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Examining the new employer-employee social contract – Top tips for people management in 2022

Daniel Mason, VP EMEA, at Visier

We’ve all heard business leaders talk about employees being the most important asset of their organisation, but all too often the reality doesn’t fully align with these sentiments.

While competition to attract key talent was (and remains) fierce prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers were either slow or reluctant to make the sort of wholesale changes needed to truly put their employees first.

The office was where the vast majority of work was expected to be completed, while issues such as mental wellbeing were only discussed when the impact of burnout on staff absence and turnover was being felt. Indeed, the contract between employee and employer was lopsided – employers made the decisions and employees sat on the receiving end.

Fast-forward 18 months and an entirely new employer-employee social contract appears to have taken hold.

Teleworking shifted from a limited, even reluctant arrangement with strict requirements to the norm. Restrictions and lockdowns presented no other option than to coexist with children and/or spouses, partners, and others also working from home. Meanwhile, in-person meetings and events also shifted online, where active participation, productivity, and home connectivity became potential stumbling blocks to getting things done.

Changes to the employee work-life balance has also created a new dynamic in relation to health and wellbeing.

In the ‘new normal’, employees have removed what was often a strict line between work and home. Running errands, completing chores and taking an exercise break in and around completing work tasks – a new sense of productivity and accomplishment has been created.

However, burnout resulting from this domestic-working juggling act has become a problem. Indeed, what we have uncovered is many employees are questioning whether they want to continue doing the work they do. And more specifically, if they want to do so with their current employers. Not surprisingly, many chose to not continue in 2021.

Responding to the new social contract

How organisations can respond to these changing dynamics, and thus retain a happy and loyal workforce, forms the crux of our recently launched HR Trends 2022 report.

The pandemic has highlighted how important employees are to business continuity. Decisions can no longer be made without taking employee voices and needs into account. In 2022, the new employer-employee contract is one where what the employees want matters more than ever – and leaders need to listen if they want to succeed.

We can refer to this as the ‘great rethink’, a process whereby organisations build plans alongside their employees and make them valued stakeholders.

This is critical for several reasons in addition to the new dynamics already outlined. For instance, furloughed employees often felt abandoned and in limbo about their financial future, while others may have made decisions to relocate in the belief that teleworking would become permanent, only to discover their employer’s desire to return to the office.

As part of the great rethink, business leaders simply must be aware of these circumstances.

One way is to take advantage of people analytics, employee experience software, and other HR technologies to help balance business results with employee needs. Data, in combination with sentiment surveys, can uncover unique differences in employee perspectives and inform the development of a working environment that values people, promotes trust, and delivers a healthy bottom line.

How has employee satisfaction with the overall employee experience shifted during the pandemic? How does employee satisfaction vary between employees working from home and those in the workplace? What are the early indicators that employees may be considering a job change? What impact do remote supervisors/managers have on employee engagement? What shifts in productivity have occurred since the pandemic and how do they vary based on work location?

All these questions can and should be answered with data to help organisations prepare their people management strategies next year.

Top tips for people management in 2022

Indeed, there are several other people management actions employers can take in 2022 to keep staff engaged and aligned with strategic business objectives:

1. Be explicit and proactive with your post-pandemic workplace strategy

Almost 70% of organisations have either communicated their post-pandemic working vision vaguely or not at all, research from McKinsey shows. Uncertainty can cripple employer-employee relationships and create undue anxiety that leads to burnout, and although it is difficult to provide certainty, transparent and continuous dialogue from business leaders on their thinking can help allay these concerns.

2. Keep employee wellbeing and mental health top-of-mind.

Although no two employee’s experiences will be the same, there is no doubt that the pandemic period has shone a spotlight on worker wellbeing, be it their physical and/or mental health. With increasing cases of wellbeing concerns being reported, now is the time for organisations to adopt a data-driven approach to monitoring – this will help with the early detection of issues and provide important comparison points across teams and departments within a business.

3. Consider different approaches for different employee demographics.

Many variables will determine one employee’s preferences over another, from how they live at home to whether they are full or part time. Likewise, those with fewer years of service may be more concerned about their job security than more experienced colleagues. Organisations need to factor these distinctions into the way they manage the new employer-employee social contract.

Despite the stresses and strains caused by the pandemic, the past 18 months have in many ways uncovered a stream of benefits that organisations can incorporate into their future working dynamic.

By giving employees a stakeholder’s seat at the decision-making table, many businesses will begin to enjoy a new social contract that underpins a happy, healthy and motivated workforce.

Daniel Mason, VP EMEA, at Visier

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