. Stories abound providing social proof and hope that work scenarios exist where people can take back their lives with options that improve their well-being, while also meeting their financial needs. As concerns for mental health grow so do a sea of platforms that enable people to test nontraditional work options as contingent work and the gig lifestyle grow. 2022 will build on the learnings from leading remote workers over a longer than expected period. Organizations know what can and cannot be accomplished outside of traditional work boundaries. They also witnessed the positive effect when workers tasted higher levels of control, autonomy, and self-determination in their work. 2022 will be about evolving worker control as employees proved they can deliver the same outcomes but in ways that work for them and their personal situations with less oversight. 

The Empathy Gap – Solution

Remote work enabled leaders to peer into the lives of employees and gain new perspectives. Leaders gained a more intimate view of the struggles in balancing lives and work. People become more than workers with jobs but individuals with complicated lives trying to make a living. Leaders learned about family situations, constraints, and personal stories, which facilitated new levels of empathy. 2021 showed that empathy makes a difference and embracing the economics of emotional capital is good business. The connection between workplace flexibility and employee well-being is so clear that it will drive organizations to expand their support to provide greater life management services. Management has long been about driving how employees think and behave. However, most steer away from how employees feel. In fact, prior to the pandemic, many leaders probably thought talking about how employees feel was crossing a bridge too soft. The hard truth is that emotions drive how people think and behave and are behind most complex business dynamics and personal relationships. Creating cultures of care is core to improving an organization’s empathy levels and emotional signature, which for many is underwater. All this is more than an organization and its leaders having a greater awareness of employee needs. It’s about the ability to transition and thrive in new and evolving work models and having the capability to bring out the best in every individual worker as workers gain greater control over their work. 

The Digital Gap – Solution

Studies show 4 out of 5 digital transformation investments go to waste due to human factors related to resistance. The problem is that transformation goals have been more about automating processes than enabling humans and enriching their work experience. Once employees value digital transformation as evolving their work lives versus an impending threat to their employability, organizations will begin to see a better return on their investments. Transformation must shift from a focus on machines delivering isolated productivity gains to machines linking people, process, and technology in ways that humans see as beneficial. This means improving the job performance experience, enhancing skills, showing how advanced technology can enhance their intellect, creativity, and ability to collaborate with colleagues. Most importantly, employees want digital transformation to promote flexibility in how they manage their work and deliver outcomes in ways that work best for them.

The Employability Gap – Solution

Workers are making two dramatic shifts in terms of their employability mindset. The first is that they are putting their employability over workplace longevity. The second is they are taking ownership for what employers have been promising but not delivering in terms of their market value. Employees will evaluate how well their current jobs do in giving them confidence of where they feel they sit on the employability scale. People feel they are on the right end of the scale when they are periodically being offered new roles. Sitting on the wrong end means they feel it would be difficult to get another job. In 2022, we will see career-minded and externally connected workers voting with their feet if they feel their personal brand can become more relevant and distinctive elsewhere. In response, organizations need to dig into the underexamined concept of “sustainable employability.” Just as employees are no longer looking for lifetime employment, organizations should be preparing for a new season in the employment market. A season where employee time with companies will trend to shorter and shorter tenures. The shorter tenure model is an agile response to dynamic market conditions that can add new levels of value to both the employee and the health of an organization. When organizations have robust employability pipelines it stretches their current employee base and promotes an ongoing refresh of their workforce with a new crop of willing talent.

Conclusion

Control and empathy are about shaping work and work culture. Greater control over one’s work promotes self-determination and the idea that humans are qualified to make their own decisions about their work and lives. More control does not mean executives relinquish power. Employees are fine to not have power if they feel they have a level of control and choice. Today’s crop of executives that have been battle-tested by pandemic conditions understand that emotionally intelligent cultures shape an organization’s emotional signature, which in turn enables positive work experiences. The coming year will show that an organization’s internal emotional signature can be as valuable as its external brand. The second set of gaps, digital and employability, are about enabling human performance and growth. Digital transformations that present enriching value propositions will positively change worker perception of technology and change. Finally, better practices for sustainable employability will create conditions where success is measured by the growth and mobility of talent and how effective an organization’s employability policies and emotional signature are in attracting new talent to fuel shorter and more dynamic talent cycles. 

Brent Kedzierski the Chief Learning Officer at HumanWRKS. Brent and is a dynamic and sought-after keynoter, author, and thought leader. He has been featured and cited in prominent publications, including Harvard Business Weekly, Chief Learning Officer, BBC News, and more.

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