In psychology, the phrase “power balance” typically refers to personal relationships in the home between partners, wives, and couples. While a power balance in sports refers to the relationship dynamic between coaches and the athletes under their mentorship. In the corporate world, the phrase refers to the complexities of power in the employer-employee relationship. Regardless of the context, a power balance is a critical component of a healthy relationship where all involved can equally share their thoughts, opinions, and feelings.
Throughout American history, the power pendulum has tilted back and forth. In the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, American workers were at their most vulnerable, working in sordid conditions with little to no room for recourse. In response, the labor movement was born, deriving from the Ricardian labor theory of value and from the republican ideas of the American Revolution1, which fostered social equality, celebrated honest labor, and relied on independent, virtuous citizenship.
During the Reagan administration, the pendulum shifted the power back to the employers’ direction when he fired striking air traffic controllers and hired replacements, resulting in the long-term weakening of labor union’s power. Since then, the power of the employee has continued to ebb and flow. The coronavirus pandemic has heavily tilted the power pendulum back in favor of the employee.
How the pandemic has empowered workers
Since the 1920s, when Henry Ford started the concept of a 9-to-5 workday2, leadership had all the power, making important decisions about the work schedule down to minute details like dress codes. And that is how things have remained for the better part of a century, extending past manual workers into the modern-day corporate environment.
Then Covid-19 happened.
Seemingly overnight, leaders had the rug pulled out from under them and were forced to do everything they had thought against for years: asking their workforce to work from home and releasing most of their control over to employees. Some leaders refused to loosen their grip and subsequently burned out their workforce3 even more so than before, which resulted in The Great Migration.
Among the flurry of changes that workers faced during the pandemic, one of the most significant was the implementation of working from home. Very quickly, it became apparent to workers that almost any job could be done remotely while remaining productive, and in some cases, more so4. They learned that changing their schedules to fit in their doctor’s appointments or squeezing in a quick midday workout didn’t make the entire organization fall apart, as leadership may have warned.
Employees are in the driving seat
Two-and-a-half years, flexible work is no longer a temporary pandemic response but an enduring feature of the modern workplace.
According to findings in the third edition of McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey5, when given a choice to work flexibly, 87% of employees take it. This dynamic is shared across demographics, occupations, and geographies. While the flexible working world boon was born of a frenzied reaction to a sudden crisis, it has remained a desirable job feature for millions of working Americans. The mass adoption of flexible work represents a tectonic shift in where, when, and how Americans want to work and are working.
For workers, it’s not just about improving their work-life balance. It also increases their productivity. Flex+Strategy Group’s 2018 research report found that 60% of employees feel more productive6 and engaged with a flexible work schedule. While 45% say it improves their ability to collaborate and communicate with colleagues.
Flexibility isn’t just a perk workers want, it’s essential to their success, and they aren’t willing to give that up.
Employees need not fear change
For employers seeking to fill their offices again, trying to enforce in-person working may be a bad idea, with nearly 30% of workers7 insisting they would quit their job if told to return to the office full time. While employers may want workers to return to the office and work more hours, it is important to realize that hybrid and remote work have brought terrific benefits for both parties.
- Engagement and investment. Employees with more choice and autonomy8 tend to be more motivated and engaged. A study of nearly 1,400 healthcare workers in Taiwan9 found autonomy to be connected to greater job satisfaction and higher retention rates, while a 2017 study by the University of Birmingham10 found that employees who have higher levels of autonomy at work reported a greater sense of wellbeing and job satisfaction.
- Reduced stress and improved focus. The average American spends 55 minutes travelling to and from work11, while research12 from around the world by leading psychologists concludes that the heightened stress that commuting puts on individuals and their families can easily overshadow work and home gains. Removing the commute provides more time for exercise, doctor appointments or family activities – and when employees have more time for all the things and their stress is reduced — a greater focus on work is possible.
- Trust and a healthier work culture. When organizations offer people greater flexibility, they send a message to employees that they are trusted. When people receive more, they tend to give more in return, so when employees offer options, they are more likely to feel more positively toward the organization and give greater discretionary effort.
Be a more effective leader by striking a better power balance
The most effective leaders (as measured by their success rates and the overall success of their organizations) are values-driven, transparent, compassionate, humane, and recognize employees as unique individuals.
Companies must continue their commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and fairness. They will want to maintain a focus on employee wellbeing. And they should continue to develop leaders13 who manage in new ways and go beyond engaging people to inspiring them. And as a result, their employees perform better: They are more engaged, loyal, and productive.
Whether you want to enhance your leadership, inspire your team, or ready your company for organizational transformation, True Synergy will be there for you every step of the way. Visit our website to learn more.
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