For many managers and leaders, the pandemic brought several realisations: First, that traditional ways of managing will no longer apply in the future of work.
Second, that work, in essence, is a partnership and not rulership, and third, to ensure responsible management, certain values will become indispensable in the future of work. This third realisation is the crux of this article. What values will become sine qua non for responsible management post-COVID and in the future of work?
This question was the focus of discussion at the CKCRLE webinar organised by the Christopher Kolade Centre for Research in Leadership and Ethics (CKCRLE). The speakers, who had cumulatively over 100 years of experience in the private sector and public sector were members of the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) class at the Lagos Business School.
Transformation and disruptions are a part of economic life and business and have previously manifested in the form of economic downturns, inflations, market crashes, war, etc.
The COVID-19 pandemic is similar to these hitherto disruptions in the sense that it caused a shift in the way of doing things, perhaps significantly more so. It accelerated the digital transformation of most (if not all) organisations, as organisations were compelled to transfer their processes online.
It also propelled scholarship on responsible work and management, as the new work models empowered both employees and their employers. Now more than ever, employees and employers have far greater choices when it comes to employment.
Barriers to talent acquisition, like geography, distance and time that previously existed have been broken down by the new work models. As employers are faced with the challenge of employee retention, so are employees faced with the challenge of AI induced redundancy.
Scholars assert that in the future of work, certain values will be necessary for organisations to thrive and perform effectively. However, before we go into these values, it will benefit readers to have a grasp of what we mean by responsible management of work.
Responsible Management of Work
Management of work simply means how we get things done in a work environment. How we get things done efficiently and effectively. How we get things done in a way that ensures alignment with organisational goals.
Responsible management on the other hand means how we get things done in a way that is not only efficient and effective but also sustainable and ethical. These three components are considered the pillars of responsible management: Efficiency; Sustainability; and Ethical Conduct.
To be efficient means you are maximising resources in the best way possible and reducing waste as much as you can. Whether it be wastage of human resources, wastage of time, or wastage of material resources.
To be sustainable entails making sure continuity is assured. Paying attention to the triple bottom line, that is, people, planet and profit. People form the human resource of an organisation and are key in any organisation.
Ensuring that the human resource thrives is essential for the growth and continuity of the organisation. The planet is where our business operates and also provides for our sustenance (the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe), thus it is critical we protect the planet while conducting our business. And finally ensuring the business is profitable.
The third pillar of responsible management emphasizes organisations acting in a morally sound way. Leaders and managers have the responsibility of driving organisational culture, as such the bulk of this pillar objective falls on them.
Research has shown that when leaders act ethically, employees are more likely to do the same. Scholars also assert that ethical values create a strong culture of trust in an organisation.
Values needed post-COVID
Many of the new work models that now exist and will come to exist will require significant trust and loyalty from both the employer and the employee. Take, for instance, the work from home (WFH) model.
The employer must trust that the employee will perform his/her role while at home. Similarly, the onus of loyalty falls on the employee. Being loyal enough to 1. Do the work whilst without physical supervision, 2. Not disclose company information to third parties and 3. Work sincerely towards organisational growth and development.
Five main values are thus identified as essential for responsible management post-COVID, they are – Empathy, Mutual Respect, Honesty, Fairness, and Humility.
Empathy: Research has found that empathy in the workplace is positively correlated to job performance. Compassion and the ability to connect with others are essential skills in both our personal and professional life. Empathy in the workplace is a crucial component of leadership effectiveness. It improves human connections in general and leads to more effective communication and beneficial outcomes in the workplace.
The importance of empathy was highlighted during the thick of the pandemic. Remote work placed a lot of psychological pressure on people, as the delineation between work and home became blurred. People became overworked, stressed and burnt out. Lack of social interactions further compounded these challenges.
The relief one would have gotten from a chat with a co-worker was no longer there and this led to feelings of loneliness and despair for many. The transition from the euphoria of working from home to the despair of living at work was swift and many struggled with mental health challenges because of this.
Leaders and managers, facing similar challenges were called upon to be more empathetic of the needs of their workers and increased attention to mental health was promoted.
Managers must maintain this value post-COVID, as workers are now more aware of their rights and needs as employees. Gone are the days when toxicity thrived in the workplace, now employees are more likely to call out terrible bosses on their actions which could jeopardize the image of the organisation.
Mutual respect: Employees at all levels of seniority must understand the value of respect in the workplace. Respect at work is a crucial component in creating a positive working environment.
Employees feel they are appreciated for their accomplishments, abilities, and traits when there is mutual respect in the workplace. Employees who are respected and treated with respect contribute to a positive work culture in which they are fulfilled, loyal, engaged, and motivated to perform at their best.
As expressed earlier, the new forms of work will require loyalty from employees, mutual respect among employees and employers will engender such feelings of loyalty and commitment to the organisation.
Honesty: If honesty isn’t a guiding principle in every part of a company’s work process, it’s nearly impossible for that organisation to build trust. Honesty in the workplace strongly promotes a sense of trust and safety among employees and is crucial to the development of the organisation.
This is because honesty begets honesty, as previously noted managers and leaders set the tone for the organisational culture, thus if you want your employees to be honest, you have to be equally as honest and transparent. If employees know they can trust their leaders to do what is right, they equally strive to act right.
Another component of honesty is transparency and accountability. Being clear in your dealings is essential for leadership and management. This gives employees the assurance and evidence that their leaders are acting right by them and the organisation.
Fairness: Scholars assert that employees who believe they are treated fairly at work are more likely to trust their boss, love their work, and be committed to their employer. Fairness in an organisation entails respecting and advancing the human rights of all employees within the organisation and eschewing all forms of partiality or undeserved favouritism.
Fairness of treatment at work is a central determinant of employee well being, productivity and organisational performance. Employees who believe they are treated fairly are more likely to be loyal to their employers and to trust management decisions.
Humility: Humility is an important value for managers in the new world of work. Humility in the workplace encompasses many of the previously highlighted values, that is, empathy, respect, and honesty.
It entails being open to constructive criticism and feedback, as well as respecting and acknowledging the responsibilities and contributions of others. Demonstrating humility as a manager creates a domino effect, as employees also act with humility which facilitates healthy collaboration, boosts employee morale, encourages open communication, fosters helpful behaviours, and supports a healthy work relationship.
Conclusively, these values when properly harnessed will promote trust and loyalty in the organisation. Both of which will be essential for growth, sustainability and productivity in the future of work.
This article is based on a presentation by the Lagos Business School (LBS) Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) class, hosted by the Christopher Kolade Centre for Research in Leadership and Ethics (CKCRLE), Lagos Business School.
Baderinwa is the research assistant for the Christopher Kolade Centre for Research in Leadership and Ethics (CKCRLE) at LBS