What should we expect from 2022? Considering the unprecedented events of the last two years, it’s no surprise we are asking this question. But as we’ve learned, even the most well-researched business trends and predictions cannot tell us exactly what 2022 will bring.
So while we may not know what the year ahead will bring, we do know something: what employees want from their employers. Over the past six months, the Human Workplace Index has gathered the insights and expectations of thousands of U.S. workers in an effort to help employers create the human workplaces employees want.
The first Human Workplace Index of the new year looks at what workers are expecting from their employers in the future of work, as well as what will happen if employers don’t deliver. Here are some of the key insights from this month’s survey.
1. Returning to the office
The first Human Workplace Index, published in August, was focused on the long-awaited return to work slated for September. And while some organizations followed through on this plan, the pandemic’s constantly changing status caused many others to delay their office reopenings.
It would seem the new variant of COVID is yet again forcing organizations to delay their return-to-work plans. Or is it? Despite the global community’s growing concern regarding Omicron and the news of large corporations like Google and Ford Motors delaying their plans, many employees report something different.
This month’s survey reports 77% of respondents saying their company is still planning on returning to on-site work in January. And while 36% of those surveyed feel concerned about returning to on-site work due to the new variant, another 32% plan to resume work travel and in-person events, despite the new variant.
Understanding that each employee has a different degree of comfortability right now is key to sustaining employee well-being and a strong company culture. Organizations should consider conducting monthly pulse surveys to gauge the feelings and concerns of employees. Using the results from survey tools such as Workhuman’s MoodtrackerTM, employers can both acknowledge and take action on the needs of their employees.
Keep in mind: returning to the office doesn’t mean returning to pre-pandemic ways of working. The hybrid work model gained significant popularity in 2021 – with 65% of workers surveyed saying their company has been hybrid – and isn’t likely to go away in 2022. In the new year, 63% say their company will continue operating on a hybrid model.
While hybrid work has gained traction, 41% of workers still anticipate being on-site five days a week, 27% expect to be in four days a week, and the remaining 32% anticipate being in the office three days or less a week. Whether someone is in the office five days a week or not at all, this year employers must create and sustain a company culture that extends to every corner of their employee base.
2. Workplace connection as indispensable
Despite each employee’s unique circumstances, overall, the employees who do plan to return to the office are doing so with a positive sentiment. Of those returning, 69% are feeling excited to meet their co-workers, 77% believe they will feel more connected to their colleagues, and 75% think they will feel more connected to their managers this year.
What can organizations do to ensure these hopes come to fruition? When asked what employees need to feel more connected to colleagues, the top responses included “more workplace mandated events (meetings, townhalls, etc.)” (36%) and “more in-person based activities” (happy hours, office parties, etc.) (28%). To feel more connected to their managers, employees reported “more regular check-ins” (37%) and “more recognition for my work” (32%).
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Based on these responses, it’s possible for organizations to create a culture of connection for both hybrid and in-person employees. If there’s an in-person town hall event, ask remote workers to connect over Zoom and be sure to regularly include them in the discussion. Planning a happy hour for new hires? Consider expanding the event into two – a lunch hour over Zoom as well as an in-person happy hour event. Employees can choose to attend both or just one – either way, they create opportunities for co-workers to connect.
3. Supporting employee well-being and mental health
The pandemic shed light on the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace, and that notion isn’t going anywhere in the new year. And while 72% of respondents report their company offers mental health support – including mental health days (66%), access to telehealth (60%), on-site/virtual counselor (49%), and mental health stipends (41%) – there still appears to be a widespread stigma surrounding it.
Even with these resources, only 34% workers strongly agree their company is a safe space to discuss mental health. And while a culture of peer-to-peer connection can help – 35% of workers feel more comfortable asking their colleagues for mental health support over their manager – nearly one in three workers said they would feel judged if they took a mental health day.
The best way organizations can destigmatize mental health in the workplace is to continue talking about it. In fact, 83% of respondents believe companies who offer mental health resources have a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, making it beneficial for employee well-being and the business’ bottom line.
4. Staying accountable in the new year
Organizations have made countless commitments to create a better, more equitable workplace over the past two years – including around diversity, equity, and inclusion (60%), mental health benefits/support (52%), workplace flexibility (60%), and internal pay audits (24%). If these commitments haven’t been fulfilled by now, 2022 will surely be the year they are – in fact, employees will demand it.
The majority of respondents (82%) are more inclined to hold their leaders accountable for a better workplace this year versus 2021 or 2020 for a number of reasons, including knowing one’s value (35%), feeling more supported by colleagues to do so (26%), and outdated workplace policies (18%).
Now that employees have realized their value and the power of their voice, they expect changes to be made. When asked what workers are more likely to do in 2022 than in previous years, here is what respondents said:
- Voice my opinion more often (55%)
- Voice my opinion less often (23%)
- Be more compassionate towards my leaders (34%)
- Be more compassionate towards my colleagues (38%)
- Work to establish better connections with my teams (39%)
- Ask for more time off (24%)
Organizations should keep in mind, however, employees will not wait long for their employers to turn their promises into reality. This month’s survey found 56% of workers will only wait 30-60 days for employers to make changes before considering leaving their position. Knowing this, 2022 must be the year employers live up to their commitments, creating a more human workplace for all of their current and future employees.