Season 1, Episode 1: A Conversation About Working in the New Normal with Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Join us as we ask Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, ManpowerGroup’s Chief Talent Scientist, how employees can adapt to working in the New Normal. We discuss the new reality of being forced to work from home and how this is impacting productivity, work-life balance, emotional wellbeing, and career progression. What is the real, long-term impact that working from home is having on women’s careers? How important is trust and transparency from employers in a world where health, safety and wellbeing need to come first when returning to the workplace?
–Hosts: Roberta Cucchiaro and Dominika Gałusa
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Roberta Cucchiaro: Hi! Welcome to this very first episode of The Transform Talent Podcast. These are your hosts: Roberta Cucchiaro and Dominika Gałusa. We are really excited to bring you, along with us, on this fascinating journey exploring what the future of work looks like and how we can make it better for our employees and ourselves as well. We will try to think outside of the box and bring you new perspectives on the latest trends.
Dominika Gałusa: In this first episode of the Transform Talent podcast, Roberta and myself will focus on how employees can cope with and adapt to “Working in the New Normal”. We will be discussing this new reality, the rise of flexibility, the challenges employees face by having had to move their offices to their homes and how this is impacting productivity, work-life balance, emotional well-being as well as career progression. We will spend some extra time discussing the impact working from home has on women’s careers as well as the importance of trust and transparency from employers in a world where health, safety and wellbeing need to come first when returning to the workplace.
Roberta Cucchiaro: We are all witnessing this transformation in a way or another, but I think we can all agree that this crisis can be a catalyst for a new future of work, that is more flexible, more diverse and more well-being oriented than we could have ever imagined. A future that is much closer to what workers have wanted all along. Do you remember when we used to have to insist so much to be allowed to work from home and in certain workplaces it wasn’t even an option?
Dominika Gałusa: Oh yes, in some companies you had to stay 2 hours longer one day if you wanted to leave 2 hours earlier the other day.
Roberta Cucchiaro: And then all of a sudden, office employees across the world were asked to work from home without a choice, even those whose jobs are really difficult to do from home. I remember seeing an interview with the NASA scientists responsible for controlling the Curiosity rover that’s exploring the surface on Mars and they are doing that from home! It’s just unbelievable. Now we are seeing the likes of Facebook, Google and Airbnb extending their work from home policies until July 2021 while other companies are starting to encourage their employees to go back to the office. No doubt there will be more flexibility, but companies need to ensure employees are comfortable in this new flexibility.
ManpowerGroup recently released the new What Workers Want report in which we asked more than 8,000 people in 8 countries about the future for workers.
Workers are worried about losing that flexibility they have now gained, with 43% believing this is the end of the 9 to 5 office life, and more than 50% are happy about this shift, preferring 2-3 days a week in the workplace. What I think is really key, is that 8 in 10 have emphasised that they want to a better work-life balance in the future. Being forced to work from home doesn’t automatically translate into a better work-life balance, because many of us brought their offices to their living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms. It is much harder to “switch-off” and say no to late calls when we are working from home all the time, and not just those 2-3 days a week when you can actually boost the motivation and productivity.
It is not surprising that the younger generation, Gen-Z, many of them living alone or flat-sharing, are the ones more positive about returning to the workplace while the millennials, often the young parents in our workforce, are the ones more concerned.
Employers need to make sure that employees are not burning out, that they can actually have that flexibility to separate work and home, which also means flexible scheduling.
Dominika Gałusa: However, we can see this work-from-home flexibility paradox where we attend more meetings, send more emails and work longer hours. Harvard Business School has recently released results of the study showing increases by 12.9 percent in the number of meetings per person and increases in length of the average workday of 48.5 minutes. That’s almost an hour! Moreover, according to the What Workers Want Report, more than 30% of workers now have to be teachers, employees, and caregivers while working longer days. Thus, our way of working has changed and the ability to separate work from home are impacting employee mental health, productivity and motivation.
Roberta Cucchiaro: Introducing our very first guest: Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. He is our Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup. He joined in 2018 and is responsible for leading the Center of Excellence for Assessment and Analytics, developing data-driven solutions and insight to create new value for clients and candidates by driving predictable performance. He is a very well-known international expert in business psychology, people analytics and talent management. He is a Professor of Business Psychology at UCL (University College London) and a Visiting Professor at Columbia University in New York. He has released three TED Talks, written 150 scientific papers and 10 books, including his latest book, a really interesting read “Why do so many incompetent men become leaders”.
