Two years on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that remote and flexible working have transformed the way knowledge workers view their employers and jobs.
While this was expected and perhaps predictable, we wanted to understand more about how employee expectations had evolved as a result of the pandemic. In workers’ minds, what were the features of an “ideal” job now that they’d experienced a shift to remote and flexible work? What, if anything, did workers expect from their management and jobs two years on from the start of the pandemic?
To discover the answers to these questions and others, we conducted a survey of 2,151 knowledge workers from North America (the USA and Canada), the United Kingdom, and Europe. We analyzed our findings and shared them in our newly published Employee Expectations 2022 report.
The insights in the report stem from both qualitative and quantitative data, with quotes from survey respondents allowing us to understand the narratives and stories driving the insights that we had collected. The report is now available to read in full, but here are some of the key insights and trends that emerged from our 2022 Employee Expectations survey.
Picture your ideal job. Imagine what it looks like day-to-day. Envision the things it affords you and the type of colleagues and rituals that make up your ideal work environment. We’re guessing you didn’t picture ping pong tables or beers on tap? You probably didn’t envision cramped commutes and expensive lunches, either.
If so, you’re not alone. Just like our survey respondents, you likely envisioned better work-life balance, the option to work remotely, and supportive work culture.
When we asked survey respondents, “Which of factors matter most when you picture the ideal company,” their top three rankings averaged out to work-life balance, working culture, remote/distributed working policy.
“The pandemic and working from home for almost two years has shown me I need a far better work-life balance [and] better support from upper management,” wrote one respondent in our survey. “Both were severely lacking before the pandemic.”
The idea that workers crave more work-life balance is hardly surprising. At the start of the pandemic, research found that remote workers were regularly clocking longer hours and facing larger workloads — perhaps a growing pain of adjusting to a “new normal.”
After the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, workers in our survey said they valued time with family and friends, traveling, and “disconnecting” from work more than ever.
“Working culture” is largely reflective of the rituals, interactions, and norms that are encouraged and ingrained in an organization’s DNA. Poor working culture may look like incessant micromanagement, the stated expectation to work beyond contracted hours, bullying or favoritism, and other behaviors that cause low morale and engagement.
51% of our survey respondents told us that strong working culture was “more important” or “far more important” than it was before the pandemic. Why is that?
In a remote environment, healthy working culture is critical. Healthy culture means that teams are better equipped and supported to handle challenges, manage change, avoid stress and burnout, and build strong professional relationships.
Working culture also feeds into work-life balance. When a workplace fosters a culture of working after hours and taking on excessive workloads, employees tend to feel pressured to adopt these unhealthy habits, leading to prolonged stress. There’s even research to suggest that “toxic corporate culture” was a driving factor for the “Great Resignation.”
Finally, for those picturing their “ideal” role, remote work ranks highly. This is to be expected.
For knowledge workers globally, remote working has been top of mind — powering decisions to relocate from expensive tech hubs, work while abroad, and even quit their roles altogether.
67% of respondents in our survey cited “supportive management” as more important or far more important to them now than before the pandemic. This was more than any other job factor (aside from remote work).
So, what does that really mean?
Admittedly, we don’t know. This could suggest a belief that supportive managers foster better workplaces. It could also indicate some friction between managers and ICs, especially at a time when there is a clear divide on whether staff should return to in-person work. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine, either, that in times of uncertainty or stress, an employee might expect a level of support from their management.
From the Employee Expectations report: “What we didn’t expect was the high placement of supportive management and remote working. Previously we mentioned a pattern emerging towards wellbeing, support, and flexibility at work. These responses validate that pattern.”
We know that knowledge workers want and expect flexibility, support, and a strong work culture. However, and perhaps most predictably, employees who took our survey said their top expectation was to receive regular pay increases.
From the Employee Expectations report: “91.4% of our Gen X cohort expected regular pay increases, compared to 90.5% of millennials and just 87.2% of Gen Z.”
While age and experience will almost certainly play a role here (the older our respondents were, the higher their expectation towards regular raises), the increased workloads workers have reported during the pandemic may also be contributing to wage expectations across all age cohorts.
With the additional context of rising inflation and increased cost of living, it’s no wonder that workers who participated in our survey said receiving regular pay increases was their top expectation.
Our Employee Expectations report is full of insights — the clearest being that flexibility, support, and regular pay rises are at the heart of evolving workplace attitudes and expectations.
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