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Transcript: 7 Workplace Trends for 2022 // Al Lopus, Jay Bransford, BCWI

The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series

“7 Workplace Trends for 2022“

January 3, 2022

Al Lopus and Jay Bransford

Intro: Are you ready to lead your workplace in 2022? Well, listen in as we talk about the workplace trends that will impact the way you manage and experience your workplace in 2022. Listen in to see if you agree, and more importantly, if you are ready to lead for the future.

Al Lopus: Hi, I'm Al Lopus, and you're listening to the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where we help you create a flourishing workplace. The problem employers are facing today is that more of our employees are quitting than ever before. Some people are calling this the great resignation. And now with millions of open jobs, how can churches, Christian non-profits, and Christian-owned businesses face this tidal wave of resignations while attracting new, outstanding talent? And we know that having a flourishing workplace with fully engaged employees is the solution. I'll be your guide today as we talk with a thought leader about key steps that you can take to create a flourishing workplace culture.

So, now let's meet today's special guest.

Many of us are happy 2021 is over. And as we look at 2022, what can we look forward to as we lead our organizations into a new future? Even with future uncertainties, how can we lead our teams in such a way to best shepherd the flock that God has entrusted to us? For the past several years, we've outlined the trends that we project for the next year. These have become some of our most-read blogs and -downloaded podcast episodes. In fact, last January, a trend we predicted was that hybrid virtual workplaces are here to stay, and I don't think any of us expected COVID would still be such a big topic, influencing our workplaces. So this year, we look forward to answering the question, what are the seven leading trends that are likely to shape the future of our workplace and your workplace in 2022? So, let's go.

And first, I'd like to introduce and welcome back our president and chief operating officer for the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, Jay Bransford. And Jay, it's been a delight to work with you over this past year, and welcome again to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.

Jay Bransford: Thanks, Al. It's great to be back with you on the podcast, and I'm looking forward to it.

Maybe to change things up a little today, let's share today's podcast about what we've discovered as the seven leading-edge workplace trends that, really, every leader and listener needs to hear. How's that sound?

Al: That sounds great. So—

Jay: All right. Well, let me start off by asking you, Al, about the top trend. What is number one?

Al: Jay, I’d say number one is the great resignation will cause organizations to fight and attract to retain top talent. And while some of us call it the great resignation and LinkedIn calls it the great reshuffle, a Gallup survey says 48 percent of employees are really looking for a new job or actively would consider moving to a new job. And yes, people are quitting their jobs. And since April of this last year, 2021, 15 million have left their jobs, and 4.4 million quit in September alone. So we see expectations that the quit rate will continue or accelerate into 2022.

And at the same time, not only are people quitting, but, also, another driver is that there are 10.4 million open jobs that are waiting to be filled. So one thing that we want to highlight is that the great resignation is really not a pay problem, and that's a common thing that people might think. But, you know, it takes a 20 percent pay increase to move an engaged employee from one organization to another but almost nothing to move an employee that's not engaged for whatever reason. So having a great culture with engaged employees will win every day. So we believe that this is clearly a war for talent, both to attract new people and retain your best performers.

A couple of categories that we're seeing our concern areas, one is the middle-manager turnover should increase. And specifically, it's been reported that female middle managers are three times more likely to leave their job within the year. And I was just reading something the other day saying that they are the ones that are most stressed and burned out as a result of working during COVID.

Also, we believe that Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized. While this generation is the generation after the Millennials, this generation is more likely to be single, early in their careers, and it makes them even more likely to feel the impacts of isolation from working at home by themselves. They struggle with motivation at work, or even lack the financial means to create a proper workplace at home as they're starting out. So, survey respondents reported that they're more likely to struggle balancing work with life and even feel exhausted after a typical day of work when compared to older generations. So Gen Z also reported difficulties even feeling engaged or excited about working. And I can see this. They even don't feel like they're able to get a word in during meetings often enough, and that's really what they want to do is participate. So they want to bring new ideas to the table, but they can't seem to get a word in, particularly with virtual video conferencing.

