First, I want to give credit to Emily Price who originally wrote this post. We at CoCulture believe in a team approach and Emily is a trusted advisor to us. We highly encourage you to check out her website and instagram to learn more about her and the impact she's had on so many.

Recently Jessie and I were chatting about a conversation she had with her 99-year-old grandmother, Else Lou. After telling her about workplace culture and the type of work we do, she said, “that’s nice, back in the day we were just thankful to have jobs so we could afford to live and eat.”

In the ’20s and ’30s, top priorities centered around safety and security. Most people were worried about getting their basic needs met.

From 1918-1920 the Spanish flu epidemic killed at least 50 million people (CDC, 2018). Then the Great Depression began in 1929 with global unemployment hitting nearly 25% and the global GDP dropping roughly 27% (Britannica, ND). The country and the world economy collapsed. Since that time, society has continued to evolve revealing new priorities. Many companies are not merely providing jobs so people can afford to live and eat, but providing meaningful work so people and organizations can grow, flourish, and be successful.

There has even been a shift in priorities due to the recent pandemic. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the workforce management trends pre and post coronavirus.

Before COVID hit, the majority of companies were focusing on:

  • Self-actualization (personal growth and self-fulfillment)
  • Performance management
  • Maximizing individual’s strengths
  • Employee engagement
  • Values and purpose alignment
  • Culture-driven initiatives

The common thread here is that many of these areas of work, especially for US-based companies, center around the top portion of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Some might say that because we are accustomed to having our basic needs met, we operate at a higher level of consciousness. If we’re not careful, this can leave us blindly focusing in one direction and perhaps taking for granted the foundational components of humanity such as safety and belonging.

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The Coronavirus has shifted the focus for organizations and business leaders. There is a glaring opportunity in our current environment reprioritize the base of the pyramid; specifically the elements below self-actualization and esteem.

It’s time to take inventory of traditional talent optimization, wellbeing, and training programs and re-imagine the future of work.

Based on industry research and emerging trends, we believe organizations need to be considering the following, especially post COVID-19:

  • Psychologically Safety and Trust (Belonging)
  • Self Management and Personal Development
  • Diversity and Inclusion (Belonging)
  • Resilience and Trauma-Informed Workplaces (Belonging, Safety and Security)
  • Total Wellbeing (Belonging, Safety and Security)
  • Emotional Intelligence (even more)

Psychological Safety and Trust - Trust and psychological safety are vital for team success. This has become even more clear as employees seek to navigate the change and uncertainty of our present times. As stated by Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, “psychological safety is a team’s shared belief that the team is not only safe for interpersonal risk-taking” but also team members are comfortable being themselves. (Edmonson, 1999). Team members with psychological safety are more likely to take moderate risks, openly voice opinions, creatively express themselves, and will stick their necks out without fear of having it cut off. Leadership teams that intentionally invest in building trust and psychological safety will then create a more open-minded and resilient workforce in return. Both the individuals and the organization win.

Self management/ Personal Development - The distance-economy is offering up incentives for businesses to evolve and become more technologically advanced. This has and will require an increased demand for high-impact leaders who have capacity and skills to manage remote teams. It is also requiring that individuals self-manage and tap into their full potential by setting their own schedule and establishing healthy rhythms to manage time and tasks effectively. Creating pathways for team members to fully utilize technological systems to manage client workflow, projects, and processes is becoming increasingly important. Cultivating high-impact teams will involve coaching employees to know when and how to take initiative, and be accountable for their work while maintaining healthy boundaries.

Diversity and inclusion- Organizations will be distinguished by how they “walk-the-walk” when it comes to diversity and inclusion. It is not enough to offer training or hire a more diverse staff. Companies that seek to truly prepare for the future of work will formally integrate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts into their business strategy and consider all the facets of diversity- ethnicity, age, gender, race, belief system- in doing so. The data on diversity is clear. Diverse teams are more innovative and objective in decision making, and their performance supersedes that of homogeneous teams (Harvard Business Review, 2016). Companies that leverage this knowledge will authentically create team environments where everyone is heard and valued.

