Employer vs employee: A rebalancing of the power dynamic

Australian employers face an ultimatum: prioritise quality leadership or risk losing staff

Employer vs employee: A rebalancing of the power dynamic

The latest data from the Gartner Talent Monitor Report reveals that ‘culture is king’ for employees who’ve emerged from lockdowns with a renewed sense of priorities. Aaron McEwan, VP Research & Advisory at Gartner, told HRD: “The data shows Australian employers face an ultimatum: prioritise quality leadership and a positive work culture in your organisation or risk losing staff to a highly competitive talent market.”

In a tight labour market, it’s clear that the balance of power has tipped towards the employee. “But let’s be frank,” said McEwan, “I would call it a correction. We’ve had decades of suppressed wage growth, we’ve had decades of erosion of employee rights, so what we’re actually seeing is a rebalancing of the power dynamic. 

“What happens in the wake of a major worldwide existential event, like a global pandemic is that it leaves long-lasting changes,” he continued. “Even if everything returns to a balance of power in favour of the employer, I don’t think it will change the fundamental shift that we’ve seen in employees which is they are rethinking their relationship with work at a very fundamental level.

Survey data shows the top of the employee priority list is location. “Location isn’t about having a shiny office in the CBD anymore”, said McEwan. “It’s actually about, can I have more autonomy and choice about where I work,” but McEwan cites, people are wanting more flexibility than their employer is generally offering them.

“There’s definitely data that some organisations and leaders are embracing flexibility and I think a good example would be the companies that have pushed for a really strong return to the office who have now backed away from that, so they [employers] are listening, but I would say listening under duress,” said McEwan.

McEwan says that the leaders he’s been speaking to think that bringing people back into the office is going to offset the perceived erosion of culture, but conversely, the survey data revealed that employees who have the least amount of flexibility actually have the lowest connection to their company culture. “So, there’s something really important about flexibility and autonomy and the sense of your experience in your organisation’s culture,” said McEwan.

Rather than forcing employees back into the office to regenerate culture employers are going to have to rethink culture in this new way of working. “The question for employers will be, how do you bring the culture to life in this new digital world? It’s going to be through your managers, through your teams, and through the work itself,” said McEwan.

McEwan told HRD that an interesting side-effect of remote or hybrid work is that employees are really starting to think about the work they do and if it aligns with what they like to do. “Remote workers spend 69% of their work time, working alone so there is a heightened sense of enjoying the work that they do,” he continued.

“In the old world, if your job wasn’t perfectly aligned but you really liked the people that you worked with, the company had a great culture, and it was a beautiful office in the city that was close to your favourite gym and your social life you could put up with a bit of annoying work, but if you strip all that away and you’re just left with the work, then the work suddenly starts to matter more,” said McEwan.

“A broader trend that is becoming really clear in our research is that we have to get much more comfortable with sub-cultures,” said McEwan We’ve got a generation of employees that have been trained as consumers to expect a hyper personalised experience. And increasingly that’s what people are starting to expect from work. “This idea that you can have one big overwhelming culture that dictates how you act and perform, nobody wants that anymore,” explained McEwan.

“Increasingly, people are coming to work thinking I don’t have to experience what a company dictates that experience to be, I want to experience something that is closer to my values that is individualised.”

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