It’s fair to say that the workplace we once knew is gone. As we transition to a new kind of normal, many changes are gaining traction while replacing the traditional work environment.
In my role counseling executive leaders for Vaya Group’s corporate clients, I’ve started to notice some emerging workplace trends that will continue to spill well into 2022. From the evolving way we work to melding leadership with empathy, here are several insights on how we can adapt to a different type of workplace:
The Evolving Hybrid Work Model
As the COVID pandemic forced a shift toward working from home, a more flexible, hybrid work environment is becoming the exception rather than the rule.
Working from home is the genie that’s been let out of the bottle, and it’s here to stay. For many of us, the work-at-home pinch the pandemic created has presented a serendipitous opportunity to recruit top talent from outside our local markets. The ability to hire well-qualified candidates irrespective of geographic boundaries has spurred a positive windfall that we anticipate will continue.
When it comes to integrating the evolving model of hybrid work into the workplace of 2022, employers should determine how flexible they can be based on their products, services, and customer needs. It will, however, remain important to offer remote or hybrid opportunities to their staff where possible.
The best employers will leverage the benefits of hybrid work to their advantage. This is likely true for top talent, as well. The employers suffering the most are those who relied too heavily on close monitoring and micromanaging instead of deepening the trust of their employees, and they will ultimately pay the price for this.
The Expansion of Career Development
Research from Gartner suggests the new era of work will focus on employees’ critical skills and career development. When thinking about how this movement may affect workplaces in 2022, I believe adaptability will become essential.
Many employers will now focus more heavily on developing critical skills demonstrated by adaptable leaders who can lean into, and be energized by, challenges. Career experience will simply become a commodity of trade for elevating to more complex and broader leadership roles. Nurturing the right blend of skills will become the ticket to long-term success.
Rather than identifying high-potential leaders using the “gut feelings” of their immediate managers, I see a shift toward defined criteria and unbiased external analysis as a more effective solution. Once potential leaders have been identified, the best talent developers provide mentor networks consisting of senior-level sponsors. Employers can then effectively align a host of experts with high-potential talent pools. My preference is for a “many mentors mentoring many” model as an alternative to worn-out mentoring schemes.
Leadership with More Empathy
If we’ve learned anything by living through a pandemic, it’s the importance of empathy. As we head into 2022, employees will seek emerging leaders with valuable soft skills like compassion and transparency.
Employers want leaders who thrive in uncertainty, exude optimism for the future, and provide hope to employees struggling to cope with many distractions and disruptions. Of course, leaders still need to manage resources and tasks, but I see a shift toward leaders who can share their humanity and create an environment where others can be more open about their needs. Creating a more trusting and connected workforce can ultimately help them weather the next crisis and build greater resiliency.
It’s also important to view vulnerability as a core strength. Show humility, impart trust, and display confidence, and others will follow. Empathy also needs to be much more than “I feel your pain.” Instead, it’s about leaders mirroring the hopes, concerns, and aspirations of those they lead. It is the obvious truth that many organizations are discovering again in the wake of the pandemic.
The COVID crisis isn’t the only time for organizations to show empathy. Anything from employee illness to severe weather events gives leaders an opportunity to demonstrate they care. Quick-thinking leaders understand that the real value of an organization lies in its people, and empathetic leaders show they put their employees’ interests first, but outstanding leaders can combine both of these traits.
Overall Employee Wellness
In the new normal, employees don’t just want a career, but they want their mental, financial, and physical health to be considered as well.
Employees now want their employers to offer more, and it’s therefore important to design benefits to address their needs. We’re looking to create the conditions in which our employees can do their best and most meaningful work, and where they can have the chance to grow, progress and receive praise for a job well done. Mental, financial, and physical health are not the end — they are the preparation for healthy employees capable of doing what they were hired to do, and even more.
To move towards a more holistic view of wellness, we need to hire and promote leaders capable of directing work tasks and leading with the heart. When it comes to offering benefits, employees should be empowered to choose what kind of benefit will suit their individual needs best.
An era of exciting change is here, and many will rise to the challenge as we head into the New Year. Those who evolve with hybrid workplace models will benefit from more satisfied, trusting employees. Valued leadership skills like adaptability and empathy will be more sought after than years of experience. Objectively assessing high-potential leaders and pairing them with qualified mentors will reap rewards in employee development. And, finally, organizations that demonstrate an authentic concern for the well-being of their workers – and create a culture that fosters total wellness – will experience greater employee productivity and loyalty. What is your business doing to prepare for the changes ahead?
Rob Kjar is a Senior Managing Consultant with Vaya Group and has over twenty years of experience in leadership consulting and coaching inside organizations and across multiple industries including pharmaceuticals, financial services, B2B marketing, oil & gas, high tech, and manufacturing. Rob has written articles for and has spoken at National Academy of Management conferences in the areas of global mindset, change, and organization development. He has authored articles for the OD Journal and contributed a book chapter for Strategic Organization Development: Managing Change for Success.