Workers changed during the pandemic, and Minnesota employers must, too
When Elon Musk told Tesla employees this month to come back to the office full time or lose their jobs, most industry observers said good luck.
No matter Musk's motivations or Tesla's ability to handle that edict, most white-collar workplaces can't afford to call people back full time even if managers want to. The pandemic, like it or not, has changed many attitudes toward work in general, and the tight job market gives employees a chance to find a company that fits their values.
Microsoft released its 2022 Work Trend Index this spring. "Already, hybrid work is up seven points year-over-year (to 38%), and 53% of people are likely to consider transitioning to hybrid in the year ahead," the news release said. "One thing is clear: We're not the same people that went home to work in early 2020. The collective experience of the past two years has left a lasting imprint, fundamentally changing how we define the role of work in our lives."
In Minnesota, employers were already dealing with a tight labor market before the pandemic hit. Now, those who must go to the workplace — such as hospitality, factory and health care workers — expect to be compensated for it.
Over 50% of employees told Microsoft surveyors that they are more likely to prioritize health and well-being over work than before the pandemic.
This is especially true of Gen Z and millennial workers, the survey found. Fifty-two percent in those age groups said they are likely to consider changing employers this year, up 3 percentage points.
Yet there is still uncertainty. About half of hybrid employees said they would consider a switch to all-remote, and 57% of remote employees said they'd consider hybrid.
All this should not be surprising.
During the 2008-09 recession and its aftermath, loyalty to employers was tested or broken through successive rounds of layoffs (even if they were financially necessary). Change for those who remained became a constant.
However, the structure of home life was stable, even if the economy was not. Adults went to work, most at an office. Children went to day care or school.
In 2020, the pandemic upended that routine. Adults, if they could, started working mostly from home. Children went to school sometimes and had to stay home because of COVID-19 other times. Parents had to figure out a whole new structure of everyday life. Single adults could feel isolated.
Shortly after the coronavirus sent us home, George Floyd was killed by police. Workers pushed employers to address more societal issues as they tried to juggle home lives.
Some workers who already felt they were losing the work/life balance battle decided a change was for the best.
Most surveys taken this year indicate that the vast majority of workers want a hybrid workplace. A Robert Half survey in March showing that a majority of workers only want to return to the office for a few days at most also found that senior managers thought employees should be back every day.
Navigating the new world will take strong leadership. Managing virtually takes better communication and coordination. And convincing workers to come in will require well-planned days — not just office time for the sake of office time, with meetings still on Teams or Zoom.
Culture of change
The companies on the Star Tribune's 2022 Top Workplaces list are likely to be more successful adapting to the new reality, based on survey answers.
This is the 13th year that the Star Tribune has partnered with Pennsylvania-based Energage for the program. Any company with 50 or more employees in Minnesota is eligible.
Those who raised their hands or were nominated had to agree to an employee survey — the basis for making the ranked lists or meeting the national standards set by Energage. The survey covered areas such as leadership, values, direction, communication, meaningfulness and benefits.
For 2022, 309 employers made the winners list, including the top-ranked 200 companies and another 109 that exceeded the national standard for becoming a Top Workplace, said Bob Helbig, the project manager for Energage.
Energage invited 4,246 organizations to participate. Surveys went out to 133,062 employees in the region, and 79,658 responded.
"The employee experience needs to be on the mission-critical list," said Eric Rubino, CEO of Energage, in a statement. "By giving employees a voice and showcasing an authentic culture, organizations can attract those job seekers who complement their culture. Culture drives performance."
And a culture open to change — and employee input — will be necessary to thrive going forward, if our Top Workplaces are any indication.