The New Workforce Paradigm: COVID's Aftermath

The global pandemic was the first catastrophic occurrence that affected almost everyone on the planet in some unexpected way. On the business front, terms such as “pivoting,” the “new normal” and “working from home” were on all our minds whether we liked it or not. However, a more significant shift was bubbling to the surface, with the pandemic merely being the impetus for a dire need for businesses to recognize and embrace the sweeping change necessary for employee engagement and performance. 


From confusion over where people will actually do their job to the Great Resignation, these only scratch the surface of what is really happening. Where it used to be that workers needed to accept whatever a company offered, now the tables have turned. Workers have expectations that must be met or they will go elsewhere. The workforce is now in the driver's seat. 


This article’s purpose is to share insights gained that the pandemic has revealed. Our “new normal” is that how we recruit and retain quality talent and skillsets has changed forever and will never be the same. Read that again. Change is here to stay in significant ways, and the pandemic is akin to Bette Davis’ quote in the movie All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” 


So what is it going to take to build a strong workforce now?


In conducting Emerging Leadership programs across the country entitled “Are You the Leader You Think You Are?” I have cited two all-telling statistics as an alarming call to action that seemed not to have been taken entirely seriously by business leaders … until now. 


In 2015, Dale Carnegie Institute conducted a study on employee engagement revealing that 71% of employees were not fully engaged, meaning that only 29% were fully engaged. In 2018, Dale Carnegie released a white paper entitled, Employee Engagement: It’s Time to Go ‘All In’,” citing the importance of daily engagement by leaders as the key to success. 


In 2019, a Gallup study was excited to reveal that engagement was improving, with 35% of employees being fully engaged compared to the 29% being fully engaged based on the Dale Carnegie study. Clearly, leadership in businesses was still not getting it!


My question is always this when sharing these statistics. In any academic or credentialing setting, anything below a 70% is considered failing. So, Gallup researchers think it is a great improvement that we have an engagement rate of 35%?

Business leadership is failing miserably,
and the pandemic brought this to a head.



Keep in mind, these statistics were shared well before the pandemic wreaked havoc on how people were expected to work, or chose to work, within their jobs beginning in March of 2020. 


Here are five insights the pandemic is still teaching us:



1. Hybrid, In-office, Remote, or From Home: When business stood still amidst the pandemic, and many workers were forced to work from home by government mandates, a new era of HR terminology was born with little or no policies in place to effectively manage. As the months droned on, employees working from home thought it was okay to move to another state. Other workers realized benefits of no longer having a commute.


Employers actually benefited with employees actually starting work when they would have normally started their commute, giving employers more hours, especially salaried employees. 

According to a Forbes article examining the impact of employee efficiency comparing in-office, hybrid, and remote working, a study conducted by a Forbes Business Council member analyzed data among 2288 respondents. The study initially determined that remote workers were more productive than hybrid or in-office workers. However, upon closer examination, it was also noted that remote workers worked longer hours, which also needed to be considered when measuring the productivity. Therefore, were they really more productive from an overall life balance perspective? Cited in the article was the Remote Work Paradox, which stated that remote workers were also more likely to feel lonely and have a poorer work life balance due to working more hours. 

Bottom Line Rule #27
It's not where they work; it's why they work. 

A Future of Workforce Study 2021 conducted by Accenture revealed that 83% of workers felt the hybrid work model was the most desirable. This supports the concern related to the burnout and life balance raised in the Forbes study. However, it is still new territory for businesses not equipped to effectively manage a hybrid working model. 


Another dilemma that has caused issues is related to the definitions used for “work from home” and “remote” working. Without clear language around these two scenarios, many assumptions were made by both employees and employers that posed challenges when there was an expectation to go back to work in the office. According to a Society of Human Resource Management article, the four Cs of clarification, compliance, connection, and culture are still crucial. A key area of clarity exists with defining working from home and remote working. Many policy manuals are being updated to ensure that employees working from home do not pick up and move to another state thinking they can work from anywhere. Working from home is now defined as still living within the same geographic area as the employer’s base of operations, whereas remote working does give employees the flexibility to work from any location with no geographic limitations. 