Resilience and Trauma-Informed Workplaces- Building up critical workforce capabilities may involve supporting employees with resilience and trauma-informed-training to help de-stigmatize mental illness and more actively support employees in reaching their full potential. As stated by McKinsey and Company in a recent article about re-emerging from COVID-19. “Companies can’t be resilient if their workforces aren’t.” It is important for companies to incorporate resilience training into their professional development programs and help equip team members with strategies to overcome obstacles.

The disruption of COVID-19 has been far-reaching. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 70% of adults in the US have experienced trauma (NCBH, 2020). Recent economic and societal disruptions have likely increased levels of chronic stress and exacerbated existing mental-health issues. Even just using the word “trauma” in the work context makes people uncomfortable. Although it is not often expressed, trauma has a direct impact on the workforce. For example, “lost productivity from violence accounted for $64.4 billion annually, with another $5.6 billion spent in medical care” (NCBH, 2020). For organizations to truly evolve and emerge stronger as a result of the pandemic, they must work to make the word “trauma” less uncomfortable by adopting trauma-informed workforce strategies that prioritize the health, wellbeing, and safety of all employees.

Total Wellbeing - A future of work report by Gartner suggests that post COVID-19, employers will play a larger role in employee’s financial, emotional, and physical wellbeing. As we have clearly come to see “the employee experience extends beyond a physical location” (Gartner, 2020). Employees are constantly juggling personal and professional demands- which has always been the case; now employers have the chance to reset their human performance strategies and be flexible in supporting employee’s overall health and wellbeing. Altering hours of operation or accommodating for childcare, extending sick leave benefits, and continuing to offer work-from-home options are a few of the emerging trends that we hope will continue.

It is worth noting that managers account for at least 70% of employees’ wellbeing and engagement scores (Gallup, 2015). There is a huge opportunity for organizations to equip frontline managers to respond to employee’s unique challenges. Safety within teams is led first and foremost by managers. Therefore, supporting managers with emotional intelligence, resilience, and trauma-informed training is the first step to enhancing employee wellbeing.

Emotional Intelligence - Generally speaking, emotional intelligence involves knowing and effectively managing one's emotions. With stress levels at their highest and poorly equipped teams, it is evident that emotional intelligence is perhaps the most underdeveloped skill set impacting organizations (say nothing of external relationships). Emotional conflicts are rampant in the workplace and oftentimes unspoken issues perpetuate for far too long. In order to establish and preserve the cultural integrity of teams and organizations, team members must learn how to navigate their own emotions. Facilitated and personalized coaching can support individuals in managing the inevitable challenges they face at work, while simultaneously boosting overall wellbeing and helping improve interpersonal relationships. Employee Assistance Programs are a valuable tool that many employers are already paying for, yet they are sadly often overlooked. They can even be looked down upon. Making these programs more approachable and accessible could help address this unique workforce challenge.

In Conclusion

COVID-19 has continued to reveal what workforce experts have been talking about for many years. If employees are not experiencing psychological safety, and do not feel a sense of belonging, how can they be expected to perform at high levels? If employees are facing trauma either at-work or at-home, how can they grow their capacity to serve their organization or be fulfilled?

We believe it’s important to consider how all the elements of Maslow’s hierarchy are equally valuable as we re-orient towards the future of work. Rather than a pyramid, perhaps we can view them as interconnected. Although organization’s will find it challenging, it is essential for companies and leaders to learn how to toggle back and forth between these elements if they want to consciously lead their workforce into the next evolution of business.

What does this mean for you and your business?

  • Investing in training and development will be essential if businesses want to navigate this crisis and come out on top. Now is the time to double-down on this commitment in order to re-skill your workforce.
  • Creating diverse and psychologically safe teams is a prerequisite to optimal team performance and innovation.
  • Placing equal value on all the dimensions of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will set apart those organizations who want to excel post COVID-19.