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The Next Normal: Part II

The Great Beyond…

Talking about the “The Great Beyond”, evokes feelings of hope and promise. 

At least we think so.

Like we have entered a completely new stage of our lives. And in a way, we have. Like butterflies emerging from our cocoons. 

The cocoon in this case, is likened to the state of limbo we have found ourselves in since March 2020. Not really knowing what the future would yield. Not fully knowing how our lives would change. 

But in entering The Next Normal: The Great Beyond we are bringing forth the positive lessons gained. 

The remote working environment comes to mind, with its availing of flexibility and a positive work-life balance – work didn’t seem so…. “troublesome” anymore. 

Coupled with a change in corporate culture from office centric to supportive centric, embracing technology and completely transforming business to increase inclusion of employee engagement in decision making – things (in general) appeared to be “on the up”. Positive outlooks and improved employee performance (and morale).

But as Aunt Jet in the novel (and movie) Practical Magic (written by Alice Hoffman) said – “with the sweets, comes the sour”.

Because despite the positives that we chose to focus on in our previous article, there’s a really negative trend that we are seeing in the news. Especially recently. 

And it sucks. 

So, lets address these “elephants in the room”.

Work from home employees should be paid less

There are some companies who have embraced the fact that remote working or hybrid working is here to stay. Some of these are giants within their industry. Literally. All in different sectors.

Munich Re is one of the leading providers – globally – of reinsurance, primary insurance, and insurance-related risk solutions. It has almost 40,000 employees and offices on almost every continent. It has also been around since 1880 and has seen its fair share of catastrophes. And yet somehow, it has managed to weather each and every storm. And COVID is no different.

In their article The Future of Work in a Post COVID-19 World they state – 

“As the world recovers from the health and economic impact of COVID-19, the lessons learned leave us better prepared and will guide us through future crises. In-person interactions will always be at the heart of business, but the recent increase in adoption of technology has changed the perspective of working relationships forever. From hiring, training, and team meetings to closing deals and at-home services, technology will continue to evolve with innovative solutions to keep businesses flexible and thriving through the unexpected.”

And they have, indeed, practised what they preach. 

Offices around the world downsized in a way that promotes a healthy hybrid work environment. There are hot desks and employees are required to be at the office between 2 – 3 days per week, depending on requirements. They have also made serious investment in technology, embracing what COVID taught companies worldwide – technologically advanced companies that enable their employees to perform optimally, whether in the office, at home or remotely by being able to seamlessly connect, integrate, interact, and meet with one another – with ease. 

Microsoft has set out the changes made to Munich Re’s offices in great detail. It’s a fascinating read.

Munich Re is a company that is truly forward thinking. In words and in practice. 

Similarly, Amazon’s CEO Andy Jassy told Business Insider that Amazon has no plans to make its employees return to the office – 

“there is no one-size-fits-all approach for how every team works best. The decision to work from home or in the office would be left to individual teams.”

Amazon corporate employees are working on a hybrid work schedule, with certain sections of the company, like its hardware and creative teams, being in the office more often. And that is unlikely to change. 

Other notable giants sticking to the hybrid model include Google, Apple, Citigroup, and Deutsche Bank – where employees need to be in the office 3 days a week. 

Meta has remained truly committed to the remote working model where employees have continued working from home. Permanently.

In stark contrast to the Companies mentioned above are people like Lord Alan Michael Sugar – The Apprentice Boss who according to Metro UK and Mint has said that employees who work from home are “Lazy gits watching golf and tennis at home while they supposed to be working. Get them back to the office or fire them’”. He has gone on to say that employees should be paid less if they don’t need to travel for work.

Similarly, Elon Musk was reported by Business Insider as saying that –

“All the Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard.”

Musk is not a fan of remote work and ordered his employees to return to his California Tesla factory in May 2020 – he has a real “distaste for workers who are trying to avoid going to work at all”.

But according to three economists that spoke to Business Insider – Musk may have the wrong idea about remote work.

“Most of the evidence shows that productivity has increased while people stayed at home. People spent less time commuting so could use some of that time to work, and they also got to spend more time with their family and sleeping, which meant they were happier and ended up more productive.” 

–        Dr. Natacha Postel-Vinay, an economic and financial historian at the London School of Economics

“Time spent at the office is not the same thing as working hard. Cutting out commuting was a bonus to worker productivity. Working from home also led to fewer hours spent in pointless meetings”

–        Prof. Albrecht Ritschl, a professor of economic history

“The largest surveys of workers in the US and the UK found workers were at least as productive at home as in the office.”

