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How the Pandemic and Great Resignation are Changing Work

By Molly Brennan, Global Managing Partner and Nonprofit Practice Lead, Diversified Search Group

The pandemic has forced a rapid revolution in the way we work. Overnight, entire workforces moved to remote work, disrupting long-held workplace patterns from commuting to water cooler gossip to happy hours and in-person brainstorming sessions. Every single aspect of the way we look for jobs, interview for jobs, hire and onboard people, and build culture was reexamined and recreated over the last two years as we adjusted to the “new normal.” Then came the Great Resignation, during which millions of Americans quit their jobs, driven by a range of motives, from burnout to a desire for more meaningful work.

All these changes are still playing out, and we don’t know yet exactly what will stick and what will fade away, especially with the threat of a looming recession. But there are certain trends that speak to the future of work that are likely here to stay. Here are five of them:

Flexible work arrangements. A large segment of the American workforce has proven that remote work does, indeed, work. And many of these workers are loath to go back into the office despite increasing pressure from employers. As an executive recruiter, I’m seeing a trend among our clients of moving toward requiring more time in the office, while candidates are holding steady to the belief that that it’s just not necessary. We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in people relocating for jobs, and candidates are increasingly passing on opportunities that require giving up the ability to work from home. All of this is still in flux, but it seems clear that some form of hybrid model is likely to emerge as the new normal in the future.

Demand for purpose. People want to work for employers who share their values. Study after study show that employees want their employers to have clear values and act on them. They seek social impact and meaning through their work and aren’t afraid to move on if they aren’t finding it.

Focus on mental health and an awareness of burnout and overwork. The Great Resignation was driven, in part, by a widespread sense of burnout. Millions of people have been working under stressful conditions, rapidly adapting to new technologies, priorities, and circumstances—including remote school—as the world around us changed in ways that would have been unthinkable just five years ago. The pandemic caused many workers to evaluate their mental health and decide that work wasn’t supporting it. Younger workers, in particular, are focused on mental health. Employers who embrace their role in supporting employee health and well-being are going to be significantly more attractive to the workforce of the future.

Employee agency. Employees are using their voices—and their willingness to quit—to tell their employers what they want and how they want it. Whether it’s the growing trend of unionization at nonprofits or whistleblowers uncovering misdeeds in the tech sector, employee agency around everything from pay equity, to the public stance companies take on social issues, to how and when they work will continue to shape the workplace.

A greater focus on equity and belonging. Diversity continues to be a primary focus when it comes to hiring. Employers are doing everything they can to diversify their workforces, especially at the top levels. But the next steps in the diversity journey—equity and belonging—are beginning to emerge as key priorities. Once organizations diversify, what are they doing to ensure equity and create a culture of inclusion and belonging? These goals will shape HR and people policies now and into the future.

The companies and organizations that recognize and embrace these trends will become the employers of choice. And the ones that don’t? They are likely to see continuing turnover and significant challenges hiring top talent, no matter what happens with the economy in the future.

Originally posted on the PND Blog.

Molly Brennan is Global Managing Partner and Nonprofit Practice Lead at Diversified Search Group; and author of the 2019 report The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors. Her focus areas include leadership, retention, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.