The dynamics between employers and employees are shifting as flexibility takes center stage in attracting and retaining talent.
But flexibility is just one facet of what today’s workforce expects from their employer. Different colleagues have different needs, and trying to accommodate them all can be challenging. An employer's ability to meet these needs can be impacted by financial as well as practical limitations — from challenges when technology problems arise to ensuring remote working environments comply with health and safety requirements.
Given the renewed focus on employee expectations around work, managing these various needs will be a key component in maintaining both a flexible environment and a resilient business.
Here’s how leaders can communicate effectively with colleagues and foster success for businesses and individuals alike.
gathering information and creating bespoke plans
In the era of high employee expectations, the first step for many leaders is to understand exactly what those expectations are — treating employees more like customers than ever before.
Sándor Baja, Randstad’s Managing Director Czech, Hungary, Romania, says finding out what colleagues want provides a useful source of information that can help to inform new flexible policies and practices — all of which benefit the employee without negatively impacting the company’s performance.
“Empower new starters and existing employees alike by finding out what they need and building bespoke benefits that actually benefit them. This will also help reduce resignations and increase employee engagement.”
Data-led employment reports can provide a good starting point for global or regional insights into what people tend to be looking for from their employers. According to the latest Randstad Employer Brand Research report, the top-five drivers when choosing an employer are, in order of importance: the work-life balance, attractive salary and benefits, job security, good training, and a pleasant work atmosphere.
Nevertheless, the more specific the data — sorting data into types such as gender, age or type of work — the more differences become visible. White-collar employees, for example, favor a work-life balance more than blue-collar workers, who tend to prefer job security. Increasingly, the “one size fits all” approach to setting goals and fostering success is being replaced with bespoke plans. These can add real value to an employee’s journey through a company, as well as fulfilling the business’ needs.
“Modern companies understand that a benefit to one person might not be a benefit to another. One initiative, say a subsidized gym, might hold value for employees who tend to be more focused on fitness, but no value to another,” according to Baja. “Empower new starters and existing employees alike by finding out what they need and building bespoke benefits that actually benefit them. This will also help reduce resignations and increase employee engagement.”
establishing open and safe lines of communication
As businesses seek to understand the needs and wants of their staff, creating lines of communication — in which people can speak freely and openly in a safe space — will be a critical part of successfully managing employee expectations. “I have seen the need to have a personal, face-to-face relationship with employees,” says Randstad Spain’s Managing Director, Ana Requena. “These meetings have enabled me to identify needs and concerns that are not always reflected in surveys, but which are just as valuable and important.”
Meetings between leaders and teams — both one-to-one and town hall-style meetings — are useful two-way communications tools . As well as public feedback sessions, companies should also adopt anonymous survey practices, allowing employees to speak freely about any issues. Trust is further strengthened when issues arising out of those surveys, or other internal moments of engagement, are acted upon.
“Effective communication starts with trust. Always have an open-door policy and cultivate a welcoming and supportive atmosphere between employees and their managers,” Baja says.
clear messaging of company goals, values and pay policies
Beyond building a clear understanding of employees’ individual objectives and goals, leaders should ensure the company’s messaging around its goals, values and policies are clear. Establish a strong brand for the company that employees can be aligned with, particularly on social values and inclusivity. Regular surveys of workforce values and company performance in achieving them can help align policies with people’s needs.
“Running data analytics on these survey results can help gather clearer insights and trends in employee preferences and needs,” explains Requena. She also sees in-person focus groups as a crucial way to gain a better understanding of what employees expect of their employers.
To mitigate any potential unconscious bias, Requena also recommends a cultural dynamics program aimed at educating leaders, focussing on “raising awareness about biases and helping leaders understand how their biases can influence talent decisions, particularly in the context of leadership development”. Updates on a company’s financial health are just as important as communications around business goals or changes to strategy. These should be delivered to staff transparently and on a regular basis.
handling expectation gaps constructively
Despite best efforts, there may be instances where employee expectations and company capabilities do not perfectly align. In these cases, it is crucial to address these gaps constructively and transparently.
Encourage open discussions with employees about the feasibility of certain expectations and explore alternatives collaboratively. Involve employees in the decision-making process, too, where possible, so they will feel valued and understand the rationale behind certain limitations.
“I have seen the need to have a personal, face-to-face relationship with employees. These meetings have enabled me to identify needs and concerns that are not always reflected in surveys, but which are just as valuable and important.”
Making sure that both the needs of the company and the needs of employees are met is a balancing act — one that becomes much easier, even symbiotic, when expectations are clearly conveyed and understood on both sides.
Companies today need to balance the stability and longevity of commercial operations with the changing needs of staff. Building a thorough understanding of employee expectations is essential, and opening up clear communication channels is the best way to do it.
Staff need to be seen as individuals and to feel that their voice is being heard. Against the backdrop of a global skills shortage, it’s more important than ever that businesses pay attention to their most important assets: the people who keep them successful.