New Work Patterns Are Emerging And They Are Largely Positive

The 2023 Gallagher ‘State of the Sector’ report is a survey of over 2000 HR and internal communication professionals. It highlights some very interesting recent changes in the nature of the traditional employee and employer relationship.

There were nine themes that came out of the research, but let’s just look at a few of the broader ones because some are very much focused on internal communications:

  • The rise of culture and belonging. Three quarters of the survey said the purpose of internal communication is to support culture and belonging. Internal communication was always first and foremost about communicating strategy and creating alignment around an organisation’s vision and purpose. This has always been true, but it was clear that creating a corporate culture and sense of belonging is now more prevalent and important than ever.
  • Reinventing the employee-employer relationship. Just over half of the survey respondents have started to revisit their employee value proposition. Existing value propositions have limited effects, because only just over half rated employee understanding of compensation, rewards and benefits as excellent or good.
  • Being a force for good in the world. Although 41% said they have a clear ESG strategy in place, most organisations still are struggling to strategically deploy ESG communications and share their views on sustainability. They instead choose to focus exclusively on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Taken together this all looks like quite a change in the traditional employer and employee relationship. In fact, employers have almost always held the upper hand in this relationship as they offer jobs to employees – they are making the monthly salary payments. However, as these three trends demonstrate, people want something more from their employer today than just a salary at the end of the month.

Employees want their employer to appreciate what drives them, what makes them arrive at work each day – often it isn’t the salary. They want to feel that they belong to an organisation that share similar beliefs, a culture that feels positive. They want to feel that the broad power of their organisation is doing some good in the world, for the environment, or diversity and inclusion.

Some employers are responding to this change – many are not. During the period of the Great Resignation it appeared essential for employers to listen carefully to their employees, but now there is a great deal of economic uncertainty almost everywhere it feels like the power dynamic is shifting again.

Some commentators are suggesting that skilled employees will give up on traditional jobs completely by embracing the gig economy. Traditionally most people have looked at these jobs as fairly precarious and without a requirement for specific skills – delivering pizza or driving a taxi. However, platforms such as UpWork and Fiverr are creating a place where highly skilled individuals can offer their services one task at a time.

The gig economy will become more important, but I can’t see a world in which every highly skilled worker prefers gigs to a solid employment contract with a single employer. Most people want the assurance of knowing they can pay their bills each month.

However, there are a few important changes in the employer and employee relationship that I believe are becoming more important for all executives to appreciate if they want to attract the best people, including:

  • More work is outcome-based. Some jobs need to be based on time performing a task – such as a food server has to be available when a restaurant is open – but many employers are finding that if they manage people based on output, rather than time at a desk, then it works better for both – even in the traditional salaried environment. This changes the management approach to focus on who is really delivering value, rather than who is present at their desk all the time.
  • Agency. One of the most common reasons for people to quit their job is that their manager does not listen to them or does not give them any scope to make their own decisions – they have no agency or control over their working day.
  • New working patterns. People want a greater ability to control the days and hours that they work. In the customer service environment this has been achieved by companies such as Sensée by modelling the coverage we need in 30-minute intervals through the day and then asking our team to sign up for specific shifts based on the hours available. It allows the team more flexibility and ensures we can offer better coverage for our clients too.
  • ESG. Environmental, social, and corporate governance goals may just sound like an update of corporate social responsibility, but it really matters today. Employees are looking to ESG statements to give them an indication that this company is worth working for. Customers are also making purchasing decisions based on ESG and investors are too – nobody can seriously seek business funding today without a solid ESG plan in place.

There is a general move to a more flexible work environment. People are working from home or with hybrid contracts more often. They are also working more flexible hours with the ability to change their working hours fairly easily.

All this was not imaginable in professional jobs a couple of decades ago where fixed office hours had to be tolerated and colleagues would be called ‘part-time’ if they left the office on time.

Work is becoming more flexible and more meaningful. All this is very positive. The gig economy is also offering greater flexibility to those who are happy to work with a lower level of security, but with a greater potential upside. People want to believe in what they are doing at work and they also want employers to leave them to get on with the job.

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