The next wave of the pandemic is set to rewrite the landscape of the workforce. The return to the office building and in-person meetings will disrupt companies and upend teams.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed wave after wave worldwide, wreaking havoc in every corner of culture and work. When employees return to the office, it’s likely not to look anything like what they left.
Welcome to The New Generation Leader, Episode 14 – The New Wave of the Pandemic.
Full Episode 14 Transcript
The COVID-19 Pandemic has pushed wave after wave worldwide wreaking havoc in every corner of culture and work. When employees returned to the office, it likely won’t look anything like what they left. The next wave of the pandemic is set to rewrite the landscape of the workforce. Change is hard enough, but when we don’t expect it then it’s that much harder. Welcome to Episode 14 of The New Generation Leader Podcast: The New Wave of the Pandemic.
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Have you seen that meme floating around Linkedin and Twitter?
That’s the kind of work environment so many employees left in March of 2020 but, what will they go back to? That’s the million dollar question that we are asking right now. And watching company by company, client by client, it’s a big question mark of what the workforce is going to look like. And that’s what we’re going to dive into today in talking about the new wave of the pandemic.
Last year in 2020, Jeremie Kubicek described the pandemic as a tsunami. Not one massive wave but a tsunami is a series of significant waves that come ashore one after another. And he wrote, “Whether we realize it or not, we’ve been hit by a multi-set of tsunami waves that started with a global pandemic, which quickly spread to economic lockdowns, layoffs due to the economic declines and a U. S. Political presidential fight didn’t help, while social-justice waves merged in with the whole. We have experienced a global tsunami of wave after wave that has adjusted the way we live and the way we lead. Stress for many has been at an all-time high as people have experienced forced change. Change is hard enough but, when we don’t expect it, then it’s much harder.”
Looking at the waves of the pandemic through an employment lens, we see these phases of the impact to the workplace. Businesses closed their doors at the outset; they pushed their employees to work from home or had to cut employees altogether. After these initial closures stabilized, employers announced more layoffs and furloughs. When employers had a better grasp on recovery, many industries re-opened key positions and formalized their remote work processes. Now, with the recovery in full swing, new hiring rebounded and more businesses plan to reopen the office to all employees.
But now that the return to the office is on the horizon, it’s gonna drive monumental shifts all on its own. Shifts in expectations, patterns and job satisfaction. But many employees will never, in fact, return to the office because they’ll change jobs instead – if they haven’t already.
One local, Fortune 500 company has already announced to their employees plans to downsize: to sell property and, instead of everyone having their own desk, they’re going to move to one office building with shared space. There’s going to be a ripple effect. Some of our largest clients and local employers have schedules all over the place and the Delta Variant making it’s waves right now isn’t helping these plans.
The debates are running: How do we relaunch? What does this new phase look like? The more prolonged this uncertainty lingers, the greater the angst and pressure on employees’ engagement. Some companies are going back now, some waiting till’ the fall. Some are still trying to figure out if they even need to go back to the office. But here’s the big key for most employers, if the employer’s plan for returning to the office doesn’t line up with an employee’s expectations, the likelihood of this employee changing jobs and leaving the employer has likely never been higher than it is right now.
In 2020, we had monumental job losses. 21.9 million jobs were lost. Fast forward a year, the labor statistics from June of 2021, show that 850,000 new jobs have been posted. That’s less than 5% of the jobs that were lost. But, there’s a recovery. It’s happening. It hasn’t recovered job losses, but new opportunities are opening every day. And it’s easy to picture and imagine that the unemployed workers, those who lost their jobs in 2020, will pick up a new job in 2021 as it’s replaced. But the issue is probably going to be more complex. Rather than simply a 1:1 replacement, the employment cycle is set for a significant domino effect. And with this, the newest wave of the tsunami is about to hit.
The pandemic forced us to reflect on our rhythms and our patterns. It oriented are thinking in a different direction. In some cases, it directly impacted our brains for those who are affected by the virus and have still been fighting those impacts. The virus, the pandemic, this new environment pushed us to redefine our personal life goals. It brought us to more focused conversations, game nights at home, family dinners around the table, a closer-knit view of the community. We lived more intentionally, more tightly-knit with the people closest to us and we centered ourselves, again, around the power of our people. While this appears maybe too good to be true, too optimistic, too pollyannaish on the surface, Jason Pfeiffer, in The Build for Tomorrow Podcast says this is what our brains have done. It’s focused us on fading-affect bias. In short, well, I’ll let Jason tell you:
“Science has a term for this. It is called: fading-affect bias. In short, it means that bad memories fade faster than good memories.”
