COVID19 casualties: labour and the great-resignation – Series 1 of 2

Are we witnessing one of the more significant shifts at the modern workplace post-world-war 2?

Amongst the many consequences of the COVID19 pandemic is employees quitting en masse. The pandemic situation has had an unintended consequence, and there is questioning by the white-collar workers of the status quo at the workplace.

A status quo that was considered normal two years ago. Acquiescence in the decision by employers to accept as normal, shark-tank work environments was the gold standard to making the interview short-list. You all wrote in resumes/CVs how adept you are at working under pressure. Today, it’s increasingly frowned on.

Before the COVID19 pandemic, the white-collar workers mostly accepted certain things without question. These things were deemed normal and okay to have.

It was customary to experience high-stress levels, elusive work-life balance, long days and short nights, cutthroat competition amongst individuals at work, tense work environments, etc. People and Culture departments devised innovative ways to ‘harden’ the worker for the stringent and steely workplace conditions. It wasn’t for the institutions to change how they work but for the worker to accept the status quo as normal.

And fast forward to almost two years post the COVID19 pandemic, and what was expected is abnormal. Many white-collar workers continue to ask themselves how they accepted what was before the COVID19 pandemic.

COVID19 has emboldened the white-collar worker to push for change, moreover majorly in the worker’s favour. They want work since they have to put bread and butter on the table, but on their terms. They won’t sacrifice individual wellness to have dollars in the bank at the end of the month.

What has the COVID19 pandemic done to change the deeply engrained worker mindset two years ago?

That white-collar workers now want to change their work-terms is shocking the labour system, especially the traditionalists.

The COVID19 pandemic unintentionally created the time and private space for white-collar communities to reflect, plan and test new ground. The latter manifestation confirms our theory at the Effectiveness lab that any system that will excel at what it does, needs to create ring-fenced pockets of space and time for reflection. Quality and sustained reflection may have changed the workplace forever.

  • There is a power shift, albeit temporary, in favour of the white-collar labourers. Whilst working away from the office, they bossed themselves. They proved the hypothesis that work can be done from the comfort of their homes, without close supervision akin to the type back at the workplace. They could still put quality work outcomes on the table without that direct and physical oversight by the office/department Gestapo. What would take the white-collar labourer back to the office if the latter were the case? Why undertake a painful five days a week, disincentivised commute to work?
  • Powerless to maintain their full traditional authority over labour, the supervisor, aka boss, is mostly disabled and temporarily rendered irrelevant in the COVID19 driven remote working situation. The professional labour supervisor is not as relevant as we have believed all along, after all.

You don’t have to see me physically for me to work for you. You don’t need my body in front of you to get the best out of me. You pay no money for my body. Moreover, what you need and are paying for is my brain in an environment where it can work best. The environment I work in best isn’t necessarily always the brick and mortar space called an office, and it’s any space and place that makes me most productive. The power of who defines the environment I work in isn’t always you, the ‘master’; it’s me, influenced greatly by attainment of best individual wellness. Why do you want me on a leash?

  • With the right strategy, structure and system – you don’t need a face-to-face work system and accompanying supervisory authority to get quality work outcomes from a knowledge worker. Individuals, especially the millennials and z generations, have the brain ‘code’ to give you what you ask of them without being policed and watched over. As long as what is required of them is articulated and logical, they will likely meet their part of the bargain.

May it be the time for bosses to stop breathing down the neck of white-collar workers?

As we witness more effective control over the COVID19 pandemic and its effects by nation-states, economies, and society reopened – companies are recalling their workers back to work. There is a cry for the return to the normal.

But what we see, especially of the white-collar worker, is a pushback. They don’t want to return to the old.

The tension between the COVID19 accidental liberation of white-collar labour, and the traditionalist owner and their petulant supervisors, is apparent.

We are witnessing what the Americans have called the ‘great resignation‘.

Many HR practitioners didn’t anticipate plus alert board room occupants of what was coming.

Are companies ready for what is unravelling before them?

See you for series two next week

 



Categories: People, Strategy

Tags: , , , ,

4 replies

  1. My friend Apollo, as usual, an excellent piece well written. March 2020, I moved into a new job as Chief Executive, very excited that I was going to shape and direct my team from the new comfort zone of a brand new office, well furnished with latest seats, tables, digital conference screens and desk intercom system. One week into my new job, even before I could hire the HR Manager, the country went into a total COVID19 lockdown. Two years down the road, I have never enjoyed the comfort of my office. The entire workforce team was hired virtually and started working remotely. Field teams would travel from home to field sites and back home. Besides virtual management meetings, it took me a full year to physically see some colleagues I worked with on daily basis. Even they fully open the economy now, I’m not sure, we will be back soon into the physical office. It’s a new normal and comfortable at that.

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    • @Herbert Mugumya – you have nailed it. And I’m happy that you don’t feel sorry about the status quo and that you are considering making it part of your work model. Indeed it’s the new normal. You are th!nk!ng bwana CEO and by the way, you have a much healthier heart for the two years you have avoided the Kampala traffic jam

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  2. I reality we are dealing with as leaders. Even me i found my optimal productivity outside the traditional office space! interesting times

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