By Navio Kwok* – Jun, 2021
As nations slowly win their battle against COVID-19, organizations are quietly losing the fight for the best talent.
With talks of the “great resignation” looming, organizational leaders may find themselves scrambling to retain their talent once the pandemic has subsided. Microsoft’s recent global survey of over 30,000 people across 31 countries revealed that 41 per cent of workers are considering leaving their current employer this year. Homing in on Canada, LifeWorks (formerly Morneau Shepell) reported that approximately one in four Canadians are considering a career change, despite their employers handling the pandemic well.
One reason for the influx of resignations is the gradual erosion of organizational culture amidst the transition to remote working for many during the pandemic. An organization’s culture is their unique ecosystem involving elements that vary in visibility – ranging from the highly observable, such as work products or services and colleague interactions, to the deeply felt DNA of an organization, which can be best described as “how we do things around here.” How this culture is perceived, experienced, and shared – by those inside and outside the organization – influences whether people enjoy working at the organization, and therefore choose to stay.
An important component of any culture is its rituals, which include social conventions spanning basic handshake greetings to larger ceremonies such as weddings. Unlike habits or routines, which are simply repetitive behaviours, rituals signify and reinforce deeper meaning – such as company values and team purpose – and serve critical social and psychological functions, including promoting group cohesion.
After over a year of remote work, the organizational meaning-imbued rituals that punctuate work experiences have been disrupted. For instance, celebrations that mark promotions or the completion of important projects no longer involve the same pomp and circumstance. Friday ‘beer o’clock’ and other informal means of colleague interaction have also disappeared. The consequence? What employees used to express as the unique flavour of their specific organization is now missing. And if that special sauce is gone, workers no longer feel glued to the same company.
If your organizational culture is fading, consider the following recommendations to reignite that spark:
Celebrate milestones collectively: Important signposts along one’s career, such as onboarding, promotions or project completions, should be celebrated – this is especially important during a pandemic, where wins may feel rare. A challenge unique to remote work is ensuring that the celebratory experience is consistent across workers – a consideration far easier to manage with everyone in the same location, looking at the same things, and eating similar food. To enhance cohesiveness during virtual celebrations, plan events well in advance such that participants bring and interact with the same items from their own spaces – be it food, drinks or activities. Better yet, mail out directly what you’d like for them to have. Who doesn’t like receiving a package in the mail? And as we head into the coveted months of Canadian summer, coupled with easing COVID restrictions, take advantage of the opportunity to hold in-person celebrations where possible to safely do so.
Enhance your organizational identity: As employees continue to work remotely, all the organizational symbols and colours that are embedded in the physical workspace remain absent. Yet prior to the pandemic, organizational leaders went to great lengths designing the workplace to market their organization internally and generate envy externally. An alternative, remote-friendly approach to enhance camaraderie is to provide functional and well-designed company gear or products that support employees or their family members. Importantly, offer items that reinforce your organizational values. For instance, Royal Bank of Canada recently gave all employees a one-year subscription to popular meditation app Headspace, in support of staff mental health and well-being.
Re-introduce the informal: Casual conversations among colleagues in the hallways, while riding elevators and between meetings are regularly occurring informal rituals that facilitate social connections across employees. Yet, with Zoom fatigue top of mind, many aim to keep virtual meetings concise by limiting informal banter. Recently published research emphasizes the importance of allowing colleagues to connect informally, as it can actually help combat video conferencing fatigue by helping people feel like a team again. To keep meetings on track, the key is to designate time on the agenda for these conversations. Alternatively, schedule separate meetings or leverage instant-messaging platforms for these informal moments. Although it may feel less organic or spontaneous than usual, something is always better than nothing.
With hybrid work arrangements an impending reality, organizations are at a critical inflection point. Your new “how we do things around here” is emerging and solidifying, and it will be incredibly difficult to change after the fact. Just look at remote working as an example – the idea was first introduced in the 1970s, and it only took 50 years and a global pandemic before more organizational leaders embraced its adoption.
Navio Kwok is the vice-president of research and marketing at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, a firm of management psychologists based in Toronto and New York that specializes in executive assessments and C-level leadership advisory. He is the Leadership Lab columnist for June, 2021.
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