If I asked you how you thought job satisfaction was trending toward the end of 2020, you’d probably guess poorly. Which would make sense — generally speaking, job satisfaction trends tend to tie closely to labor market conditions. So one would expect the abrupt and global disruption caused by the pandemic, which brought the labor market to its knees, to coincide with equally dismal rates of job satisfaction. Instead, that year, US job satisfaction hit a 20-year high. While the importance of flexibility, especially in terms of hybrid and remote office settings, has emerged as a priority, that same report found remote workers weren’t significantly more satisfied. Influences that made a bigger mark on job satisfaction included access to generous unemployment and childcare benefits, expanded company health plans, more flexible time off and sick leave policies, and improved performance review processes.
Yet, remote and hybrid work has emerged as a frontrunner in terms of how people are assessing a company’s commitment to their employees. There’s also been significant backlash to overzealous office return policies like those put forth by Google or Tesla that mandated workers return or lose their jobs. Even among executives, there’s disagreement about the value or feasibility of going back to pre-pandemic workplace norms.
But what’s being lost in the debate on flexible work policies is that where we work is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improving wellness, balance and wholeness in relation to our work. The Great Resignation that continues to see millions of people quitting their jobs — often for better opportunities — speaks to the fact that people want more from their jobs.
This has spurred important momentum around developing more human-centered benefits and policies as employees become increasingly intolerant of toxic, “always on,” or unfulfilling work – things flexibility alone can’t solve for. As our ability to return to normal comes into view, we should instead set our sights on a future of work that brings greater meaning to the eight hours a day we spend on the job.
Research has shown that in addition to being better for your well-being, the ability to be authentic at work also contributes to your success. That’s because the alternative — catering to perceived workplace standards set by dated societal norms — creates an emotional and cognitive load that heightens anxiety and impacts performance. Getting workplace culture right is an equity imperative, as under-represented groups inclusive of women, members of the queer community, those requiring accessibility needs and people of color are more likely to feel they need to change or conceal their identities at work to get ahead.
And we shouldn’t have to. By limiting our quest for authenticity to the workplace, we’re failing to break ground on ways that will actually allow us to lead fuller lives because of, rather than in spite of our jobs. This means companies need to put equal focus into how they support employees on and beyond work hours. At EZRA, we’ve created a culture where employees are encouraged to take time during the workday to care for themselves by publicly celebrating (and insisting) people take a mid-day yoga class, skip out for a hike or break for an episode of their favorite show during what we call their weekly “Wellness Hour.” We also equip every employee with a professional coach to support them in their own personal and professional goals. By creating space for people to nurture themselves in meaningful ways, we’ve seen a powerful shift in how people show up at work — as themselves.
Defaulting to “competitive benefits” to attract talent is no longer enough in this climate. And flexibility alone certainly won’t go far enough to meet the needs of today’s workforce. People want to bring their whole selves to work, and finding innovative ways to do that is a lot closer than we think.