What Work Looks Like in 2022
Will those who ditched their jobs as part of the Great Resignation find new careers in 2022? Is returning to the office even on the table at this point? How do we build company culture for a hybrid future? As work winds down for the year, we asked leaders in the business of cultivating work culture to make some predictions and suggestions for 2022.
The labor shortage will continue. “We don’t have as many people as we think we have,” said Lisa Brezonik, CEO of Salo, a national staffing and consulting firm based in Minneapolis. “Boomers are retiring early. Birth rates are down. All these factors are brewing, and Covid made it worse. Teachers, health care workers, restaurant employees—they want to do something different, and the need keeps getting bigger.”
Expect a “Great Reshuffle.” The “Great Resignation” tends to refer to people leaving their jobs and not immediately re-entering the workforce. The “Great Reshuffle” is a newer phrase to describe workers leaving one job for a better opportunity in the job market. “Hiring is heating up and in-demand professionals know they have options,” said Angela Lurie, senior vice president of full-time talent for Robert Half in Minneapolis. “More employees may be eager to explore other opportunities, especially if they’re not completely satisfied in their current role, and I think we’ll continue to see that as demand increases.”
The future is hybrid…and management needs to get on board. A Robert Half summer survey of 2,800 workers found that 34 percent of professionals currently working from home would look for a new job if required to return to the office full time. Forty nine percent said they prefer hybrid. But 71 percent of managers said they would prefer their employees fully in the office once Covid concerns subside. “I think it’s important to keep in mind that these results capture sentiment at a moment in time and managers probably feel differently as the pandemic has continued to evolve,” Lurie said. “Not only that but we’re increasingly in a tight, candidate-driven market where talent is really difficult to find. The companies that are most flexible and open to other arrangements are the going to be the ones that prevail.”
“My prediction? The Great Resignation will continue until organizations realize that instead of preserving their work culture, they need to evolve their work culture to keep pace with contemporary society.” —Jody Thompson, CultureRX
Managers should stop trying to control the workday. “Organizations are still focusing on controlling work location and hours worked,” said Jody Thompson, founder and CEO of CultureRX, a Twin Cities-based consultancy that specializes in a “results-only work environment.” “Organizations have simply moved ‘location’ from primarily the office to primarily WFH. There’s still the expectation that everyone is ‘available’ during core hours. When the big migration back to the office starts happening, employees will be caught in the same flexibility trap – that is, having to ask permission to work from a location other than the office. And each manager will have a different mindset about whether or not they will ‘allow’ employees this ‘perk or privilege’. My prediction? The Great Resignation will continue until organizations realize that instead of preserving their work culture, they need to evolve their work culture to keep pace with contemporary society.”
“We believe premium office space will be important as a way to deliver an amazing environment to work together, build better solutions, and attract talent.” —Dale Nitschke, Ovative Group
Plan for under-utilized offices in the short term; demand for premium office space down the road. Despite a hybrid model driven by employee choice, digital marketing agency Ovative Goup expanded its Minneapolis office in 2021, adding a floor and creating dedicated workstations to accommodate more than 300 employees. “I feel like if you create the right environment, people will want to come in,” founder/CEO Dale Nitschke said in May. And indeed, as much as 50 percent of the staff was in the office on any given day through summer and fall, he said. But the numbers began to taper off with the rise of the Omicron variant and Ovative’s return to masking in office. “We have been thinking a lot about the role of the office environment in the future and believe it will be a few years before the dust settles and a new, more flexed work rhythm is fully formed,” Nitschke said. “We believe premium office space will be important as a way to deliver an amazing environment to work together, build better solutions, and attract talent.”
Leverage a national applicant pool. Salo just hired a Chicago-based executive as its new talent officer. “We’re a national firm. We shouldn’t limit it to Minneapolis,” said Brezonik, the staffing firm’s CEO. “If I’m going to attract the best person, I’ve got to be flexible. That’s not the way I was thinking two years ago.” Likewise, Ovative no longer puts geographic requirements on its applicant pool. The agency, which plans to hire 150 people in 2022, now has team members in 16 states beyond Minnesota and a satellite office in New York.
“When talking to clients about what they need, they need talent. That might be in Philadelphia or Texas. The willingness to be flexible has totally changed.” —Lisa Brezonik, Salo
It’s easier to expand nationally now. Two years ago, Salo started planning an expansion strategy to a dozen states. The plan called for moving into two markets at a time with a small team on the ground in each and a brick and mortar presence. Instead, Salo is now operating in 37 states with sales associates nationwide and no need for more office space. “I can help any client across the U.S.,” Brezonik said. “Pre-pandemic, most clients wanted [Salo contractors] sitting next to them in the office at least 50 to 70 percent of the time. That’s totally flipped. When talking to clients about what they need, they need talent. That might be in Philadelphia or Texas. The willingness to be flexible has totally changed.”
Continued demand for contract workers. “People feel like they have many more options now and they’re not thinking about full time work the same as they used to. Many have switched to projects,” Brezonik said. Added Lurie, “contract work is always popular this time of year, and maybe maybe more for this year in particular given the difficulties companies are having retaining and then hiring.” Seventy-four percent of companies surveyed this fall by Robert Half said they planned to bring on contractors to help with year-end initiatives.
Workplace equity will be a hot topic. With so many companies now planning on a hybrid future, concerns about how to make that fair for employees with differing roles becomes critical, Thompson said. Since it’s impossible to make things “equal” for an office employee who can work off a laptop and one in manufacturing who operates equipment on the plant floor, think about equity instead. “Although both promote fairness, equality achieves this through treating everyone the same regardless of need, while equity achieves this through treating people differently dependent of need,” Thompson said. “Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. An equitable experience – which is critical for today’s workforce – puts everyone on a level playing field of autonomy and accountability.” By focusing on results, an employee who must be in the office doesn’t feel cheated, rather, “I choose to go to that location to get my results. And I am held accountable to those results. I am not distracted by feeling marginalized by not getting to have 3 days in the office, 2 days at home – the ill-fated attempt to make everything equal.”
Defining your company culture its essential. With employees across the country and many who never come in to an office at all, Salo’s Brezonik said she’s thinking about culture beyond the office walls. “I’ve got to make sure I can convey our culture and environment to anyone who comes to work with us.” But Salo is also doing its best to schedule in-person gatherings for employees at least one per month, be it a party, a lunch, a planning meeting or conversation. “Whenever we’re together, we’re reminded of the good energy.”
Prospective employees will continue to demand more than competitive compensation. “With workers quitting their jobs in record numbers, we’re finding candidates who are rethinking their priorities and demanding more in terms of compensation, flexibility, and other benefits,” Lurie said. “Employers who are progressive in their thinking, listening to their employees and adapting quickly will minimize the disruption and stay ahead of the curve.”