We are naturally wired already to have more positive memories from the impact of the pandemic, even for those of us who lost a family member, experienced illness in our inner circle, we still remember the better things from it. Jason says that’s not an accident. That’s, in fact, the way it’s supposed to be.
“I’ll translate that out of science-speak for you. Our brains do not even attempt to remember things perfectly. That is impractical. It is too much information and we couldn’t store it in our brains if we tried. Instead, our brains store what are like fragments of information. If you go on vacation, for example, the vacation is not retained in your brain as a singular memory like a film reel you can rewatch. Instead, a bunch of bits and pieces of it are stored separately And a year later, when you’re reminiscing about the vacation, you’re not remembering ‘the vacation’ in full. What you’re doing is your brain is literally reassembling those bits and pieces into a coherent narrative for you at the time. Like it’s not stored, it is reassembled, every time.”
And that’s what our brains are doing on the backside of the pandemic. As we continue into this new phase of recovery, though the impacts of the pandemic have been horrible, for all the friends, the family, the co workers and neighbors we lost to a horrific virus, our brains are wired to filter through the extreme and adverse events we’ve experienced and focus our memories on the more optimistic, positive outcomes. Even our negative views will take on a less negative perspective according to Pfeiffer’s discovery.
So as we push into the newest wave of the pandemic tsunami, our memories of the last year will influence our responses to the world around us. So as work turns to a new wave, there’s research now: The Prudential found that 1 in 4 employees – 1 in 4 – plan to look for a new job with a new employer once the pandemic is over. And more than 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year. In another study, The Pulse of the American Worker, 49% of employees are worried about career growth pathways. Gallup’s 2020 Workplace Survey indicated only 30% of employees believe they have opportunities to grow.
All of a sudden, on the backside of the pandemic, questions are rising: What do I want to do next? Where do I want to go? Who do I want to become? What kind of career do I want to lay out for myself in the next 5, 10, 15 years? And the growth disconnect that we see right here will push many employees to explore their roles and opportunities to work in a new light in this post-pandemic world.
I want to take a look back in my own personal life to two, previous roles that I have held. One: I am an ordained minister. I talk about that in some crowds, in some audiences, when it’s applicable. And so I’ve spent a lot of my career around clergy, around ministers and local leaders of churches and faith communities. I want to look for a minute at clergy as ‘canaries in the coal mine.’ If you know the story of how coal miners used canaries as an indicator, – if there was an issue, the canaries would fall victim to any problem that was about to happen in the coal mine. If things got to an unsafe level, they would see the canaries fall. And I am wondering if clergy are a canary in the coal mine here as we are on the backside of the pandemic.
You know, every wave of the pandemic tsunami impacted clergy and faith leaders in their work. It raised questions about faith, belief. How we even have conversations about politics, race. How they cared for their parishioners in a dispersed environment – in an increasingly diverse environment – when they couldn’t get around a table. When they couldn’t have a conversation or gather in person. And the caretaking role of clergy parallels the posture of care offered by medical personnel but, in a less-urgent environment. There’s not the urgent crisis of saving a physical life right now, in this moment that medical personnel take on.
So while medical personnel shouldered the community’s burden to respond to the illness, The Pandemic, COVID-19, clergy were operating in a more abstract environment. They were providing immense care, but under a significant burden. They bore the brunt of complaints, conflict, and they finally said enough is enough. I don’t have to put up with this. I don’t have to be treated like this. And so now we’re watching a significant turnover take place in clergy and church-based ministers and support staff throughout the second half of 2020 and into 2021.
Anecdotally, personally, I have seen so many friends, former colleagues, make a change right now: an early retirement, leave a position, make a transition or change. They’ve been over-burdened and stressed by the tsunami waves and can more easily step aside without worrying about the survival of their clientele as medical personnel do. So, many have made a shift. But does this provide a foreshadowing of the workplace of 2022? I wonder. I wonder if this is a foreshadowing of things to come.
