Recent weeks have seen layoffs announced around the corporate world with greater regularity than fluffy press releases about community initiatives. As companies begin trimming their workforces and fortifying their positions for a recession, there’s a handful of trends that are worth keeping an eye on for their outsized impact on workplace fairness.
Workplace Fairness for the In-Person, Hybrid, Remote Experience
The pandemic shifted us toward remote work being the norm, but as Americans look at a post-pandemic reality, whether it’s over or not, what the workplace looks like continues to be a topic of debate.
The fact is, there really is no putting the proverbial cat back in the bag. Most skilled workers now feel that a significant portion of their day-to-day jobs could be done from a location of their choosing. Companies that provide that flexibility are going to fare better than those who insist on forcing people back into commutes and cubicles. Among those that maintain flexibility, there’s another issue to concern themselves with: the employee experience of people not in the office.
While in-person working has its benefits and drawbacks, one of the chief concerns among HR experts centers on how the employee experience differs between those who have access to their managers and a variety of co-workers and those who will be connecting electronically.
What is the experience for virtual attendees in meetings? Do they feel included or like an outsider? Finding answers to all these questions will continue to be paramount to developing a culture where fairness, inclusion and equity are at the center of people’s day-to-day work.
“In terms of workplace flexibility, our future of work model moves beyond spaces and places to create what we call omni-connected experiences that level the playing field so people can fully participate regardless of where they are physically working,” Kate Clifford, Chief Human Resources Officer at Accenture North America, said in an interview with DiversityInc. (Accenture was No. 1 on DiversityInc’s 2022 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list).
For many years, productivity was measured in metrics like hours worked, keystrokes, mouse clicks and documents created or emails sent. But efforts to quantify work vary in their effectiveness based on the type of work being done.
According to a study from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, tasks can be quantified when the work is simple, like steps on an assembly line. However, when the work is more complex, such as creative or engineering work, over-quantification demotivates the worker and drives down productivity.
Part of that may be a lack of accounting for the quality of a product rather than the amount of it. In hybrid and remote environments, the last two years have shown us that crude productivity metrics are ineffective and don’t actually measure an employee’s effectiveness. Instead, many companies have shifted toward focusing on business outcomes tied to an employee’s work, a trend that will need to continue as employees remain remote.
Maintaining Diversity Amid Layoffs
When the Great Recession hit, Black workers were among the first laid off, with Black unemployment percentages reaching double digits and remaining there for the next six years. It took nearly a decade for Black pre-recession income levels to return, whereas their white counterparts’ unemployment never approached double digits.
Interestingly, the pandemic saw Black unemployment fall, but there are now concerns about what happens in the wake of a recession. There is plenty of research out there which shows people from racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as people with disabilities, those with a criminal record and those who lack a college education are the first to be let go and the last to be rehired when recovery begins. The question now is, will that trend repeat itself in this recession?
The first workers to go in a recession are those whose work can’t be tied directly to business outcomes or the bottom line (marketing, IT, etc.). In addition, that can sometimes include folks in HR or diversity as well as ESG functions if they are not investors or governing boards’ priority.
As a result, DEI initiatives that have made progress in increasing representation could be negated if budgets for those programs and the team that built them are cut. Something experts warn against if companies are looking at the bigger picture.
“You’re looking at generations in the workplace and decades of work that’s been done,” Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President of Human Capital at The Conference Board said. “If you stop doing that, you have to be cognizant of the fact you’re going to lose some ground and you’re going to have to work that much harder to get back on up. It’s harder to restart an engine than to slow it down slightly, but keep moving forward.”
Treatment of Part-Time, Contract and Gig Workers
Another consequence of a recession is that as workers are laid off, they often turn to gig and contract work to make ends meet. In the Great Recession, many full-time hourly workers saw their hours cut down to part-time, reducing their benefit offerings and diminishing their pay.
While gig work is common now, it still comes with no guarantees and no benefits. Even with the Affordable Care Act offering healthcare alternatives in many states, this can have dire consequences for access to healthcare, to say nothing of the ability to take time off or cope with difficult personal circumstances such as the loss of a loved one or loss of a partner’s income.
Contract workers are partners of the organization and should be treated in ways that align with company culture. When the crisis passes and the time comes to beef up the workforce once again, how the company care for its people, partners and community during difficult times will be an integral part of its employer brand.
For part-time workers, now is the time to invest in people and help them grow through reskilling, upskilling and leadership development programs, another casualty during tough economic times.
“It’s important for leaders to recognize that the stressors their companies face, whether it be inflation, shifting customer demands or social challenges – also place greater pressure on their workforce,” Clifford said. “Supporting and prioritizing people’s needs should be a key business priority for companies even during times of change.”