–        Dr. Almarina Gramozi, a lecturer in economics at King’s College London

Lord Sugar and Elon Musk are not alone. Having a look at Wales Online and The Sun makes for some interesting reading.

But, with respect to Sugar and Musk, if the likes of –

  • Munich Re – with a generated profit of €2.9bn in 2021 and an expected consolidated profit of €3.3bn in 2022; 
  • Amazon – with a net worth of $1291.99 Billion as of September 2022; 
  • Google – with a net worth of $1853 Billion as of April 2022; 
  • Citigroup – with a net worth of $98.52 Billion as of September 2022; 
  • Deutsche Bank – with a net worth of $18.56 Billion as of September 2022, and  
  • Meta – with a net worth of $411.54 Billion as of September 2022 

Are all happy to embrace a hybrid work model, we think we will look to them for guidance on this matter.

Because clearly, their employees didn’t get the memo on being lazy whilst working from home. If they had, the companies would not be worth what they are. In fact, Munich Re reported that –

“The year 2021 was good for Munich Re. We beat our profit target, while also making our balance sheet even stronger despite high inflation. Both an increased dividend and a new share buy-back will enable our shareholders to share in this success.”

If you ask us, that doesn’t sound like a company whose employees are lazy or unproductive. Quite the opposite in fact. That sounds like a company who has embraced The Next Normal, that has invested in technology to improve how they operate and has invested in their employees ensuring a healthy work-life balance. 

Happy employees are productive employees. That’s obvious.

And truly lazy employees will be lazy employees regardless of where they work. Working from home will not aid and abet or deter that.

Quiet Quitting

There is another concept that has grown in momentum recently. 

That is “quiet quitting”. 

Media houses like the Financial TimesThe Atlantictechtarget and Metro UK as well as the socials, like LinkedIn, are abuzz with –

  • What is quiet quitting?
  • Is quiet quitting a real thing? and
  • What causes quiet quitting? 

So, we thought we would take a look and see whether quiet quitting “holds any water”. 

What is it?

What sounds like someone sneakily “resigning” from their position (without anyone realising), comes down – essentially – to not going “above and beyond” to get your job done. Sort of like putting in the least amount of effort or doing the bare minimum.  

It’s been described as a kind of rebellion against the “hustle culture” (which according to Forbes is making sacrifices, putting in long hours and doing whatever it takes to succeed).

Put slightly differently, quiet quitting amounts to an employee limiting their tasks to those strictly within their job description to avoid working longer hours.

Is quiet quitting a real thing?

According to Gallup – yes. 

In 2022 only 32% of the US workforce are actively engaged and 18% are actively disengaged (aka loud quitters) with the remaining 50% made up of quiet quitters.

What causes quiet quitting?

Gallup suggests that quiet quitters are as a result of a lack of clarity of expectations, opportunities to learn and grow, feeling cared about, a growing disconnect between employees and their employers and poor management. 

It has also been suggested that quiet quitting is as a result of extreme burnout.  In fact, according to Asana’s 2022 Anatomy of Work report 

“7 out of 10 employees experienced burnout during 2022. Employees suffering from burnout are less engaged, make more mistakes, leave the company and are at a higher risk for low morale.”

If we are honest, quiet quitting is not a new phenomenon. It has just been given a fancy new title. People that are unhappy within their work environments will seek alternative employment, they will be less interested and less engaged. 

And it makes sense that when you are unhappy and being treated badly, you are less likely to care about your job. And you are certainly less likely to go beyond for your employer. This has always been the case. It is not because of COVID, lockdown or any new remote or hybrid working model. And it is certainly not due to lazy employees. 

It is due to unhappy employees. 

It comes down to employers taking an interest in their employees, asking whether they are happy and feeling engaged and it most certainly involves adopting a supportive centric approach where employees are actively engaged in decision making processes. 

It involves investing in the wellbeing (both physically and mentally) of employees and taking mental health seriously (as we set out in our previous article The Next Normal: The Great Beyond). 

We still believe that this is the Great Beyond. There are so many reasons in support of it. But if you believe that WFH employees are lazy, that quiet quitting is a result of not caring about work or not working hard enough, you would be doing the opposite of embracing the opportunities that are evidently abound in The Great Beyond. 

And that would be a shame – especially after everything we have all been through. 

To embrace The Next Normal get in touch with AJS to find out how we can support you and assist you with incorporating legal technology into your practice. Taking you into The Great Beyond.

– Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS

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