Dominika Gałusa: Humans are social creatures and we were forced to do what we were biologically meant not to do – to isolate at home and at work. What are your thoughts about the impact working from home is having on employees’ psychological well-being and mental health and what does it mean for organizations?
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: It's a very big question and I think the only rational and objective answer is that: it depends. It varies a lot from person to person and we have to take into account not just deep and big psychological forces that are at play, but also the circumstances that people and organizations are in. Having said that, I think humanity has risen to the challenge in an amazing way. If you told me six months ago or eight months ago that overnight we'll be forced to shut down the offices and go into our bedrooms or homes and work and lose in-person contact with our colleagues, bosses, clients and that it would last for many, many months and yet we would manage to stay almost as productive and, in some instances, more productive and enjoy work even more… it's incredible!
I think the interesting paradox here is that, on the one hand, this is a profoundly unnatural phenomenon and request given to our biology and our need for in-person connectedness with others, on the other hand, one of the fundamental, if not the most important quality that humans have is: incredible adaptability. There's a reason why we've always relied on technology to do work in a more effective and efficient way and although when people created Zoom and Microsoft Teams and Slack, collaboration software and emails, they were not planning for a pandemic, all these technologies have allowed us to remain socially and emotionally connected even while in physical isolation. I think it's amazing and of course most people would want to have the option to recover some of the old normalcy and meet people in person, gossip, go for a drink and have dinner, while I think some of it is coming back, it is not going to be immediately with the degree that we had it. We have to stay resilient, stay adaptable and understand that is probably our most important and strongest human quality: adaptability.
Dominika Gałusa: We talked about mental health and wellbeing in a workplace. According to Accenture, it’s actually a challenging topic to rise – 59% of employees in small companies and 24% of employees in large organisations in the UK alone don’t talk openly about mental health in their workplace. They are also increasingly turning to trusted technology tools to help them maintain a healthy mind. In such uncertain times, strong remote leadership, transparent frequent communication, and a culture that is fit for the hybrid work and accessible wellbeing support seems to be key. How can leaders support their employees during this difficult time and increase employee trust to talk openly about their mental health which can also lead to higher motivation and engagement?
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: I think it's important to understand that although the crisis has emphasized change, discontinuity, and in some instances disrupted the status quo, including conversations that managers or leaders can have with their employees and direct reports. Fundamentally, the essence of being a good manager or a good leader hasn't changed: trust and transparency are still the most important currencies. When not so long ago we were talking about our model of digital leadership and we explained that probably just 20% of the qualities that leaders need to have to be future ready are more or less new or novel and 80%, things like empathy, competency, social skills, humility, self-awareness were always there, it is also true that the crisis has emphasized or highlighted how important these foundational attributes of leadership are. The big challenge for bosses and managers today is to do empathy and show that they are kind and caring and tune in to their teams kind of mindset, including their mental and physical well-being in a virtual mode, which is very, very sterile and cold. You can’t hug people, there are emojis to hug people, but it is not the same as the real hug. Let's face it now we can't even hug each other or get close to each other when we see each other. It's more challenging to do it now, but there are more tools to do it now as well and I think what we're seeing is that it's no longer enough for a manager or a leader to be naturally emotional intelligent, to have great charisma or people skills and connect with others, because they need to be doing it over Zoom or Teams and use tools.
We have launched, just before the crisis started, one of our main technological innovations which is a coaching platform: RightCoach™. It democratizes coaching and produces virtual coaching on-demand, personalizing and customizing people's actual career needs or personal needs to the right coach, with the right level of expertise and experience. We did it not thinking and not planning for a pandemic, but what you can see now is that coaching has a whole new dimension because people have to ask for help when in the past they didn't and they need to boost their resilience, they need to manage work-life balance or work and personal commitments combined with other activities and actually even cope with loneliness in a way that they didn’t have to before. I always tell my psychology student that although the job market might be tougher over the next few months than it was last year, but they can be sure that the world will need more coaches, more psychologists and organizations will need more professional help because we are at a vulnerable point in time when it comes to managing ourselves and managing others.
My colleague Herminia Ibarra has written a lot about the leader as a coach and it’s an interesting perspective, because I think before leaders where domain specific experts, who told you what to do and they had power and authority, in the last five or ten years we have asked managers and leaders to actually become mentors and coaches. We also have great programs about mentorship where we pair people with right mentors and leaders as coaches within organizations, but let's not kid ourselves, we cannot expect the majority of leaders to become actual coaches, which is why a virtual and online coaching platform is really important. I think this idea that coaching was something exclusively deployed with the executive or senior leadership sector is nonsensical. First of all, if you're very old and senior as a leader, you are harder to coach by definition and you're going to be stuck in your own ways and it's going to be much harder to persuade you to be someone else. So, the younger you are, the more coachable you are and actually it's when you are young that we need to develop your full potential and we need to start early. In sports, people know this, but in the corporate world we're just beginning to understand it. There is a big trend to democratize coaching and actually personalize it to people's needs which is what RightCoach™ is all about.
