Economies in fully-modernised, developed states are today facing three critical and novel economic conditions that are transforming the employer-employee relationship. The lowest unemployment rate since 1974, a digital skills gap which could cost the UK economy £240 billion of UK growth between now and 2026, and the working from home revolution have all empowered workers to demand more from their employees.
People’s expectations are now not just for a better salary, a fairer work-life balance, or other improvements to personal and material conditions, but also for more ethical values and more corporate responsibility. This is particularly true when it comes to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) matters.
Put simply, workers want their employers and the businesses they run to be better and do better – for each other and the planet. This is both a good thing and it is cyclical; as the bar starts to rise, it will only improve the standards that companies must hold themselves to.
Working from home
Covid-19 had a permanent impact on the expectations of a once office-based workforce. Once something has been given, it is very hard to take it back – and working from home is no different.
This revolution in working conditions has had immense impact on the younger generations, and flexibility is now a key demand thanks to COVID-19. For example, recent data from Deloitte shows that:
- Twice as many under-35s want permanent flexible working post-pandemic, compared to over-55s.
- Almost half of over-55s have returned to offices in some capacity, compared to a third of under-35s.
- Half of all office-based workers had never worked from home before COVID-19, three-quarters want regular remote working patterns in future.
Many would agree that flexible, hybrid working can and should be the norm in many digital sectors and businesses. However, the data doesn’t agree on who exactly wants what, as a recent report from Hubble claims that Gen Z favour access to an office more than their older colleagues.
Two things are clear from this. Across the board, people want flexibility, autonomy, and both access to working from home and a vibrant office life. Secondly, bosses need to listen to their staff – and not provide a one-size-fits-all approach or base their policy on data, but rather the preferences of their own employees. With record-numbers of job vacancies, people are more willing than ever to change jobs or careers should these expectations not be met.
Although where you work is about the material conditions of staff, it also represents a company’s values; are you listening to your staff? Are you trusting them as mature, responsible adults that know where they work best? If not, there will probably be another employer that is.
Company values and ethics matter more than ever
Thanks to an always-on news agenda and a growing trend towards socially liberal values in most modern democratic states, companies now have a responsibility to act, or at least appear to act, like they are doing ‘good’.
In 2018, an employee revolt forced Google to ditch their bid to work with the Pentagon on a military cloud project, and instead establish new guidelines against developing technologies for the military. Late last year, Google’s executives tried to bid again on a Department of Defence contract, and after an unsuccessful employee revolt, had to exert no small effort establishing their new position against 2018’s promises.
Google is still in the running for a now multi-provider cloud solution for the DoD. Yet, the back and forth between its leaders and the staff on the ground exemplifies the new influence employees can have on leadership; particularly in prestigious companies with sought-after tech skills. After all, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations are expected to grow over twice as fast as all other job types or industries in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics.
People want to work for ethical companies
Environmental and Social Governance is not just a buzzword for businesses and investors, and those treating it as such may find their bottom line, reputation, staff retention, or even legal standing threatened. Values matter more than ever – and with so many jobs available, especially for those involving digital or technological skills, people are actively incorporating these values into their employment decisions.
By 2025, millennials may comprise 75% of the world’s workforce, and this fact just reinforces the data surrounding their working preferences. For example, one recent study found that a majority of MBA students would accept lower pay to work for a more environmentally responsible company. While nearly half of the employees polled in another study would willingly reduce their pay in exchange for their company abiding by better data privacy practices.
Today’s labour market has never been hotter, and for companies involved in the digital and technology sectors, reputations can last a lifetime. If businesses want to attract and retain talent (and of course consumers, who will ‘vote with their pound’), they must remember the people they hire and the planet they stand on – and do as good by both as possible.