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Deep Dive: Employee needs are changing and organizations must follow

In the midst of what some have coined “the great resignation,” companies are rushing to offer benefits that match the needs and desires of this new, empowered workforce—a workforce where a significant number are willing to resign without an alternative job in hand.

The circumstances created by the COVID pandemic have altered the key factors in employee job choice rapidly, in some surprising and some not surprising ways. Sinus Sociovision completed a large-scale survey in 2009 asking what factors played an important role in the decision making to choose a job. Clear differences between men and women emerged in the answers.

Men rated interesting work, job security, and good pay as the top three factors in choosing their job. Women rated interesting work, job security, and family-work balance as their top three priorities. There are good reasons why women would consider work-family balance as a top priority in a job, today, or in 2009 when the survey was completed. Little has changed over this span of time in that women are asked to carry the majority of caregiving tasks (both people and house).

However, the COVID pandemic has rapidly changed the priorities of both male and female workers. In a recent McKinsey & Company survey of 800 employees in the U.S., the top employee needs for men and women included job security (now number one), financial stability, and balance of work and private life.

It is no surprise in this environment that job security is on the forefront of our minds, particularly when over 20 million jobs were lost in the first few months of the pandemic alone. Seeking a job with some assurances of security, however, emphasizes the fact that individuals are seeking to protect their own health and well-being now more than ever.

Seeking a secure job is a measure of protection to control our own anxiety and stress. Financial stability is, of course, the flip side of the same coin as stability also provides a measure of protection against mental distress.

The importance of work-life balance for women and men completes the picture suggesting that the revolution occurring currently in our workforce is one of personal self-care and ownership of our own well-being.

The interesting and odd thing about the current surge in attrition is that many employees are willing to leave a job without having another job lined up. It is as if the American workforce collectively reached its breaking point and said, “we’re not going to do this anymore”.

Many suggest that the pandemic’s effects on our decision-making will be long-lasting, if not permanent. Certainly, the current trends give us a glimpse of what we can expect in the next generation of workers. While we cannot realistically expect large segments of the workforce to remain without employment for extended periods of time, the shift away from leisure and hospitality and healthcare industries may be a shift that the U.S. economy must reckon with in order to attract workers back.

Meanwhile, companies that experience the most success in retaining employees, or attracting new employees, will be those that best understand the overall reasoning behind this shift in the workforce. In the McKinsey & Company survey, being rewarded was an important factor to employees, but was ranked a distant 8th behind security, stability, and balance—all factors sharing the common denominator of a focus on employee well-being.

This suggests that otherwise popular incentive structures may not be as effective in this particular environment. A company cannot fully address the underlying root cause of concern about getting sick or taking care of the children with a pay raise alone.

Flex work has been shown to decrease anxiety for many, and this is an effective solution and a perk that many employees are looking for now. Beyond work arrangements, shifting messaging to emphasize the long-term stability of an organization, combined with being as focused on employee wellbeing as the employees themselves are, will be the recipe for success.

This means that now more than ever, promoting managers with the skills to empathize with others, listen to employees, and build positive relationships is important. Organizational cultures that once thrived with a focus on task-based performance rewards will see high turnover rates.

Employees want to know that their employer cares about their opinions and their feelings of health and safety. Employees want to be seen as individuals, with a diverse set of needs and motivational drivers.

We can expect personalized career plans based on the interests and development of employees, and fostered by the organization, to become much more popular. The question for now is not how the employee can help the organization, but how can the organization help the employee.