The data point that surprised many in Microsoft’s 2021 WTI report was the figure that 41% of employees were considering leaving their workplace in the coming year. When the report was first issued, we were still enduring the peak of the pandemic as the first vaccination campaigns were unwrapping across the globe. No one really believed that all those who had just recently been laid off or sent on unpaid leave would even think of job hopping.
And yet, it didn’t even take a year for the trend to materialize. Within six months of the that initial data point, we were talking about the great resignation. And for the first time we not only heard employees talking about how they want to liveand how they want work to fit into this vision, but also doing something about it. Employees of all ages are resigning, even without a new job lined up.
One year later, Microsoft issued its new WTI-2022 report. It is based on trillions of digital data points gathered from its work tools, including LinkedIn, in addition to data collected from 31 thousand people in 31 countries. Confirming, nce again, that it is impossible to erase the experience that people went through over the last two years.
Five central trends identified in the 2022 report:
The New Priorities
Employees now have a new “Worth It” equation. The experience of the past two years shifted priorities, changed worldviews, and drew a clear line between what is important, e.g. health, family, time well spent – and what is not important. This changed what employees expect from their employers and what they are ready to give in exchange. Around half of employees nowadays prioritize family and personal life over work. And if they are also parents or female – they also put wellness and health above work.
We can see these preferences manifesting in the job market. According to the Index, 18% of employees left their workplace in 2021. The main reasons for leaving were insufficient physical and mental wellness, work-life balance, lack of flexibility and no trust in leadership. The traditional reasons for resignation, such as dissatisfaction from promotions and salary, dropped to 7th place in the list of top reasons for resignation.
Beyond salary, the five factors that employees indicated as “most important” were positive organizational culture, physical and mental wellness support, meaningful work, flexibility in work hours, and additional annual leave followed by appreciation and managers who help to develop careers.
The Mid-Management Challenge
The last two years taught us that organizational culture is to a large extent created by managers. Yet many managers reported that they feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations and that they cannot really create change for their people. More than half of managers feel that senior leadership is disconnected from employee expectations and 75% said that they have no impact or resources to make the required changes.
Most of the strain comes from the leadership focus to “get back to the pre-pandemic normal”. About half of the leaders are concerned that the move to hybrid work will hurt productivity. Hence they expect employees to work from the office full-time in the coming year. This is no real surprise: over the past two years these leaders were under exceptional stress as they needed to navigate people and organizations through one of the most uncertain periods in recent history. It’s easy to understand why coming back to the office seems like a good solution. But unfortunately, it appears that this approach won’t work anymore.
According to the report, half of hybrid workers say that they are considering moving to 100% remote work. On the other hand, more than half of employees who have been working fully remote are considering going back to the office at least part time. On top of that, it looks like the resignation wave of 2021 is still in place as 43% of employees reported that they are contemplating changing their job in the coming year.
Job offers do not ignore these trends. The number of jobs that offer the ability to work remote is growing all the time. According to LinkedIn, in March 2020, only 1 in 67 jobs in the USA offered “remote” as an option. Today it is 1 in every 7 jobs do just that and such jobs receive 300% more candidates than other jobs on LinkedIn. Therefore, the new challenge in the job market is to create new standards for flexible work that help balance the business deliverables with the changed expectations of employees.
We need managers to be able to bridge this divide. Even if the policies are decided by the top executives, it is crucial that senior leadership lets the managers decide how to implement these policies and give them the flexibility to fine-tune and adjust the policies according to the specific needs of teams and individuals.
The Reason to Commute
More than a third of employees reported that their main challenge is knowing when and why they should arrive at the office, but only a quarter of organizations have clearly defined the new norms. Organizations need to allocate time and effort in trying different solutions that will give employees a reason to come into the office and value for doing it. For example, “Team Tuesdays,” “Shared Office from 10:00 to 12:00 Twice a Week,” or “Full Org. Sync Once a Month.” There’s also the option of quarterly offsites to inspire business growth. The key here is to check every time what works – and what doesn’t.
The New Meetings
Work today has become more flexible, but it has also increased the risk of digital overload. Digital footprints reveal an increase in the amount of online conversations about work. Moreover, we see this happening also after standard work hours and during weekends. Meetings still take up most of the time. According to Microsoft data, since February 2020 the number of online meetings has increased by 150% and the duration of these meetings has increased by 250%. In total, we added an hour of work per day – and into the weekends.
The way work is spread across the day has also changed. More people design their workday in a way that allows them to better manage their time. Based on data tracked through digital work tools, we see that people take breaks, avoid double-bookings, and block “no meetings” time in calendars. We also see that meetings tend to start later at the beginning of the week, and end earlier closer to the weekend.
Another interesting development is the segmentation of the workday into new blocks that replace the traditional workday. We see one such segment pre lunch, then longer lunch breaks with a return to another segment of work after lunch, taking another long break, and then coming back to work in the evening. We can also see a 10% increase of out-of-office messages, possibly indicating an increase in vacation time across organizations.
While the number of meetings has increased, the duration of meetings has shortened: 60% of meetings are now shorter than 15 minutes, and two thirds are spontaneous meetings. This indicates that employees found a digital alternative to “hallway conversations”.
The Power of Networking
It is no longer possible to rely on the office as the only place to build social capital. We need to learn to intentionally connect employees to the organization regardless of how they work. 43% of managers reported that this is one of the biggest challenges of hybrid work. At the same time, they agree that it is also critical both for the organization’s success as well as for the employees’ sense of accomplishment. That being the case, only half of employees say that they have good relationships with others in the organization. This is because relationship management requires special focus and new tools – especially among new employees who began working with their current employer during the pandemic. Nearly two thirds of such employees reported having weak relationships with their teams and one in every two employees is at risk of leaving.
Employees are willing to stop corresponding and start connecting – but not via meetings. Instead, they want to connect and network. Interestingly, only a third of managers feel that networking conversations are important for work. As a result, managers don’t allocate a place and time for such activities. But these are exactly the types of conversations that deepen relationships beyond day-to-day collaboration. Furthermore, employees who have a good relationships with their team members reported that they feel better at work, are more productive, and most importantly – they are less inclined to leave. And those employees who also have relationships beyond their immediate team, in various departments of the organization, are more satisfied with their employment, their work life, and are more resilient to work stress. Such horizontal networks also support employee retention because they help employees develop their careers within the organization, without leaving. According to LinkedIn, employees are two times more likely to stay in an organization that has opportunities for internal career mobility than those that do not have this option.