According to Michael Roloson, Director of the Charlotte, NC, office of PEO Focus, instead of being focused on where employees want to be working, employers should be asking, “What unleashes a person’s potential, enabling them to be healthy and productive, regardless of where they work?”


Momentum-Building Decision #12

When people are valued as assets,
your choices become clearer.


2. The Great Resignation: In July of 2021, an unprecedented number of Americans quit their jobs, representing over 4 million workers leaving jobs with 10.9 million open jobs needing filled.  Employees between the ages of 30 and 45 years old had the greatest increase in resignation rates. Resignations were highest in the technology and healthcare fields. With the pandemic still underway, this forced many healthcare-related businesses to scramble or turn down opportunities due to being short staffed, further impacting capacity and cash flow. Resignations were higher in fields where extreme increases in demand due to the pandemic likely led to increased workload and burnout. 


Another interesting trend occurring we have been tracking that is unrelated to the pandemic has opened several clients’ eyes to an overlooked workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the age segment experiencing the fastest growth rate in going back to work are ages 65 – 75+ years. The report went on to state that “the labor force growth rate of the 65- to 74-year-old age group is expected to be about 55 percent, and the labor force growth rate of the 75-and-older age group is expected to be about 86 percent, compared with a 5-percent increase for the labor force as a whole.” Why such a significant increase in going back to work?


My client, Lori Zeind, with LCZ Consulting shared some interesting data in her Zinsurance blog entitled, Before You Need It, from Pew Research which cited the number of people to live to 100 and beyond will grow eightfold by 2050. That’s only 28 years away!  When you take into consideration that the fastest growing employee-base sector is 65+, along with the fact that many of them are going to be nearing or over 100 by 2050, the reason they are going back to work is that they didn’t plan effectively to supplement their retirement to last until close to or over 100 years old. The answer? Part-time employment, and not just as a Walmart greeter, but where their hearts and brainpower can really make a difference.

Momentum-Building Decision #18

A diverse workforce in all facets of inclusion
is a more reliable workforce.

When I shared this trend-getting insight with client, Allwel, a New York in-home and community-based healthcare business, they quickly changed their recruiting. They shifted to appeal to the elderly population 65 years and older for part-time caregiving positions that were hard to fill because the 25-55-year-old workforce was seeking full-time and preferably 3 days with 12-hour shifts for more days off, making it seem impossible to fill part-time caregiving opportunities.


3. Cost of Being Employed: Amidst the “work from home” and “Zoom” world that office workers found themselves playing in, business attire took a back seat to sweats, jerseys, and baseball caps, minimal make up, or being half dressed. All the sudden cars were not being driven, a commute was no longer a dreaded daily occurrence, and the convenience of food delivery and technology created a new mindset of how time and money was being spent. 

For essential workers, jobs within grocery, food production, and transportation, workers became engaged in an unexpected high health risk position equivalent to healthcare and construction employment. The soaring price of gas as workers were expected to go back to the office, after saving so much on gas by not driving and working from home,, added to a renewed focus on what it was costing to be employed.


Areas employees are now scrutinizing more deeply in their employment choice decisions include:

Time to commute and get ready for work Transportation costs to/from work
Daycare / Childcare costs Parking costs
Pet care costs Clothing - work apparel costs
Coffee and/or lunch costs Health risks costs

The key takeaway from a Business News Daily article on “How Much Does It Cost You to Go to Work?” is that employees may spend tens of thousands of dollars to accommodate their work outside the home. The savings and risk realized over a 12–18-month period during the pandemic helped employees identify costs they had not fully considered before. 


Bottom Line Rule #16

The cost of "being employed" should be 
calculated in your recruiting strategy.


4. Benefits More Important Than Pay: With the Great Resignation and a closer look at the cost of being employed, you can now begin to see that benefits are going to be more important to today’s workforce in where they will work and with whom they will choose to work. Interestingly, there is a false negative (excuse the COVID pun) with many employers currently losing people to significantly higher pay.


