Boundaries between work and life have blurred, and employers must find new ways to engage
Employees’ capacity to deal with change is around half what it was in 2019 as they deal with increased worries around the economy, job security and the health of their loved ones, according to analyst firm Gartner.
Discussing how the employer-employee relationship is evolving at this week’s virtual ReimagineHR conference, analysts noted the growing risk of ‘change fatigue’ among workers “at a time when more change is precisely what organisations need in order to reset”, according to vice president for Gartner’s HR practice Jessica Knight.
The company’s ReimagineHR employee survey of 5,000 workers found that organisations that had shifted to an environment of “radical flexibility” during the pandemic tended to have higher proportions of high performers, at 55% of employees compared to 36% in organisations where there was a standard 40-hour week as there would be in the office.
Brian Kropp, chief of research in the HR practice, argued that the “new employment deal” between organisations and the workforce would have three key themes:
A change in relationship: “Covid has accelerated the sense that the deal between employers and employees is changing. They now have not only choice over where they work but when, as well as potentially how much (for example 80% of time for 80% of pay),” he explained. “When we give employees choice they give us even more loyalty.”
A sense of purpose: It’s no longer enough for an employer to make a statement about a pressing societal issue such as Black Lives Matter; employees expect action. Kropp added: “CEOs sometimes feel as though they should do something so make a statement, but that’s the worst strategy you can pursue as your employees become even more disengaged because you didn’t do anything about it. Companies need to go beyond statements and put resources behind things, even if it means engaging with those who disagree with you.”
Deeper connections: As boundaries between work and life blur with the majority of work taking place from employees’ homes, companies need to think about how work fits into the life of their employees and how it can make their life better. Some companies offer learning opportunities to the whole family, for example. “We’re seeing a move from a transactional relationship between employers and employees to a much more human one,” Kropp added.
Gartner’s research reflects these three themes, too. In companies that developed a deeper relationship with employees, there was a 23% increase in the number of workers reporting better mental health, and a 17% increase in the number reporting better physical health, it found.
Likewise, in organisations where resources were dedicated to supporting social causes (such as giving employees time off to volunteer or changing suppliers), the proportion of highly engaged employees was higher (60% compared to an average of 40%).
Looking forward, Kropp said the role of offices would change as organisations recalibrated how they work. “Organisations are fundamentally changing their viewpoint on what is the purpose of an office,” he said.
“Historically it was a place where people came together to do work – and it still will be for some roles as they cannot be done from home – but for many it will become the place where the business drives innovation, brings in customers or the community to engage them, rather than about where people get stuff done.”
Ania Krasniewska, practice vice president and global advisory services leader, warned that there could be a difficult “Covid winter” ahead in terms of mental wellbeing, however.
She said: “This is something that has come to the very top of mind for organisations. They’re seeing burnout, anger and loneliness with many employees dealing with a number of these symptoms at the same time.
“We are seeing productivity gains, but around 30% of employees are also saying they feel isolated. Those numbers will only grow during the winter – as job losses increase and destressors such as going outside become less available. Companies will need to think about how they engage employees in this context.”
She added that leaders needed to help employees feel comfortable with showing vulnerability and – above and beyond offering helplines – peer groups and employee resource groups could play a vital role in removing the stigma around mental health conversations.