So we believe the anecdote for this great resignation is a great culture with engaged employees. And so if employees have an emotional connection to their work and organization, which is how we define engagement, the chances improve that they will stay and contribute to their organization's mission. So organizations demonstrating their commitment to employees now will be viewed as top-tier employers and will have a leg up on attracting and retaining top talent. And that's what I hope for every listener, every leader that's listening to this podcast, that your organization will be seen as a top-tier employer, able to attract and retain top talent. So Jay, that's number one. The great resignation will cause organizations to fight to attract and retain their top talent in 2022.

So, okay, Jay, what do you say is the second trend for 2022?

Jay: That's all great, Al. Thank you.

You know, the second workplace trend that we're seeing is that a focus on employee compensation and well-being will be key issues for leaders to solve in 2022. And as we look at BCWI’s database, full of workplace-culture data from over the years, one theme that pops out is that issues related to employee compensation and well-being are clearly increasing. Now, our Survey questions about people's satisfaction with compensation and about medical plans and paid time off and even retirement plans, as well as our Survey question about people's level of work-life balance are still below the pre-COVID levels right now.

And we're really seeing several factors that seem to be driving this trend. So, there's obviously a very tight labor market right now, and we've all felt it, right? It's evident in many of the companies and stores that we all frequent. There are far fewer people in the workforce than before COVID, and it has disrupted the supply chain, not just of products on the shelves, but of workers. So, Al, companies across the board, including some of the huge names out there, like Amazon and Costco and Walmart, are all increasing their salaries in a bid to attract workers. And large technology companies are even offering larger stock-compensation levels to attract the best talent.

So you might be wondering if there's anything driving the need to increase salaries beyond the fact that we're experiencing a labor shortage, and the answer is yes. We obviously and absolutely have the challenge of an increasing cost of living. Last month, the annualized inflation rate in the U.S. 6.2 percent, which is the highest in years. Housing costs have also increased, 18.6 percent in the past year, which is the strongest year-long growth in the history of the Case-Shiller Index. We're also seeing increasing gaps between industry and nonprofit compensation as corporations increase their entry-level pay. And this can put a real strain on the not-for-profits as they struggle in knowing how to respond to these growing wage gaps.

And then, of course, we also have a real impact from the pandemic on people's mental health, which increases pressure and demand and need for paid time off and for medical coverage and even retirement planning. So in the year ahead, leaders are really going to need to address and consider raising compensation and benefits for their staff, and, of course, consider the impact that that may have on their financial models.

And I'll add another factoid, Al. That new research from Oracle finds that 88 percent of workers feel that the meaning of success has changed, and they're now prioritizing their work-life balance, their mental health and having a meaningful job over having a steady paycheck. And that's why in 2022 many people are no longer going to tolerate companies that treat them poorly, and they're going to hold their employees and their employers to a higher standard than ever before.

Now, some people are saying that the continued high levels of productivity we're seeing in people is masking an exhausted workforce. The digital intensity of workers’ days has increased substantially, with the average number of online meetings and chats steadily increasing during the pandemic. For example, over the past year, according to Microsoft, video conference meetings have more than doubled. No shocker there. Average meeting times are 10 minutes longer. The number of emails that were sent to commercial and education customers rose by 40.6 billion compared to the same month last year. And there’s a 66 percent increase in the number of people working on electronic documents. So workers are feeling the pressure to keep up with this increased digital workload, and it has impacted their emotional health and well-being.

So, Al, that was a mouthful on the topic of compensation and employee well-being, so let's move on. What do you see is our third workplace trend for 2022?

Al: Yeah, Jay, number three is the skills of the front-line manager will become increasingly more critical to organization effectiveness. And again, this is based on our research. You just quoted a trend based on our research. Here's another one, and that is that our research shows that front-line manager skills and the impact on employees are still below pre-COVID levels. The old Marcus Buckingham quote is proving to be even more true and more accurate, that people join organizations and leave managers. And that's going to cause us to focus on both the hard and soft skills of managers because they're lagging pre-pandemic levels as workplaces have started to open up since March of 2021. And we've done the analysis of what levels were pre-pandemic and then during the closed period and then this period after March 2021, where we're seeing a partial reopening.

