Designing post-pandemic work that people will love
As record numbers of people have quit their jobs, all sectors of the economy are struggling to fill vacancies. To get people back to work, organisations are changing long-standing policies and offering unprecedented incentives. Transportation companies, for example, have upped their wages to lure long-haul drivers back into truck cabs. California public schools are allowing retired teachers to return to work without recertification. CEOs and CHROs are falling all over themselves to offer flex-time work arrangements more attractive than those of their competitors. But such attempts miss the fundamental problem.
Simply put, work isn’t working for us. It wasn’t before the pandemic, and it isn’t now. According to surveys my colleagues and I have conducted at ADP Research Institute (ADPRI), before the pandemic only 18% of respondents were fully engaged at work, 17% felt highly resilient at work, and 14% trusted their senior leaders and team leader. The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2018 that 71% of adults had at least one symptom of workplace stress, such as headaches or feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
The pandemic has added even more pressure to our existing pain. Engagement and resilience are at all-time lows, having each dropped two percentage points during the course of the pandemic. (That may sound like a small change, but given how low those figures already were and the size of the samples, it is both statistically and practically significant). Meanwhile, a quarter of US workers quit their jobs in 2021 — a historic high.
This points to a problem that increasing wages or simplifying professional on-ramps alone won’t solve, although those efforts certainly help improve employees’ quality of life. We know this because in ADPRI’s most recent 50,000-person surveys of stratified random samples of working populations around the world, the most powerful predictors of retention, performance, engagement, resilience, and inclusion did not include pay or liking one’s colleagues or work location or even a strong belief in the mission of the organisation. All those provided some explanatory power, but none was as significant as these three items: