A New York Times article on US workplaces warns: “Companies that fail to factor in quality-of-employee-life issues when imposing total quality management or ‘re-engineering’ or any other of the competitiveness-enhancing, productivity-improving schemes now popular may gain little but a view of the receding backs of their best people leaving for friendlier premises.”
These days, this isn’t a revelation; but it might surprise you to learn that this New York Times article was, in fact, penned nearly 30 years ago.
“Employee engagement” has been a buzzword among academics and organizational management experts since the 1990s. More recently, the term “employee experience” expanded the concept to consider the interactions, milestones, and expectations that can positively impact employee engagement. All in all, it’s been helpful – and profitable – for organizations to consider their employees’ perspectives and preferences as part of their organizational strategy because higher engagement leads to better business outcomes. There are measurable increases in profit, revenue, and market returns; and lower turnover, fewer safety incidents, and decreased attrition and absenteeism where employee engagement metrics are higher.
But, in the last two years, there’s been a significant shift in the working world, and it’s an important one: Employers can no longer rely on the traditional levers of employee engagement or experience to attract and retain their people, they need to lean into the challenge posed by a new, hybrid workforce with fundamentally different expectations.
The pandemic forced workers out of traditional “workplaces” and into more decentralized workforce models, where work takes place regardless of (and sometimes in spite of) physical location. Although it’s mostly agreed that hybrid working is here to stay, we’re learning it’s here with a price. Aside from the scramble by organizations to establish a baseline of expectations for hybrid ways of working, a recent Gallup study found 60% of respondents are emotionally detached at work. Organizations are challenged to figure out what healthy workplace culture means for hybrid workers.
We are indeed at a remarkable milestone in the history of work. The flexibility to work remotely is more important than ever for 79% of job seekers. In fact, 51% of Millennials said they would quit if remote work wasn’t an option. Investing in and delivering on well-being promises is critical to HR strategies and employer brand more broadly. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) programming is essential to support development and success – not to mention organizational excellence – for all employees, regardless of differences.
Employees expect a corporate culture where they can bring their whole selves to work and experience psychological safety. Over and above salary and benefits, today’s employees are apt to choose workplaces that not only factor in employee-quality-of-life by way of salary, benefits, and growth opportunities; they also recognize, validate, and support the whole humanity of their people. They are looking for a workplace environment where they can thrive as humans.
A recent study on Global Talent Trends concluded that a post-pandemic workplace should be, above all, “relatable,” meaning the company should take on the values of their people and communities, and also clearly align their commitments to metrics. The study summarized, “Organizations today are expected to have a heart.”
Fair compensation and competitive well-being and benefits programs to support physical, mental, and emotional health for employees and their families are only the beginning. An attractive workplace – and one that retains employees over time – demonstrates to its employees they are valued by building remarkable and sustainable practices on two hallmarks of healthy human relationships: transparency and trust.
Beyond the basic employee value proposition, employers today should consider building programs, protocols, and practices – and in due course metrics and standards of practice – that demonstrate employees are valuable on a human level. In addition to the standard employee engagement programs, organizations should focus on:
Workplaces have changed in countless ways during the last few decades. But, while the work environments may look dramatically different, one element has remained the same: We are not workers as much as we are humans that work. The workplaces we choose to engage in, and the ones where we truly bring our best each day, will demonstrate we are known, we are empowered, and we are valued. These are the workplaces where our full humanity will shine, and where we will indeed thrive.