Ready or not, the future of work is here, and it is here to stay. Since the pandemic began, workplaces around the world have experienced a shift like no other. The past year has revealed to us that employees desire the freedom to create their own path and do meaningful work within their chosen capacity. The 2021 Rosie Report affirms, “There is a new and bold belief that we are all worthy of health, wealth, happiness, and equal treatment. And that work doesn’t have to be what it has always been.”
This belief has created a movement where employees are seeking opportunities that provide autonomy and growth instead of burnout and stagnation. Though burnout has become a buzzword, it’s not a passing trend to be underestimated or ignored. According to Indeed’s Employee Burnout Report, two-thirds of the 1,500 U.S. workers surveyed believe the pandemic has worsened employee burnout. Employees of color are especially feeling the effects; a recent SHRM study revealed that 36% of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) workers reported feeling down, depressed or hopeless over the past few weeks, compared to about 26% of white working Americans.
On the contrary, employees are benefiting from the autonomy the pandemic has unintentionally provided:
- 67% say they’ve been motivated, energized, and engaged
- 70% say they’ve been highly productive
- 63% say they are doing their best work
(2021, Rosie Report)
Though these numbers show promise, We Are Rosie Founder Stephanie Nadi Olson’s words echo the truth U.S. employers need to hear: “It’s not the future of work unless we are all there.”
Employee-centric leadership is the future
Employee-centric leaders intentionally and consistently put their employees first. They empower ideas, creativity, healthy communication, and innovation within their teams, in turn retaining their best employees and cultivating the support necessary to accomplish company-wide goals.
We’ve entered a unique time in history where employees leave the workforce when they don’t feel fulfilled at work. Four million people equalling 2.7% of U.S. workers quit their job in April. Coined as the “Great Resignation,” this number will keep increasing if employees continue to receive push back as they lay their work-life balance wants on the table.
As a result, individuals who once found great comfort and security in collecting a bi-weekly paycheck are now going independent—choosing short-term projects that bring them joy instead of drowning in workplace politics and toxic company cultures. Many of those who recently lost their full-time jobs during the pandemic are also being more selective when applying to open jobs and carefully committing to freelance, contract or full-time work.
Not too long ago, I was one of those employees. As a mid-level marketing professional, I craved a job that honored the career I desired to create for myself. After receiving pushback and constantly feeling undervalued and unmotivated, I took a leap of faith, updated my portfolio, and created the job of my dreams.
This generation is refusing to settle
The workforce is becoming dominated by Millennials and Gen Zs who refuse to settle in jobs that negatively affect their mental health and no longer serve their career ambitions. Climbing the ladder within a company is no longer the ultimate goal. Organizations must be willing to take a look at their current modules—what is and isn’t working—and commit to the process of creating thriving teams and healthy company cultures.
When leadership forms employee-centered initiatives that promote healthy company culture, employees can better perform their job duties and contribute to the company’s growth while tending to their personal needs too.
One way C-suite leaders, in particular, can better serve their teams is by simply viewing them as more than numbers to reach their bottom line. The ability to nurture employees by understanding their strengths, career ambitions, and possible roadblocks to meeting their goals will increase your chances of meeting your own. There’s a prevalent misconception that employers must choose between putting their employees first or leading with the organization’s goals when in actuality, studies show the ability to empower your employees and address their needs increases job loyalty and fuels their work. Employee autonomy and flexibility aren’t something to be feared; viewing your employees as valued individuals positions them to meet organizational goals confidently
In an employee-centric culture, side hustles shouldn’t be penalized
There are countless stories of managers finding employees’ side businesses online and then shaming them for having hobbies or freelance gigs outside of their 9-5. Often, employees have been forced to choose between their job and their independent projects to ease company fears of them putting their projects before their employment. For a long time, noncompete agreements have been a workforce standard for many organizations and industries. However, this belief has been increasingly challenged by not only marketers and advertisers, but recently by the White House, too. According to a Forbes article addressing President Biden’s July 9th Executive Order on Promoting Job Competition in the American Economy, “Non-competes were originally intended to be ‘shields’ to protect employers. However, over the years, they’ve started being used as ‘swords’ by employers to unreasonably control their workers.”
Shouldn’t employees’ work speak for itself? It’s inequitable to assume an employee’s other commitments affect their job unless you have solid proof.
To create a healthy company culture governed by employee-centric leadership, employers must understand that they don’t own their employees. And as our gig economy continues to grow, more and more professionals are likely to want to try new things outside of their 9-5. Preventing or restricting your employees from exploring and expanding their skill set outside of their role at work will decrease loyalty and is probably the fastest way to get a resignation letter in your email inbox.
Instead, managers should trust their employees to manage their personal and professional lives accordingly. When employees have space to sharpen their skills and build their confidence beyond the workplace, it’s likely to improve their overall performance at work, too—only if they have the freedom to explore both realms without the fear of being penalized.
Healthy communication builds thriving teams
Being a marketer in a creative industry has exposed me to various work environments, leadership styles, and company cultures. And having witnessed professional women and men alike in work settings frustratingly share their workplace woes, I’ve identified a common thread: employees cannot thrive where they don’t feel supported and heard.
To efficiently embrace this workplace shift (which the pandemic sped up) employers must be willing to cultivate an environment where a healthy community is encouraged. We can achieve this through one-on-one sessions, thoughtfully crafted workshops, or anonymous surveys, to name a few. Whichever methods companies choose to communicate with their employees, creating solutions that empower your teams to perform their job well should always be the goal. And employers should operate with confidence that investing in their employees’ needs and putting them first is not abandoning the business’ bottom line.
Creating a culture where healthy communication is implemented and celebrated is key to embracing an employee-centric leadership style. Plus, it positions you to empower your employees to take ownership of their careers and support them in identifying the role they can play in furthering your organization’s goals. This process won’t come without trial and error, but the results are worth it, so be patient, willing, and committed to the long game.