Worker Expectations are Changing in the New Normal. Here’s How Businesses Can Adapt

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The American labor force is experiencing a historic realignment. For the first time in decades, the labor market favors workers: a recent survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that the minimum compensation required by workers without a college degree is up 19% – or $10,000 annualized – since November 2019.

While it remains to be seen whether these trends will materialize over the long term, we know now that the landscape has changed. Companies looking to fill open positions will need to work harder than ever before to attract and retain talent. That means smart companies with an eye toward the future will prioritize flexibility and improve benefits. If they don’t, they risk being left behind by workers with drastically different expectations for work post-pandemic.

When workers left their desks in March 2020, it was unclear when they would return to the physical office. Now, more than a year later, many do not want to return at all – at least not full time. More than half of all respondents to a recent Randstad US survey, or 54%, said that they prefer a flexible work arrangement that is neither fully remote nor fully on-site. Workers prefer that flexibility even as 77% are ready to return to the office on at least a temporary basis.

The implications of these findings – which track with observed worker sentiments as vaccinations rise and economies reopen – should not be lost on company leaders nor their hiring managers. New hiring strategies should allow for the same flexible hours that enabled many workers to pick up a child from school or accompany a parent to a doctor’s visit during the pandemic. New flexible work options could similarly allow workers to set their own schedules regarding physical location where appropriate. Simple changes like this may tip the scales for a prospective employee weighing multiple offers.

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Increased flexibility is not the only change workers expect. Companies must also provide other benefits and workplace perks. Nearly 25% of survey respondents say that their employer should implement clearer policies to promote a healthy work-life balance and implement regular surveys on their wellbeing, 20% want better technology training, and 16% hope their employer will provide financial assistance for childcare. It may be impossible for one company to check all these boxes, but the smartest companies will understand these are not just perks anymore – they are expectations.

Finally, companies should prioritize clear communication. The pandemic changed workers’ relationships with work, and many will be uneasy about their return to the office. Three-quarters of workers want their employers to implement stricter, clearer protocols for on-site and remote work – an expectation that will not shift as the pandemic comes to an end.

In fact, clear communication will not just make employees feel safe. It will also positively impact a company’s bottom line. A study found that, on average, organizations lose $62.4 million each year because of unclear communications. Strategic communication about policies, change in protocols, employer expectations and other practices will help companies retain the talent they have and be more attractive to prospective employees.

As leaders, we must understand that our employees’ wellbeing is a business priority in the current job market. Instead of merely meeting employee expectations, we must do so while putting ourselves in their position, understanding their motivations and providing the resources for self-care they deserve.

The last year has significantly changed the dynamic between workers and employers in ways that are not likely to change any time soon. Workers will expect sustained flexibility, better benefits and clear communication from their workplace. They’ll get it from employers who are realistic about the current market and who consider workers’ perspectives with empathy and understanding. The sooner leaders adapt and recognize employee priorities and anxieties, the better we’ll all be.