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Is loyalty dead?  What you can expect from the workplace in a post-COVID world
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Cheryl Benadie, CEO, Whole Person Academy

The staff of Company X received a WhatsApp message late on Friday afternoon, informing them of an urgent staff meeting on Monday morning. When they arrived at work, the CEO informed them that the company had been liquidated. “There will be no salaries for this month and no severance pay. Please hand in your laptops when you leave. Thank you for your loyalty.”

This is a true story. And no, this was not a COVID-19 related forced closure.

Loyalty is a two way street

Whenever we run our soft skills training programmes, this complaint inevitably comes up: “companies expect loyalty from you, but they don’t offer it in return.” The global pandemic, increasingly competitive markets and the steady growth of the alternative workforce has created a perfect storm, foreshadowing a shift in conventional employee loyalty.

This time of crisis also presents an opportunity to redefine expectations – on both sides. We need to interrogate what organisations expect from employees, especially in a post-COVID world, when job security is no longer a guarantee.

How does your organisation define loyalty? Is this communicated to team members? What needs to be adapted to keep teams strong and keep the organisation moving forward, albeit at a slower pace? Are employees allowed to bring their whole self to work, or do they need to constantly comprise their personal life to stay in a particular role?

Due to enforced work from home requirements, conversations around work life balance has drastically shifted to the need to see the employee as a whole person, as the lines between personal and professional lines have blurred.

Now, companies need to be more intentional than ever about whether their internal brand lives up to their external marketing promise. In order to attract the best talent, the masks need to come off (figurately, of course).

Is there congruence between the perceived employee experience and the reality of daily life? Disingenuous organisational culture is a major contributing factor to employee disengagement.

Partnering with evolving groups of talent

The structure of work teams will become more dynamic over the next five years, as both organisations and workers grapple to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and the global recession. Former permanent employees have been forced to join the alternative workforce, which comprises contractors, freelance or independent workers, gig and crowd workers.

This necessary shift towards partnership promotes equal responsibility in the relationship. Workers, for better or worse, are more in control of the way they work now, which means that they’ve needed to segment their acquired skills into sellable skills sets.

Organisations might not be able to pay for a permanent employee anymore but they still need the work done. Adopting this partnership approach also helps to build a healthy interdependence, which means a healthy shift from the widespread co-dependency on stagnant workplaces.

According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, published in October 2020: “Skills gaps continue to be high as in-demand skills across jobs change in the next five years. On average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.”

Providing ongoing skills development will become increasingly attractive to talented workers who understand the need to continually expand their competencies in active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.

Essentially, if you want loyalty, get a dog. If you want to build an agile organisation, partner with talented individuals, support their holistic development and be open to co-creating new ways of working in a post-COVID world.

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