Six people you will meet in the pandemic workplace

February 22, 2022

It used to be obvious what your employees wanted out of work. Pre-pandemic, most of us accepted that almost every white-collar professional’s goal was to get promoted and move up the corporate ladder as quickly as possible.

But not anymore, author Dorie Clark—who teaches executive education at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business—reports in The Wall Street Journal.

Indeed, she says, the pandemic prompted a widespread re-evaluation of our lives. One study reported that 54% of Americans are currently re-examining their life priorities—including 20% who started doing so directly as a result of the pandemic.

Increasingly, that re-evaluation means that work is taking a back seat. A 2021 Pew Research study found that only 17% of adults now cite their job or career as a source of meaning—down 7 percentage points from four years earlier.

That shift can be discomfiting for leaders, who are already navigating massive upheaval in the job market and the threat that their employees might leave. To effectively manage a workforce with such disparate goals and desires, managers have to recognize that the workforce has fragmented—possibly forever—into multiple employee archetypes.

The following represent six of the most common types of employees whom you may recognize from your own office:

  •         Ambitious employees: If you’re a leader, you’ll likely know who your ambitious staffers are, because they have spent the pandemic doubling down. They’re focused on their jobs and want to advance. To retain them, show an interest in their career aspirations and development. Ask them specifically about their future goals and help them to develop a plan to cultivate the skills and experiences they’ll need. These employees are likely to be your future crop of leaders—because they’re the ones who want it, and actually care.
  •         Work-to-live advocates: These employees—whether pre-pandemic or because of the reflections it has sparked—have decided to prioritize aspects of their life outside work. Whether their focus is on family, community or hobbies, their goal is having a steady paycheck and a job that’s manageable and can be balanced with the areas they really care about. Their goal is doing what needs to be done fast—so they can move on to the rest of their lives. To retain them, make sure you understand their priorities and take care not to impinge. If their chief value is attending their children’s sports matches, for instance, recognize that forcing them to work late unexpectedly on a regular basis means they’ll soon be headed out the door.
  •         Double-duty professionals: Caregiving always has been a reality for many professionals, who have had to balance career aspirations with responsibilities at home. But the pandemic’s unique challenges—including home schooling and managing quarantine protocols—have increased those challenges, especially (though not exclusively) for female employees. In one September 2021 study, 48% of women said that COVID had negatively affected their career paths. These days, success for them often means getting through the day and maintaining their sanity amid competing responsibilities. But it’s important for employers to recognize these employees remain ambitious and want to advance, but are facing temporary challenges that will likely resolve over time. Supporting your employees now with flexibility and understanding will help build loyalty and trust, so they can step up as the motivated employees they are.
  •         The desperate-to-connect: Many employees who live alone and have spent the pandemic in relative solitude may be looking to work these days to provide human interaction—especially young, single workers for whom the workplace offers much-needed community. Others may have overdosed on family over the past two years, but now that kids are back in school or they have caregiving needs worked out, they can’t wait to escape back into the realm of adult conversations. Either way, leaders need to recognize that a significant motivator for these “desperate to connect” employees—at least for right now—is social. Transactional Zoom calls just won’t cut it; managers need to take the time to converse and cultivate a deeper relationship
  •         Zest-for-lifers: Whether it’s a retiree looking to stay engaged or a professional who’s consciously chosen to downshift his or her expenses (perhaps by leaving an expensive urban center), not everyone actually needs to work. Like the “work to live” crew, the “zest for life” professionals don’t necessarily prioritize their careers. But they’re not just putting up with work, either. They’re actively seeking it out as a way to connect with others and learn new things. They can be passionate and high-performing employees if leaders take care to recognize their central motivation—which isn’t a paycheck. For these employees, professional satisfaction means connecting with others, personal growth, and conquering interesting challenges.
  •         Disoriented new hires: Finally, there is this group of fledgling workers, who have been on-boarded without actually meeting anyone in person. At many companies, new hires—sometimes recruited entirely through virtual channels—may be confused out of their minds. Of course, they have done their best to pick up company culture and mores through implicit clues. But it’s a lot harder to figure things out virtually, and to feel connected. Smart leaders have probably been making an effort to ensure these employees feel welcome and included.

Thus, Clark suggests, whatever employers have been doing during the pandemic, it’s probably not enough. Now, kick it up a notch. All of your workers have, in some way, been thrown into a totally befuddling and unexpected situation, so, she advises, over-index on the care you take with them.

Research contact: @WSJ