The Way Forward: What would work-life integration look like in the post-COVID-19
CORONAVIRUS 8-months on. The pandemic has not just catalyzed a revolution in research but triggered some questions as to what workplaces might look like in the future, how consumer behaviours will be altered, or how organisations will survive in such uncertain times. These urgent questions are being debated even now, as you read this article.
But there is another important question that has emerged in the margins of these discussions, and it is one that is particularly important to many of the findings of our book, One Life, and it is one that has plenty of potential of staying in power. Has the COVID-19 global pandemic had an impact on our work-life integration? And, can the changes we explore in work-life integration policies, flexible working conditions, and teleworking practices have a long-lasting impact?
Back in 2018, we ended our book, One Life, with underscoring a number of factors to be in place for work-life integration to catch fire and drive real change in the lives of millions. In this piece, we are revisiting those factors, and how they have been changed as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Are we there yet? It is for everyone to decide, but what we are sure about is that we see the tectonic plates of the work-life landscape shifting.
Human resource managers, including work-life professionals, have been at the forefront of employers’ responses to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over this period HR needed to keep its employees safe and informed, support staff to adapt to new ways of working, and also guide organisational leadership through the crisis. Chief Human Resource Officers are not just at the heart of these conversations, but sitting “at the table” now. The COVID-19 crisis has and is going to play a serious evolution in future organisational level people policies, including work-life integration. This is going to result, most likely, in two ways: the acceleration - and acceptance - of digital transformation supporting people working from home, and the recognition that work can be done differently by different people at different locations.
Organisations took the opportunity and acted rapidly to protect employees and adopt new ways of working. Leaders from across sectors and countries will apply the lessons learnt from the large scale teleworking experiment, coupled with the swiftly assembled employee support programmes and flexible working schemes.
As employees are slowly, and carefully, migrating back to their offices, leaders have been busy ensuring that when they return workplaces are safe, and employees are provided with a variety of work-life integration supports including childcare arrangements, hybrid working solutions (flexible working arrangements), or, online training and development programmes.
In One Life, we write that it is paramount for organisations to plan and communicate about the work-life integration needs of employees in all the stages of the employee lifecycle - including attraction, recruitment, retention and separation. The COVID-19 crisis has been an unprecedented challenge for organisations in the modern world, that forced HR professionals to reinvent some of their HR practices, including the full employee lifecycle, and put emphasis on the critical touchpoints employees meet within their organisations. The bottom line is that simply better understanding and focusing on the impact of the pandemic on the full employee lifecycle, from the perspective of work-life integration, could allow companies to make sure their employees are receiving the best possible experience.
In terms of attracting the brightest employees, organisations usually rely on their unique brand, company culture or benefit schemes, but quickly needed to realize that what used to work prior to the COVID-19 crises might not deliver the same results anymore. To this, for example, flexible working has been now transformed from being a rarely or uniquely given perk to some employees, into an impactful people practice, one that is expected to make great strides well after we all have been vaccinated. To demonstrate this point, we only need to look into some of the most recent research findings that report 80% of surveyed employers planning to offer flexibility at a greater scale after the pandemic.
Let’s look at one more example from the employee lifecycle, development. Concerning the classic HR cycle, in order to keep talent, we see organisations heavily investing in skills development schemes - while focusing on providing employees with a best-fit career path. These schemes often focus on how employees can stay productive, healthy and engaged while working from home, or target safety or wellbeing standards employees need to internalize or follow.
In One Life, we write that work-life integration managers often operate under resource-poor conditions with limited access to resources. Did this tendency change as a consequence of COVID-19? Not surprisingly, organisations are now more open to provide more resources to work-life professionals, and for the programmes they conduct. For instance, a recent study found that 74% of companies have enhanced their employee assistance programmes and therefore put employee wellbeing initiatives to the front. Also, based on our conversations with a number of organisations, as well as research into the topic, there is a better understanding of people’s work-life integration needs at the workplace, and a wider openness towards targeted support initiatives. These may consist of organisations offering more resources for work-life integration programmes, including caregiving arrangements, extra leave programmes, or mental health support.
Peer support and the power of the network
In One Life, we state the importance of supportive networks as they can offer guidance and insight to professionals, who might otherwise be isolated. Next to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on societies and people at work, we observe many positive outcomes happening in the workplace. Professionals have started pulling together and supporting each other at never seen scales utilizing all available platforms from Facebook groups to Slack channels. We should not forget, people are innovative and creative craving for purpose and belonging in their lives. In One Life we refer to this phenomenon as the 4 key drivers of fundamental human needs. As we continue seeing more and more leaders stepping up, encouraging each other to share their experiences, and connect with each other, we very much hope that these rapidly built supportive networks will continue to operate after we get through the pandemic.
Accountability has to evenly spread across the organisation - we emphasize in the last chapter of One Life - for work-life integration programmes and policies to deliver on its promises. The question of accountability is a key component of every high performing organisation. It revolves around two key aspects: ownership and initiative-taking which is basically about employees stepping up and doing what is best for the organisation and its staff. To overcome hurdles during the COVID-19 pandemic we saw several organisations, often led by bottom-up initiatives, develop support and guidance in order to maintain capacity, while also protecting employees. We observed employers developing employee information guidelines and tools to provide advice on health and safety issues while working from home, or on work-life integration questions while juggling between work, care, schooling and family responsibilities. What’s more, employers have often encouraged their workforce to reach out to each other and provide support should any of them be exposed to the risk of burnout, mental fatigue or, even, domestic violence.
Meer lezen over work-life integratie?
Lees dan het boek One Life van Agnes Uhereczky en Zoltan Vadkerti.