Issue 20

Growing Pains: The Dynamics of Workplace Culture in 2022

Over the last two years, global unemployment has dropped to over 200 million. Adapting to the pandemic became extremely strenuous for employees who began to report low work satisfaction. This ultimately resulted in a phenomenon termed  the ‘Great resignation,’where attrition rates shot up globally. A recent Linkedin survey revealed that 82% of the people are choosing to change their job, and retaining employees is tougher than before. 

As organizations began adapting to working from home environments , what a ‘regular workday’ entailed began to evolve, right from employee training, recruitment strategy, to the workplace culture. With the Great resignation spreading across industries in India, particularly the IT sector, CEOs and human resources departments have changed their hiring practices. The question of  how to make the organization employee-centric and appealing is on every company’s mind.  While policies and plans change in an instant, how long will it take for a change in mindset?

The temporary shift to a hybrid and flexible workplace is seemingly here to stay. A Harvard Business School survey report shows around 81% of employees are still skeptical about returning to work full time, opting for a hybrid mode instead. Retaining and applying for jobs is now to a large extent based on the quality of organizational support. Employees are in constant exchanges with their workplaces, and hold certain expectations about the security, compensation and support they will receive. Mental and physical health, as well as reasonable work hours have gained top priority, with the current generation looking to seek true meaning, power, and responsibility from their work in an attempt to make a real difference. 

Globally, organizations have often lent support to their employees via schemes and benefits While monetary and technological support in the form of insurance, equipment,  and setups was standard procedure, employees now also demand health and well-being enablement. Work from home while initially providing employees the comfort of  working from one’s bedroom, eventually caused them to be overworked, by surpassing healthy work hours. Burnout has become increasingly common. A certain disconnect from organizations and colleagues arose among large sections of the working population.

However, the employees weren’t the only ones struggling. Hiring strikes and financial lows made the inflow of new talent scarce,  and a cut in paychecks became inevitable. These dreadful circumstances called for a global change in policies. Refined policies accounted for a shift in focus, by being supportive and adapting to accommodate individual employees’ varying needs. Firms began to steer away from applying a blanket solution approach to situations and became more personal.

The newly adopted policies became increasingly relevant as with the ceasing lockdowns in sight, employment is forecasted to  rise by about 31%, being facilitated by CEOs who are looking to hire tech savvy freshers and employees at every level. Diversity is now embedded in the organizational language and culture. A Levers report showed how diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)  policies are being revamped, by reducing the bias in hiring procedures and implementing fair promotional policies and compensation. Furthermore globally firms have initiated diversity awareness, management and professional growth programs, to account for differences in gender, sexual orietntation, ethnicity and more.

Certain trends have begun to be eminent in workplaces. Maintaining transparency and better recognition of employees has come to the forefront. Candidates today have voiced a preference for places that make them ‘feel good’, appearing to value it over brand name and salary.The last two years of relentless, mundane, and impersonal working days have created a need for a major morale boost, to combat the sky-rocketing attrition rate. A clear chain of communication and honest work environment has also become important to prevent internal hostility and to make the employees feel comfortable. 

Work cultures are now moving towards becoming more liberal with a core focus on giving the employees, and the firm a chance for growth and development. Firms are required to invest in both employee and technology upskilling. Upskilling opportunities help overcome redundancy in a workplace while promoting personal growth among employees. Owing to the pandemic, online platforms have made available a range of courses from Microsoft Word to Data Analytics all at our  fingertips. Training and re-training has become easier. Employees now expect their company to invest time and money into their development. Access to digital tools, software and applications which eases the working process, and creates a boost in productivity and employee satisfaction. 

The recent developments in workplaces prioritize personal and work time equally, and consequently raise questions about the role it plays in a firm’s work output. Is it possible that striving to give employees a certain quality of life impacts an organization’s quality of work? HR manager of Alkem Laboratories, Rajorishi Ganguli in an interview states how the demands of employees have migrated from work life balance to work life integration. This integration allows the employee to work and relax at their convenience without compromising on either. 

While a transformation of work culture has begun, there remains uncertainty on how organizations will navigate and monitor employee output in a hybrid setting. How will a manager ensure that the employee working from home creates an equivalent output compared to the one in office? While allowing the hybrid to take over workplaces has become the need of the hour, certain interpersonal interactions remain irreplaceable. Creating a seamless feedback chain and  employee deliverables system is becoming necessary and employee accountability is being tested everyday. 

The hybrid world comes with its own set of drawbacks, further complicating workers’ means to collaborate and communicate. With 50 percent of the employees attending meetings from home, it becomes hard to build cohesion in a team, and create a space where everyone is heard. With diminishing canteen breaks, and elevator conversations, employees’ interpersonal communication will depend purely on work based interactions, and finding innovative ways to make those fruitful.

With the shifting work culture comes several unanswered questions. While the shift has begun, there remains a need for new systems and professionals as firms tread this unchartered territory, and embracing the hybrid work culture is only the first step.

Maahira Jain is a third-year student at Ashoka University studying Psychology and Media studies. She is a movie buff and is extremely passionate about writing and traveling.

Picture Credits: Getty Images

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organization, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 11

To Have Loved and Lost

Trigger Warning: mentions of death, mental health issues

“Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.”  

Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

Death is inevitable. Ultimate. Irreversible. As the fundamental truth of life, we are bound to encounter death. Unfortunately, to grieve is a matter of privilege; to allow yourself the time to break down and build back up again is a luxury not many can afford. In the past, people have returned to the workplace after demises, pushing against the inner storm of despair. Barring the few designated days of mourning, grief never became a strong reason for seeking paid leave, thereby, forcing employees to resume work within days of such life-altering tragedies. 

