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Work in progress 2022: The five most important lessons of the year

For the first time in three years, many aspects of daily life felt normal. However, the workplace remains a notable exception – and much remains in flux.

Even as many people return to pre-pandemic living conditions in 2022, daily life does not look the same. This is especially true in the workplace; it became clear this year that many of us will never return to our previous jobs.

Although we’ve learned more about what a pandemic-era workplace might look like, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the future, particularly about working models and equality. Both employers and employees are still dealing with a fluid landscape. Even as the global economy struggles, the power struggle over flexibility continues.

Here’s what we’ve learned about work this year – and what it might mean for the future.

The not-so-quiet rise of The Great Buzzword

Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University in the United States at the time, coined the term ‘The Great Resignation’ in 2021. It has been central to explaining the mass worker attrition that has occurred during the pandemic, particularly in certain industries such as service.

This phrase has been useful in describing the large-scale shift in the labour force, which has been unprecedented in equally unprecedented times. However, it has become somewhat exhausting, having given way to a plethora of clone terms coined by both the media and researchers to describe the current state of labour in 2022.A speedy glossary of a few:

  • The Great Reshuffle: Not every quitting worker has left the workforce entirely, but many have instead found themselves switching positions, even industries. (This one originated in late 2021, but found its sea legs this year.)
  • The Great RethinkSome workers are re-examining their relationships to their jobs and work at large, in some cases motivating them to request changes or move positions.
  • The Great RegretSome workers who quit their jobs to move into other positions have expressed regret for quitting or finding a different job.
  • The Great RemorseSimilarly, some of these workers with regret are struggling to find new positions, and are remorseful for taking the decision to resign.
  • The Great BreakupWomen leaders are leaving their jobs at record-high rates in search of better opportunities for advancement.
  • The Great DisengagementWorkers are increasingly feeling a disconnection from their employers.

In the latter months of 2022, a second swath of buzzwords emerged: the ‘quiet’ trend.

The best guess for the origin of this new lexicon is a March 2022 TikTok video about ‘quiet quitting,’ which is the concept of reducing one’s work to the bare minimum of a job description rather than leaving a company entirely. However, the term “quiet quitting” went viral in July 2022 after a different TikTok video went viral, propelling the term into the mainstream. Although the concept isn’t new, the sentiment of abandoning the hustle-culture mentality of years past has particularly resonated in the pandemic era.

The term evolved as more and more commentary on quiet quitting appeared. The two most significant additions have been ‘quiet firing’ and where an employer quietly nudges out a worker rather than firing them outright; and ‘quiet hiring,’ a recruiting practise mostly associated with Google in which the company promotes employees who are already going above and beyond.

As annoying as these buzzwords have become, their popularity is unsurprising. Workers, bosses, and experts have all struggled to explain the novel phenomenon of the radically reshaped pandemic workplace over the last three years. These terms have helped to identify and, in some cases, crystallise some of the most significant changes in organisational and employee behaviour and attitudes.

Our guess? Expect more buzzwords to come.

Pay transparency inches closer in the US—100-guaranteed-success-63aec4e12466968fcdf0904c

A year ago, the idea that a US worker could get a sense of salary before applying for a job seemed mostly implausible. While many European countries already require employers to list pay, pay transparency legislation in the United States has been limited to a few states. However, the most high-profile moves this year occurred in New York City, California, and Washington, which is notable because, as major employment hubs, many firms find it difficult to exclude these locations during recruitment.

This is excellent news. Wage transparency, for example, can help smooth interview processes and foster positive workplace cultures. But the most important piece, according to Pavlina Draganova of UK-based Organise, a UK platform that advocates for pay transparency, is “Over the last few decades, there has been mounting evidence that pay transparency can be a key tool in closing gender and racial pay gaps,” according to the article.

Nonetheless, some experts argue that, while these laws may be beneficial, they are not a cure-all for wage disparities that disproportionately affect women, people of colour, and LGBTQ workers. First, because exact salaries are not disclosed, it is possible that the most impacted groups will remain on the low end of the pay scale (and, in some cases, wage ranges have been so broad that they are nearly meaningless). There is also a bonus blind spot, as additional compensation such as performance pay and equity are illegal.

Regardless, these changes stand to help further pay transparency in 2023. Experts predict an increasing number of states will move towards this requirement, and employers, too, may voluntarily embrace this in the quest for better talent.

Yes, hybrid is still a work in progress

Many people realised hybrid work was the future as early as 2020, when the pandemic was still in full swing. It’s a prediction that has come true: thousands of businesses have since switched to hybrid setups, with most employees spending two or three days a week in the office. Many employers placed employees in hybrid environments in 2022, marking the first large-scale test of these configurations.

Lessons are clearly still being learned. First, workers are still divided about how frequently – if at all – they want to come in. In many cases, it has divided employers and employees, and it has even sparked conflict between remote workers and those who are required to come in. (Some employees even claim that managers do not follow the same rules as their subordinates.) And, on top of that, Many companies have yet to make definitive return-to-work plans, leaving some employees frustrated.

“It’s disturbing if people are told different things at different times with no influence over that decision,” says Denise Rousseau, professor of organisational behaviour and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States. “The yo-yoing back and forth breeds uncertainty, and people don’t like how many unknowns there are.”

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