The pandemic has changed our perception of reality
Although it’s now 23 years since it first came out, The Truman Show remains one of my favourite movies. It’s one of those rare films that I can watch over and over. Everything about it works, and if it didn’t, any film with Laura Linney is surely reason enough to do that anyway!
You remember the basic plot, right? Truman Burbank (played by Jim Carey) has spent his entire life as the central character in the world’s most popular reality TV show. He has been in this environment since birth and remains oblivious that every other character in his life is played by an actor. The whole edifice is controlled by a despotic director named Christof (Ed Harris).
As the plot evolves, Truman realises that his entire life is an elaborate construct. The final scene has Truman reaching the physical end of his known world and facing the option of returning to the artificial construct of life as it was. He is encouraged to do so by the “Creator” (Christof). The other option is to move through a doorway to the real unknown world. The movie ends with Truman voicing his signature catch phrase “In case I don’t see ya, good morning, good afternoon and good night!” as he (spoiler alert) steps through the doorway.
The premise of Truman’s final choice does have some parallels with the pandemic. Like Truman, many of us have had time during lockdown and furlough to reflect on our lives. In many cases, we have come to conclusions that we are not content with our work or the way in which we have historically worked. One of the very few upsides to the pandemic is that we have been given the opportunity to really re-evaluate our lives. We have reflected on what is important to us, to our families, and to our happiness – and many of us are in the mood to make changes.
Are Your Employees Ready to Return to the Real Working World?
Many of us are now navigating a similar choice to Truman: do we listen to the voice of the creator and return to the world that we know? Or do we step through that door into the unknown?
In the world of consultancy, it’s a little unsettling as we dip our toe back into the real world. Having found appropriate clothes and getting used to proper shoes, we are beginning to visit client offices and starting to facilitate physical meetings. However, most organisations are still operating remotely.
It’s disconcerting to go into eerily silent offices at peak work times and witness rows and rows of empty desks. We know that people are still working and that the business is still functioning somewhere but not “there”!
I find myself (now physically) facilitating sessions with people who have worked together for more than a year yet have never previously met. Recently, I asked someone who had worked for the organisation for some time where the bathrooms were. She confessed she had no idea as it was only her second time in the office!
Hybrid Working is Here to Stay
How can we possibly go back to the way things were? A significant number of people have enjoyed working remotely and don’t want to go back into an office-based role. There is a sense that employees have been biding their time, and now is the moment for significant changes to be made. Given that people are the bedrock of every organisation – and that our job as people managers is that of Talent Optimization – how organisations react to this reality is surely going to determine success.
After 18 months of remote working, many workers are looking for change. Perhaps not always in the job that they do, but in the way that they are allowed to do it. The ability to work flexibly is already a non-negotiable prerequisite for many. There is a palpable sense that the pandemic has given employees a change of perspective and a chance to re-evaluate many things.
People have been able to work from home, spend more time with their families and have learnt how productive they can be in their home setting. A recent Forbes survey suggests that productivity has remained stable at least, and in many cases, has increased during the pandemic.
As most people-focused business leaders will be aware, a movement is building and ‘hybrid working’ is here to stay. Many employees are actively seeking to change the way in which they work. And, if their current employer isn’t giving them what they need, they are choosing to leave.
In addition, COVID-19 has radically altered the nature of face-to-face interactions, and health and safety concerns persist. Understandably, many workers are concerned about returning to an unsafe workplace.
The ‘Great Resignation’
In June 2021, The Predictive Index surveyed 1,906 employees from more than 15 different industries. The goal was to understand what exactly is contributing to this movement and see whether managers impact employees’ decisions. They were also curious to see which return-to-office strategies are faring better for retention and engagement.
‘The Great Resignation’, as it’s been labelled, appears to have originated from the service sector, and understandably so. But as other industries return to on-site operations, they’re encountering similar retention issues. This research suggests that this attrition often has less to do with physical safety, and more to do with psychological safety.
The Predictive Index survey reveals that 48% of employees have thought about changing careers within the past 12 months.
Other researchers are warning of a ‘talent exodus’ that could cost businesses in the UK and Ireland up to £17bn in the tech sector alone.
This Predictive Index research is in line with a recent Microsoft survey that shows that 46% of the workforce are planning to move – and largely because they realise that they can now work remotely. This research also highlights that there has been a five fold increase in remote job postings on LinkedIn since the beginning of the pandemic.
We know that the future of work will be a hybrid – with most people who can, working from both their office and their homes. There are many organisations that I have spoken to who are still not clear exactly what hybrid working means for them. There remains a good deal of uncertainty and of course considerable room for getting it wrong – or at least not exactly right first time.
What is concerning is the suggestion in research commissioned by HR company Personio that Employers are well aware that this ‘Great Resignation’ is on the way. 45% of HR decision makers say they are worried that staff will leave once the job market improves. Yet, despite this, only 26% of HR decision makers say that talent retention is a priority for their organisation over the next 12 months. The Predictive Index survey suggests that whilst the sheer energy around hybrid work means most companies are looking to try it, this isn’t quite the case. Just under half said they’d be working remotely either fully or part time.
This is a fascinating subject and there is still so much to talk about. Part 2 of this blog will be out soon where I will dissect what organisations can do to avoid this exodus and counteract with their own ‘Great Retention’.