Brian Eagar, CEO of Tower Stone Leadership Centre
In 2021, we expected life to return to normal. We survived 2020, COVID-19 protocols were second nature, vaccines were being rolled out, and we were making plans to get our teams back into office. But the year brought far more unpredictability than expected, and with new COVID-19 variants came renewed challenges and regulations. Clearly, life was not returning to (our version of) normal any time soon.
In 2022, we can expect another year of uncertainty. Our places of work will persist to adapt, change… transform. Over the past 24 months, leaders (and many of our employees) have had to revaluate their employment; questioning how we work, where we work, and – most significantly – why we work. What initially looked like “the Great Resignation” with many people leaving their jobs, was soon reconceptualised as “the Great Re-Evaluation” with many revaluating their purpose of employment and their work-life (im-)balance.
Below are seven trends that we, as leaders, must take note of if we want to ensure that the people within our organisations continue to flourish and make a positive impact on our organisations.
Trend #1: A renewed focus on employee wellbeing
Today, employee wellbeing must be seen as an opportunity for our organisation to support our employees on a personal as well as a professional level. Over the past 24 months, the focus of employee wellbeing has shifted from improving organisational benefits to supporting the life and family experience of employees. In my work, I have found wellbeing to be key in attracting and retaining talent, with many – particularly Generation Z, the newest entrants to the job market – conveying that wellbeing programmes have a direct impact on their choice of job application and employment. HR teams will need to transform their approach – moving away from a one-size-fits-all methodology to a culture of care, which meets the needs of all employees.
Trend #2: Increasing support for a hybrid workplace model and greater flexibility
The past year has clearly demonstrated that working from anywhere is possible, but it is about owning results, regardless of where the work takes place. This means that we will need to reconsider work from home practices and create policies to promote virtual collaboration, mentoring, as well as asynchronous brainstorming. Creating virtual communities of practice for remote workers and integrating the right combination of collaboration tools is also of vital importance.
We will need to clearly define how we intend to create a fair and equitable workplace – again regardless of where our employees choose to work. The hybrid workplace model and greater flexibility therefore requires not only changes in management strategy, but changes in the way this model is communicated to our teams.
Trend #3: Skills-based hiring practices
Many people lost their jobs during the pandemic. This meant that the pool of unemployed (or potential candidates) became larger than pre-2020. This instigated an increase in self-generated employee upskilling and reskilling – with many trying to better position themselves for new job opportunities. Organisations have also recognised the significance of having access to critical skills that sit outside of the traditionally accepted skill base. An example of this is emotional intelligence. Whilst many jobs still require formal education, certification and experience, there is a move away from the traditional, linear hiring approach (where candidates are employed based on their qualification and working history) to a more skills-based approach; where employers identify specific skills and make appointments based on that.
This skills-based approach has benefits for both the employer and the employee. Some examples of these are the widening of the talent pool, and the reduction in the cost of training and onboarding. This approach also has the potential to increase diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. It is something to consider – specifically for entry-level and middle-skills jobs that (in most cases) do not specifically require a qualification and practical experience.
Trend #4: An emphasis on power skills
In 2021, we learnt the need to develop resilience and agility to respond to unpredicted changes. It also taught us the importance of proficiency in multiple technology platforms and applications. For the coming year, there will be an emphasis on specific power skills, including technology skills and digital fluency, communication across remote and/or distributed teams, emotional intelligence, cross-functional collaboration, leading through change, change management, dealing with stress and being more mindful, time management, as well as creativity. The need for upskilling employees is inevitable and we, as leaders, play an integral part in setting this trend not only to the benefit of our employees, but for our organisations as well.
Trend #5: The Demand for a new value-proposition from working parents
Many families have been disrupted by schools closing, and parents have been compelled to work from home whilst simultaneously ensuring that learning still takes place. There is also an increased possibility that working parents will have left their jobs over the past two years (versus their non-parent counterparts). Exhaustion from the pressure of working from home while balancing home and childcare responsibilities has led to many employees revaluating their work-life balance. For us to hold on to our talent, we will need to invest in ways of working while keeping childcare, expanded parental leave, flexibility and the hybrid workplace model into account.
Trend #6: The importance of the Chief Human Resources Officer(CHRO)
At the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 was seen as a healthcare issue. It was, however, soon recognised as a complex business and people issue that needs strategic intervention. Queue the CHRO – a strategic leader, who is able to lead with empathy and understand what is important to the different segments of workers. The CHRO must be recognised as a vital part of the C-suite and supported in their efforts to ensure employee wellbeing and developing fair and equitable workplaces.
Trend #7: The redefinition of fairness, equity, and inclusion.
Although fairness, equity and inclusion are themes we have addressed for quite some time now, questions regarding these topics are emerging in new ways. Who has flexibility at work, and will this directive be for everyone in the organisation? What happens when employees relocate to places with a lower cost of living; should compensation be adapted? We as leaders will need to be mindful that we don’t favour those in office above those that work remotely.
According to a Harvard Business Review article, women and people of color are far more likely to choose working remotely. This, combined with a management belief that those in office are more productive, has the potential to increase gender and racial wage gaps and weaken diversity within leadership. As leaders, we must be intentional about fairness, equity and inclusion to ensure that all our employees have the same opportunities for growth within our organisations.
In conclusion, although many of these trends are not new, they have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, we have survived the greatest workplace disruption of our time and there is little evidence indicating that the disruption will wane any time soon. With a year of adaptation behind us, leaders are facing a year of transformation. Let this be an opportunity for us to recognise and embrace the uncomfortable, and to intentionally grow and transform – at least ‘til the next disruption hits.
BIOGRAPHY – BRIAN EAGAR (Founder, Group CEO of the TowerStone Leadership Centre)
From being voted the naughtiest kid most likely to fail at school, Brian Eagar found success in the information and technology sector as a young sales and marketing executive, culminating in an executive sales and strategy role for one of the Siemens businesses based in Germany.
Fuelled by his passion for inspiring leadership and empowering people, Brian founded the TowerStone Leadership Centre upon his return to South Africa in 2006.
With a purpose of inspiring fulfilment in the workplace, Brian facilitates a variety of custom- made engaging and impactful workshops and programmes, on topics such as leadership, organisational culture, diversity and inclusion, and achieving high-performing teams. With an accumulated 15 years of experience, Brian has also worked with the following clients in coaching their leaders and executives to build a values-driven culture for sustainable success
- ArcelorMittal South Africa
- The BiovacInstitute
- Curo FundServices
- Harmony Gold
- Pick nPay
- The South African MintCompany
Eagar’s personal philosophy is: “To consciously lead, to be a model example, and to let go of the old to inspire the new, is one of the toughest aspects of a personal life journey. I am driven by the need to serve and inspire others”.