Top 5 Myths About the Future of Work Debunked

“After two years of the pandemic, we’ve all heard certain truths about work,” noted Erin Avery, senior strategic advisor, kicking off the recent Workhuman® webinar. “And while there may have been a time when these viewpoints were true, today we’re taking a critical lens to see if they still serve business well.” Joining Erin on the program was HR guru John Baldino, president of Humareso, who brought his 30 years of expertise to the table. Together, they explored – and debunked – the top five myths about the future of work in our post-pandemic world.

Myth #1: Work culture is evolving because of the pandemic.

“Is culture evolving because of the pandemic?” asked John. “No. It was already on its way. The pandemic just kicked it 10 yards further downfield.”

He warned organizations not to blame the pandemic as the cause of unsettling cultural change. “We heard a lot of scapegoating,” he noted. “We heard a lot of business owners and C-suite executives saying, ‘If only this pandemic didn’t happen.‘” Instead, focus on the core factors driving today’s workplace evolution. As John put it, it’s about paying more attention to employees – “what they were asking for, how work was actually getting done” – rather than blaming COVID.

Erin picked up on the theme of listening to employees, especially as it relates to psychological safety in the workplace. “Psychological safety is becoming much more of a key focus for so many organizations and employees,” she observed.powerpoint slide from webinar

In speaking about psychological safety, the panelist share this quote from Amy Edmondson.

John noted that the acceleration in cultural change isn’t solely due to the pandemic. There are other world events, as well. “Social considerations, cultural considerations, racial considerations, and heritage considerations have forced conversation around inclusiveness and equity,” he observed. “If we’re really inclusive, considerate, and equitable, we have to remember that not everybody is coming into the organization with the same world experiences, same life experiences, same context.”

Myth #2: Work from home (WFH) will save us​.

“What is it that you thought working from home was going to save us from?” asked John. Turnover? Being obsolete? “Work from home is not a magic pill,” he added. “Sitting at home – instead of in a cubicle – doesn’t address bad management. It doesn’t address lack of direction or clear objectives from leadership. Is [WFH] answering the need for equitable approaches to the way work gets done? No, it’s not saving you from any of those things.”

Drawing on findings from the Workhuman® iQ survey report, “Two Years Into COVID: The State of Human Connection at Work,” Erin noted that remote workers feel less confident and more uneasy about change because they are more disconnected from co-workers. There’s an element of appreciation that’s lost when face-to-face interaction is taken out of the equation. In her view, it comes down to this: What does it take for people to do their best work? With all the changes that have taken place in the past two years, is this an opportunity to reevaluate what is working – and what isn’t?

“Working from home really isn’t the issue,” observed John. “It’s a kind of symptom. And I think there are a lot of organizations that are starting to do a deeper dive and say, ‘No, there’s something systematically wrong here.’” As he sees it, leadership needs to define what is “best work” and ensure that employees and managers are on the same page.

Myth #3: All you need is a Ping-Pong table​.

In Erin’s view, the Ping-Pong table – a symbol of the perks organizations offered before the pandemic – was an “opportunity to create relationships and connections at work. But the time and place for Ping-Pong tables has evolved beyond that. We now have the opportunity to have relationships.”

“What are your Ping-Pong tables?” asked John. “What have been those things that have been your relational platforms – the things that were going to develop rapport and connection. And how do we approach it differently? How do we approach it with more intention?”

For Erin, the Ping-Pong table was a way for organizations to encourage employees to “build and deepen connections with colleagues.” She sees it as a precursor to today’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives: “Connecting with your colleagues was newer, and now, people are starting to see that there’s real business benefits to when people work together.”

Leaders must evolve from viewing their organizations as a “static reality,” noted John. “It’s a dynamic reality – not just in productivity, but in people. Every person that comes into your organization is a new thread in the tapestry of what your company looks like moving forward. There’s an inclusiveness that can really benefit the organization. Statistics show organizations that are really thoughtful about inclusivity are much more productive and profitable.”

Myth #4: Just keep saying “I’m sorry.”​

It’s tempting to apologize when you need to ask employees to step up or put in extra effort. But what are we really trying to express when we say, “I’m sorry”? “You’re really trying to express empathy – that you see and appreciate that person,” observed Erin. “What if we could instead say ‘thank you’ to people? What might the impact be? Because that’s what we really mean.”

“It’s not been easy, particularly the past couple of years,” added John. “And so we default to an apologetic stance. Don’t own what you don’t need to own.” You can be empathetic, he notes, but by apologizing, “we relegate in-person roles as being less than the ‘lucky’ people that get to work from home. And that’s the wrong approach because there’s not a role that’s inherently better than another.”

The panelists shared a slide that demonstrated the impact of saying “thank you” – rather than apologizing.

The impact of saying "thank you" is broad and far-reaching.

As you can see, people thanked within a month were less likely to look for a job, more likely to be engaged, feel more respected, and believe they have opportunities within the organization. And as Erin noted, the benefits of saying “thank you” are enhanced when those moments of appreciation are given publicly. As she put it: “You’re showcasing how that person is living your company values, showing others what ‘good’ looks like, and displaying how it makes that person feel that their work is being celebrated.”the benefits of public thanks power point slide

The benefits of saying “thank you” are enhanced when those moments of appreciation are given publicly.

“Giving people praise publicly is about tonality in an organization,” added John. “Be empathetic in the way in which you recognize people. That’s a much richer way to be thoughtful about your teams.”

Myth #5: The Great Resignation will end business as we know it.

In the last year, there has been a major shuffling in the workforce with people moving to new companies – or even changing careers. What’s driving this workplace migration – often referred to as the Great Resignation?

One factor, according to John, is compensation. “The amount of compensatory increase in some roles is 5% to 11% per quarter,” he observed. “That’s an incredible amount of money and an incredible amount of opportunity for people to leave one place and go to another.”

He pointed out that many workers have not resigned from the workforce, but rather, have simply gone to new opportunities. He calls it a “reshuffling” and raises the question: “Why would someone want to reshuffle out of where they are to somewhere else?”

John believes the quality of onboarding is a key factor in retaining top employees. He noted that, before the pandemic, poorly onboarded hires lasted just six months. Interestingly, the same is true for those hired during COVID – despite the opportunity to work from home. Why? According to John, if an employee is not brought on well, “it’s a marker of the way the organization is going to function.”

Once again citing the Workhuman survey report, Erin noted that, “Surprisingly, COVID new hires are some of the most engaged. That further supports the idea that it’s more about the individual experience than the outside world experience that’s influencing worker satisfaction.”

The panelists concluded with a quick note about internal mobility and boomerang employees. John noted that even engaged employees may leave your organization. If they do, seize this as a time to encourage them, wish them well, ask them to stay connected, and let them know that their new skills will be welcome back at your company, should they decide to return.

“In addition to onboarding, organizations have an opportunity to dig in and think about how they can increase their internal mobility,” noted Erin. After all, given their history, legacy knowledge, and skills, they offer tremendous value to your company.key takeaways from powerpoint deck

The panelists concluded the program with key takeaways.

About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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