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Business leaders and employees disagree on the future of work

By Ryan Morris-Reade, Fri 12 Nov 2021

Business leaders are significantly more satisfied with how they have adjusted to new working norms than employees, new research has revealed. 

The 2021 edition of the Global Workplace Report from NTT points to the need for clearer organisational insight into how employees have re-evaluated what they need from their workplace.

Conducting 1,146 interviews across 23 countries, NTT found near-universal agreement that remote working has introduced difficulties, with 86% of A/NZ respondents saying it has been challenging for organisational performance and employees. Meanwhile, 67% of A/NZ chief human resources officers say that employee wellbeing deteriorated throughout the pandemic.

Broad awareness of the issue is not always translating into a realistic assessment of organisational capability, however. Compared to operations staff, globally, CEOs are 20% more likely to believe that their organisation is very effective at managing working hours, 28% more likely to think that they are effective at preventing burnout, and 41 points more likely to be very satisfied with their organisation's employee experience capabilities.

This awareness gap mirrors a severe lack of employee confidence, with globally just 38% saying that their employer fully values their health and wellbeing, and only 23% saying they are very happy working for their employer.

Underlying the satisfaction gap between employers and employees, the research found a significant degree of diversity in employee attitudes towards their future working preferences. Voice of the Employee data shows that, when offered a choice of at-home, hybrid, or in-office working arrangements, employees are relatively evenly split between the three, at 30%, 30%, and 39%, respectively.

This finding contradicts the belief, shared by 79% of organisations, that employees prefer office working when, in fact, VoE data finds that just 39% of employees desire full-time office working.

"Currently, the narrative is all about remote working, but the reality of employees needs is much more complicated, and any failure to accurately assess and respond to that fact presents a serious risk to organisations," says NTT global senior vice president, GTM Solutions, Alex Bennett.

"These are not mild preferences; we found that work-life balance and commute times are now the two biggest factors people look at when deciding where to work, and so performing well on workforce and workplace strategy will be a real competitive advantage."

Acting on the basis of a clear view of employees outlooks is being made more difficult by a lack of comprehensive data and insight collection. In terms of data priorities, 40% of A/NZ businesses report VoE being a top focus, second only to workplace analytics at (38%). Despite this, however, just 29% of organisations have structured VoE programs, and 35% employ real-time sentiment analysis, compared to 51% utilising employee surveys.

The research also demonstrated that applying these kinds of data for improving an organisation's EX needs to go much further than day-to-day quality-of-life improvements; at 40% globally, a company's purpose and values is now the third most important factor for choosing where to choose to work. In this area, employees and business leaders are in sync in A/NZ, with 92% agreeing that environment, social, and governance (ESG) objectives are at the heart of the organisation's agenda.

"I would look at this as a call to shift our thinking from being about actions to being about outcomes," says Bennett. 

"What's important is not what we do to improve the workplace, but how it benefits the workforce, and an organisation cannot know that without a mature approach to measuring employees sentiment. 

"Surprisingly, two-thirds of employees globally say they are not yet equipped with all the tools they need to work from home, and just 65% of A/NZ organisations say they are strongly satisfied that office spaces are ready for hybrid working," he says.

"Nonetheless, 87% of A/NZ organisations are engaged in reshaping their office space over the next 12 months to foster an environment of innovation and social connection. There's an awareness on some level that immature workforce strategies will lead to employee discontent and that work should be led by what people actually require."

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