Employee’s expectations have changed. Employers need to pay attention - Part 1


Most workers are in jobs that are complex, interconnected, and knowledge-based. Peter Drucker began predicting the rise of work accomplished with minds rather than muscle in the 1950’s , and that’s now changed to an emphasis not just on knowledge, but on adaptability . These transitions have deeply impacted the expectations of employees, as greater psychological resources are required of them. Any role, from software developer to CTO, from customer support associate to sales manager, requires navigation in a large network of professional connections. Navigating this hyperconnectivity to do one’s job requires a complex and nuanced set of soft skills.

Sensing these new demands, professionals expect to be developed adequately. Most colleges aren’t explicitly training for emotional and social intelligence skills until post-graduate programs in business leadership, so employees look to the only other place those skills can be acquired: on the job. Unsurprisingly, when they don’t find it there, they look for a role elsewhere that will give them what they need to remain competitive and feel fulfilled.    

Skill development solves a deeply-felt problem of doing a job well, but that disparity is by no means the only one. Employees are expected to answer emails after hours and on weekends, to be available for early or late calls, especially if their teams and business are global. Lower-level employees are asked to have schedules that fit the ever-changing needs of their employers, meaning they have to be “on call” and consistency in routine for some is considered a luxury. These demands mean employees expect support in return from their employers - support that help them find work-life balance like the ability to work from home, on-site daycare, help repaying student loans, access to mental health counseling, and incentives for health and wellness.

Why we must respond.

If work is complex, deeply reliant on a network of people, and rapidly shifting, then it’s more critical than ever for employers to have a workforce that’s not only talented, but engaged. This means the stakes have not only raised for employees - employers feel this shift when trying to find and retain great talent. Since 2013, turnover rates have increased year over year, gaining nearly 23% in 5 years, according to Compdata Surveys & Consulting 2018 Turnover Report. But turnover is only part of the talent problem - the other is in finding workers with the appropriate skills. Korn Ferry shows that by 2030, this talent shortage will result in a loss of GDP the size of Germany and Japan’s economies combined. It’s not difficult to see how employers and employees may be talking past one another - employers are feeling the very real pain of not having the right people for the job, and employees as asking for development opportunities, meaningful work, and leadership they can trust.

Unmet demands from employees means companies are having difficulty leveraging their people to drive their business. Consulting megafirm Deloitte’s annual Global Human Capital Trends survey shows that employers felt their ability to generate employee engagement worsened by 14% in 2017. Engaged workers have an emotional commitment to their work, and their company. When they see a problem, they proactively fix it. They stay late to ensure a deliverable is on time. They do everything in their power to make sure customers are happy - all because they see themselves as an extension of the company they work for. According to a Gallup poll 2018, only 34% of the workforce would classify themselves as “engaged”. This is a dismal picture, especially when considering more than 16% of employees consider themselves “actively disengaged”. Economists scratch their heads at why productivity growth has slowed so precipitously, despite widespread technology improvements, and Deloitte notices the gulf between technology growth and productivity growth also. The aggregate story these metrics tell us is there still remains a wide gap between the kind of experience employees want to have at work and the experience they’re actually having. It shouldn’t be any surprise productivity is suffering, when such a small percentage of the workforce is emotionally invested in their work.

How some companies are responding.

Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report concluded that employee experience was a central theme to all HR trends (9). McKinsey sees the importance of this issue, too, and indicates they’re investing significant resources to solving this problem. But the approach these two global consulting firms are taking couldn’t be more diverse.

Deloitte notices the gulf between the productivity growth of technology (Moore’s Law) and that of humans, and concludes: humans must learn to change faster. They declare in order for businesses to remain competitive, they must adopt better human capital strategies that pushes humans to be as productive as the computer chips we produce. While they clearly notice employees are demanding a better experience at work, their push for humans to do more seems at odds with higher employee engagement scores. They describe holistic factors that create a better work experience for employees, but the solutions they speak to deliver these changes are almost all technology fixes. While human capital strategies are critical to successful and productive business, we must rid ourselves of the notion that growth in human productivity should follow the same path as technology.

Refreshingly, McKinsey’s human-centric approach that aligns people with purpose is a step in the right direction. They describe how aligning a business’ culture to instill a sense of purpose and belonging is crucial for employee experience (and has positive bottom-line impacts). More and more, we seem to be waking up to the truth that if we align our work environments in ways that meet our needs as humans, then in fact workers feel “engaged”. Better yet, those solutions are not in conflict with a company’s bottom line - it just requires looking through a different lens.


Carrie Patrick, M.S.

Carrie is an Organizational Psychologist and Co-Founder of Engaged Humans which serves start-ups to multi-national firms. She is most passionate about company culture and the employee's experience in it. She's worked with CEO's and Senior Leaders to address shortcomings in their talent strategy approach and provides them with the right tools and practices to assess & develop employees to identify the next generation of leadership.