Today’s workplace is constantly changing. The shifts in workplace cultures and dynamics have direct implications on engagement, performance and the overall mindset of employees. While many companies are optimizing their cultures for employees, a recent report by Aon Hewitt, “Workforce Mindset Study: Key Findings on What Differentiates, What Rewards and What Communicates,” shows a widening gap between how employers and employees perceive the workplace and the prevailing organizational culture.
At the heart of the employee-employer divergence is the employee value proposition. Companies that successfully integrate their values into the company culture provide a more innovative, challenging and engaged employment experience. However, “The Workplace Mindset Study’s” analysis of more than 2,500 employees finds the values employees desire and the values that companies believe distinguish them are not aligned.
“A lot of things companies are touting as being a part of the value proposition are not all that differentiating,” says Ray Baumruk, a partner at Aon Hewitt. “Overall, the game has become more difficult for employers as a lot of these characteristics are just base table-stakes and much less likely to differentiate.”
Elements such as strong leadership, a collaborative environment, performance recognition, and open and honest communications no longer set companies apart but simply are expected by potential and current employees. Now, employees view characteristics like a fun, flexible work environment, a company’s leadership position and a complementary value fit as key differentiators. And those distinctions are influencing employment choices: 35 percent of respondents were initially attracted to their employers for flexibility, 31 percent for the company’s leadership position and 29 percent for providing meaningful work.
LEADING CHANGE BEATS CHASING CHANGE
Corporate leaders who want to embrace change have an opportunity to get ahead of the competition by creating a flexible work environment. “The idea of balance and flexibility is rising in desire, importance and value,” Baumruk says. “The demand is rising much faster than the prevalence of the programs right now.” Flexibility was the second most cited differentiator and ranked fifth on the list of most desired improvement areas.
Companies need to make a clear a shift in values to produce better outcomes. Employees seek environments where they feel appreciated, have opportunities for advancement and can achieve work-life balance. When asked to describe their current workplaces, employees most often mentioned words like teamwork, customer satisfaction, profit and quality. When asked what words they would most like to describe their experience, employees cited employee recognition, respect, loyalty and balance. Employees believe their current workplace is devoted to business performance and organizational growth, yet they seek one committed to interpersonal relationships and personal growth.
Meaningful input on performance was the third most often cited area of improvement for employers. While 72 percent of respondents view performance-based recognition as valuable, nearly half (46 percent) believe there is too little. And the recognition gap is multigenerational millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers alike want more recognition.
“The element of recognition is a human characteristic,” Baumruk says. “Organizations ought to be driving recognition across all the different workforces because that is a characteristic that is most desired and had the biggest gap between desired characteristic and how they describe their current environment.”
ACHIEVE AND ASSESS ENGAGEMENT
Companies focused on maximizing employees’ potential and recognizing an individual’s capacity for growth will experience significant advantages in terms of engagement. Respondents who receive input about their performance and are knowledgeable about career development opportunities are three times more likely to be engaged than those who do not. In addition, employees who are compensated competitively for their work are 2.5 times more engaged. Since more than half of the respondents ranked good pay and benefits as a key factor in their job choice, it is important to understand that employees seek both personal and financial recognition for their contributions.
Complete and honest communication from senior leadership also plays a critical role in supporting employee engagement as it was the second most often cited area of improvement behind good pay and benefits. Employees who view leadership as open and honest are nearly five times more engaged than those who do not. And engaged employees are three times more likely to share their opinions, resulting in a culture where employees feel respected.
“We saw some huge gaps between engaged versus not engaged individuals around relationship-oriented elements,” Baumruk says. “And of course, engagement impacts things like retention and productivity and ultimately financial results.”
Organizations willing to invest in making changes to the workplace to influence a positive mindset will reap the benefits. Corporations can assess whether their employee value proposition reflects the core element sought by the workforce, which is employee recognition through formal and information channels, and ensure that senior leaders are communicating frequently and authentically about the organization and how employees impact the overall performance.
Beyond the implementation of these immediate measures, companies need to take a harder look at the organizational culture and how the company’s values empower and inspire high performance. “The question in the longer term that organizations are going to have to deal with and understand is how to incorporate these elements into their cultural DNA,” Baumruk says.
Ultimately, what is good for the workforce mindset also will be good for employee engagement and the corporation.