A wake-up call for corporate culture

Not long ago I was struck by an observation by the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy. He said: “The pandemic is a window of opportunity to realize that we are much more resilient, adaptable and creative than we thought. [and] this led to a rethinking of the work. Do I find purpose, do I belong, do I find fulfillment in my work, do I feel a connection to the work community? Do I really want to come back in 2019, or is there a better version of 2019 that would allow me to be happier, healthier, more fulfilled?[i]

Right now, if you’re a business leader who hasn’t accepted that there’s no going back to pre-pandemic work, you’re way behind and likely losing valuable employees to because of that. The growing number of people changing jobs is only partly about money — it’s also about meaning. When people saw that their skills were in demand, those who felt stuck in unfulfilling jobs or decaying cultures rushed for better jobs and better companies.

The phenomenon of remote work has increased the value of positive work cultures. As 2022 approaches, more than a third of employees (38.4%) told Workhuman that they want their leaders to find other ways to connect employees and leaders. Worryingly, 59% of employees we surveyed say “less human connection” makes them anxious, isolated and overwhelmed. Additionally, a fifth (22%) felt their employers could do a better job of supporting employees by creating a culture of connection.

People still want to feel connected to the workforce, and they want the benefits of a strong, supportive culture, even when working remotely. And for those who can’t work from home, like healthcare or retail workers, a positive work culture is key to surviving the stresses of COVID.

Employers who invest in a positive work environment will retain their employees because a sense of belonging makes people want to stay. Accenture recently discovered that strong social connections at work are a key resource for being both healthy and productive. When you achieve great things together with people you love and trust, when you feel appreciated, recognized and respected, a small pay raise won’t scare you away. On the contrary, progressive rewards throughout the year through programs such as social recognition keep employees engaged, so you not only increase the likelihood of retention, but you retain people who are linked to their work and their community of colleagues.

The right response to changing employee mindsets is to transform the workplace into a new community. It’s time for employers to lead with a culture of connection.

A culture of trust also encourages people to take personal risks. To cite just one emotionally charged example, white men can become allies in the search for diversity, equity and belonging because they can feel safe to say “I have to improve in this area. The culture of connection causes people to confront their own vulnerability, whether it is fear of failure or fear of losing privileges or the reality that they have made mistakes. When people do this and encounter empathy and a chance to grow, their sense of friendship for the organization grows far more than attachment to a paycheck.

If leaders attempt to return to 2019, not only will they fail, but they will also ignore the window of opportunity described by Dr. Murthy. Instead, let’s create this best version of 2019 for 2022 and beyond. Rather than reacting to the Great Quit defensively, let’s see it for what it really is: a chance to attract the most energetic and engaged employees with a culture of connection.

[i] On Being episode “Vivek Murthy and Richard Davidson – The Future of Wellness” December 2, 2021