So, what are employees experiencing less of than before, based on our research? Well, here we go. And again, these are all related to manager effectiveness. The first thing, and we see the biggest gap, is recognition for doing a good job. You know, employees are experiencing far less recognition now than before COVID. And this is both an organization responsibility as well as a manager's responsibility. And recognition, as you know, is a key way to inspire a person to stay with an organization. So that's the first thing.

The second is, another improvement opportunity, is frequency and timeliness of progress reviews. And so what we found in this COVID, and even the opening up COVID, situation is that organizations have not gotten back to completing their progress reviews to give people feedback as much as they had before COVID. So this is another factor.

Also, our data shows, and another outcome of remote work, is the sense that managers care less about their employees as people. And again, this really gets at that connection between the employee and the manager. And, of course, during COVID and remote work, it's that manager that's the conduit of their feeling towards the organization and as more and more primary contact.

Also, we've seen, and this is showing, that personal opportunities for development and for an employee to have a chance to learn and grow in the job, well, that's down, and it also depends a lot on the front-line manager. So research shows us that 70 percent of development is on the job and directed from a front-line manager, and so certainly remote work has hampered these opportunities for many employees. As we've rediscovered during COVID, it's the front-line manager that is the key link between the employee and the organization. A strong connection is at the heart of retention.

Regular one-on-one meetings are key. And we mentioned that last year in our trends as a key idea. Yes, weekly or biweekly one on ones with each employee is an important practice.

So, Jay, that's number three. Based on our research, the skills of the front-line manager will become increasingly more critical to organization effectiveness.

I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.

Female: As we come through the COVID-19 crisis, leaders everywhere are asking, how do we understand the tensions our employees are experiencing coming back to work? How do we keep our employees engaged, hold on to our best talent, and position ourselves to thrive as an organization going forward? If you're looking for a way forward, the Best Christian Workplaces Institute can guide you onto the road to a flourishing workplace.

The first step to begin the journey is our well-known Employee Engagement Survey. This proven online tool pinpoints where your organization is already strong and where you can improve your employees’ workplace experience, resulting in more productive people. That's right. You'll have more engaged, productive, and fulfilled people. Time-consuming guesswork won't get you there. Instead, let us help you with a fact-based, hope-inspiring action plan that only our Employee Engagement Survey and skillful coaching can provide. Sign up now to begin the journey to build a flourishing workplace culture and a thriving organization. Find out more at bcwinstitute.org.

Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.

Okay, Jay, so you think that this year everything is going to return to normal and everybody will go back to work every day in their office? What's trend number four?

Jay: That's a great one, Al. Well, yeah. So, Al, our fourth workplace trend relates to where people will be working, whether at home or at an office. And we're seeing that a hybrid approach, or a remote-first approach, is likely to be adopted by many organizations. Now, while many leaders would like to have their employees back at the office and have everyone work at work, the trend is going to continue toward a hybrid or a remote-first approach.

And here's an example. Last fall, a large communications company, with offices in the Seattle area, asked for their employees to return to the office. They, then, abruptly stopped that return-to-work policy after several of their best performers resigned. Even as many ministries hoped to transition to a hybrid model in 2021, the emergence of the Delta variant often put office reopenings on hold.

In fact, in a recent Gallup survey, three in ten employees working remotely said that they are extremely likely to seek another job if their company eliminates their ability to work remotely. That's three in ten people who work remotely said that. In fact, research from WeWork found that 79 percent of the C-suite will now let their employees split their time between offices and remote working if their job allows for it.

So, organizations that have already announced plans to adopt a hybrid approach include places like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Citigroup, and many others. Meanwhile, we have companies like Twitter and Dropbox and Amazon who are taking a fully remote approach and allowing their corporate employees to work from home indefinitely.

So, you might be wondering, how many employees actually work from home now? Well, the data showing that 45 percent of full-time U.S. employees worked from home either all or part of the time in September of 2021. And these numbers have held steady, indicating more-aggressive return-to-work plans are remaining on hold and will continue to do so in 2022. For white-collar jobs, it's actually two-thirds of people who have reported working from home exclusively or some of the time last September.

But, really, one thing is clear, Al. An overwhelming percentage of remote workers say that they desire the flexibility of some remote work, and in a tight labor market, employers need to be listening.