Roberta Cucchiaro: What about the impact this is having on women? While men’s health might be more impacted by the crisis, women will be impacted longer term by the economic and social crisis. Allowing work from home without changing anything else about corporate culture may be a distinct disadvantage for women as compared with their male colleagues. How can we ensure working from home also works for women and that they are not left behind in the Next Normal.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: I think the first thing is to understand that technology on its own won’t solve your people management issues. Every organization in the world has access to the same technology. It's a bit like saying: “okay, we have email”, well, so does everyone else. Email in itself as a technology doesn't make you take good decisions. It is instead what you think, what you say, when you say it, who says it, and the same applies to all these tools that have enabled us to work virtually and remotely. It's an interesting conflict between two separate and maybe contradictory forces that we see colliding.
On the one hand there is no question that higher flexibility, less presenteeism and less politicking, the dark or toxic side of politics that involves showing off and pretending that you're working, faking good, managing up and sucking up to your boss, all things that get people promoted, but historically, men have been better at, or more focused on. It's a lot harder to pretend that you're working when everyone is remote, it's a lot harder to show off and suck up to authority when everyone is virtual… it's too blatant to do it on a on a virtual conferencing meeting. So, if you think about all these things, it should be a gender balancing kind of force or a leveller. It should allow more balanced or levelled playing fields where people are judged more for what they produce and what they do and less for managing impressions and appearances. We should also not be naïve, because what happens when you change things and you introduce technologies, is that people quickly adapt to exploiting the gaps or back channels to actually leverage or utilize the same informal and toxic forces.
There are some figures that are a little bit concerning also when you think that working from home has had a disproportionately negative affect on women’s increased duties and tasks, their requirements to balance home and work activities. Some data also shows that when companies try to move to a hybrid working model and they open the office, but you don't have to be there, the first to return are men. Not just because they want to avoid parenting duties or they are fed up of being at home – I'm generalizing here – but it does happen more often than with women, but also because they see an opportunity to exploit politics by being in the office.
The big problem here is that if you say we're moving to a hybrid model and you can work from wherever you are, but I'm your boss and I am in, you're going to feel pressured to be in and you're going to be probably disadvantaged for not being in the right place, at the right time. Imagine you're having a board or leadership meeting with half of the people dialling in and the other half in person: you can see how the ones that are in person are going to arrive a little bit earlier, make jokes, gossip, take decisions and leverage what in person meetings are for and disadvantage those that are dialling-in from outside.
I am hopeful that organizations will step up to this challenge and actually use the opportunity to decontaminate their culture from politics and actually use technology for good, meaning moving past a culture of presenteeism and actually learning to evaluate what people contribute to their teams and the organization. However, this requires some thinking and some effort. There's no reason to think that companies that could have done it before are suddenly going to do it so this is why organizations need help from human capital experts, consulting and advisory firms, like ours, so that they can restructure their performance appraisal systems and their management processes, to actually turn a kind of forced changed situation into a real plus and unlock human potential regardless of gender.
Roberta Cucchiaro: That's absolutely right and like you mentioned there is the risk of the rise of the new form of presenteeism too. So the lack of face-to-face networking could have a lasting negative effect on the entry-level roles in particular. There isn’t any more that coffee break, during which you used to bump into a senior colleague and executive, with whom you have that chat that maybe in a year or two leads to a promotion. That doesn’t exist anymore, you need to schedule calls to speak with senior colleagues or executives, there has to be a reason, a work reason. Working from home will impact differently the different generations and how companies encourage interaction and virtual networking will be key. How is working from home affecting promotions and networking opportunities and what are the risks we are facing, especially in the younger generations, with the rise of a new form of presenteeism? And how can we avoid it?
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: Most of the changes are enabled, or not, through leadership. It’s essential that companies continue to invest in leadership development and leadership training, particularly of mid-level managers. Even if you were a good manager before, you probably still need to learn something, and it can be like a crash course on how to leverage digital tools to actually manage people. There are wonderful opportunities: the opportunities to enable everyone to participate in a virtual meeting and put some structure in so that it’s not just one person mansplaining everything and there is a distributed kind of balancing of opinions and feedback and for example, if you're shy and you don't want to talk, you can compose message and you can use feedback surveys, etc. The opportunities are great and actually although young people might miss, or younger people might miss, the in-person connection because, let's face it, that's one of the wonderful things of starting a career is the social life that comes with it, they are also very skilled and smart with technology. The real opportunities is for older, more senior managers and leaders to learn from their employees as to how they can use these tools to actually manage better.
