It is a brand-new work world, and we’re all living in it. Microsoft’s annual Work Trend Report Index focuses on the rise of hybrid work for 2022. With plenty of insights and statistics to review, here are a few of the most important takeaways for HR professionals to navigate these new challenges.
Understand Employees’ New Priorities
HR professionals need to understand, first and foremost, that employee “calculus” has changed. Priorities are simply different than they used to be, and HR can play a major role in helping to create a corporate culture that supports those priorities while encouraging the same professional excellence – or even more – than before.
Microsoft’s study revealed that 53% of employees are more likely to prioritize their health and well-being over work than they did before, and 47% say the same about their family and personal life. Surveyed employees also revealed the top five reasons they left their jobs:
- personal wellbeing or mental health (24%)
- work-life balance (24%)
- risk of getting COVID-19 (21%)
- lack of confidence in senior management/ leadership (21%)
- lack of flexible work hours or location (21%)
Younger employees (that is, Millennial and Gen Z employees) are even more likely to be prioritizing these factors – and they’re willing to change jobs to meet those needs. Surveyed employees noted five factors that they considered “very important” for their employers to provide: positive culture (46%), mental health and wellbeing benefits (42%), a sense of purpose or meaning (40%), flexible work hours (38%), and more than the standard two weeks of annual paid vacation time (36%).
In short, HR professionals need to have a genuine understanding of what employees want, and they need to be prepared to help their company address those things.
HR Can Bridge Between Leadership and Employees
During times of change, managers may find themselves in a challenging position between senior leadership and day-to-day employees. According to Microsoft’s research, 54% of managers say that leadership is out of touch with employees, and 74% don’t feel empowered to make changes for their teams.
A strong HR team can serve as a bridge to help managers by providing resources, support, and communication assistance. These team leaders have spent the past couple of years under immense pressure from every direction, and the challenges are continuing to evolve as new work models evolve.
One major source of tension is a fundamental rift in how work should look going forward. Leadership often wants “return to office” much, much more than employees do: 50% of business leaders reported that their companies currently require or plan to require full-time, in-person work in 2022, but 52% of employees are somewhat or likely to consider going remote or hybrid this year. As companies balance these conflicting expectations, HR can play a leading role in empowering managers to deal with transitions and advocate for their employees.
Developing New Work Models
Today’s workplaces should be focusing on designing workplaces with flexibility to meet employees’ needs in an increasingly hybrid world. Hybrid work requires new norms but, according to Microsoft’s survey, only 28% of companies have created those norms. In fact, 38% of hybrid employees admit that their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the physical office.
It’s important to keep the focus on what the employees truly need and want out of these new work models, too. Hybrid workers say that they tend to not feel as included (for instance, 43% report feeling excluded in meetings), but only 27% of surveyed companies have implemented hybrid meeting etiquette to ensure everyone feels included, regardless of physical location.
HR can also play a central role in defining (and, again, communicating) the “why, when, and how” of in-office work. The flip side is working to ensure that appropriate norms are created around the very notion of “flexible” and hybrid work. According to Microsoft’s statistics, since Feb 2020, there has been a 252% increase in meeting time for the average Microsoft Teams user. There also have been 32% more chats sent, and after-hours work grew 28% (with weekend work growing 14%).
The question HR should be working to solve is: How do we build a hybrid culture without making the “flexible” concept actually feel like it is an imposition on our employee’s lives?
A Hybrid Social Workplace
Forty-three percent of leaders cite relationship-building as the greatest challenge, according to Microsoft. HR professionals can help guide the social aspects of the office into the hybrid world. This means more than just basic Zoom happy hours. Instead, HR can encourage strengthening team relationships and offering ways for people to connect and network outside of immediate team members.
That latter piece may be the key to unlocking the full social potential of hybrid setups. Microsoft’s report notes that employees with “thriving” relationships outside of their immediate team members reported being more satisfied with their employer (76% versus 57%), more fulfilled by work (79% versus 59%), and having a more positive outlook on workplace stress (40% versus 30%). Hybrid work can remove some of the physical constricts of cross-team interaction – take advantage of it!
The other group HR should be paying attention to? New employees. According to the report, employees hired since March 2020 are less likely to feel included (60% versus 64%), have weaker relationships with their direct team (51% versus 55%), and are likelier to leave in the next year (56% versus 38%). By focusing on relationships, HR can help to ensure that their top talent stays and grows long-term.
By Ruben Moreno
About the Author
After a 25-year career in Corporate Human Resources and HR Executive Search, Ruben Moreno and his two partners co-founded Blue Rock Search based on a simple but ambitious vision of creating a firm that would “Change Lives and Organizations One Relationship at a Time.” Ruben leads the Blue Rock HR Executive Search practice specializing in the identification, assessment, recruitment, and onboarding of Chief HR Officers and Chief Diversity Officers and their respective teams — inclusive of leaders in Talent Acquisition, Total Rewards, HRBP’s, Learning & OD, HR Technology, HR Operations, and HR Analytics. Ruben has helped place hundreds of HR Executives and built deep relationships within the CHRO community across multiple industry verticals. His clients consider him a trusted partner who takes the time to understand their business and add value beyond executive search.
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