The biggest challenge facing CIOs has nothing to do with information or tech

BrandPost By Neal Riley, CIO at Adaptavist
Nov 15, 20227 mins
CIOIT Strategy

Shifts in employee satisfaction and the reinvention of the workplace will impact corporate and CIO agendas in 2023 and beyond

Virtual Meeting
Credit: martin-dm

As the new year approaches, so will a litany of predictions regarding the biggest issues facing CIOs in 2023.  Will cyber security and data privacy threats top the list or will continued worldwide economic uncertainty take center stage?  Regardless of what comes our way, CIOs are adept at managing change – and after two years of unprecedented, continuous disruption, we have become even more resilient. But there’s one thing we may be less prepared for: the seismic shift in employee satisfaction and the very real need to reinvent the workplace.

The IT industry has often had a reputation for unhealthy work habits, especially in the US. Although Americans are commended for their ‘work ethic’, it often equates to a culture of incredibly long hours, few breaks (even for illness), and high levels of stress. The pandemic has chipped away at this culture by ushering in work-at-home options and allowing for more flexibility, which has led many workers to re-examine how they work – and how work is affecting them.  Mental health and wellbeing are rising in importance – so much so, that the US Surgeon General recently released a 30-page framework for creating a healthier workplace. But before businesses can make lasting changes, they need to understand what employees really want and need.

Adaptavist recently surveyed 1,200 US employees as part of a global Reinventing Work study to learn how employees are shaping the new workplace, including their views on remote work, productivity, collaboration, health and wellbeing, and growing ‘cost of work’ concerns. The results showed a real dichotomy between the desire for more choice and control over employee work lives versus the toll that some changes have created in the form of isolation, loneliness, increased workloads and costs. These disparities underscore the continued shifts between the old ways of doing business and the new ways people want to work – and if CIOs want to keep their top performers, a balancing act is required.   

The antithesis of traditional work culture

Two key results from the Reinventing Work report found that 55% of respondents say it’s time to eliminate the 40-hour workweek, and 56% believe companies should start measuring employee productivity based on the quality and output of work rather than the number of hours worked.  This represents a significant shift for the US, where a five-day, 9-to-5 workweek has been the norm for many knowledge workers, and corporate managers continue to judge employees based on time at their desks and how early they arrive or late they stay.

Along with the pandemic, the ‘youth-i-fication’ of the US workforce via more millennials and Gen Z’s entering the workplace is bringing about new expectations for flexibility and greater work-life balance. Today, almost half of US workers (47%) believe the best flexible work option would be a four-day workweek, with a third saying their employer is already giving them that option. This flexibility is becoming a key differentiator for businesses like Bolt that permanently adopted a four-day workweek after successful trials. Aside from higher pay, flexibility is a benefit employees want most and companies who offer it will strengthen recruitment and retention – even in ‘hot’ markets. 

That said, not everything has changed. While the onset of the pandemic caused many people to predict the “death of the office”, this hasn’t been the case. Some 59% of workers told Adaptavist they are back in the office full time and 58% said they no longer have the option to work remotely. Yet, many employees (38%) believe they are at peak productivity when mixing home and office work. And a further 35% say they are too overwhelmed with work to talk to their colleagues anyway — which could be a subtle nod to the ‘quiet quitting’ movement. Workers may not be proactively disengaging, but rather not engaging simply because they don’t have the time. 

Returning to work includes financial, mental & physical costs

Even though many Americans are now back in the office full-time, others remain anxious about what a full return to pre-pandemic work setups could mean. On a financial front, 42% of US employees say they’re worried about the additional costs of working in an office full-time, which is understandable given the impact of inflation on the price of everyday items like food and gasoline. Even with sky-high gas prices receding, previous research has found that US workers are spending, on average, $8,466 on their commute every year.

The impending recession is also contributing to employee stress and causing some to consider taking on additional work. Adaptavist found that at least a quarter of US workers have accepted an additional job or have taken on extra paid work. This shift could also be causing them to question the viability of a return to the office, since doing so would likely require many to give up their supplementary income. After all, 70% of employees with two jobs say their side hustle makes them roughly $6,000 yearly. A significant pay bump as the cost of living continues to rise.

Healthwise, 38% of respondents say they are experiencing some anxiety about returning to office, however many have chosen to return not only because their company mandates it but also due to feelings of loneliness and isolation.  Psychotherapist and mental health expert, Petra Velzeboer says both issues can cause major problems.  Anxiety can impact our day-to-day work in a variety of ways, producing physical health symptoms like heart palpitations and shortness of breath to overthinking, obsessive thoughts and lack of sleep. And there’s no one size fits all solution. Loneliness creates another set of challenges. Most survey respondents (89%) said in-person connection with colleagues is critical, and during the pandemic, more and more of them felt isolation, which is a stressor. When we stack stress over time, it can lead to burn out and mental or physical health issues. 

Addressing tool fatigue before making changes

To implement a more healthy, flexible work strategy, however, it’s clear that many organizations first need to address issues with the tools and technologies their employees use daily. Even though they don’t always identify it, American workers frequently experience tool fatigue.

Interestingly, this problem disproportionately impacts asynchronous workers, who experience tool fatigue at rates twice as high as workers on the same hours as their colleagues. Just under half of employees (49%) admitted they lose time during the day due to task switching, and 40% note their organization has too many tools that perform the same function.

To achieve the type of autonomous workplace today’s workers desire, however, organizations need to up-level their use of technology. Truthfully, technology is key to any flexible work schedule, whether across a four-day workweek or not. To meet workers’ demands for greater autonomy, trust, and flexibility, they need access to more efficient communication and collaboration tools. Otherwise, there’s a threat they will just result in wasted time and feelings of invisibility online. Frustrations which may very well contribute to workers seeking new opportunities which more closely align with their values and demands for the future of work.

In conclusion

The demands on CIOs will not lessen in the near future – from managing digital transformation to improving data and analytics to dealing with supply chain disruptions or the integration of new technologies, systems and processes – it’s a never-ending list. But employee health and welfare need to be at the top.  Understanding what employees want and need – which can, at times, be at odds – and helping them achieve it is going to be the key to our success. Because without an engaged, healthy workforce, none of the rest is possible. 

To learn more about Adaptavist’s 2022 Reinventing Work Report, click here.