New Zealand recently became the second country to implement miscarriage bereavement laws — granting women and men the right to paid leave after miscarriages and stillbirths. India already had a similar legislation in place that entitled women to a six-week paid leave under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, in such cases. These governments have recognised the soul-crushing pain experienced by parents by passing such legislation. Hence, these acts are symbols of our humanity; our understanding of life and loss. 

While they are certainly socially evolved and humane, given their intrinsic link to the labour market, these laws provoke questions about their economic impacts. The impact of grief on productivity and employment raises some important questions: What are the economic consequences of paid leaves? Is grief a good enough reason for granting days off work? 

Productivity Pause

Grief is more than just a fleeting emotional state — it is the source of psychological and physical stress that can range from depression to anxiety and hopelessness. In fact, a medical side effect of bereavement is an impaired immune system. Since mental and physical health are integral parts of human capital, when emotions and grief run wild, productivity takes a severe hit. 

Despite realising their inability to work, workers feel the pressures of presenteeism.  If you have ever been to work even though you did not feel up to it, you understand presenteeism. A recently studied phenomenon, it refers to employees still habitually working long hours/attending work even though they are not fully functioning well (mostly due to medical reasons and even other concerns) ultimately leading to lower productivity. Workers who are insecure about their jobs often display presenteeism.

Presenteeism is harming businesses as the illusion of efficiency prevents managers from planning better. When six  workers are on the job but two are working at reduced capacity, information asymmetry prevents the manager/owner from efficiently allocating the workload because presenteeism is not apparent. Hence, the quality of output suffers and average efficiency is dragged down. In contrast, if the unproductive workers were on leave, the reduction in team size and efficiency would be glaringly visible and the managers would be able to better plan the tasks knowing fully well that they are working with a smaller, but productive team. 

Given that long bereavement breaks are not normalised, and their medical impacts are not understood, many workers feel insecure about their job status while considering taking time off work. Hence, employees are ultimately faced with the unfair choice of either resuming work with a diminished ability to perform or quitting the labour force. 

Workers deciding to quit the labour force would imply forgoing a source of income. The absence of financial stability can further reinforce any depression or anxiety felt by the employees. They might also lose out on new skills by being out of work for long periods which, in turn, would reduce their human capital relative to the rest of the workforce. With lower human capital, their employment prospects would further decrease. These consequences for workers translate into bigger problems for the economy as unemployment leads to wastage of resources and lower economic output. 

In this lose-lose situation, data estimates the economic cost of bereavement in the UK workplaces to be nearly £23bn a year. This renders a loss in tax revenue estimated to be around £8bn a year. Behind these massive figures, the study indicates that “the majority of the economic cost arises from lost productivity in the workplace (presenteeism), rather than from time away from work.”

A viable solution? 

Neither declining productivity nor workers’ exits from the labour force are optimal cases for the economy. Therefore, a solution would include retaining workers or preventing productivity dips. By providing paid bereavement leaves, firms ensure that workers have the option of staying employed. In a way, paid leave lifts the pressure of ‘showing up’ at work and allows workers to recuperate emotionally without worrying about economic welfare and finances. Once workers do finally return to work, they are relatively more emotionally stable and will be able to perform better, preventing any problems caused by presenteeism. Paid leaves also foster a stronger attachment to the labour force with workers more committed to working and staying in employment. With a more dedicated and stronger labour force, the national output  is expected to increase. 

Understanding the merits of paid leaves, the miscarriage bereavement laws passed by the New Zealand government are a giant leap forward. They recognise the significant emotional implications of stillbirths and miscarriages — losing a child has been ‘classified as one of the most extreme stressors a human can face’ which causes the parents’ productivity to reduce to a quarter of what it was before. Most importantly, these laws standardise access to paid-leave and propagate equality. Given that all workers do not have the financial background to quit their jobs, the legislation ensures that despite varied working conditions, workers have the ability to avail the option of paid leaves. Hence, it fosters an environment of equality while prioritising workers’ welfare. 

At its core, such laws recognise that workers’ welfare need not be at odds with the economic well-being of the country. Workers are 13% more productive when they are happy. Hence, it is difficult to isolate economic growth from the emotional welfare of the workforce. By providing adequate time and opportunity for employees to process their loss, these paid leaves act as a safeguard for the interests of the workforce against the tragedies of miscarriages and stillbirths. 

Picture Perfect? 

Despite their merits, these laws come with strings attached. Paid leave is a controversial issue amongst employers since they are paying the employees for essentially no work. Some firms might prefer workers showing up at offices despite the recent deaths of loved ones. By availing paid leaves, a worker’s contribution to output is zero. By using the logic of ‘something is better than nothing,’ employers would still prefer to enforce their older methods. 

Paid leaves for parents after stillbirths or miscarriages are certainly a social issue. However, the effects of grief on productivity make it an economic issue in tandem. This gives the opportunity for inclusive legislation that can improve economic conditions and boost economic growth. The unpredictability of death makes it all the more important to recognise the various losses humankind shares and subsequently address them in legislation. Because let’s face it, for someone still reeling from the shocks of the death of their loved ones; for someone still braving that gush of grief blowing through the window in that frigid room; even a few days off work mean everything. 

Advaita Singh is a second-year student of Economics at Ashoka University. She is also the President of the Economics Society at Ashoka. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).