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Freedom Day: great expectations as the great exhaustion meets the great resignation

13 Jul 2021
Read: 3 min

Next Monday (19 July) has been christened “Freedom Day” by our Prime Minister, the day when “we can go back to life as it was before COVID as far as possible”.

It marks a new departure for the Government as the wearing of masks is to become optional, with the decision left to the “common sense” of people and the decisions of businesses and local authorities. The decision has divided the country, leading to the PM since then striking a more cautious note. According to an Opinium poll in last Sunday’s Observer, only 31% support the decision to go ahead with Freedom Day on 19 July while 50% would prefer it to be pushed back until later in the year. There are going to be some difficult situations, as 66% say they will still wear masks in shops, while 23% say they will not.

Businesses are confronted with a similar conundrum.

While health and transport workers have been in their workplace throughout the pandemic and hospitality workers have been back for some weeks now – most professional workers have spent very little time in the office over the past 16 months. We’re already seeing a vast range of approaches to returning to the workplace.

Last week Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick told Bloomberg that it’s time for frontline staff to get back to the office and that young bankers who decide they’re working too hard should choose another living. Earlier in the year Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon described working from home as an “aberration”.

But most companies, in my experience, find themselves in a more nuanced position and that relations with their employees require empathy and sensitivity. That’s because shareholder expectations are rising but in reality many employees feel exhausted and London and New York are experiencing a tidal wave of resignations.

A Microsoft survey in June showed that 40% of the global workforce are thinking of changing their job.

Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University christened what’s happening as “the great resignation” in an interview with Bloomberg in May and much New York conversation has focused on this in early Summer. We see the same trend currently sweeping London and the reasons are varied, though part of the story is that many professionals feel burnt out after over a year of working from home. The same Microsoft survey found that 54% feel over-worked and 39% say they are exhausted.

At Lansons we believe that employers need to consider six steps to successfully manage the situation:
  1. Firstly and most importantly, employers must accept the situation as their workforce sees it. Shareholder expectations are rising as pandemic restrictions are lifted but many employees feel exhausted and are considering changing job. If employers accept this as reality, they are better place to succeed in taking their staff with them as restrictions lift.
  2. The carrot is better than the stick in getting people back to the office. It is better for organisations to make their offices and workplaces exciting and interesting to draw people back than it is for organisations to simply order people back.
  3. The future is flexible. We believe that the competitive job markets in cities like London and New York will eventually drive all financial and professional services firms to offer a hybrid work environment with a high degree of personal choice. It’s better to get ahead of the curve and offer that now, as many already have.
  4. It’s time to listen. Things have changed so much in the past year and a half that none of us can see the future, so working with colleagues to develop office protocols is the right way forward. The office of the future needs to balance the needs of employees with those of the company and those of the customers. We’ll all be better placed to consider how to do this when we’re back in the office on a more regular basis.
  5. It’s time for leaders to shine. The role of the CEO in 2021 is to put their colleagues’ requirements ahead of their own. Others can say they are “exhausted” but not the CEO. It’s time to listen to colleagues, but when required, it’s also time to lead by example and show a vision and belief in the future.
  6. Lastly, it’s time to re-state an organisation’s purpose. We’ve spent much of the last year talking about ESG and purpose, but as the great resignation meets the great exhaustion it’s more important than ever before. People need to know “the why” – why they should work for a company and why they should be a customer. Otherwise they won’t want to be either.

We're using these principles to guide our own return to the office and we're advising several senior leadership teams. We're also sharing and swapping ideas with other organisations. 

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