Okay. Now, Al, this trend of remote work leads into our workplace trend number five, and it relates to the impact of continued hybrid and remote-work arrangements. So what are you seeing, Al?

Al: Right. Number five, Jay, is that leaders are out of touch with employees and will increasingly rely on employee-engagement surveys and focus groups to gather input and feedback. And while, Jay, this may seem a little self-serving, but it is verified by other sources as well, and as we mentioned earlier, having a flourishing culture is the primary antidote to the great resignation. Ministries and organizations that don't seek out or listen to their employees’ feedback will struggle to retain talent at a time when workforce retention is key. They'll also miss out on ideas and innovations that will help the organization move forward in a sustainable, resilient way. So that's why in 2022, leaders will go beyond just listening to their people and their employees through engagement surveys and focus groups, but they'll be sure to translate their insights into action items, with a focus on improving organizational outcomes and improving the employee experience overall.

You know, an important note to consider is the use of an employee-engagement survey that has a proven high statistical correlation with employee engagement in your sector. So keep that in mind. And this will rule out trying to develop and administer an internal survey where you don't have the capability of doing that kind of an analysis.

So the best place to start is with an employee-engagement survey for churches and Christian non-profits. A key element of the survey should be the inclusion of a biblical worldview in the survey questions. And this is because the Christian role or the Christian culture role in the workplace is a significant factor to determine the health of the culture in those organizations. So using a survey scraped from the internet that a secular company might use will not capture that key cultural element.

Also, we recommend most churches, Christian non-profits, and Christian-owned businesses take a snapshot of their workplace culture and employee engagement at the same time each year. And we're finding that many larger companies believe that this is so important that they're conducting pulse surveys throughout the year. In fact, Microsoft surveys more than 2500 employees every day on a random-sample basis.

So once the survey is completed, we also suggest that the results be translated into an action plan and worked throughout the organization. And we recommend organizations follow an annual rhythm of first, discover; second, build; and third, grow. First, discover means leaders need to discover the current state of their organizational culture through an engagement survey, focus groups, maybe even 360 leadership development surveys. Secondly, then, is to build and to build a process of action plans based on the survey and focus-group results. This phase could include exploring current best practices and build a vision for necessary improvements and implementation that they can put into place. And then, the third is to grow. That's the effective implementation of the programs that will move the organization's culture forward towards flourishing.

We're often asked, Jay, “Do we at BCWI follow our own advice?” and the answer is a solid yes. Each year in September, we survey our staff. We follow the discover, build, and grow process.

So, another thing that I predict with certainty is the launch of our book, The Road to Flourishing: Eight Keys to Boost Employee Engagement and Well-Being. And we've studied hundreds of Christian-led organizations and discovered eight keys in companies with healthy cultures and engaged employees. We're excited to announce the book will be launched next March 8, by the publisher, and certified Best Christian Workplace, by the way, InterVarsity Press.

So, that's number five, Jay. Leaders are out of touch with employees and will increasingly rely on employee-engagement surveys and focus groups to gather employee input and feedback.

So, Jay, then, let's move forward. Tell us about our trend number six.

Jay: Al, I’m looking forward to the book coming out, by the way.

Our sixth workplace trend is seeing a continued expansion of gig workers, or what can be called contingent workers. So we're seeing that employers are going to continue to increase their use of these gig, or contingent, workers in order to help reduce costs and allow them to more easily adjust to greater staffing needs during peak seasons.

And this really suggests two things that employers need to do better to support gig work. The first is that employers are going to need to create development plans and approaches for their gig workers that allow those workers to quickly and easily onboard, as well as to quickly develop any necessary skills they may need for the job. And the second thing is that employers are going to need to design systems to evaluate the performance of these gig workers and to determine how to introduce them to relevant work teams in the organization and how to include the gig workers in key team processes.

As BCWI has grown, Al, as you know, numerous times we've used gig workers who have unique skills and strengths that we haven't had internally, and that has helped us tremendously. We've used contingent workers for several unique skills, ranging from social-media skills to administrative support, graphic arts, editing, presentation design, and technical-system support, just to name a few. So definitely see a focus on gig workers and how to support them in your organization.

So, Al, we've actually now already talked about six of our seven workplace trends in 2022. So what is the seventh and final one?