As companies in all industries battle to fill vacant workforce slots with salaries and hourly rates sky rocketing, there is currently a belief it is all about pay. The reason I say it is a false negative is that many employers are overwhelmed with how they are losing people to much higher pay offers. However, if employers strictly focus on pay, without considering benefits, the pay carrot won’t work in the long run.


An accounting department seeking to hire a district controller learned that a candidate took another position for $50,000 higher annual pay and the ability to work remotely. It wasn’t just the pay that sealed that deal. It was the benefit perception of the desire to work more remotely for that particular candidate, who knew he could be highly productive remotely, whereas the company who lost out expected him to be in the office working.  Chances are, there were other benefits also attracting this lost candidate. It was just easier for the candidate to share the higher pay as the deal breaker. 

To get a real sense of how the new workforce is making decisions, take a look at the two charts sharing the most desirable benefits in 2017 compared to 2022.  


The bar chart below is from a 2017 Harvard Business Review article based on a study of employees. 


Below is a table sharing from #1 to #21, the most desired benefits for 2022 ranked in an article by Snack Nation based on a compilation of several studies. 

1.  Employee recognition 12. Paid sick days
2.  Personalized bucket list experiences 13. Flexible schedule (Work from home)
3.  Care & appreciation gifts 14. Employee development plans
4.  Employee discounts & rewards 15. Tuition reimbursement
5.  Wellness programs 16. Discounts to company products
6.  Work-life integration 17. Gym memberships
7.  Home office budget 18. Stock / Stock options / Equity
8.  Retirement plan / 401(k) / Pension 19. Childcare assistance
9.   Healthcare insurance 20. Commuter assistance
10. Vacations / Paid time off 21. Diversity program
11. Performance bonuses  

As you can see, five years and a pandemic has made a difference! In addition to the 21 benefits desired in the chart above, the following perks were also cited including paid parental leave, reduced prescription drug costs, and professional development as bonuses to consider.


Bottom Line Rule #10

Your corporate culture is a tangible asset. 


5. Control vs. Productivity: As the world emerges from the pandemic, leaders of companies are being forced to rethink the way they view productivity and how it is achieved.


The thinking that employees must be under your roof and control where you can watch their every move is no longer reasonable or appealing. 


An MIT Sloan Review article adeptly highlights that it is going to take an alignment of efficiency, effectiveness, and balance with our workforce moving forward through thoughtful work design. In the article, efficiency is defined with such measures as reducing office space, commuting, travel and entertainment activities, whereas effectiveness is about executing on existing goals, innovating solutions in the form of products, services and business models. Quality of life is the final consideration that must be addressed with regard to balance in an employee’s life. 


Many companies are weighing the hybrid model cost and benefits, with still more insights to be gained on what the best practices for hybrid work will be. Many companies are making efficiency gains from reduced travel and office space permanent. The key question mark right now is the ratio of virtual to in-office presence that will be the most effective. 


Momentum-Building Decision #3

Be a trend getter.


Everything shared in this blog is not just trending, it is here to stay, never to revert back to pre-pandemic practices. The sooner you “get it” the better for your business and your company’s ability to retain quality talent.


Yours in economic vitality,

P.S. I would like to thank and recognize Michael Roloson with PEO Focus, whose presentation I had the pleasure of attending in June inspired me to write this blog. 


P.S.S. Want to know all of my Bottom-Line Rules and Momentum-Building Decision Insights? Then keep reading as new ones will be revealed each month in BizGrowth 5.0!

Sherré DeMao, CGS is author of Dream Wide Awake, 50 Secrets of Growth Companies in Down Economic Times, and Me, Myself & Inc. – a Synergized World, An Energized Business, Living Your Ultimate Life, and the CEO/founder of BizGrowth Inc. an award-winning growth strategy, training, and intellectual property development firm based in Denver, NC, serving clients across the United States. Her blog seeks to help entrepreneurs build businesses with economic value, worth and preference in their industries and marketplaces. 


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