One of the things that we learned throughout the years in disaster response, which was my other role: as we interacted and connected with faith communities following natural disasters, we brought volunteers to help clean up – to make amends, to help residents and survivors get back on their feet and rebuild their communities. One of the things that we found was, just like we’re experiencing right now, on the backside of COVID-19, clergy increasingly turned over in their positions in a disaster-affected community within a few years after disaster. The burden of holding and caring for the people around them, the people closest to them, was taxing. It weighed on them significantly. And so, I want to turn our conversation to thinking about disasters:
“I am in Tappahannock this afternoon where our crews are getting started helping residents clean up here as you can see behind me. The destruction is significant: houses ripped to pieces, you can hear the chainsaws in the background.”
That was me in a social media post in 2016 after tornadoes devastated a community about an hour away from where I live. And I traveled to that site, I posted a video, because the destruction that that community saw was so staggering, so immense and I knew that people would want to offer their care: to provide support, encouragement and help that community rebuild. And, that was the case. Thousands of people watched that video clip that I shared through our organization at the time. So, thinking about this crisis, the COVID-19 Pandemic, through the lens of a disaster, and I want to go back to the idea of a tsunami. If a tsunami warning comes, and there was one just last week in Alaska. It often comes after an earthquake in the middle of an ocean or somewhere offshore. But the environment doesn’t always lend itself to a tsunami actually developing.
You know, the environment of our workplaces really has been on the brink of disaster for some time but the conditions weren’t optimal. Companies continued to survive, employees stayed in place and persisted despite concerns about culture and leadership. There have always been questions about workplace culture, job performance, satisfaction and employee benefits and investment are not new. But The Pandemic added the final ingredient to create this perfect storm.
So when a natural disaster strikes a community, the initial phase where I was on that day in Tappahannock Virginia after tornado, the initial phase focuses on ensuring life safety: Is everyone okay? Who needs treatment and care? And do you have a place to sleep tonight and a meal to eat and clothes on your back? The clean up then begins the long road to recovery. Tearing down trees as you heard in that clip, the chain saws buzzing in the background. How do we clean up the debris and help homeowners get back home? And once the cleanup has re-established a solid foundation to build on, that rebuilding effort begins. In most disaster-affected communities, that road to recovery can last up to two years. And after two years, the community finally, closely resembles the pre-disaster state but, in a new normal. Things will never be the same as they were before.
This disaster timeline applies to The Pandemic as well. In the initial phase of the pandemic, in March/April maybe May of 2020, the global response centered around stabilizing our neighbors’ health, safety and well being. And once we reach stable ground, we began to adjust and adapt. Things slowly began to reopen or reorient. The strict quarantines were dialed back a little bit. But many of us still worked from home. We were still working in a remote environment.
During the clean up after a disaster, remnants of the storm still linger: down, trees, flooded out homes, piles of contents cleaned out from these homes, sitting by the roadside. The Pandemic’s cleanup phase, maintained signs of the crisis as well: mask requirements, physical distancing, shuttered businesses awaiting their full reopening. With the vaccine, we’ve now entered a new phase of recovery. Now that we’ve experienced this reorienting shift, we can start building towards a recovery and that new normal. But as in a natural disaster, the recovery period will last considerably longer than that initial relief phase. And what we find at the end of this road, will look different than what we ever would have expected.
Many employees have taken an introspective look at their world in the recovery phase and throughout this process. They’ve evaluated their lives; their hopes may not be the same as what motivated them pre-pandemic. They may desire opportunities beyond their current job, which, could push them into new frontiers, new opportunities.
So here are three things that we found in the lives of employees during the recovery. One, employees found their passion. As we adapt to our surroundings and employment situations, we tend to learn, grow, change and, at times, stop doing (or close off) our true passions. Even having kids limits are free time for our personal pursuits. Extended workdays, busy schedules can stifle our ability to continue pursuing our dreams and recharging our batteries. I
n the changing pace of the early pandemic, our newfound free time, opened possibilities to find new passions, training new technology or skills. Despite the challenging nature of The Pandemic, as Build for Tomorrow reminded us, we put aside the highly-negative impacts and we recall the positive changes. When employees discovered a passion different from their role within the company, this opened the door to changing what the recovery phase looked like for them. The second area is employees gained clarity on their personal priorities. So, they discovered their passion, then they gained clarity on their priorities. New paces, rhythms, schedules brought on by cancelled events, a slow paced home-centric, community oriented world. It aligned our awareness to our physical space, the people around us and our sense of purpose. It wasn’t all good but, we tend to remember the better lessons from that season. And the shifting obligations during The Pandemic, opened the door of possibility and it allowed a deep, introspective look, finding a new passion. For some, their energy around key relationships, personal values and internal drivers provided the push to make a change.
