Redefining workplace priorities

Its time to go beyond 'trends'

Vidhi Kumar
Director - People Capability 28 Apr 2022

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Redefining workplace priorities

Its time to go beyond 'trends'

Years ago, the future of work predictions for the decade starting 2020 looked so different. No one imagined wellness to take such centre stage. DEI was a side discussion for the workplace. And remote work was not even a thing! Our crystal gazing proved wrong, and priorities obviously have moved drastically over the past two years.

The question to ask now is - how can we start redefining priorities based on what we have experienced and learnt? I want to step back here and in fact first ask, if we do indeed need to think of overarching workplace priorities at all. Agility is our greatest ally in navigating the new normal. By identifying newer priorities, are we creating another rigidity for ourselves? By becoming attached to our redefined ‘top trends’, maybe we end up stifling the agility that’s so much needed now.

Survey after survey is trying to establish what leaders need to focus on in 2022 and beyond. I have somehow started to look at these with some reservations. Isn’t one year itself too long a period to predict ahead for? How do we know that, given the current global volatilities, our priorities will not change next month? Having said that, I too, like everyone else, like to plan ahead. So, I started looking for a golden middle instead and here’s the hack that I zeroed in on - ‘focus on principles, rather than trends’.

Let me explain this a little - Trends change with time. Trends are impacted by external circumstances. Trends could vary based on the location. Principles, on the other hand, are defining priorities that stand strong irrespective of where, how, and with who it is applied. As an example, remote work was a trend that all businesses had to adopt during the past two years - some flourished in it while others made an uneasy settlement. Now the latter are itching to get back to a traditional office. So, what about principles and how do we see them manifesting?

There are three that completely stand out for me:

1. Prioritise safety and well-being

Providing our employees with a safe environment to work in is not a trend. No matter which industry, country or function I choose to work in, my mental and physical well-being and safety are non-negotiable. This was true pre-pandemic as well, but lockdown-induced remote work made it an imperative. At the risk of repetition, burnout and work stress are real conversations now which are getting addressed.

2. Value competence

The second non-negotiable in a workplace is competence. Fundamentally, a person is hired for a role because she or he is competent enough to deliver the mandate. They could have gained this competence by virtue of one of three means broadly:

Principally, as long as one can display competence and deliver, other factors become superfluous – like age, gender, where one works from, what time of the day one works, and so on. With all due respect, diversity initiatives, engagement, and culture all roll up to this one principle of whether we value our team members for their roles within the teams – irrespective of the other factors surrounding them.

3. Fairness

I struggled with this one. I think it’s a slightly broad category, but I feel it’s unfair to narrow it down. In principle, work that is unfair in any way, shape or form is unacceptable – whether it is being paid below parity or being treated in a disrespectful manner. It is important to go beyond fair work as defined by the legal framework of the country and go beyond hashtag campaigns of pay parity or equity. This is providing each employee the unspoken confidence that their work conditions are fair and equitable, by making them transparent. A few weeks ago, I came across a question on how to ensure that the employees maintain their pay confidentiality and if contracts binding them to do so have worked! In my mind, if the organisation is using a fair and scientific process of affixing compensation, why can’t that be shared with employees? And if our process itself is flawed and subject to judgement, none of the trending compensation best practices can create a culture of trust and engagement.

As I wrap up this post, I feel mindful of how it’s different from my other pieces. It has flown more organically and perhaps leaned less on my usual research style and data points. However, it has helped me think through things I love most about my workplaces, and it has piqued my curiosity about what are some of the other principles that we could add. Would love to hear from you on these!