What we find in most of our clients when we work with them to see how mature they are from a digital standpoint and where they are on the people side of digital transformation, is that they all have the same tools. But the difference between having the tools and actually leveraging them, is a question of leadership and management skills and preparedness. There has never been a better time to unlock the curiosity that managers and leaders have, to expand and broaden their leadership and management skills, and that involves using technology because if you use technology well, it can unlock a very humane and strong aspect of the workforce.
In a way that's really the opportunity that this crisis has brought, because most companies had the technologies, but were reluctant to use it, now when we're forced to do it, and we're looking at technology being an enabler for the longer term, I think it's going to be revolutionary and the change is going to last for a long time.
Dominika Gałusa: To sum up what you said and what we wrote in our What Workers Want Report, returning to the workplace, building trust in your workforce, allowing for more flexibility, flexible scheduling, leveraging technology and understanding the priorities employees have to balance in order to get their work done – these are all elements organizations will have to consider in the next few months. Stay-at-home restrictions have required companies to hold more and more virtual meetings as you said. While the pandemic is not over yet, some countries have started reopening their borders, others are imposing new restrictions. That also might mean international client meetings for some of us this year. There are mixed views about it and there could be a stigma around it. How can we adapt to this new business reality?
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: The only answer is that we have to adapt and adaptation is always a relative phenomenon so it might never be perfect, but we have to adapt, everyone has to adapt better than their competitors and adaptability is going to be the biggest competitive advantage that organizations and leaders have.
At the end of the day it's always a matter of leadership and crises are fundamentally an opportunity to lead. We always have leaders, even when times are good, but when times are good, you can get away with being a sloppy leader, not showing too much empathy, not connecting with others and just managing your career whereas now you have people really hungry for good leadership and that's what we're seeing bad leadership exposed more than in when times are good and we can all ride the same wave. I've read an interesting article in Harvard Business Review that had a wonderful quote that says “the ability to learn faster than your competitors might be your only sustainable competitive advantage” so all you have to do is learn faster than your competitors.
We've been talking about learnability for some time now and now you can see why it's so important, because if you don't have the humility, the self-criticism and the intelligence to structure your problems that enable you to get some data and realize if you're doing things right or wrong, you're going to make mistakes more often than your competitors. That's what we mean really by being data driven as well is: find out how to test your hypotheses and your assumptions, never stop to experiment and have the humility to admit when you're wrong and then you're probably going to be better off than your competitors. That's something that we are asking now employees to do, but fundamentally we need to ask leaders and managers to do this, because they're leading by example and good leaders solve and manage crises well, while bad leaders tend to create the crisis. There has never been a stronger need in the world of business and in the world, for good strong leadership.
Roberta Cucchiaro: Absolutely, and I think that the key is that we just need to listen to the workers and our employees to see what they want. This has been a really good conversation, I’m really glad we organized it. Just before we go: a million dollar question and something that I had to ask to an expert in psychology: if you were stranded on an island, what were the three things that you would bring?
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: Well firstly whenever people ask you a million-dollar question, I have never received a single dollar for answering them so I'm approaching this with low expectations. But, if it's three things: the rest of my family is probably what I would bring. More than a book, even Wi-Fi, or my smartphones because there's four of us. Family first as the saying goes!
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: You're also reminding me to ask our audience to consult the full findings and overview of our What Workers Want Report, because so many people are talking about what employees and leaders should have and what they want without asking them and we actually bothered asking them. If you pay attention to what people say they want, you're often going to find critical answers as to what they actually need as well and in this instance it is absolutely clear, as you pointed out, that they want more flexibility, more freedom and not just the ability to trust their managers, but to have them trust them. Have managers and leaders that actually trust them and not micromanage them.
Technology can be a wonderful enabler for productivity, engagement, and performance, but it has to be powered by trust. It’s tricky for leaders to build trust out of the blue if they didn't have it before, but there's just no excuse for not trying. There has never been stronger needs to build and nurture that human and humane connection between managers and employees. Leadership is all about that.
Roberta Cucchiaro: Absolutely, couldn't have said it better. Thank you for joining our very first episode of The Transform Talent Podcast, we hope you enjoyed it and if you did, don't forget to subscribe in your favourite podcast listening app and leave us a review. See you at the next episode!