Alongside the shift to remote and flexible working, many initiatives to support employees were introduced by companies across the world – from counselling and wellbeing schemes, discounts on meals and gym memberships, to investing in Learning & Development. Employees experienced a level of flexibility and freedom they had not previously encountered.
Two years later, the balance of power is starting to shift back to employers as economic storm clouds gather and hiring slows. We’re already seeing companies freeze hiring and request employees to return to the office.
Business leaders are having to make tough choices
It’s been said that, “when leaders fear a downturn, their talk and actions change.” At LinkedIn, we recently surveyed over 2,900 C-level executives from large organisations across the globe to understand how they are approaching this period of uncertainty, given the intense pressure many are under to manage costs and boost productivity while delivering returns to shareholders and investors.
Worryingly, the current climate is causing concern among business leaders that companies will be forced to wind back progress made during the pandemic on important areas of working life – such as flexibility (68%), skills development (74%), and employee wellbeing (75%).
We are seeing this play out on LinkedIn – a new analysis of remote job postings on LinkedIn shows that remote roles are in decline. In the US, pre-pandemic, just 2% of jobs on LinkedIn were listed as remote. That number peaked at nearly 20% in April 2022 and is now back to 15%. This mirrors a trend we are seeing in countries around the world and is a likely sign that remote work has peaked.
Employer and employee disconnect
Our data highlights that there is a growing disconnect between what professionals want and what employers are now offering. After compensation, employees say their top priorities when considering prospective employers are flexibility, skills development and work-life balance.
While undoubtedly difficult choices will have to be made, navigating this cycle and coming out stronger is dependent on an engaged and motivated workforce that knows the business, are connected to one another, aligned to the company’s mission, and support company culture.
Many business leaders are likely to be caught between the old way of working and the new. It’s those who see this period as an opportunity, who are prepared to adapt and iterate, and explore new ways of working that will come out stronger and outperform competitors in the long term. The three core skills they need are: communication, transparency and empathy.
Business leaders say keeping their employees motivated is their number one workforce priority in the months ahead. Productivity takes a hit not when people are working from home, but when they are kept in the dark, they feel unheard and don’t have visible support. Clear, consistent and frequent communication is crucial during times of uncertainty. Build your plan and communicate it. If you feel like you’ve said it a thousand times, it’s probably just about starting to cut through. Don’t underestimate the power of frequent repetition in getting your message across. Good communication can enhance morale, make employees feel connected to the workplace and therefore improve motivation and productivity.
2. Be transparent and embrace an adaptive leadership style
In periods of uncertainty, it’s easy for leaders to become insular as they focus on the immediate matters at hand. But it’s imperative to take your employees on that journey with you. Don’t be afraid to be transparent about the current reality, providing clarity on short-term business priorities to keep employees focused, and where possible – reassuring your workforce that the tough times won’t last forever. Remember, this is also a time to adapt and remain agile – you can wait out the storm only to get hit with the next one, or you can change before you have to and avoid playing catch up every time a new set of circumstances arises. Opportunity can come from uncertainty – and it’s the leaders and organisations that are adaptive who will win.
3. Empathy is vital for maintaining employee trust
Returning to command and control styles of businessleadership and creating a culture of presenteeism and micromanagement will quickly erode trust. This is even more true at a time when employees are being weighed down by other worries outside of work, such as the higher cost of living. Employers have come a long way in earning the trust of their employees over the past few years thanks to progress around flexible working and prioritising employee wellbeing. That approach has transformed how people experience work for the better. Being empathetic to what employees value the most, understanding how it correlates to business performance, and finding ways to protect it is critical.
Now is the time for business leaders to adopt the skills that will help them future-proof their organisations and keep their most valuable asset – their workforce – engaged, motivated and invested in the company’s future success. The businesses that emerge strongest will be those that are forward-thinking, invest in their people, and don’t simply retreat to pre-pandemic practices.
This article was originally published in the World Economic Forum.