Good leadership, respect and working from home are crucial for job satisfaction. Employers must understand these truths or risk losing their workforce, warn Miriam Meckel and Marcus Heidbrink.
Who wouldn't want a great place to work? Jobs are an important part of most people's identity; they enable us to expand our networks – and we spend a great deal of our lives at work. But how did the workplace become a new front in the culture wars?
Due to generational shifts, different perceptions of the value of life and work, and of course the pandemic, many employers find themselves stunned by an unexpected conundrum. The offers they are making no longer match the needs and desires of the work force.
Conflicts about working from home, hybrid working, fair working conditions and work-life balance are beginning to look more and more like a culture clash, when what they really represent is simply the evolution of the workplace and the potential for social progress.
We may be about to miss a unique opportunity to shape the evolution of work as an essential element of modern society. What a pity.
The younger generation demands good leadership and respect
This is especially true because the demand for workers currently clearly exceeds the supply. The situation is particularly critical in Germany, where the size of the workforce is expected to shrink continuously in the coming decades.
That means people who used to accept unpleasant conditions in return for steady employment now have a lot more room to negotiate. Nowadays, if Company A doesn't fulfill their wishes, they simply move on to Company B.
Moreover, the generation now entering the workforce has very different values than their parents, and different views about the quality of life. In some countries, the pressure on employers has already had an effect.
A preliminary parliamentary vote in the Netherlands has paved the way for the general right to work from home. Belgium, Iceland, Sweden and Scotland are experimenting with a four-day work week, and the state of California even considered requiring it for companies with more than 500 employees – although that plan that has failed for the time being.
Most importantly, however, and overriding all formal changes, the younger generation is expects good leadership and respect. This can be seen very clearly in a data set from the “Great Place to Work” research and consulting institute, which surveyed more than 500,000 respondents over a five-year period (2018-2022).
The respondents described what they expect from their employers and what aspects of their work life are important to them. With the help of Zortify's language processing AI, we analyzed their responses to the questions.
Specifically, this means that our analysis is not based on the answers, which are often subjectively biased. The AI evaluated the responses and grouped them into categories that offer a clear signal about where the problem lies and where the solution might be found.
Working from home is crucial for job satisfaction
Employees of all age groups and sectors essentially credit “soft factors” for their decision to remain with their current employer. “Good team spirit” stands out among the cluster of reasons extracted from the hundreds of thousands of responses.
Additional benefits such as healthcare and ongoing education ranked second. The older the employees were, the more highly they valued personal responsibility and autonomy on the job. This stands in contrast to the desire for better pay, which is a less significant factor.
During the pandemic, two aspects have gained increasing important across all business sectors: The ability to work from home, and a trusting relationship with the employer. You don't have to be a genius to figure out that these two aspects are interrelated. However, the assessment of managers and subordinates differs greatly.
While a majority of employees would like to work from home at least three days per week, most supervisors and managers would like to see them in the office at least three days per week.
Beyond the public eye, even the bosses who like to symbolize cultural change by showing up to work wearing hoodies and sneakers have been known to say things like, “Enough of this laziness – get the slackers back into the office.”
In many companies, people have been arguing for months about whether the office to home ratio should be 3:2 or 2:3 days.
The leading reason for quitting a job is the desire for better leadership
And that brings us to the third aspect – good leadership. Managers are attempting to solve an adaptive problem using technical regulations. They are reducing the topic of hybrid work to a formality, when the real issue is the value of work.
All the results of our data set show that there is an urgent need to understand and take seriously the wishes and desires of employees. And it's not just a matter of massages and free beer, as some critics of the “new feel-good culture” scornfully claim.
It's about the primal need to be valued and respected as an individual. It's about personal recognition. The leading reason for quitting a job, our data clearly shows, is the desire for better leadership.
For employers, this is the beginning of a long-term rethink. If you want to make flexible working models possible, you have to be able to trust your employees. And if you want employees to trust you, you must show appreciation and communicate clearly and transparently what is possible and what is expected.
You can't fake good leadership. Employees are quick to notice discrepancies between actions and words – and that can sabotage the desired cultural revolution.
But with freedom comes responsibility. Where work is flexible, the rules of cooperation must be all the clearer. Respect, appreciation and accountability go hand in hand.
If you want to be taken seriously, you will also want to – and indeed, should – take responsibility for your own performance. That entails more communication and coordination than is customary in top-down working relationships.
Only 61% of employees want to stay with their current employer
This cultural divide may be one reason why employees’ loyalty to their employers seems to be waning. The Gallup “Employee Engagement Index” score has been declining for years, and is now at its lowest point ever.
In the current survey, just 61% of respondents said they expect to be working for the same employer one year from now. This is particularly concerning given the fact that filling a vacant position can cost up to twice the annual salary for the job.
Back when the relationship between supply and demand in the employment market was different, employees tended to stay put but “terminate the psychological contract” by consciously and tacitly withdrawing their willingness to perform the job. In today's environment, they just leave the company entirely.
To prevent that from happening, managers also need to do their part by stepping out of their comfort zone of top-down decision-making and reaching out to employees. They may make a few surprising discoveries. The trust and appreciation they show their teams as leaders will be returned to them from their employees.
Cover Image: Unsplash