By Celia Willis
The value of being independent — as a country and as individuals — has been a point of pride in American culture. However, everything morphs under stress, and stress we have had. After experiencing what’s felt like several years’ worth of challenges just in the past six months, we are seeing evidence of a cultural shift from fierce independence to greater recognition of our interdependence.
The workplace is a prime example of this change. According to one of KWI’s recent national workplace pulse surveys, 63% of employees cited “emotional and mental support” as a top need from their work environment. This need for connection and support shows up in studies across the board, like a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study that told us 70% of employees need weekly check-ins with their managers and teams to feel connected and focused. The tired adage, “teamwork makes the dream work,” appears to be more of an absolute truth: A Hayes, Chumney, Wright & Buckingham report cited by Forbes reporting that, “Being on a team is the single most important factor to engagement [and] when an individual is on a team, they are 2-3 times more likely to be fully engaged than those who are not.”
In the COVID era, work is no longer clock in, clock out, rinse, repeat. As we take calls on the couch and dining rooms become daycares, people are bringing their whole selves to the job, which means employers, and human resources (HR) departments specifically, need to be ready for true diversity. Our workplaces must prepare to empower all aspects of their employees by truly understanding what is important to them. Gone are the days when cursory benefits like a campus gym or a flex work-from-home day here and there met the threshold for engagement. It’s time to go deeper.
Even before 2020 and its unique challenges, the landscape of HR was shifting toward a broader, more holistic approach toward caring for employees. Quickly we find that those who don’t have a people and/or culture plan are falling behind.
A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article dove into the ways HR departments are changing, exploring how the role of HR might look different in the next decade. It also detailed some new HR job titles that could emerge to support the ever-changing needs of employees, like Human Bias Officer, Distraction Prevention Coach, Director of Well-Being and Work from Home Facilitator.
Each of these hypothetical positions goes beyond the more traditional responsibilities of HR departments. They represent areas that were formerly the purview of one’s family. I’m sure many companies raised a skeptical eyebrow at HBR’s assessment. I encourage you to take a second look.
People are no longer just looking for a place to collect a paycheck. They are looking for a group to join, an organization to be a part of. Put more simply, employees are looking at their workplace as a community. They want their employer to support them, connect with them and help them to grow the same way other, more personal communities do.
HR departments are an integral part of this shift toward community. Practically, this means a stronger focus on the “softer” skills that will allow companies to provide support beyond job-related tasks. The HR departments that have embraced this new role in their employees’ lives have been industry leaders, and their reputations have grown because of it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased this need, and many companies are already responding. According to a recent survey by Human Resource Executive, 56% of companies will continue flexible work-from-home policies even after the pandemic has passed, and LinkedIn’s latest Workforce Confidence Index shows 39% of workers across the U.S. expect their company policies to support flexible work post-pandemic.
Building a community at the workplace is not one-size-fits-all. Just like that perfect pair of jeans, every employee wants to feel that unique fit. Talking directly with employees then understanding and responding to their specific needs is the best foot forward for companies looking to innovate and grow. Your employees are already depending on you. Don’t give them a reason to depend on someone else.