Before COVID-19 turned our world upside-down, modern workplaces sought to lure employees into longer hours with open workspaces, office happy hours and pool tables that offered attractive alternatives to cramped apartments or expensive bars.
But the pandemic might have changed all that, for good. For better or worse, workers have spent more than a year working from the comfort of their real home while spending time with their real families.
As workers return to the office in the coming months, leaders must adjust their workplace to reflect a new social contract at work and a significant shift away from a culture of family to a culture of business. Here are a few ways to do so:
Change your workplace narrative.
The employer-employee relationship, at its core, is transactional, and pretending it’s not is a mistake.
In the post-COVID environment, it’s time to retire tired “family” tropes and replace them with more authentic narratives that focus on enablement. Employers should embrace a more honest and authentic role in employees’ lives as a mean to provide for one’s family, travel the world and pursue career ambitions. Nothing more, nothing less.
Celebrate productivity, not hours.
Workers enjoy greater work-life balance when they have autonomy over their work schedule. Employers can (and should) offer more flexibility without sacrificing productivity by setting clear expectations about what work an employee is responsible for completing–not when they are responsible for reporting to work.
Model good behavior.
A great leader knows that one bad behavior can undermine a thousand perfect words.
Employees who see their own leaders prioritizing personal obligations, such as family or hobbies, will be more likely to do the same. If you are a leader in your company, take your PTO. Don’t work or respond to email while you are away, unless it is an emergency. If you are in the office, clock out at a reasonable hour when you can. Go to dentist appointments in the middle of the day. Leave early sometimes, just because. And when your team (or client) really needs you to stay late to help, do it.
After more than a year of working from home, America’s workforce has learned a lot about what it means to be a good employee, and many have changed their attitudes about work. Corporate leaders must now do the same, or risk breaking their already tenuous connection with tomorrow’s great talent, who crave the flexibility, freedom and autonomy to succeed at work without sacrificing their personal ambitions.
Stephanie Gray is the founder and president of SGA Communications, a Chicago-based communications agency.