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Pandemic has brought a change in the employee-employer relationship

Building organizational culture is something that Morgan Wortham, managing director at the Maryland Woman’s Business Center (WBC), knows well.

When she joined the WBC in July 2020, Wortham, like the rest of the country, only had three months of working remotely under her belt, and she had to quickly figure out how to manage an 11-person team and help the nearly 3,000 female entrepreneurs who came to the WBC last year start or maintain their businesses.

Wortham got to work. She turned to Zoom to get to know her colleagues, helped them get headphones and WiFi extenders to meet their technical needs and worked to update the WBC website to make it mobile-friendly so more clients could access it.

“Having technology to communicate more regularly helped people know we were still here and ready to serve them,” Wortham said.

As workplaces shifted to telework at the beginning of the pandemic, employers had to shift with them. Now, as we adjust to the New Normal and companies debate a return to the office, members of company leadership, such as Wortham, must continue to pivot to meet the changing needs of their companies.

Since the spring of this year, employees across the country have triggered the so-called “Great Resignation” as more and more people quit their jobs because of the unique pressures of the coronavirus pandemic. These workers are seeking out higher-paying and more fulfilling roles: As technology in the pandemic era made it easier to connect from anywhere, workers began gravitating towards more flexible positions.

This shift in workplace culture wasn’t unforeseen, though, according to experts such as Archana Tedone, an assistant professor of industrial and organizational (IO) psychology at the University of Baltimore. The pandemic just caused it to happen sooner.

“The fact that we were pushed into this made us really think through what’s needed for employees and employers,” Tedone said. “The need for [workplace] autonomy has always been there, but different levels of autonomy may have satisfied us pre-pandemic.”

Now, as employees attempt to drive change to workplace environments by seeking out a more perfect fit, employers need to keep up. And, to Tedone, keeping up comes down to one word: “flexibility.”

The early days of the pandemic may have led to uncertainty about the days ahead, but now as workplaces are settling into fully work-from-home or hybrid settings, there’s less to be unsure about. Leadership, therefore, said Tedone, needs to both listen to its employees and be accommodating where it can.

“For business leaders to acknowledge that employee preferences change as needs and circumstances change is really important,” Tedone said.

This also applies to essential employees who have been working in person throughout the pandemic. While nurses or other health care workers may not have as much autonomy to choose where they complete their work, Tedone emphasized the need for flexibility regarding the time and length of both shifts and breaks to prevent burnout.

Workplace flexibility often starts when employees feel comfortable advocating for themselves with leadership, but Nikita Arun suggests employers should take this step to preemptively reach out to employees to see what they need.

“I would encourage organizations to not be afraid to collect data,” said Arun, the program director and faculty of the Master’s of IO Psychology Program at the University of Maryland. “Without knowing you can’t take steps to make changes.”

After a company learns what its employees need, though, leadership needs to be held accountable to implement those changes, Arun said.

“One-off programs will not do it,” Arun said. “There needs to be a culture shift.”

Change within the workplace can come in the form of policies addressing stress or mental health, like implementing unrestrictive time off and allowing employees to leave work one hour early to pick up their children from school. It can also mean building in time off for mental health or offering free or low-cost subscriptions to meditation, mindfulness and counseling services.

Employers who meet their employees’ needs and trust them to get their work done, said Arun, actually have more productive workplace cultures and recruit better employees.

“Organizational culture is really important for employers to focus on,” Arun said. “It’s really important to provide a place where employees can be engaged in the company.”

Women Who Lead This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.

One comment

  1. Thank you for bringing up this important topic. Indeed, business management in a pandemic has a very fine line. On the one hand, the efficiency of many employees decreases when they switch to remote work mode. On the other hand, as you said above, employees feel strong psychological pressure due to changes that are dictated by quarantine measures. Finding and maintaining balance is a vital leadership challenge in our time.