Job Satisfaction, Ethical Leadership, and Trust – Work Legacies of the Coronavirus?

Adam Grant, an Organizational Psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, wrote an article for The Economist entitled “The World After Covid-19; Adam Grant on How Jobs, Bosses, and Firms May Improve After the Crisis”.  Grant argues that covid-19 is likely to transform three features of our work lives: job satisfaction, ethical leadership, and trust.

Job Satisfaction
Studies have shown that employees who enter the workforce during a higher unemployment rate, rank themselves as more satisfied with their work even 10-15 years later. This seems to be true even when accounting for income, industry, occupation, and experience level.

During the pandemic we have watched unemployment rates skyrocket and we have seen countless other workers take pay cuts or furloughs. If you are fortunate enough to have maintained your job, there can be a much greater feeling of gratitude and appreciation. 

Many other employees have commented on feeling a renewed mission within their line of work. Jobs at a grocery store or Lysol factory have been imbued with new meaning and purpose. One specific example is highlighted with NYC bus operator, Terrence Layne. In a NBC News story, he noted that he continued to drive buses around New York during the pandemic and he felt very anxious and fearful about contracting the virus. At the same time, he said “In my almost 21 years of service, I’ve never felt so important and the job has never been so fulfilling.”

Ethical, Compassionate Leadership and Trust
The covid-19 crisis may inspire a movement toward more ethical and compassionate leadership simply because employees will demand it. People are watching how companies have handled this crisis and are taking note. Some organizations have worked to save and protect their workforce. Grant notes in his article that there has also been some “spectacular fails – notably at the electric-scooter company Bird, where more than 400 employees had signed-in for a “covid-19 update” videoconference only to hear a disembodied voice announce they were being let go.” Or take Florida State University as another failed example. FSU informed its employees that as of August, they will no longer be allowed to care for children while working from home during the pandemic. A move that not only jeopardizes employees’ livelihood but health as well.

Layoffs do reduce costs; however, they also cut productivity and innovation. Often times, employees spared during a layoff are so anxious about a next round that they devote more time and energy to finding a more secure job.

All of this leads to another important facet – trust. As of last year, nearly half of global companies still prohibited remote work. Why? Employers still had a belief that employees couldn’t be trusted to do their work at home and that productivity would suffer. According to Grant, during covid-19, the work day has actually seemed to expand – by two hours in Britain, France, and Spain and by three hours in the United States. In the largest ever work from home experiment, companies have realized how productive and efficient remote workers can be. Many companies have implemented permanent work from home policies. 

Almost thirty years ago, management consultant, Peter Drucker, argued that “commuting to office work is obsolete.” It took a pandemic to drive this point home. While we will have to wait and see what long term changes stick, it does seem that the landscape of work has been forever altered.

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