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From engagement to empowerment

Pre Covid-19, we were all happy to go to work 5 days a week - primarily at the office. The office being the place where the vast majority of work was done - be it through meetings, through small team discussions, or through individual focus. We were all busy doing emails, sharing ideas and agreeing next steps in person.

In the last decade, organisations have invested significantly in employee engagement (an employees commitment to the work and organisation) as a way to motivate productivity through higher retention and commitment. However, it has been more on company terms - with the employee expected to deliver the specific work (via job descriptions), in the company environment (the office context), and with specific outputs (KPI’s). At the same time, cost cutting has swept through resulting in many skillful and valued employees being made redundant. Highlighting without prejudice that the employer had the upper hand- and the power.

However, that power is shifting and has been for some time – lockdown has just accelerated it.

that power is shifting - lockdown has just accelerated it

Prior to COVID, the desire to “work on my terms” resulted in 1 in 4 Australian workers being self employed. The key reason cited in the ABS survey is the need for flexibility, so people can better balance work and home life. The need was there, companies just (generally) didn't allow it.

Now - post the lockdown experience, that flexibility will be an expectation from employees. Lockdown has proven irrevocably that work from home (WFH) can be productive and effective at scale. So employees now expect to be empowered in how they choose to deliver work outcomes. Employees are not looking to be engaged on company terms, but empowered on their own terms.

Employees are not looking to be engaged, but empowered

If we step back and consider how organisations and the relationship between companies and employees has evolved over time, we can see how work motivations have also changed over time - influenced by both the macro context and needs. In the last decade, we have seen a much more fluid market - with new skills and specialisations evolving due to technology, and the pressure of new business models requiring cost cutting - and redundancies. At the same time, people have leveraged the new macro forces and technology to start their own business, or move between multiple roles. The relationship between employers and employees is one of push pull, and COVID has resulted in employees now recognising that you don't need to be in the office to be productive. There is a very clear expectation - don't watch me - but by all means hold me to account on outcomes.

Don't watch me - but by all means hold me to account on outcomes.

Organisations will need to have new systems, procedures and policies in place to support this, recognising the employee experience now has different expectations and drivers. And it won’t be just parents looking for flexibility, it will be people at all stages - looking to work in a way that better fits with their whole life. Whether it is to pursue a life passion, a side hustle, or enjoy having a family..

The following diagram illustrates how this relationship has evolved, and how the shift to blending work and home post COVID has resulted in a new work motivation, contribution and focus.

The good news for organisations is that this will also increase the motivation for employees to deliver outcomes. As they are less visible in the office, their performance will be even further assessed through performance and hard KPI's. The give is flexibility, the take is you must deliver outcomes.

Yet perhaps this is actually the "win win" we have all been seeking. As a client of mine stated "“everyone was exhausted juggling – and now I look back and see we didn’t need to. My company is receiving a much higher level of productivity as a consequence of me having greater balance in my day – so it’s really a win win”.

This blog is written from my whitepaper "Blended: the post Covid rules on how we work, lead and live". If you would like a copy, you can receive a free download by clicking here


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