Employee Expectations Have Changed Since 2020. Has Your Company Kept Up?

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In March of last year, everything we deemed normal changed overnight. Around the globe, we found ourselves redefining how we work and how we live. And while the light at the end of the tunnel has finally come into view, there are still plenty of challenges and uncertainties for us to navigate in the months ahead.

One of those challenges entails defining what, exactly, the future of work will look like. As we find ourselves at the sad first anniversary of a worldwide lockdown, it is a perfect moment to take stock of the fundamental ways the pandemic has rearranged our lives — and how we must redesign work moving forward.

Here’s what employers need to know about the way the pandemic has altered employee expectations :

Health and Safety Come First

Remote work is here to stay, but few of us will work remotely all the time. Instead, many companies plan to adopt hybrid models mixing remote work with in-office work.

As employers plan their post-COVID reopenings, they should know what employees expect from the return to the office. One of their foremost concerns: comprehensive health and safety plans. Employees want to come back to workplaces that take every precaution to protect their well-being.

Employers can immediately put such measures in place through simple steps like improving office ventilation and adopting stricter cleaning regimens. They should also reconfigure common spaces to make them safer and more accessible for employees in and outside of the office. Integrated videoconferencing systems, for example, will allow in-office employees to connect with their remote colleagues seamlessly. Touchless access solutions can cut down on the spread of potentially harmful germs.

And it’s not just physical well-being that employees are worried about. The pandemic caused untold stress for employees everywhere, and they are now asking for the unyielding support of their employers moving forward. Mental health now takes center stage in the workplace, and no corporate health plan will be complete without components that explicitly address employee’s mental well-being.

Time and Flexibility Trump Monetary Benefits

For workers, one of the most significant benefits of COVID-era work arrangements has been the ability to take back more of their precious time. Some reinvested their newfound hours in the workday, while others enjoyed more quality time with their loved ones. Either way, employees won’t want to give up control of their time after the pandemic is over.

And it’s not just office workers who want more flexibility going forward. According to Deputy’s “2020-2021 State of Shit Work Report,” shift workers are just as invested in autonomy. In fact, 66 percent of shift workers say flexible scheduling is a top benefit of shift work.

Employees across industries and roles are becoming more vocal in advocating for continued freedom, and employers will have to grant that autonomy in a way that benefits all parties. Between flexible schedules and opportunities for remote work, there are ways for organizations of all kinds to meet their employees’ newfound desire for control over their time.

Employees Are Willing to Show Up as Partners

To make it through the pandemic, we all needed to work together. Employees won’t soon forget this lesson. In fact, they’re now looking beyond their cubicles to strive for the greater good at work and in life. Moving forward, employees won’t be willing to turn a blind eye to struggling coworkers. They won’t keep using flawed processes simply because “that’s how we’ve always done things.”

Employees want to collaborate and make a mark. They are eager to invest their energy in companies, projects, and ideas that align with their values. That’s why it’s so important for employers to invest in their company cultures right now. Strong cultures that make employees feel valued will inspire and engage workers, allowing companies to thrive despite any hardships they may face.

But treating employees as partners means more than conducting surveys and holding status meetings. Rather, employees want transparency, action, and accountability. They want to be heard, to see the company takes their ideas to heart, and to see follow-through on promises and projects. They’re no willing to settle for any less.

Employees Want to Be Treated Like People, Not Just Drones

Keeping employees engaged amid the chaos of the pandemic forced leaders to become champions of soft skills. Empathy, authenticity, and a supportive attitude proved vital for keeping businesses afloat.

There is no turning back now. If leaders start to lower the bar, employees won’t hesitate to walk away.

And that’s a good thing. More humane management is good for business. Empathetic leadership can improve employee loyalty, and it’s not hard for leaders to incorporate more empathy into their everyday interactions. It can be as simple as taking the time to hold regular, personal check-ins with employees that go beyond work talk to discuss employees’ needs as people.

Employees Are Just as Concerned About Risk Management as Their Employers

The pandemic put our businesses, communities, personal lives, and livelihoods at risk, exposing many of the vulnerabilities inherent to the way we work. Our recovery efforts have to take into account all stakeholders if we are to build sustainable strategies for the future of work.

Managing future risk has become an imperative — and not just in terms of protecting employees in the event of another pandemic. Employees have many other worries on their minds, including fears that their jobs may become obsolete or that shifting economic conditions may sideline them entirely. Helping employees mitigate such risk will require proactive approaches to professional development, with plenty of support from employers.

The pandemic disrupted the status quo and accelerated many nascent changes. As we prepare to reopen the economy for real, we have to keep in mind that employees’ expectations have radically transformed over the last year.

With the pandemic putting things into perspective, people have become more aware of what really matters. They are less afraid to voice their expectations, even when it comes to employers. A healthy work/life balance, a strong culture, and plenty of support from leadership are now top-of-mind concerns for employees.

Meeting all of these expectations may not be easy — but the employers that do will find the effort well worth it.

Rob Press is a content marketing manager at Deputy.

By Rob Press