What do employees want? 9 key points to look out for
Employment has been fundamentally redefined – not only by the recent pandemic but by changes to technology and society. So what does a good job look like now, and how can organizations provide it?
How employee expectations are changing
Choosing an employer was once a decision people made for life. Spending your whole career with one company is no longer the norm, but in an era where work and life are closely intertwined, it still matters deeply who you choose to work for.
Today’s workplace isn’t simply a physical location where you spend a proportion of your time each week. Many of us are no longer ‘going to work’ at an office, and are instead logging on to a workplace that can be with us anywhere, at any time. The line between work and personal life is increasingly blurry.
This closer link between us and our jobs has led to an increased focus on how work affects and contributes to our lives, not just our bank accounts. An employee is much more than an economic unit, and an employer is much more than a source of income for an individual. According to Gartner, 82% of employees agree that it’s important their organization sees them as a person, not just an employee.
Although these changes in what work means to us have been brought into focus during the pandemic, they aren’t just an ephemeral trend. They point the way towards a future of work that places employers as much more integrated with people and their lives, and a way of working that’s supported by technology and driven by ethical values.
So what does this mean for employers? For businesses looking to recruit, engage and retain talented employees, it’s necessary to provide an employee experience that appeals on multiple levels – emotional, ethical, social and economic. A great job offers a sense of purpose, alignment on values, development and wellbeing support, and of course competitive pay and benefits too.
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What do employees value most?
Every employee is different, and they all have different ideas of what they want out of work. In an ideal world, employers would be able to tailor the employee experience to every person, but for most this isn’t feasible. However, there are a number of things the majority of employees seem to value highly, and these should be priorities for any business looking to make its employees engaged and fulfilled.
1. A focus on wellbeing
The physical and emotional wellbeing of employees has become a primary concern for employers since the outbreak of COVID-19. Getting wellbeing right means embedding it in your culture, not just investing in stand-alone perks like breakfast bars or meditation sessions (welcome though these might be).
Employees want to know that employers have a commitment to their health, happiness and sense of fulfillment at work. This can go hand in hand with a commitment to employee development, and also to diversity and inclusion.
A recent Gallup poll indicated that having an employer that cares about wellbeing is one of the top three criteria people of all ages are looking for in a job. And for Gen Z job-hunters, it’s their number one. This authentic concern must be put into action through listening to employees and what wellness looks like in their working lives.
2. Authentic values-based alignment
Employees who can see how their work connects to their personal values are naturally more inclined to enjoy their work and be engaged in it. This means not only hiring to maximize the match between personal and corporate values, but making sure those values are tangible in the company’s culture.
Culture is closely linked to ethics. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 85% of CEOs believe that an unhealthy culture leads to unethical behavior. In the same study, just 16% believe their culture is where it should be.
The lesson? Create a values-driven culture that reinforces the alignment between employees and their work.
3. Diversity and inclusivity
During 2020’s social upheavals, many businesses were outspoken about improving employment access and workplace experiences for a diverse range of people, including those from marginalized backgrounds.
According to Deloitte, these commitments remain as important as ever. And they have taken on a new layer of meaning for employees – whether the business can be trusted to follow through on its promises now that some time has passed.
Deloitte surveyed around 1,500 employees from minority backgrounds and/or with protected characteristics, and found that 80% feel that their employer can be trusted to deliver on diversity, equality and inclusion. However, a continuous effort is needed to keep these standards high.
4. Training and development
Employers and their employees are re-framing their perceptions of training. Rather than being a bolt-on addition in the form of training days or third-party courses, career development and training are becoming more integrated into working life and working relationships.
Coaching is an ongoing form of development that can become part of an organization’s culture. A culture of coaching can contribute to other employee priorities like resilience, work-life balance and job satisfaction.
Tech can also play an important role in learning and development. VR-based immersive learning can transform remote training, and AR tools can help employees experience an enriched work environment with contextual learning baked in.
5. Better work-life balance
Although it brings many benefits, the closer link between life and work can introduce a risk of ‘always-on’ employee experiences. Employers need to be vigilant in making sure employees feel able to switch off from work when it’s over, and to balance their personal priorities against those of their role.
On the upside, the emerging philosophy of seeing an employee as a whole person, rather than just a role, brings an employee’s personal commitments, health and interests more into the frame. Employers who embrace their people’s need to have balanced lives are more likely to attract and retain great workers.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the necessity of being paid fairly in recognition of a job well done. Pay and benefits have become even more important to employees in recent years, not least because of rising economic pressures and uncertainty. A 2022 Gallup survey shows that 64% of employees consider pay and benefits to be very important, up from 41% in 2015.
Remuneration is an essential ingredient to a rewarding job. But it’s also important that employees are recognized for their contributions by their peers and managers, through communication and celebration of their efforts. This could be in person, or via chat or HR platforms.
7. Good communication
Communication topped the list of employee wants during the pandemic, and keeping people in the loop is still vitally important especially now so many people are working remotely. While good communication from leadership and management can help motivate employees, improve job satisfaction and minimize conflict, poor communication can have a corrosive effect, particularly on remote workers.
In a study carried out by Forbes, 54% of remote workers questioned said poor communication impacted their trust in leadership, while 52% said it impacted trust in their team. Employers need to keep up the good from the pandemic, making time for regular team and individual check-ins.
8. Transparency from employers
A Glassdoor survey indicated that one in three employees want more transparency from their employers. This could mean extra clarity about business goals and progress towards them, or transparency around pay or ethical employment practices.
Delivering on transparency is straightforward for businesses which are values-driven or have a consistent way of operating. For those with less of a defined ethos, or a fast-changing and complex business proposition, it may require a little more thought.
9. Career growth
Progression through a business is another aspect of working life that’s changed dramatically in less than a generation. Along with jobs for life, we’ve lost the expectation of ascending a career ladder through a hierarchical structure. Organizations are more likely to have a flat structure, and roles change and adapt rather than progressing through rigid rank systems.
This means career growth is much more tied to personal and professional development. It can be – and should be – tailored to an employee’s strengths, interests and priorities as well as those of the business. There is more freedom to create new roles or adapt existing ones, and to negotiate what work entails on a case-by-case basis.
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