1. The next talent war: Retaining employees called to return to offices. With so much encouraging news on vaccine progress in recent weeks, the prospect of a “return to work” for non-essential office employees is creeping into view. This is music to the ears of many executives who, for a variety of reasons, are eager to bring employees back to the office. However, eagerness is about to meet a harsh reality: Lots of employees either don’t want to come back, or are seeking new rules of engagement for work.
Working from home has been eye-opening. While it has made most organizations’ lives more complicated, it has in many ways simplified employees’ lives. They no longer lose time commuting and avoid the unproductive stress of sitting in traffic. As partners and parents, they have increased flexibility to cover sudden child, home, and pet care needs. They avoid the hassle of packing lunches, or the expense of eating out. They can seamlessly work things like exercise and meditation into their days. Many, of course, long to return, and escape the chaos of home—but the fact is that a huge number are perfectly content. A PwC survey of remote workers conducted this summer found that 72 percent of employees wanted to continue working away from the office at least two days a week; 32 percent said they’d prefer to never go in at all.
Habits are a stubborn thing. Once they form, they’re hard to alter. If this experience has led employees to believe they can do their jobs more happily and just as effectively from home, returning to the office is going to be a tough sell. For this reason, we’d expect work-from-home policy to be a major new frontier in ongoing talent wars.
Bringing people back to the office full time, part time, or not at all is a decision that is going to vary by business. The answer is certainly not that no one should return to work. Rather, we’d advise consciousness of employees’ attitudes and worries around the topic, as well as a plan for how to honor their needs and motivations in other ways. If you’re not offering a flexible working arrangement, that’s ok. But somebody else is, and you don’t want to learn about it from an exit interview.
2. It’s make or break time for companies’ responses to racial and social justice issues. It’s been six months since the world witnessed George Floyd’s senseless, tragic murder, and six months since flocks of protestors worldwide flooded the streets calling for racial justice. At the time, many companies assured their employees and customers that they shared their commitment to fighting injustice and striving for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Much has happened in the months since. An election. A second wave of the coronavirus. Then a third. There’s a real risk, at this juncture, that companies have become fatigued and lost their focus in combating systemic racism. Your employees are watching. They know that there is no off switch or pause button for being an ally. They’ve seen your socially aware social posts. They’ve seen you take a stand in your advertising. They want to know what’s next.
And failure to fulfill the promise of caring will come at a cost. According to a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, 35 percent of Black employees intend to leave their current companies within the next two years. For companies whose racial justice efforts turn out to be more talk than action, that number will be even higher.
Recently, our client, Johnson & Johnson, announced a new initiative it’s undertaken called the Race to Health Equity. Over the last several months, a cross-functional team of leaders at the company has carefully studied, assessed, and scoped how the company can best use its capabilities, network, brand, and expertise to advance the cause of racial justice. Since their purpose as a company is to change the trajectory of health for humanity, they’ve chosen to tackle racial inequities that exist in our healthcare system. Not only that, they’ve made a $100m pledge over five years to fund efforts inside and outside their walls. It’s an excellent example of following through on commitments with bold actions. We’re already seeing companies reach out to Johnson & Johnson to learn from its example.
3. Take. Time. Off. Last year, a study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics, and Ipsos made waves when it found an astonishing 768 million vacation days went unused in 2018. With the stress and travel constraints of this year, it’s highly plausible that number will be significantly higher in 2020. Considering the burnout we face, pushing ourselves, our teams, and our companies to take their vacation is a personal and organizational imperative.
As we enter the holiday season, now is the time to both model and promote healthy behaviors around vacation usage. Be explicit in encouraging – and even mandating – people to take time away. No emails. No joining calls. No “I’m available if needed. Just text.” Just as important, for people managers and leaders, by taking care of yourself and using your vacation, you’ll give your team tacit permission to do the same. 2020 has been a bear. Let’s not let it leave us exhausted with a new year on the horizon.