Covid-19 is likely to transform three features of our work lives: job satisfaction, ethical leadership and trust
In only a few months the novel Covid-19 has impacted every sector of the world. The world of work is being highly affected by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Around half of the world's population is under lockdown to curb the Covid-19 spread. This has had a profound impact on the world of work, as well as on our daily lives. As the shutdown halted every activity, many experts around the world are closely investigating the effects of the pandemic.
Adam Grant, a professor of Management and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School discussed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world of work in an Economist article.
According to Adam Grant, the experiences from past recessions and crises suggest that Covid-19 is likely to transform three features of our work lives: job satisfaction, ethical leadership and trust. The changes to where we work – such as work-from-home - are only a small part of the story.
Grant starts of by pointing out that the pandemic will impact attitudes towards work – simply put, employees will be far more satisfied with small gains.
It turns out the higher the unemployment rate when we enter the workforce, the more satisfied we end up being with our jobs—even ten to 15 years later, according to multiple studies.
According to three studies, well-educated graduates who entered the workforce during economic downturns were more satisfied with their current jobs than those who entered during more prosperous economic times.
One of those studies showed, "People who entered the workforce in bad economies were less likely to entertain upward. They think about how they might have done better, and more likely to feel grateful for their jobs."
"Heightened gratitude is good news for job satisfaction but potentially bad news for job quality," according to Grant. This could lead bosses to take advantage of those willing to tolerate low pay, poor conditions. It is true that some people will find their work imbued with new meaning. From grocery shops to Lysol factories, people see how much worse-off communities would be without them."
The behaviour of managers and leadership will be changed, says Grant.
"This is the time when managers need to be flexible and compassionate, and to give people the freedom to make choices about when they work, how they work, where they work and with whom they work," Adam Grant said.
During times of stress, humans often revert to their basic instincts. Many companies dumped their employees without a second thought. When companies want to hire again, they are likely to have hard time and not just in attracting talent. Firms that are quick to slash jobs tend to perform worse than those that find alternatives such as pay cuts.
Layoffs reduce costs, but they also hurt productivity and innovation as people with valuable skills are sent packing. Those who remain are distracted by survivor's guilt, anxiety and searching for more secure jobs, according to Adam Grant.
The Covid-19 crisis may inspire a movement towards more ethical, compassionate leadership. Employees will demand it, Grant said.
Labour-market pressures are not the only reason why the next generation of leaders may be more caring. In a study of more than 2,000 chief executives of public companies, it was discovered that those who entered adulthood when the unemployment rate was higher overpaid themselves less.
Moreover, surviving tough times appears to reduce narcissism and feelings of entitlement—at least among men. If this pattern holds in the coming decades, we can expect leaders to have a stronger sense of noblesse oblige.
The role of leadership leads to a third trend: The importance of trust. The level of trust that we feel towards our colleagues and our companies is likely to become more extreme—in both directions, says Adam Grant.
On the one hand, the teams and firms that stuck together during the crisis should be even tighter-knit on the other side of it. As an example: Research suggests that veterans of the World War II who lost close friends in battle were more likely to maintain strong bonds four decades later.
On the other hand, we've seen too many managers respond to Covid-19 with distrust. Some companies are monitoring keystrokes and tracking behaviour as people work remotely. "We don't need micromanagers; we need 'macromanagers' who create clarity amid chaos with meaningful goals and purposeful roles," according to Grant.
Surveillance does not just undermine employee loyalty; it can actually make managers more suspicious. Given the pandemic, employers may impose mandatory coronavirus tests in the same way that they require badges to be worn in the office. Employees may appreciate the workplace protection, but the tracking has to be handled carefully, according to Grant.
Amid the outbreak, many people have realised that you don't need a workplace to work. Some may give up on employers altogether and decide that they don't have to belong to an organisation at all. Instead, they can belong to an occupation. They will rent out their skills to the highest bidder or the most meaningful mission. This is how professional-services firms operate.
Instead of going fully remote, companies might start by experimenting with one or two remote days a week. Because research suggests that if people aren't in the office at least half the week, relationships with fellow workers suffer, as does collaboration. Even, there is also evidence that a lack of personal interaction can hurt employees' odds of being promoted.
If more of us end up working remotely after the pandemic, there is one change that could make work better: ending the misalignment between the school day and the work day. Some propose making school days longer, but Adam Grant supports shorter work days.
During Covid-19, the working day seems to have expanded: by two hours in Britain, France and Spain, and three hours longer in the United States. "Take it from someone who studies work for a living: we can be every bit as creative and productive in six focused hours a day as in twice as many distracted hours," he writes.
According to Adam Grant, a shorter work day would be a healthy legacy of Covid-19.