Al: Yeah. The number seven, Jay, and these aren't in any order, and this is going to be a key one as well for 2022, and that is to expand and focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many organizations have made commitments to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion and belonging, and employees are really expecting real results. And recently, I've had the opportunity to do a podcast with David Bailey, who equips and empowers leaders for reconciliation from a biblical perspective, and it was really insightful. He has developed several resources to help Christian communities become lights in the world by helping them build cultures of reconciliation, leading to stronger, diverse relationships. And he believes that reconciliation is nothing more than a discipleship process for our own spiritual formation. So how's that for integrating this into our own Christian, spiritual formation? It takes reflection and self-examination, which are, as you know, core spiritual practices. And in that conflict resolution is a basic human need. You know, we all need to figure out how to resolve conflict that always comes up between humans. Well, it's been a year and a half since the George Floyd tragedy. The diversity, equity, and inclusion focus will not and has not disappeared as a key workplace issue.

Jay: Okay, Al. I’m going to bite on that. Why don't you think that the diversity, equity, and inclusion focus will decrease, like so many other issues do over time?

Al: Well, Jay, this is not a flavor of the month or a flavor of the year. And two things come to mind right away as you ask that question. First, recently, Jeff Crosby, the new president of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, told us that books dealing with DEI are racing off the shelves. I mean, it is a key topic within the Christian community. It seems that a lot of us are reading books and other materials to help us be even more educated on this topic, and it all started in 2020. Secondly—and I know this. I've got two Millennial voters—younger generations will not let DEI fade from the workplace. We know that Millennials want to work in diverse organizations. They also want to worship in churches with diversity. Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, told us in a recent podcast that the next generation after the Millennials, Gen Z, care deeply about fairness. And for them, diversity, equity, and inclusion is a fairness issue, and if they don't see it in workplaces that they're interviewing with, they'll go to someplace where they will see it.

So, that's number seven, Jay, the expanded focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Now, Jay, that was number seven. And as you reflect on all we've talked about, is there anything you'd like to add?

Jay: Ah, thanks, Al. You know, the main thing that comes to my mind right now is the reality that life is extremely difficult to predict. You know, I can't imagine that there were many people out there who ever would have predicted the challenges and the changes that we all experienced over the last two years. And I'm also reminded that the data is one of our greatest allies and that continuously looking at current data helps us to at least understand the realities of the moment and the likelihoods of the near future, and, thus, help us as leaders determine how to rationally and wisely pave our path forward. So therefore, as leaders we have a significant responsibility to keep up with the growing trends in the world and in our markets and with our target audience or our customers and even the trends with our employees. It really is truly a never-ending learning process for leaders that we have to continue to adapt and respond to.

So, that's what's on my mind, Al. Do you have a final thought, Al, you'd like to share with our listeners?

Al: Yeah. Well, thanks, Jay. That was very reflective.

You know, as we talk about the great resignation, a key point that the anecdote is, as I mentioned earlier, having a strong culture with great employee engagement. And, as we often say, highly engaged people who are emotionally connected with their job and organization will require at least a 20 percent pay increase for them to jump. And so there's an economic value right there. But now more than ever, it's important to assess the health of workplace cultures, as we said earlier. And let me just ask our listeners, how healthy is your workplace culture?

I also encourage our leaders to be sure that they have a pulse on their labor market. You know, we're seeing some changes in compensation levels and larger changes than we've seen in decades. And I'm a little concerned that our Christian-led organizations will be caught flat footed, causing more turnover and disruption and pain than really needs to be. So the solutions will take a leadership team's commitment to actively rethink your cost structures and resource allocation over this next year.

So, finally, I'd like to say thanks, Jay, for your leadership this past year at BCWI. It's been fantastic as we've experienced a great change and growth over this past year.

Jay: Thanks, Al. It’s an honor and a blessing to be able to work with this amazing team we have at BCWI. And, Al, I've also just enjoyed our conversation today. It's really just a joy to share our perspective on what these seven trends are that stand to benefit every leader and workplace culture in 2022, so thanks for including me, Al.

Al: Absolutely.

Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there's a specific insight, story, or action step you've enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.

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Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We'll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.