Employee Expectations Are Changing: Here’s Where Employers Need to Focus

A global survey from Peakon—with views from tens of millions of respondents—confirms that future business success requires employers to identify and deliver on a variety of employee expectations, most importantly the desire to work for an organization that supports mental and physical well-being.

Sharon Patterson, EVP & CHRO, LHH
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Is the gap between employee expectations and the reality of their experience at work holding your company back?

According to Patrick Cournoyer, Chief Evangelist at Peakon, a people analytics and employee engagement firm, a lack of alignment between employee expectations on well-being and what they are experiencing may impact business success.

“There is a huge expectation gap between what employees are feeling and what organizations believe they are providing,” said Cournoyer. “In the future, the organizations that close that gap are going to be more successful.”

Peakon comes to its conclusions about employee expectations and well-being through its latest Heartbeat report, insights from which are built on more than  90 million survey responses from employees all around the world. Cournoyer said Peakon developed the Heartbeat report to help businesses understand concerns about ever-changing employee expectations.

Based on the Peakon database, the company found that 59% of its millions of respondents were disengaged from their jobs in the beginning of 2020. However, less understood is the question of why?

Traditionally, low employee engagement was thought to be a byproduct of weak or toxic leadership, a lack of transparency or accountability at the organizational level, and high employee turnover. And while those factors are all still in play, Cournoyer said employers need to dig a little deeper into their relationships with employees to understand the “why” of low engagement.

Cournoyer said engagement is primarily driven by what employees today expect to get from their jobs and—more importantly—from their employers. This is particularly important at a time when so many people have faced disruption in their working lives from health, social, economic and political issues.

Emerging Expectations

According to the Employee Expectations report, employees now expect their employers to help address environmental concerns, forcing companies to make shifts in how they operate. 

Expectations surged 128% for Gen Z (b. 1995-2015) employees. Millennials (b. 1981-1994), Gen X (b. 1965-1980) and Baby Boomers (b. 1945-1964) followed with increases of 62%, 56% and 59% increases, respectively. “Employees expect their employers to not only share their values but also show willingness to take action on them,” said Cournoyer.

All generations show increasing concern about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, with the Silent Generation (b. 1928-1945) experiencing the highest increase at 31%, more than double the increase seen in Gen Z (+15%), Gen X (+14%) or Boomer (+13%) and a greater increase than seen in Millennials (+22%). Cournoyer advises, “Employees expect their employers to make tangible efforts to build diverse, inclusive cultures that come from a place of honesty, rather than to tick a box or bolster the bottom line.”

Employee concerns about flexible and remote working increased 18% globally. A recent LinkedIn survey of 1,590 business professionals confirms a large majority of workers want flexibility. When asked to choose to return to the office, continue to #WFH or go to a flexible, blended model, only 5% of respondents want to return to the office full-time. A whopping 73% want a flexible, blended approach. “Businesses will need to be cognizant of the tools they need to help each employee flourish while balancing the demands of their role and their lives—and give them the autonomy to do so,” advised Cournoyer.

Well-being is a top priority

Employee expectations are most acute around the issue of well-being. Overall employee concern on the issue of well-being increased by 17% across all demographics; among Gen Z respondents, the increase was 28%.

Cournoyer said the employer brand may be determined in large part by how genuinely they care about their employees’ mental and physical health. With burnout estimated to cost the global economy up to $323.4 billion each year, this is particularly important at a time when there are very clear and present dangers that have the potential to reduce overall well-being, he added.

Leaders are evolving


In some organizations, it will be a challenge for leaders to build an awareness around mental and physical well-being. Many leaders today are single-mindedly focused on the technical aspects of their jobs, or solely concerned with getting projects done on time and on budget, regardless of the toll it takes on the people they are leading.

Cournoyer said it is critical for organizations to look deep within their leadership ranks for people who understand the importance of supporting employee well-being. For those who do not find it is a top-of-mind concern, coaching and development may be needed to cultivate skills that support employee well-being.

“We have to take action as organizations and pivot on employee needs and expectations, especially around well-being,” said Cournoyer. “We need immediate action. It’s not enough to put in a program today and then just sit back. Well-being is about continuous support.”

The report findings also speak to the need for leaders to be patient with employees who are working from home. It emphasizes the importance of training leaders in soft skills like empathy, compassion and clarity around work expectations, he added. Cournoyer said, “Be sure you are considering the full spectrum of well-being and external factors that may impact the employee and contribute to stress.”

Redefining what “productivity” means

In addition to their employee expectations report, Peakon subsequently released a new report outlining how employees and organizations are responding to COVID-19. The analysis from this reveals that the issue of well-being has a huge impact on other areas, including the stress that is created by working away from the normal office setting. 

Even before the pandemic prompted many employers to vacate their offices, there was significant interest from respondents in more flexible arrangements like working from home, he said. Now that employees are getting a measure of what they have always craved, however, other concerns have arisen.

“Employees are concerned about how their organizations view their productivity when they work from home,” Cournoyer said. “They lack some confidence and worry that they won’t be viewed as productive if they can’t provide an immediate response to an email. This is an issue of trust and it’s a major source of concern right now.”

It will be essential for leaders to redefine new metrics for both employers and employees to assess the pace of work and productivity in a virtual setting.

“Leaders need to focus more on output and less on the small and misleading signals they might be getting,” he added. “It’s a new experience for everyone and employees lack confidence about how their employers perceive productivity in a remote setting.”

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