Employers vs. employees: an expectations gap

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What is the number one thing that pushes people to escape from a workplace or a job?

It is, in fact, the lack of work-life balance, according to CBS News. It’s true that even three years after the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reshaped the mindset and values of many employees and organizations alike, the pursuit of balancing work and personal life continues to dominate the discussion. Amidst this shifting landscape, one burning question lingers: are employers truly attuned to this paradigm shift? And more importantly, are they responsive enough to the evolving needs and aspirations of potential employees?

Lara Mounir, a 31-year-old with over nine years of experience in copyediting, and a mother of a 4-year-old, says that the work-life balance aspect of a job is on her radar when she is job hunting. “To my disappointment, whenever the interviewing process kicks off with a company, they often announce that the role is entirely on site. This is quite perplexing for me. The entire world was working remotely at some point, and flexibility resulting in employee satisfaction has proven to be no less crucial than profit. So, what changed?”, Lara wondered.

Remote work was one of the many flexible options companies offered during the pandemic to conduct business as usual, and it has gained wide popularity. Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor, says that remote work has proven to be the better option for many employees, CNBC reports. “Working from home two days a week, on average, saves employees 70 minutes a day commuting,” Bloom continued. “Almost half — 30 minutes — of that time savings is spent working more, which in turn translates to benefits for employers in the form of more productivity from their labor force. ” he added.

According to Forbes, this change in location has given many people a work-life balance they didn’t know was possible before, making it much harder for some to return to the same old office routine. Other advantages that promote a better work-life balance, such as a 4-day work week or flexible working hours, have also led employees to contemplate better working conditions, and contribute to their decision to either leave or stay in their current companies. However, it seems that employers are taking a somewhat contradictory approach and are leaning more towards traditional workplace environments and rules. This could create a gap between what employees need and look for in the labor market, and what employers are willing to provide and expect from new hires. Workplace flexibility is therefore crucial for a health work environment.

Workplace flexibility isn’t just about remote work. It is a work model that supports work-life balance by emphasizing the humanity of workers, embracing the best circumstances in which they can thrive, and letting go of rigid rules. Its ultimate goal is to make them more productive, improve their work morale, retain talents, and keep the company appealing for job seekers. This model often leads employees to being more loyal to the company, with more room for innovation and a life outside of work, all without compromising their pay.

A bitter pill to swallow…

It might come off as a surprise to know that many job seekers on the market right now aren’t prioritizing a good wage (though that is one thing that is certainly high on their checklist) as much as work-life balance and a flexible work model. Studies show that employees working in organizations that do not value the aspect of flexibility may be harboring a desire to quit their jobs.

A survey conducted by Michael Page, a professional US-based recruitment consultancy specializing in the recruitment of mid to senior positions on behalf of employers, showed that while people have different priorities, better work-life balance may be a deal breaker for many of them. It stated, “Our research found that work-life balance was ranked as the most important influencer of job satisfaction. In our survey, three in five (60 percent) selected work-life balance, nearly 20 percent more than the 43 percent who selected salary (the second most popular factor).”

This isn’t news. It has been the case long before the pandemic. A 2018 survey by leading flexible workspace provider, IWG, showed that 30 percent of employee surveyed said that they “value flexible work over additional vacation time”. And 35 percent of them said “flexible work is so important to them that they prioritize that over having a more prestigious title or position.”

Why some employers will always choose the good old ways of work

Despite the many documented advantages of workplace flexibility, some employers have kept their rules the same. They still opt for a work paradigm that is different from the one employees are realistically seeking at this point. It indicates that a gap in the labor market between both parties could be hindering a lot of talents from being hired, and a lot of companies from finding the perfect hire for a role. So why are employers still leaning towards less flexibility?

In some sectors, like the financial sector for instance, businesses are often subject to compliance regulations that can be trickier to achieve in a remote work environment, which means that some employers will always prefer on-site work due to the nature of the work being done. In addition, traditional work arrangements with fixed schedules and on-site presence can often be easier to manage and coordinate.
Moreover, some employers believe that physical presence in the workplace fosters better teamwork and collaboration.

However, “traditional and conservative” corporate culture also plays a huge part in why organizations outside finance are resisting flexible arrangements, Bonnie Dowling, expert associate partner at McKinsey, based in USA, told BBC.

Attracting top talent often means taking a leap of faith, and offering competitive working conditions that are flexible and tempting for employees to stay on board.

Can this expectations gap be narrowed?

They say that in order for two people to meet halfway, both need to start walking towards each other. That holds true for employers and employees. The keyword here is ‘compromise’.

Employers may want to start considering the benefits of flexible work conditions for their businesses and try to gradually incorporate that model into their companies so it suits the nature of the sector they work in. Neither productivity nor work quality should be affected.

Should they decide to go for the hybrid work model or flexible hours, employers should seek to introduce employees to time management courses and allow them, on some level, to feel like a part of the decision-making process in the organizations they work for. Harvard Business School reports that this is one of the key ways to keep employees motivated.

They should also be transparent about what “workplace flexibility” means for them and their expectations from employees by keeping open channels of communication that promote further employee engagement.

On the other hand, employees should have a clear understanding of what the flexible work model targets. They too on their part, should remain transparent, organized and motivated. One simple way is to ask for help from a professional career coach or their managers’ support to set their career goals (we’ve provided a detailed guide on how to do that in this article) and keep their eyes on the next big step to keep growing in their jobs.

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