“We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” - William Faulkner
Fighting the same enemies, the crisis, the economic burden, the job shifts, the fear, the uncertainty, and more, one thing we all realised is the power of freedom. Isolated in our respective spaces, almost disconnected from the world, we learnt the value of people and relationships. Working and thriving in our respective jobs free from the binds of the ‘tried & tested’ modes of work, we experienced more freedom. And now, eighteen months later, when we have witnessed the great positive impact of this freedom on employee well-being, efficiency and business, we must continue to practice it.
So how can an organisation, the HR, and its leaders offer freedom to employees to lead a more balanced and meaningful life?
Freedom from bureaucracy
Gone are the days when structures and systems were set in stone. The last 18 months have in particular shown us that only systems that are flexible, adaptable, and malleable can survive the black swan events like the pandemic. With the world going nimble and digital, HR cannot toe the old bureaucratic ways of working and be set in its systems. HR needs to give employees easy access to information they need, using systems and technologies that are consumer friendly. It’s high time that in a shape shifting world, HR gives its employees freedom from the bastions of bureaucracy to enable them to work in an agile, flexible, and unencumbered way!
Freedom from bias
More so than ever, three key words have become a crucial part of the goals set by HR leaders for their organisations: diversity, inclusion and belonging. All of these serve to reinforce a workplace culture that is open and accommodating of people coming from diverse backgrounds and catering to their specific needs and concerns. There is greater awareness of not just opening channels of employment to people irrespective of who they are and where they come from but also removing any biases that might seep in even in development and retention stages of the employment cycle. With the acceleration of paths to digital transformation undertaken by organisations in light of the pandemic, HR leaders are caught up in a data-driven world. By taking advantage of this increased access to data at every level of operation, strategies can be developed to ensure that people within organisations feel seen, heard, can approach leadership for any challenges they might face and most importantly, feel that they are part and parcel of the cultural fabric of their organisation. This channels greater employee engagement and enhances their wellbeing.
Freedom to be open and communicate without fear of being judged
“Building a culture of freedom and understanding requires a keen focus on creating an ecosystem of openness and transparency. Employees need to have the space to dream about their career aspirations as the human resources function gives them the guidance and support to fulfill the same,” believes Meenakshi Surana, Assistant Manager – People and Culture, AirAsia India.
At Soroco, the company regularly solicits feedback from its employees to ensure that it is addressing their needs. “This has made our employees feel independent, valued and empowered,” said Rama Kishore Chenamchetty, Head of People Operations, Soroco.
Open communication is an essential part of the learning process. Leaders should ensure free flow of information and data within the office. Starting right from exchange of views to sharing ideas, every data exchange leads to learning for both the employer and its employees.
It also builds up an emotional connection between them. It is important for an employee to enjoy the minimum freedom to put forward his plan about both his functions and how he wants to streamline his career without any fear. This in turn also helps the employer to analytically lead and guide the workforce. In fact, an efficient diverse work culture is built up only when there is a free communication space with no fear of being judged.
Freedom to be yourself
In a blog post published in 2018, Richard Branson, the legendary businessman of the Virgin group once noted, “We are at our most productive and creative when we are happy and being ourselves at work.” Since we spend a significant part of our lives working, employees can be successful only when they bring their authentic and whole selves to work.
In fact, a workplace should foster an environment where people are able to express themselves freely, without the fear of retribution. The increased focus on psychological safety at work has ensured that employees’ diverse and varied experiences are valued in the workplace. But ensuring that such a workplace exists and thrives is a function of a number of factors including workplace culture, technology design and people. And it often calls for an alignment of values and it is developed through interaction, introspection and feedback.
Freedom from old ways of working and to be flexible
" How's your work going?"
” As usual.”
" How's your business going?"
“ As usual.”
" Wassup with you?"
”Just the usual.”
Then... BAM! We saw the end of 'as usual' once the cataclysmic change took over our planet in the last 18 months.
What we have now is freedom from the old ways of working. Now, HR provides employees with a wellness platform to talk about their health, managing time & space, and share distaste for encumbered routines. Today's youth is more hungry to be flexible and agile. The gig-workers have the power to work 24x7, yet on their terms. Work from home and hybrid workspaces are the terms that were not much thought about before but now, are the mantras by which professionals live by day & night.
Ena Zheng, Chief Operating Officer, Fluxon believes that tech skills should not have boundaries, and a globally distributed team can unlock huge opportunities for an organization. “Our remote work culture allows our team to structure their day however works best for them. If team members need to drop off their kids for school, take a coffee break or fit in an exercise class - we think they should have the flexibility to do that. Our general philosophy is to provide everyone in the company autonomy to make the right decisions that'll help them be most productive. Our goal is to always provide an environment where everyone can realize their fullest potential here,” she added.
Leaders of people & work are vouching that "flexibility is key to stability '' and HR is working hard to provide employees the same with zen-friendly policies.
So if you ask a professional how’s their work going, well there's nothing usual about it now.
Freedom from straight career paths
“This career move won’t look good on your resume. Don’t do it”
“Why do you want to do something different from what you have studied? It’s not easy. The risk isn’t worth it.”
“You want a sabbatical? It will cut down your options. It doesn’t make sense.”
“No one I know has done this before. It’s highly risky for your professional journey and financial stability. I wouldn’t do it.”
Come 2021, and the sheer volume of risk takers has shot through the roof. At a time when businesses are shutting down, there is a sea of professionals willing to risk their stable career trajectories to shift gears towards a direction that feels more purposeful and rewarding.
“Offering freedom across various aspects of work life is no longer just a benefit; it’s a distinct competitive advantage today. Today’s talent appreciates the option of choosing their own career paths within organisations,” added Siddharth Vishwanath, Head – Human Resources, Zivame.
As crucial as financial security is, especially in the present times, the willingness to let go of a paycheck for something more meaningful and unique to one’s identity, their ‘calling’, is driving individuals to take the road less traveled. It is no more about education in a particular field and then honing skills to achieve excellence in the same field for the next 50 years.
Today’s talent is hungry for growth, experience and learning, all the while adapting to uncertainties and overcoming challenges brought on by unconventional career paths. It appears individuals are alas, seeking freedom from laying down a straight career path and financially satisfying job roles, and hopping onto the journey of purposeful and experimentative career paths.
“As the HR, we cannot thrive with a pursuit of extremism,” says Sreelakshmi Venugopal, Head – Human Resources, Embassy Services Private Limited. Especially not at this juncture of time where uncertainties prevail. Freedom must be subjective, earned, and demanded through trust and constant reiteration with action. The leaders have an opportunity to build and nurture this culture and partnership based on trust, empathy, and action.
One moment of truth at a time, one person at a time, together, organisations can foster this culture of freedom.