As a society, our workplace culture is in the midst of a dramatic shift. Yes, the pandemic has certainly been a major catalyst for change but, overall, in the last several years we’ve seen an increase in awareness of certain issues affecting workplace culture. From pandemic-driven remote working to an overdue emphasis on diversity and inclusion, we’re witnessing some major challenges to long-held ideas of what the workplace should look and feel like.
As a Gen Xer, my view and experience in the corporate world is much different than what the workforce currently is and demands. When presented with the new challenges of today, I’m constantly questioning my first reaction: do I think this because of the way I was trained or because that’s what’s best for my company? I’m finding that the answer doesn’t always overlap and to me, it’s exciting to navigate and be a part of the changes that are shaping our new workplace normal that will ultimately benefit our company.
Work and life unbalanced
For most of my career, I was taught that work-life balance means that home stays at home and work stays at work. Balance meant separate. That doesn’t work anymore. As we’ve adjusted to remote working, it’s become much more accepted and expected to not just bring work into your home, but bring home into work. It’s less about balancing work and life and more about finding a way to blend the two effectively and without causing burnout.
At the start of the pandemic, we saw countless viral videos of children interrupting Zoom meetings, media interviews, etc. Virtual meetings with cats jumping on keyboards or echos of dogs barking at the delivery person became fun regular occurrences. It was cute and funny because it was novel at the time, but after over a year of working from home, it’s become normal. We’ve found acceptance for personal obligations which may interfere with work like mid-day breaks for doctor appointments and all of those instances should continue to be accepted and welcomed in the workplace, certainly as long as our workplace continues to be in our home. But even as some of us head back to the office, the grace we granted for blending work and life should continue. We found flexibility and empathy when emergencies happened and circumstances changed and, from that, we learned that supporting a healthy blend of work and life didn’t negatively affect productivity.
We need to embrace the fact that work/life balance doesn’t mean separate by supporting our employees’ lives as much as we support their professional growth. This is especially true when it comes to supporting women in the workplace.
Women are essential workers
Another issue that continues to gain awareness is the uphill battle women still climb in the workplace. From equal pay issues to bro culture to mom shame, the workplace is still as hostile as ever for women, especially in our post-pandemic world. There have been countless reports that the pandemic affected women in the workplace disproportionately. Women carry more domestic burden than men, and when home and work mixed like never before, women were forced into very difficult situations. So as we applaud working moms juggling Zoom meetings and sick kids, we have to think differently about how to support these women to keep them in the workforce. Work and home are now intertwined and while employees have created a home office to support their work, we have to consider how work can better support their home.
One might think adding benefits would be an easy fix – paid maternity leave and child care benefits are powerful perks to attract and keep women. But family benefits are only one piece of the puzzle and, in the interest of inclusion, not all women who have been affected by the pandemic have children. We really need to think differently about how to help all women remove the general domestic responsibilities that are burdening them from doing their work. That might mean thinking creatively to alleviate mental burden such as providing access to domestic services. That could also mean promoting women within your organization and granting greater representation for women throughout your organization. With greater representation there will be more acceptance for the new normal we’re striving to create.
Mental Health as a business imperative
As we become more aware and accepting of individual battles our employees face, this goes for mental health as well. Before, we just didn’t talk about a person’s mental wellbeing in the workplace. We would instead focus only on their performance and hope that they sought whatever means to improve on their own. Now we talk openly about how our teams are feeling and we encourage our team members to be honest about their struggles. We’ve learned that if we want a productive workforce, employees need to feel comfortable talking about and being themselves at work without judgement. With a growing awareness of how mental health affects productivity and success, it’s become a business imperative to not just discuss but also support employee mental health. Mental health benefits and resources, including stipends for seeking professional support, have become increasingly important to retain healthy workers. As we continue normalizing and prioritizing mental wellbeing, the workplace will be a much more welcoming place for everyone.
It’s an exciting time to see and be a part of how our new collective awareness is changing the status quo in the workplace. To be sure, there’s a learning curve and progress is never fast and we can always be doing more, but we’re on track to fundamentally redefine workplace culture and I’m excited to see what that means for my employees and my company.