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Research results after two years of working in…
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Results corona

Research results after two years of working in times of Corona

After lockdowns, vaccinations and boosters, it is clear: we have been quietly learning to live (and work) with COVID. But what lasting impact did the pandemic have on the role work plays in our lives? And what about that impending burnout wave? AMS professors Kathleen Vangronsvelt and Ans De Vos conducted research over the past two years into the impact of the pandemic on employers and employees, interviewing (in collaboration with Ghent University) 8848 employees. Employees indicate that they are increasingly confident and expect more from their employer, but do not always find ways to engage in dialogue. People in their twenties form a special vulnerable target group. Let's guide you to the results.

by Kathleen Vangronsvelt, PhD, Ans De Vos, PhD, Sara Bastiaensens, PhD | July 6, 2022
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Results corona

60% expect more flexibility from employer in comparison to before COVID

Whereas many employers pre-2020 were still reluctant to allow place- and time-independent work, telecommuting has now become highly normalized. Indeed - it has often become an acquired right. As many as six in ten employees expect more flexibility from their employer on when and where they work than before the pandemic. One in two now also expect more understanding from their employer when they are having problems in their private situation, or when the employee is struggling with their mental well-being.

Only 13% are ready for more flexibility by themselves

So does this flexibility also apply in the other direction? The numbers seem to suggest otherwise. Only 13% of workers report that their willingness to be available for work after hours has increased since Corona. In particular, those in their thirties and forties no longer want to be contacted after hours - this willingness is higher for those in their twenties. People in their twenties are also more open to being present in the office, but set their limits in other areas and, in turn, are less eager than other age groups to work fixed hours.

"Employees feel that the balance of power has shifted. People are taking control and their working conditions more into their own hands now that they see that the framework is not set in stone. The tightness in the labor market will certainly have an impact on this as well - workers are currently in a relative position of power."

— Professor Kathleen Vangronsvelt, AMS

1 in 3 still find it difficult to talk about mental well-being in organizations, 20-somethings extra vulnerable group

Are there no more sacred houses then? It's not as simple as that. Vangronsvelt: "Our research shows that one in three still finds it difficult to raise mental well-being with the employer." And that's a problem, because if anything has been under heavy pressure over the past two years, it's mental well-being. Vangronsvelt: "Perhaps this is also an important reason why employees expect more flexibility from the employer and at the same time are less willing to do this themselves - the cake has been cut out after two years of Covid." The results also show that of all age groups, those in their twenties have the most difficulty talking about work pressure within the organization (36% of them find this difficult vs. 28% across all employees).

"As a young employee with fewer years of work experience, it is probably more difficult to know 'what is normal' in terms of workload. On top of that, they may also be more insecure in delivering difficult messages. This is where managers can play an important role, by starting the conversation with their employees, creating a safe context and discussing mutual expectations about workload, for example."

— Sara Bastiaensens, researcher Next Generation Work at AMS

The great resignation? Significantly more young people are homebodies

The proportion of people looking for another job remains the same as in 2021 (about 25%). However, 1 in 4 employees also indicate that they are less willing to be loyal to their employer than before the pandemic and say, for example, that they are now looking out for other jobs. A sign that the Great Resignation is also coming to our country?

There are large differences in age groups. In fact, among those in their twenties, there is a drop in the rate of looking for other work of as much as 14%, and this group also reports feeling more loyalty to the employer."

— Professor Ans De Vos, AMS

Those in their sixties are also looking for other work less than they did last year, but for them this is not accompanied by increased loyalty. Many people in their sixties probably stay because they see little prospect of a new job, or simply do not feel the need to change jobs in the last years of their career. Those in their thirties, forties and fifties are more open to a new opportunity.

People in their thirties, forties and fifties looking for new opportunities

How do we explain that difference between age groups? "Onboarding in times of a lot of telecommuting, is not easy for anyone. But for young employees it is an extra challenge, they have more difficulties to work independently than someone with more work experience. So the amount of telecommuting can actually be a barrier for younger workers to change jobs." As for the rise among the middle group, Vangronsvelt looks for the explanation rather in waiting for the right moment: "People in their thirties, forties and fifties may have let the cat out of the tree during the economically uncertain COVID period and now feel that there are opportunities. So we still don't see a great resignation happening here, but we do see a remarkable trend".

"The new normal" is all that is known

In addition, De Vos points to another reason why young people are less looking for another job, and thirtiers, fortiers and fiftiers more now: the different experiences with social contact with colleagues and the atmosphere in the workplace. Let those be the very things that have been under severe pressure for the past 2 years. "At The Great Resignation, turnover is really just the tip of the iceberg, too. Underneath is a general sentiment of alienation and a sense of 'enough is enough.'" This is reflected not only in the imbalance between flexibility expected from the employer and what employees themselves are willing to give, but also in increased turnover. "And those processes play stronger for employees who can compare to how things used to be, than for younger people who don't have that history yet. Early in your career, you are brought up in what work actually is and what normal is - so 'the new normal' for young workers is just normal - the only thing they have known."

About this research

This research came about thanks to a collaboration between the expertise center Next Generation Work of Antwerp Management School and UGent and was made possible by B-Tonic, subsidiary of Baloise Insurance, Bpact/Indiville, SD Worx and HRmagazine. The employee survey was conducted among the Belgian working population (8848 employees over 3 surveys); the final survey was conducted between May 25 and June 17, 2022 among 1902 respondents.

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