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Paddy McDermott, CEO Forum Chairperson: "People have become more confident about asking for what they want in terms of a work/life balance"

Paddy McDermott, who talks about the idea of the 'great resignation'

An outcome of Covid, from a CEO’s point of view, is that it opened up the conversation as to how you look after people. Where you would have avoided touching on the personal in the past, now people’s personal issues need to be understood.

I am chair of the CEO Forum within the France Ireland Chamber of Commerce (FICC), which is a business-networking platform for French businesses in Ireland.

I’m an engineer. I worked for over 30 years for a healthcare company that was part of a French group. When I retired from that company three years ago, I continued to represent them on the FICC and I chair the CEO Forum, which meets several times a year as an opportunity for CEOs to get together and share on particular topics.

The idea of a ‘great resignation’ during and after Covid, was something we started talking about last year.

What happened with the CEO Forum when Covid first started was that it didn’t get quiet, it picked up a bit, because it was easier for people to get access to it through Zoom and online meetings. We got bigger and bigger numbers and good conversation got going on different topics.

There may have been change in how people worked bubbling up before Covid, but when that came along, the change happened fast. Hybrid work became something that went from the potential to the actuality. People had to change their habits, but when that happens, they tend to also take time to reflect on their situation and it led to a complete re-evaluation that we’re seeing in effect everywhere now.

 

From the start, there was a very strong awareness from all our leaders of the mental-health implications of this massive change. Everybody was very worried and concerned to do right by their employees and I would say that a lot of companies benefited from that as a whole, because people appreciated that the leadership was taking that attitude.

As time went on, it was very clear that businesses began struggling to keep people. We began talking in some of the CEO forum sessions about how, where once they would have avoided being personal with their employees, now that’s changed a bit. It was always part of the belief that professionally, you didn’t want to get in to the personal and that people’s personal time was their own time. That has had to change through Covid, because if you don’t understand what your people’s personal situations are, you can’t deal with mental-health issues or the challenges they might be facing. That was a big change from existing habits.

Obviously the change around hybrid working is the issue that is most in companies’ faces. A lot of people liked the hybrid model or working from home so much, that a lot of them left the companies they were with, or left companies that were trying to get back to their tradition of just working out of the office.

More progressive companies were realising that we’d all have to look at the new reality. There was a realisation that what’s needed now is a space that is more focused on solution-type activity, as opposed to work being about just working in a space. The idea that you just come in and work at a desk wasn’t really useful any more.

The impression I get from the conversations in the CEO forums is that people have become more confident about asking for what they want in terms of a work/life balance. Employees are asking, ‘What are you doing to make things better?’

The last two or three years have generated a lot of angst for business and when you are forced into a situation where there’s a lot of change, it’s not always the most comfortable place to be.

Business has had to change how it looks at things and that has brought a lot of challenges.

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