When we say that the pandemic has changed the world of work, we’re not just talking about the shift to working from home or the rise of hybrid working. Taking such an enormous step back from our normal lives has made employees fundamentally reevaluate what they want and expect from their employers, making traditional work perks like bonuses or Friday happy hour more irrelevant than ever. With millions of employees planning to switch jobs post-pandemic, the pressure is on to offer meaningful company benefits. But what, exactly, does the post-pandemic workforce want?
The pandemic threw the concept of work/life balance into chaos, with few employees enjoying any real equilibrium between their professional and personal lives. As work moved into people’s homes and employment security became more fraught, many employees’ lives became designed around work, feeding a culture of overwork that saw the average worker putting in 9.2 hours unpaid overtime each week.
The global pandemic also directly turned people’s attention towards their relationship with health, family, and personal wellbeing, raising important questions around corporate social responsibility and employee experience. The way companies handled furlough, job remote policy and return-to-work schemes became an indicator of their social fibre as an organization, as Gartner argues: “Employees and prospective candidates will judge organizations by the way in which they treated employees during the pandemic.”
As a result, many employees expect their employers to play a bigger part in their financial, physical and mental wellbeing. The remote work experience has raised key questions around inclusivity, belonging and self-fulfillment, and companies need to adapt to become more “emotion focused” and “human centric” to recognize and support the individual needs of their employees. Yet focus on these “softer” benefits must not overshaddow material investment in an equitable, healthy work experience for everyone.
That’s quite the cocktail, but above all the trend is increasingly towards intinsic over extrinsic reward. Companies need to think harder about what they really have to offer their employees. Here are just a few of the priority themes to consider when reassessing your company benefits package.
The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns thrust the idea of meaning center-stage—and employees are no longer willing to work long hours in jobs they find empty and unfulfilling, no matter how many financial perks they receive in exchange. It’s important to note that this desire to find meaning in your work existed well before the pandemic. Back in 2016, one survey found that 75% of millennials would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a company where they found purpose and meaning in their work.
The pandemic has only heightened the importance of finding meaning in your work. After spending months shut away at home, working for an organization that doesn’t inspire or excite them, the future workforce wants to feel like they’ve achieved something tangible and meaningful; they want to know precisely what they contribute to their organization, and what their company actually stands for: what are their values? What’s their purpose? How do they personally fit into the wider vision?
After more than a year of working remotely, for employees, it’s clear that there’s no going back to the confines of 9-5, Monday-to-Friday office life. The idea that you need to be in the office to be productive is now obsolete, and employees overwhelmingly expect flexible options. According to Harvard Business Review, 88% of knowledge workers will be looking for complete flexibility when they look for a new job.
This sentiment isn’t quite so evident among HR directors—only 66% said they plan to offer greater work flexibility—but it’s clear the idea of having flexibility and autonomy over the ways you work is something employees aren’t prepared to compromise on. Employees are now demanding the ability to own their own schedule and time, demanding that their employers respect their work/life boundaries, and if they want to attract top talent, companies will need to be on the same page.
Another issue that the pandemic exposed is the importance of care—and that without it, people can’t work. Child care in particular became a big talking point during lockdown, and with it came the understanding that the current ways of work are simply untenable for working parents. From February and September 2020, 1.2 million parents—overwhelmingly women—were forced to step away from the workforce, marking a tremendous step backward for gender equality… and this enormous hit has forced employers to act.
Care.com’s The Future of Benefits Report found that 57% of leaders will be assigning higher priority to care benefits to support their staff—and 63% plan to improve their pre-existing child care benefits. But care doesn’t only relate to child care, and employees are also waking up to the struggles faced by employees caring for eldery parents: 41% of Care.com’s respondents said they would offer or expand senior care benefits to their staff.
And of course there’s mental health and wellness support. The effect that the pandemic and lockdown had on mental health has been astounding. Stress, depression and anxiety have soared over the past year, and the effects of this may be felt for years to come. The good news is that according to Care.com’s survey, 41% of leaders plan to expand mental health benefits this year. Whether mental health support is a benefit or basic expectation, is another conversation entirely.
And then there’s the idea of corporate fibre. The post-pandemic workforce are unwilling to work for companies that don’t have strong social responsibility practices, or don’t care about making a difference. Relationships between employers are employees are becoming more human-centric, and employees now expect to work for an organization that goes out of their way to support them and prioritizes employee happiness.
This can manifest in many ways—from establishing considered remote policies to offering remote work stipends to ensure that work from home costs aren’t passed onto employees. But in our current climate, corporate responsibility runs much deeper than this, and employees want to work for companies who are using their business as a force for good.
The past year exposed pervasive issues of racial injustice and environmental catastrophe—and employees want to know what their employers will be doing to try to tackle these problems. How inclusive and diverse is their workforce? How will they act on anti-racism commitments? Will they take responsibility for their corporate carbon footprint, or give back to local communities?
It’s clear that the pandemic has permanently changed the way we view and approach work. Now we know we can work productively from home, have autonomy over our own schedules, and work in a way that suits us, there’s no going back; the cat’s out the bag. Every business' most important asset is their staff. To attract and retain the best talent, organizations need to engage fully with what the incoming workforce wants and be prepared to implement lasting change to deliver it.