Beneath all the articles about quiet quitting, calls for a return to old leadership styles, and new hybrid controversies are some big cultural forces. Here we consider three of the trends having the biggest impact on the workplace in the last months of this year as the pandemic and its aftermath of inflation and recession have forced us to rethink how work is done.
During the pandemic, leadership styles focused on fostering empathy and psychological safety. Organizations directed resources towards employee engagement and care as COVID-19 fundamentally changed the way we work.
But as new economic threats emerge, leaders are feeling the pressure. Have their investments into employees paid off? Does their leadership style need to change to refocus on performance?
The pendulum may feel like it’s swinging back to “traditional” styles of leadership again. As The Wall Street Journal puts it: “CEOs Ditch Kinder Approach as Economy Shows Signs of Chilling.” Reports from top companies such as Google, Meta, and Apple show CEOs are turning the pressure back on: warning managers about “low-performance coasters,” decreasing employee engagement initiatives, and pushing for people to return to the office.
At Livewire, we look at this more holistically. Performance is why organizations exists – to deliver on their purpose effectively, efficiently, and collectively. Despite distractions, the requirement is always to get back to focusing on the customer.
There are always challenges in business – from the welcome challenges caused by growth to the pressures of hard markets to extraordinary events like the pandemic. It is the commitment, brilliance, and resilience of leaders and employees together that enable organizations to meet the challenges of the day.
There is a movement to re-characterize what we learned these past years about people’s needs as “being too soft” – as though engagement and care come at the expense of performance. This is about what lets people do their best work. It is critical that leaders learn the more important lesson that building and sustaining purpose and engagement and inspiring performance and excellence go hand in hand.
Otherwise, they risk continuing to burn their people out, to lose their best and brightest to those who will help them thrive at work.
Takeaway: It’s not either/or – either engagement and care or performance and growth. It’s necessarily both.
Communicating through the Performance Imperative
At the heart of improving performance should be the dedication to engage, care for, and listen to employees with the same vigor as we’ve recently learned. This Fall 2022, the challenge will be to direct and leverage the engagement leaders have built and expand it into a new era of high-performing winners.
Improving performance should therefore center around fostering talent and boosting engagement – and never about adding more emotional pressure, micromanaging, or intimidating.
The Great Re-engagement is the next stage of the prior Great Resignation, an evolution and an invitation to correct past mistakes. People have seen how cultures full of toxicity, organizations that offer no clear paths to growth or work with a purpose, and places that don’t value them start to weigh on their mental health. They have left for organizations who have figured it out: engaging people is key. Employee success is the same as business success.
Under this category, quiet quitting has been gaining traction and may dominate the conversation in the fall. Quiet quitting is a grassroots trend originating with Gen Zs and young professionals that voices their burnout and calls for a re-balance between life and work.
It is somewhat of a misnomer. Quiet quitting is not about quitting per se, but “quietly” completing all work without putting in extra hours or engaging at an enhanced level – doing enough to slip under the radar.
Quiet quitting holds generational clash, as some professionals voice it is necessary to set boundaries in a culture of hustle and burnout. Some leaders argue it is indicative of Gen Z laziness. Others believe it is the responsibility of companies to combat quiet quitting with “loud retaining.”
But debating about what quiet quitting symbolizes and blaming those for connecting to it ignore tangible solutions. Leaders ought to recognize that quiet quitting revisits the age-old questions of engagement and burnout, forces that are constantly in tension with one another and must be balanced.
Takeaway: Beyond quiet quitting’s viral moment, engaging employees will always be vital.
Communicating through the Great Re-engagement
To get ahead of quiet quitting, leaders can use communication to re-engage their employees and rebalance the forces between high periods of rest and engagement:
The hybrid workplace is here. It is no longer just the future of work. It’s the work model for today and for the foreseeable future. It may last for an entire generation and beyond.
As Apple and other companies face “return to office rebellions,” which will be increasingly common in Fall 2022 and beyond, leaders must understand what hybrid really means – and how to communicate with these tensions. They must understand what this moment really represents.
Hybrid is in direct contrast to the Office – not just as a place, but as an institution and a philosophy that has controlled people’s lives for generations.
At its core, hybrid work emphasizes flexibility to work in the place, manner, and time that is best for each individual. It is part of a larger complex of “hybrid everything,” the idea that the workplace is one of the last places to be digitized, remote, flexible, and individually tailored, as compared to other areas of life that have already caught up (like online shopping and even healthcare).
Takeaway: Without proper communication, returns to office invite generational and cultural clash, considering:
Communicating through Returns to Office
Regardless of where you need your people to work, communication is key. It is essential to valuing people’s time and safety and creating meaningful employee experiences.
Hybrid can be a place of optimism and hope, not just controversy. Leaders and employees alike can look at it as a new way to bring the best of what’s working and leave behind that which is tedious, redundant, or painful.
Leaders must ensure they’re effectively informing, engaging, and inspiring their teams. If they do, they have a better chance of getting people to understand and embrace any kind of change – including a change in how they work.
Communicating through Hybrid Work
Workplace culture is shifting, sustained, and experienced differently, and with different levels of comfort by different people, particularly different generations. Communication takes on even greater importance in hybrid workplaces as they oversee and host the cultural conversation on their channels.
Consider all these factors as when developing employee communications. We must ensure we’re effectively informing, engaging, and inspiring our teams. If we do, they will understand, accept and embrace change.
Through Hybrid work, we need to:
In the hybrid workplace, so much of employee experience occurs within communication channels and technology remains a powerful enabler of those moments.