The Evolution of Employee Expectations

You go hurtling down the steep, dark tunnel head first, giggling gleefully as you emerge into the light and land in a pile of colorful cushions. Across the room, someone shouts for you to join them for a game of ping pong, while others sit around and enjoy homemade cookies the size of your head. Have you landed in a child’s fantasy playground? Nope, it’s the adult break room that many trendy companies created in the recent past to lure the best and the brightest with promises of creative freedom, innovative thinking and an excellent Italian roast.

But are a Nintendo and fresh smoothies still what (potential) employees really want? Now that COVID has solidified flex and remote working, possibly forever, will companies continue down this road as a way of differentiating themselves and appealing to fresh talent? To stay relevant, companies will have to look harder at what employees really want: a strong, redeveloped corporate culture that makes them feel confident and supported during times of instability.

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“Employees want to work for companies with a great culture that they can be a part of, that aligns with their values,” says Eleanor Estes, CEO of TPI, Inc., a top IT and engineering recruiting firm in the USA. “Company culture is the brand — the personality of your company. It is the sum of many parts, including your mission, values, goals, and work environment,” she told Inc.com 1. And, she believes, one of the most important factors employees really want at work, along with recognition, growth, continuing education, flexibility and the opportunity to give back.

But with the massive shifts in working from home that COVID has brought, how can companies maintain their culture? And how can potential employees understand what they are getting into when they can’t feel the culture firsthand before taking the plunge?

Going in Blind

“There is uncertainty over culture, and the dynamics at a new company [for job seekers],” says Petra Herman, Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Herman Rutgers, an executive search firm in the Netherlands specialized in top (international) communication and marketing communication professionals.

“[For a job candidate] the interview process is all online now. You don’t see the workplace, you can’t judge the culture,” she told The Habtic Standard. “You don’t sit and wait at the reception or see what kind of people are there. How are they dressed? Is it formal or informal? You can only judge by what they tell you.”

Herman says that since more than 50% of the input we get is nonverbal, she believes candidates don’t learn enough via a video call. In the past, interviewees “…could see, feel, sense, the dynamic. That’s now a blind spot.”

Shaping a New Remote Culture

And this blind spot isn’t just there for job candidates. Employees, managers and leaders are struggling to maintain or define their culture online in these uncertain times. Not to mention everyone that cannot work from home: medical professionals, retailers, construction and factory workers… the list goes on. How is their culture affected — or divided — if half of their colleagues (or managers) work remotely while the rest work on-site?

“It is critical that employers get their corporate culture and employee experience right during this period of uncertainty…to ensure organizations achieve the [best] financial, reputation and talent outcomes,” said Brian Kropp, Chief of Research for Gartner HR 2.

And it sounds like many companies are heeding that advice. Herman explained that when COVID hit, her team expected all the interim people they had recruited for their clients would be quickly let go, because it was easy for companies that were slashing budgets to legally extricate themselves from short-term contracts. She was (pleasantly) shocked that she was wrong. “Not one interim contract was stopped early; in fact, they were all extended but one,” she said. “Internal communications are more important than ever.”

“The relevance and importance of good communications is being recognized for its value, now that we are all stuck at home,” said Herman. Professional communication managers are needed to help drive culture and keep employees connected, motivated and happy.

Challenge, Security, Flexibility

Before COVID, candidates wanted a job that would challenge them, where they could bring something new to the table and take something away for their future said Herman. While she still believes that holds true, she believes what people are looking for even more right now is security and flexibility.

“Employees are feeling vulnerable and are hesitant to change jobs now,” she says. Whatever they currently have is more secure and certain than the unknown. She’s also seeing fierce loyalty from employees who were job searching before COVID. They say they couldn’t leave their employer now to be stranded without them during these difficult times.

Flexibility is the Future

According to a Gartner survey of business leaders in HR, Legal, Finance and Real Estate, 82% said they would allow some remote working to continue after COVID. And nearly half (47%) said they intend to allow employees to work remotely full-time going forward. For some organizations, flex time will be the new norm — 43% reported they will grant flex days, 42% will provide flex hours.

And that kind of flexibility may be just what employees are looking for in their future. “The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a huge experiment in widespread remote working,” said Elisabeth Joyce, Vice President of Advisory in Gartner HR. “As business leaders plan the reopening of their workplaces, they are evaluating more permanent remote working arrangements as a way to meet employee expectations and to build more resilient business operations 2.”

Herman agrees. “The majority of employers have changed their mind about working from home. It is clear that it works.” But it’s not an all-or-nothing approach to the future. She believes most people don’t want to work five days from home but three is ideal, with two in the office.

Working in the office isn’t about the employer, it’s about the employee. People need to connect… They miss the chit chat with coffee.” And the phone/Zoom doesn’t cut it, she says. “The social part is drifting away. We are social creatures — we need the interaction.”

Companies that step up and prioritize what’s important for employees will find a way for people to have their flex time and work from home, while continuing to encourage plenty of team time and social contact at the office. And there’s no harm in keeping the aromatic Italian roast in the coffee corner.

Picture of Andrea A.Dixon/Dixon Media

Andrea A.Dixon/Dixon Media

Andrea Dixon is an American journalist and creative director based in Amsterdam. The first half of her career she worked as a photojournalist for large daily newspapers in the USA before following her dream of living in Paris. The last ten years she’s worked as an independent consultant and owner of Dixon Media, a boutique communication and creative agency specializing in communication strategy, creative concepts, (copy)writing, art direction, branding, photography, and events. Her major clients include Philips, Heineken, CRH, AkzoNobel and Greenpeace.

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