Now, we’ve got the ripple effect of what’s new. For the dreamers, the visionaries, the networkers, The Pandemic opened pathways to invent, adapt and implement. As these individuals found new passions, gained clarity on their priorities, pushed their business through a virtual environment into new geographic regions. Implementing these new plans means closing the door of a previous role or function. Perhaps the new launch is a brand new company, a role in a different industry or a shift to an employer with other priorities. Regardless of the why, the trickle-down means employees will be leaving. What employees want is going to drive them: remote work, less commute, different location, different mission. And for many of them, there’s nothing you can do to keep them on board.
So where do we go next? How do we survive and thrive through this latest wave of the pandemic? Leaders are telling our team of coaches every day about the mounting responsibilities, the need to accomplish more with less, with fewer resources, with fewer people, with unfilled rolls on their teams. And they’re telling us about the ever-growing burden and stress on the backs of employees and teams who have stayed. “Now you’re telling us we may have to do even more with even less?” they ask. We are resilient as people, but we can’t do this on our own. When we build new teams, even changing one person, adding a new person, removing just one person, we, functionally, have a new team. And if you experience this across every team in your organization, the impact will be significant. The opportunity to build a radically successful, thriving organization is right in front of you, i you will seize it. You can build a resilient team.
So here’s four things that we’re encouraging teams, leaders and organizations to consider in this season.
- Ask: “Who are you?” Don’t just reflect on this for yourself, but ask this for every person in your organization: “Who are you?” Help your team discover their true sense of self. “What drives you everyday? When a team member steps down, filling in gaps, will you push outside of your own comfort zone? Don’t lose what makes you uniquely you. Spend time outlining your growth potential. Understand who you can become. Let’s have a conversation, talk about a growth plan and get yourself on a solid foundation to make sure you know where you’re headed, what you can do to get there, and what barriers, hurdles and gaps may stand in the way.
- Second, you’ve got to focus on this team. Remember, even losing or adding one person drastically changes the environment of your team. The threat of the possibility of even losing one, can change the relational dynamics. High-performing teams build on 5, key performance indicators. If you try to start working and producing immediately, working harder day after day, your team will never unlock its true potential. The dynamics each person brought from their previous team will create conflict and discord and the results will be less than you dreamed or imagined. Spend some time building your team. We’ve got a great 5 Voices Boot Camp that can help you do that in 90 minutes. Once you uncover, as you work on building your team, we’ll take your team to new heights, we’ll reinforce the environment that your team has, the culture that your team has and take your team to new heights that are only possible if you’re intentional.
- One thing that you learn in that team focus is keeping an eye towards your long-range planning. That’s our third goal for teams right now in this season. Leverage your dreamers, find out who your dreamers are and keep your eyes looking at 2022, 2025 and beyond. Our natural reaction is to return to normal after The Pandemic but we will never return to the world of January 1, 2020. We won’t do it. Just like after a disaster, the end of that road to recovery is a new normal and a new normal is coming. So how are you preparing for it? Keep dreaming, keep your head up, find your dreamers on your team and help them take you to new heights.
- And then the last, but not least: you need a rapid hiring process. You need to remove all doubt with the increasing complexity of how many people we are trying to put in fill roles on our teams throughout organizations. The hiring process is cutthroat right now. How can you hire faster and with greater efficiency and a greater indicator of success with that person in that role? Rebuilding your hiring process with a behavioral assessment can ensure you build a robust position profile, that you know exactly who you need for this role and you hire a candidate who best matches what you need in that role to accomplish what you need. As much as the headlines and hallway banter keep telling us The Pandemic is over, we are going to feel the ripple effects for decades to come. What would happen on your team if 40% of your team members left? That’s what we’re facing right now as people are looking to change their roles, to change their level of investment, to get to new heights in their own personal lives. And what you do, as you focus on the possibilities ahead, if you do it well, if you do it intentionally, you can accomplish more in this period than in any other period of your life or your business. Great days are ahead. Be intentional. You got this.
Make sure you visit newgenerationleader.com/14 for Show Notes and a full transcript of today’s episode: The New Wave of the Pandemic.
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