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The New World of Work: It’s Not About the Place — It’s About the Process

Jason Diamond Arnold

December 17, 2020

Employees’ stress and disengagement are exploding after nearly a year of dealing with a pandemic, social isolation, political unrest, school disruptions, working from home while homeschooling, and more. Add to those anxious moments the threat of layoffs caused by the economic disruptions from lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, and we have the elements of one of the most significant periods of employee burnout since the dawn of knowledge work.

Next year will challenge organizations around the globe to step up and deal with the fallout caused by the last year of unrest and upheaval, not to mention executing their strategies during these tumultuous crises.

Old Problem, New Circumstances

Many organizations had already been wrestling with burnout through engagement and retention activities at the onset of 2020. Now the importance of these issues is laid bare.

A January 2020 HR Exchange article noted that employee burnout had increased so much in the early 21st century that the World Health Organization (WHO) had officially reclassified employee burnout out as a disease. The WHO describes employee burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”  

If employee burnout was already an issue, the added stress caused by the collateral damage of COVID-19 has increased employee burnout by 33% beyond the alarming 2018 and 2019 numbers, according to a recent LinkedIn article that cites research from its Glint Platform.

New Circumstances Require New Thinking

Organizations need to explore and implement work solutions that ensure the psychological safety and needs of employees are met on a regular basis. We can no longer treat the psychological needs of the people executing organizational strategy as a nice-to-have — it is a must-have.

Leaders at every level of an organization need to take responsibility for meeting people where they are, not only physically but also psychologically. This means executives need to be as serious about engagement and retention as they are executing strategy and hitting the numbers that keep the organization on track to achieve its mission. Team leaders and managers need to engage in regular conversations about the collective and individual motivational outlooks and skills of the people they are leading. And individuals need to effectively lead up and clearly communicate their needs to team leaders and team members.

Inspire Engagement and Development Through Performance 

Traditional models of performance are no longer effective in the new reality. Performance agreements, performance periods, and performance reviews can no longer be boxed in by a set of dates, punched in and out on a clock, or be expected to happen in a face-to-face setting.

Performance can no longer only be about productivity: “What did you get done during a certain period of time?” It also must address employees’ needs to develop and master skills, collaborate effectively with others, and have a sense of control over the objectives they pursue. More importantly, they need to be trusted on how and when they pursue the outcomes they’re attempting to achieve.

Performance conversations should be centered on an individual’s or team’s motivation and ability to achieve the objective they’re pursuing, as well as the progress they’re making toward that objective.

Evolving From a Workplace to a Workprocess 

Today’s work is no longer a place, but a process that happens whenever and wherever the employees find themselves working on the things that matter most to their team and their organization.

Organizations need to find more effective approaches to executing strategy without suffering from high burnout and turnover of their workforce. We need to develop a more effective language and practices through various performance, project, and collaboration software and systems that ensure every employee has a voice and the safety to express their performance and personal needs.

In 2021, adopt a performance process that engages the psychological needs of individuals and teams, while executing strategy through the technology that you already use. Finally meet your employees wherever they are, both physically and psychologically.