Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 workplace policies have directly affected this. Research conducted by Microsoft and the University of California-Berkeley found that remote work made relationships between co-workers more siloed and reduced collaboration.
However, investigations in 2018 and 2019 revealed that UNICEF’s mission-related “results at all costs” culture had fostered bullying and harassment, and triggered many departures. In our discussions with senior UNICEF officials, there was a recognition that they had unwittingly created a toxic culture by promoting the organization’s purpose in isolation. To fix this, they eventually launched initiatives to balance purpose with employee development and building connection and community.
What should leaders do?
One of the big reasons people stay at organizations is because they’re able to progress in their careers. This is a source of engagement, energy, and fulfillment that companies shouldn’t overlook.
Creating connection and community
This could necessitate the restructuring of internal processes because many organizations currently manage the four components separately: HR oversees growth and development, while the C-suite owns meaning and purpose. Companies also tend to tackle the factors sequentially rather than together, which overlooks how changes in one factor affect others.
A Holistic Approach to Navigating the New Workplace
How to foster a thriving and sustainable workplace culture to contend with the realities of the new office
The end of Covid-19 workplace disruptions has ushered in a fresh set of challenges for organizations. Chief among them has been establishing new office policies for a workforce that has largely embraced flexible work and has expressed a desire for this to become a permanent fixture.
But organizations across various sectors have implemented strict return-to-office mandates, including the tech giants that were quick to make the switch to remote work when the pandemic hit. These have often been met with resistance from employees: Roughly 30,000 Amazon workers spoke out against the company’s back-to-office policy in an internal petition, and employees at Apple, Meta, and Google have also conducted similar protests.
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On top of balancing these disparate needs, both employers and employees must grapple with the current uncertainties facing the workplace and society. Although employees seemingly had the upper hand during the Great Resignation, the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, looming recession, and mass layoffs may have shifted the balance of power in favor of employers. Meanwhile, employers must juggle economic pressures with growing competition to attract and retain top talent.
As this one example illustrates, these factors are inextricably interconnected. Although the iEVP is no silver bullet, it can help organizations frame, address, and meet employee needs in a balanced and comprehensive way that ultimately benefits all parties involved.
Beyond material offerings
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Once you’ve obtained these data, you can use them as the basis for conversations between the different parties. When doing so, it’s important to ensure you’re discussing the iEVP in an integrated way and are explicit about how the factors are related. This can reduce disagreements and misunderstandings around the reasoning behind key decisions.
It may also not be the most effective tactic. For instance, given that flexibility is top-of-mind for many workers, employers who adopt this strategy could be tempted to offer employees hybrid or remote working arrangements and leave it at that. However, we found that most people we spoke to who worked remotely felt less connected to their companies than when they went to the office. Organizations may end up trying to buy loyalty by giving employees something that, in fact, reduces loyalty. This doesn’t work, and it’s certainly not sustainable.
Prior to the pandemic, the most important topic among management thinkers was meaning and purpose. These are the organization’s aspirational reasons for existing and are the answer to the central question of why employees do the work that they do.
But problems could arise if meaning and purpose are addressed in isolation. For instance, UNICEF’s mission to protect the world’s children is arguably one of the most compelling and motivating purposes out there, and has long been a primary asset for attracting and keeping talent.
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These interpersonal bonds matter immensely to people, and neglecting to foster the conditions for their growth can negatively affect retention. We spoke with a young computer scientist who left a coveted role at a large financial services firm because its work-from-home policy meant no one was in the office. She decided to take a job at a tech company that required workers to report to the office at least four days a week because she valued the camaraderie and energy that came naturally with physically working alongside her colleagues.
Developing meaning and purpose
In response to this, we devised the integrated employee value proposition (iEVP) as a way for companies to adopt a more balanced approach to the process. The holistic system comprises four interrelated factors: material offerings, growth and development, connection and community, and meaning and purpose.
Material offerings are certainly important and shouldn’t be overlooked. However, approaching this in isolation tends to address only the material aspects of jobs that are relevant to people in the moment. Besides being easy for rivals to imitate or even outdo, they also have the least enduring effect on retention. An overreliance on them can result in a race to the bottom as employers strive to outbid one another for talent. Organizations should therefore integrate these immediate offerings with more long-term solutions.
Providing opportunities to grow and develop