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“New Normal” is an Illusion

Updated: Sep 10


Let’s not be too quick to declare we are in or headed to a “new normal” for business operations when maybe we are simply experiencing the “old normal” a couple of years on. Sure, the pandemic might have accelerated some workforce concerns, but there is substantial evidence to say we are simply experiencing today what would have happened without the pandemic. Take three points as an example.


Employee Retention

It seems that the pandemic created a significant gap in the labor force including a sharp rise of voluntary terminations. But did it really create the current situation? A January 2020 report (pre-pandemic) had the U.S. unemployment rate at 4% and it was thought “the robust job market has given employees the confidence to seek new opportunities, while employers are wrestling with rising compensation and heated competition for new hires, both salaried and hourly” (SHRM). Between 2010 and 2019 the rate of U.S. employee turnover, in general, grew 80% (Work Institute). One of the proposed ways to combat this trend was to engage a remote workforce. Just Google “remote workforce 2019” and see how many articles back then mentioned how recruiting work at home employees boosts retention.


Why it Matters: Things are not going to just “settle down” with hiring and retention. Employees signal their desire to leave your company at least 9 months before they make a move (Heartbeat). If your company is already seeing movement in its workforce, it may be a harbinger of even more profound changes to come.


Realization: Employee retention isn’t a simple matter. It is based on several sub-trends happening below the surface. For example, one prominent driver is the evolving worldwide demographic, where Generation Z is on the rise and Boomers are leaving the workforce. This evolving dynamic has broad-sweeping implications for the greater trends we see today.


Loneliness and Isolation

Before the pandemic loneliness was declared a public health crisis in the U.S. and a growing trend worldwide (Murthy). In 2019, 61% of Americans overall indicated some sense of loneliness, a 7-percentage point increase over 2018 (Cigna). One in six customer support reps indicated they “often feel lonely or isolated” at the outstart of the pandemic (5th Talent).


Why it Matters: These conditions have been proven to drive chronic stress, serious health conditions, lower productivity, and skyrocketing work-related costs. Those who feel lonely are twice as likely to quit their job (Cigna). Inclusive, in-person contact has traditionally been the most common way for people to alleviate their feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s easy to see how recent Covid restrictions and unemployment rates have increased these conditions, but they didn’t create them.


Realization: Even with a return to onsite work the best we can hope for is pre-Covid loneliness rates. We need to make substantial changes in how we engage the workforce. Because of the latent potential for meaningful work in our industry of customer care, we can (and should) play a larger role in bridging loneliness concerns. “It turns out that when we reach out and help someone else, that not only enables us to connect with another human being, but it reminds us of our value and of our purpose in life" (Murthy).


Remote Work

Everything we knew about remote work before the lockdown went out the window. Or did it? Several remote workforce research reports conducted before 2020 illuminated potential sustainability issues (see for example IUSLABOR). However, since few companies employed remote workers at scale the reports failed to make it to the mainstream consciousness.


Why it Matters: The wave of the future is to employ some form of a remote workforce at a substantially larger scale than pre-Covid. Yet, without a deliberate approach to increasing the effectiveness of the model, significant disadvantages are likely to follow. These include elongated working hours, increased interference between work and personal life, elevated levels of stress with negative consequences for employee health and well-being, and of course elevated turnover.


Realization: The position most impacted by the migration to a remote workforce has been front-line leaders who are managing across a physical gap that by and large didn’t exist previously (5th Talent). They are the key to sustaining the at-home model and instrumental in extending the culture of the company to the remote workforce.


Conclusion

Dispense with the idea that a “New Normal” is on the horizon and you will simply adjust and carry on as per two years ago. Instead, embrace the idea of an ever-evolving state of the business. The challenges you face today didn’t arise out of the pandemic. They existed before but were pushed to the surface because of it.


5th Talent is Here to Help

We have designed innovative services based on meaningful work concepts to help your company reverse turnover and engagement issues. Specifically, here is how we can help you with challenges related to the content of this article:


Onboarding Experience Mapping – reduce your 90-day attrition by understanding the level of anxiety stress faced by new employees while learning to do their job.


Excelling at Home – bolster the sustainability of your work at home model with this program based on our extensive global remote work studies and best practices.


Grind Reduction – improve employee retention and performance by identifying and eliminating stress and anxiety from your workforce.


Employee Engagement - allow your people to find more meaning in their job by shifting their mindset from providing a service to serving a person.

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