The War on Work and What It Means for Customer Service

Aug 9, 2021 9:00:00 AM

Have you noticed how headlines have evolved over the last few months in regards to work? Last fall, The Wall Street Journal was publishing articles with titles like Battling Pandemic Blues: How Managers Can Rally the Troops. It was all about work being tough for people during ‘unprecedented times’ but how thoughtful gestures can give employees a much-needed boost. To be truthful, I was in on it too. I focused on what leaders could do to help their people feel better connected, more engaged, and more productive from home. Swag bags and video conferencing happy hours. Text check-ins from the boss just saying “hi” and virtual bingo. Turns out employees weren’t taking that bait for the long haul, and shockingly neither was I.

Working from home non-stop proved that work isn’t working.

As if the stress of a global pandemic wasn’t enough, most leaders’ concern was largely in regards to productivity dips occurring with their people working remotely. But as social theorists Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek wisely said years ago (pre-pandemic!) in The Guardian, “The crisis of work is also a crisis of home.” Yep. They continued to say:

Work is the master of the modern world… It dominates and pervades everyday life… Workers commute further, strike less, retire later. And yet work is not working, for ever more people, in ever more ways.

Surely you’ve seen the seeds of change taking root as of late, especially when a recent New York Times opinion piece stole the spotlight with its matter-of-fact title: 8 Hours a Day, 5 Days a Week is Not Working For Us. The tide has turned in favor of the people. After many months at home, something became very clear: it’s easy to roll out of bed, log in to work, and not look up again until dinnertime, but it’s not sustainable. People are stressed out, burned out, and disengaged. After a very long year, maybe working from home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but it remains a necessity for most. The Wall Street Journal’s June article perfectly describes the situation we’re now encountering. Take a look at this headline.

Forget going back to the office

Employees will no longer be just a headcount.

The Wall Street Journal acknowledged the dilemma of a worker shortage post-pandemic. The article above, Forget Going Back to the Office—People Are Just Quitting Instead, reported that the percentage of Americans leaving employers for new opportunities is at its highest level in more than two decades. And customer service everywhere is suffering because of it. 

Can we blame customer-facing employees for not wanting to literally risk their lives by going in to work when they’re worried about their health and safety? Of course not. But we have to make some modifications to work as we knew it because what worked “before” just doesn’t anymore. The front desk hotel employee may come across short when, truthfully, they’re just uncomfortable being there. And the customer support agent at the mortgage lender may be overwhelmed by chaos as the only constant lately. We must take immediate action to preserve, retain, and attract top-of-the-line talent to continue delivering top-of-the-line experiences to customers. Great service requires happy agents, which seems like common sense, but retaining agents at all is now dependent upon a *better than great* employee experience (EX). 

Gartner’s 9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19 was early to recognize the expanding employer role as a social safety net. They wrote:

The pandemic has increased the trend of employers playing an expanded role in their employees’ financial, physical and mental well-being. Support includes enhanced sick leave, financial assistance, adjusted hours of operation and child care provisions. … The current economic crisis has also pushed the bounds of how employers view the employee experience. Personal factors rather than external factors take precedence over what matters for organizations and employees alike. Employing such measures can be an effective way to promote physical health and improve the emotional well-being of employees.

Generous benefits are just one important piece of the EX puzzle. What about the gift of TIME to see a doctor or go to the gym and put all of those benefits to use? Time to devote to children who may still be stuck at home for yet another year of schooling? Time to rest and reset in a sea of never-ending global upheaval?

The way to make work better these days is to simply cut it back.

Like author Bryce Covert penned in the New York Times piece, perhaps, “The way to make work work is to cut it back.” That’s why we’re putting the 4-day workweek to the test at Edify and proposing other companies do the same. Radical, we know. But we recognize the immense value of having happy, engaged employees. We also recognize that our odds of going back to the office full-time and remaining there are dropping by the day as new COVID-19 variants emerge. Do you risk losing great people to another year of working never-ending hours? Or adapt your schedule to give everyone a much-needed break and morale boost? 

As companies still try to plan for a permanent return to the office, one business founder tweeted a really important point: the future of work won’t come from the past. The problem isn’t remote work at all, but rather clinging to office-based practices. As perfectly explained in an article in The Guardian:

Do we need to go to offices? Work 9 to 5? At this unique moment in history, employers can rethink everything… The problem is that, though most office workers are currently working from home, the way we work is still inherently office-centric… What would happen if organisations looked outside this way of working, and trusted employees to set a non-linear schedule, based on their individual circumstances, that kept them healthy, sane and productive?

A shorter week is one way to cure workplace woes. 

The case for a 4-day workweek continues to build. To the surprise of many, employees can get the same amount of work done in less time for the same pay. And boy might that have a big impact on hiring, retention, and EX, which would trickle all the way down to the customer service crisis we are experiencing across all industries. Happier employees will help the CX flourish, even if our ‘new normal’ doesn’t feel normal at all.

Another article in support of the 4-day workweek in The Atlantic reads, “At a moment when the future of work is being decided—when businesses are questioning the value of physical office space and when lower-paid workers are agitating for better treatment as the economy reopens—what worked for [one small tech company] might be much less radical than the rest of the American workforce has been led to believe. People who work a four-day week generally report that they’re healthier, happier, and less crunched for time; their employers report that they’re more efficient and more focused.”

The most impactful point is that when employees are given a good reason to work harder, they often focus more ruthlessly on their most important tasks.

And when nothing seems to be going right lately, it’s probably time to try something new. Yes, this can work for customer support teams too. Stagger their days off and enable them to work smarter - and remotely - with better technology to serve customers in a more efficient way. It’s time for less talking, more doing.

Kendal Rodgers

Written by Kendal Rodgers

Kendal is the Marketing Manager at Edify and has been writing and curating content most of her professional career. She’s passionate about working with start-ups and sharing life experiences through storytelling. Kendal earned her B.S. in Marketing and International Studies from the IU Kelley School of Business.