Deciphering the New Employer-Employee Deal

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The recent workplace changes are leading to a “new employment deal” that is focused on flexibility, shared purpose, and deeper connections.

This was the subject of a presentation at the recent Gartner ReimagineHR conference, which discussed how the new deal can positively impact employees’ lives while improving employers’ talent outcomes.

Blurred private-work lives

It seems that the wall between private lives and the workplace is being eroded away.

The balance may have once been swung towards employers, who demanded immediate access to employees and rapid responses. But such is the battle for talent — and general societal changes — that the new deal seems more equitably balanced.

“Employers are focused on providing employees more flexibility than ever before, creating a shared purpose and building deeper connections with employees,” Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice, told the virtual event.

“The organizations which get this right will have a more engaged workforce, greater employee retention, and better ability to attract the best talent.”

The pandemic effect

The new deal may have been developing for some time, but it has been accelerated by the COVID-19 disruptions.

Nearly every employer has been forced to shut down their workforce and cope with their employees working from home. This has created dilemmas around productivity, engagement, and leadership and has crashed the “fourth wall” between people’s family and working lives.

While some employees are making their way back to their offices, many continue to work remotely and may continue to do so.

Gartner’s observation is that progressive organizations have embraced what it calls “radical flexibility,” which gives employees control over where, when, and even how much they work.

This, said Brian Kropp, is a win-win because offering employees more choices “is not only better for employees, but also better for employers who end up with more high performing employees as a result.”

Flexibility drives more HiPos

Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR employee survey took in responses from 5,000 employees in the first quarter of 2020 — notably just before most of them went home to work.

These were people in organizations working a standard 40-hour week in the office. Yet the survey found that only 36% of them could be considered “high performers.”

When organizations moved away from the mandatory office environment to radical flexibility, with control in employees’ hands, the high-performance figure went up to 55%. You would think that this statistic alone would spell the death of the office environment.

Searching for the shared purpose

Gartner’s Kropp outlined a second part of the new deal is a need for a “shared purpose.” This requires input from leaders about real behaviors and takes in the major cultural debates going on in society.

It also goes well beyond the CEO issuing a statement that the company is pursuing sustainability targets or opposes slavery practices in its supply chain. Gartner says this can actually be a turn-off for employees and have the opposite effect to what is intended, which is to create a common purpose and align values.

Gartner’s research found that when organizations act to re-allocate resources, change suppliers, and give employees time off to volunteer, engagement levels increase. Where 40% of employees were considered engaged employees, this figure moves up to 60% when the organization participates in social actions.

“Organizations that get involved in the societal and cultural debates of today find they have a more engaged workforce and a better reputation that enables them to source the best quality talent from the labor market,” said Kropp.

Making deeper connections

The third pillar in the new deal, says Gartner, is building deeper connections, based on the new understanding that work and life cannot be treated as separate constructs.

Most organizations deploy technology, infrastructure, and training, but these are focused solely on the employee’s life at work.

According to Gartner’s survey, when employers develop better relationships with employees, there is a 23% increase in the number of employees reporting better physical health. Employers who support their workforce more holistically enjoy a 21% increase in the number of high performers.

So, how to build these connections? Gartner suggests providing professional counseling services for mental health, free access to learning and development resources to friends and family members impacted by COVID-19, and helping with childcare and virtual learning.

“When organizations take a more holistic view of their employees and try to support them personally as well as professionally, employees report that their employer has a positive impact on multiple aspects of their lives,” Kropp said.

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