Interviews

Choosing change

In the wake of a pandemic which placed all aspects of life on hold, Sarah Shilling,EMEA EVP at Porter Novelli unveils new research revealing how consumers and employees alike plan to take back control.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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A staggering 75% of UK citizens have set new goals for themselves coming out of lockdown. Areas that have become increasingly important to the majority of those surveyed were making more time for things they enjoy (selected by 69%), personal health (64%), personal relationships (63%), financial security (59%) and mental wellbeing (58%). Furthermore 31% said they have reevaluated their career goals as a result of the pandemic.

Yet despite the deluge of headlines on ‘the great resignation’ the research shows that the top goals consumers have set themselves coming out of lockdown is to spend more time with family (29%) and to become physically healthier (29%). In contrast, changing jobs is a goal for 8% of people. A trend which is backed up with search data - as while searches for gyms are up 116%, new jobs have risen just 16%, well below starting a business which is at 44%. Research which underlines that ‘the great resignation’ we have all been reading so much about could in fact be more of a great reset moment; with implications that stretch far beyond the confines of the four walls of an office or zoom screen. 

Change allows you to set new parameters for yourself and to do new things.

Sarah Shilling, EMEA EVP at Porter Novelli

Beyond the fear

Sarah Shilling, EMEA EVP at Porter Novelli, believes that in the wake of the pandemic, our collective response to change has fundamentally shifted. Essentially, when we had no choice but to change, adapt and learn to live in a state of constant uncertainty, individually and collectively we were forced to address our fear of change.

“Change allows you to set new parameters for yourself and to do new things,” she explains. It is a shift that drove a change in everything from how individuals interacted with their local communities; committing to buy better, do better and take action to help each other; to their expectations for businesses and employers alike. 

“Suddenly change became an everyday dynamic,” she explains, pointing to how that manifested in new creative outputs and investment of time and energy into local communities. 

In essence, this change is not simply about opting out or ‘The Great Resignation’; “I don’t buy into this whole narrative around the great resignation” explains Shilling. She continues: “A lot of organisations are looking at their benefits and flexible working isn’t seen as a benefit anymore, it's essential. There is far more focus on the joy equation and what truly makes employees happy,” she adds.

Great Expectations

The research also goes some way in puncturing the purpose fatigue which continues to dominate industry debate, A desire to take positive lessons forward post-pandemic is a key trend. With 3 in 4 Britons surveyed (74%) saying that people are quick to judge each other without hearing the other person's perspective. While 65% agree that moving forward post-lockdown is a chance to have more productive conversations about the changes they want to see in the world. 

Shilling believes these expectations for change are huge. “Supply chains are under scrutiny. Climate change, ESG governance, social justice and D&I is a large melting pot. A lot of companies are having to go through huge change management,” she explains. 

Nowhere have expectations changed more than when it comes to the relationship between employees and the companies they work for. A shift which Shilling explains means there is almost a ‘different language’ that has been created when it comes to talking about employee expectations in the workplace. 

Notably, while salary inflation is a significant challenge for businesses in the wake of the pandemic the research underlines that money alone isn't enough. Employees want to work for companies that reflect their values, which means that leaders need to be more transparent than ever. 

Sometimes you have to fail in order to win because it's that failure which allows you to go somewhere else or do something new. Leaving is the strongest statement you can make and sometimes walking away is the biggest way to make change.

Sarah Shilling, EMEA EVP at Porter Novelli

Your workforce is your secret weapon

For Shilling, the key question for leaders to answer is “What does motivation mean today?”. She explains: “Your workforce is your secret weapon; they are your brand ambassadors and your advocates.”

According to Shilling communications became a ‘superpower’ during the pandemic; as CEOs communicate directly with their staff and customers. “Brands really had to put their arms around their people and communication was key to that,” she explains. 

This focus on open and transparent communication will be key to rebuilding a future of work that works for everyone. She believes that the employers are increasingly asking their top talent: ‘what do you need for us to keep you’? A significant shift away from the command and control leadership styles of days gone by. “There has always been significant churn in the media industry, as a service industry tensions are there but now we are seeing much more focus on how we better blend work with something else.”

This ‘something else’ focuses on the different dynamics and needs of a diverse workforce; from side-hustles to small children, the pandemic has placed people’s genuine priorities front and centre. 

It’s this focus which is driving a growing number of individuals to embrace the possibilities that come with change. As Shillings explains: “Sometimes you have to fail in order to win because it's that failure which allows you to go somewhere else or do something new. Leaving is the strongest statement you can make and sometimes walking away is the biggest way to make change.”

Yet despite the widespread desire for change, the research underlined consumer frustration with a lack of change that is meaningful; with 61% agreeing that companies make promises and statements without making meaningful change. While notably, when it comes to addressing change over half (51%) of consumers expect companies to recognise previous mistakes and say how they will improve. 

With consumers and employees alike expressing concerns that 2021 did not deliver the reset moment many expected, the research underlined the power of living in the moment. With 69% of people looking for something that will bring that joy immediately.

Notably, Shillings explains that people are willing to make a trade-off in search of this joy. “This value-joy equation really supersedes work-life balance,” she explains.

From taking small people to school, to being open about side-hustles, the tension points of the modern workplace have been fundamentally challenged. “We have reframed the permissible. We were 24/7 pre-pandemic and that tension has been elevated. It has enabled me to create boundaries and integrate my life more with my work.”

It’s a change that underlines the possibilities that come with change and the power of refocusing on joy, which is perhaps long overdue.