They’ve Tasted Freedom & Betrayal: the pandemic changed employees; can employers adapt?

“The employees who return to the office after a year of remote work aren’t the employees their bosses remember” reports a June 12th Wall Street Journal article.1 Remote work changed how employees want to work. Employees that tasted independence don’t want to give it up. Employees that felt betrayed lost trust in employers.

What do managers and employers need to understand?  

Shift from managing to coaching:

Even pre-pandemic, most employees preferred managers who outlined “here’s where we’re going and why” and set clear expectations and goals to those who micro-managed. “After a year of working in solitude,” notes the Journal article, employees “expect more control over how, when and where their work gets done and to have greater autonomy relative to their managers and organizations.”1

This challenges managers who don’t know how to coach but instead supervise as if employees function better under a manager’s thumb. If you’re a manager who needs to change your ways, consider what you gain when you replace direct managerial oversight with a coaching relationship with your employees. Employees who view their manager as a coach feel they and the coach are on the same team and share the same goals. While employees occasionally bristle when a manager says, “try that another way,” when coaches say, “do that differently,” players listen carefully and follow the coach’s counsel.

What makes an employee relate to the managers they report to as coaches? The coaching relationship begins with respect and mutual expectations and is fueled by trust and communication. Manager coaches connect more deeply with employee by serving as mentors, role models, and advisors, helping employees learn the mindset, skills, and strategies they need to excel.

If you’re a manager bringing employees back from remote work, reconnect with each of them by asking, “How does it feel to be back? What did you learn while away that you want to bring back to your work onsite?”

Continue coaching with performance-enhancing questions such as “What skills or capabilities do you need to feel more successful in your current assignments?” Work with and not against your employees’ desire for independence by focusing them on accountable self-assessment with questions such as: “In what areas are you pleased with your work quality?” “What can you do better or differently to get even stronger results?” and “If you were your own manager, what would you ask yourself to work on or do better?”


The betrayal felt by furloughed and laid off employees lingers, particularly with employers who continue to expect employees to “take the hit,” when the pain seems lopsided.

Said one nurse who called me last week, “During the pandemic, I worked seventy plus hours a week, placing my and my family’s health at risk. Yesterday, I got an email from my employer. ‘Thanks for your dedication. Please understand how much value you. Regretfully, we can’t afford to increase anyone’s salaries and we need to cut benefits.’

“I quit that day. I’ve already secured a job with a new employer. I don’t trust my new employer to have my best interests at heart any more than my last employer did, but I couldn’t stay with an employer who took so much and planned to take more to ‘return their organization to its former profitability.’ Did my former employer think we wouldn’t get a copy of their communication to their shareholders?”

This nurse isn’t alone. Emails from furloughed and laid off employees now rehired by managers who seemed personally untouched by the financial hit lower-ranked employees absorbed now return to job sites to work for managers who knew the exact date the furloughs and layoffs were to occur, but never gave the employees advance warning. Can these managers regain employee trust?  Yes, if they treat their employees as valuable in actions as well as words.

1 How Working From Home Has Changed Employees – WSJ


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6 thoughts on “They’ve Tasted Freedom & Betrayal: the pandemic changed employees; can employers adapt?

  1. The bottom line for me would be……is the work volume expected being achieved and at the quality level our customers deserve? However that happens is why each employee is being compensated at all. My former employer changed their rules to the point that they were untenable to me so I ceased to be an employee. In this case their changes greatly diminished customer service. Given demand for their product category they figured they could still make a higher level of profits. I could not, in good concious, do that disservice to the customers who came in specifically to seek my advice and recommendations on what best suited their needs. True customer service nets higher revenue over time than merchandising does – at least in my universe. Others may disagree!

  2. Betrayal, lack of trust, feeling micromanaged, sick of the boss always having to feel in control–these feelings have been there all along, I think, but as your post notes, now they are out in the open, and people who have been working remotely with more control over their work now are expressing these feelings. Too many bosses are still in the mode of looking for shortcomings, noting, and punishing them and not comfortable with employees’ contributions or with employees being able to determine how work is done as long as goals are met.

  3. Excellent article and all of your points are absolutely spot on. It is unfortunate that many companies and managers did not recognize some of the issues all along, and are still blind and unable/unwilling to make changes after what has gone on over the past 16 months. Additionally, I know some companies suffered financial harm over the last year, and if some changes become necessary talk to your workforce and tell them what is going on. But certainly don’t take it out of the hide of most of your workforce while putting lots of money in the pockets of those at the top, or making the cuts to boost profitibility for its own sake i.e. the company is doing fine. When workers leave such employers they don’t get to blame anyone but themselves for being overly arrogant.

  4. Thanks, Vickie, and you’re right, many of these issues have been there for a long time, AND employers have suffered as well.

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