Discussions about the changing “social contract” between employee and employer have been heating up:
- Executive institutes have established initiatives to understand and shape policy, like the Aspen Institute’s The Future of Work Initiative
- In the UK, Cordant Group transformed their business model to a social business to “reconnect people with a sense of delight in their work”
- The International Labour Organization’s Global Commission on the Future of Work describes the social contract in terms of increasing investment in people capabilities, the institutions of work, and decent and sustainable work
And yet, the vast majority of employees today do not feel valued by their employers. The numbers around disengaged employees are staggering – according to Gallup, 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work.
So why the disconnect between company statements and how employees actually feel?
The sad truth is that too many employees don’t feel secure in their jobs. They worry about automation replacing them, or productivity goals driving their employers to do more with less, at the expense of employee wellness. Let’s be honest: daily profit pressures can overshadow and limit our ability to think, talk and learn.
Employees are not convinced they are the “most important asset” – and as a result, they do not make demands; they do not seek change from within their companies. Instead, they tolerate what exists. And when companies and their relationship with employees (the social contract) don’t change; employees just move on. When they do, they take their domain expertise of your customer and your industry with them (and maybe some of their coworkers). It’s a huge problem.
As a leader, can you reset the social contract between employee and employer at the team level?
Can this be your way of winning the war for talent and, in the process, make things better for all employees and your company? Yes!
Turning a talent problem into an opportunity
Visionary leaders and progressive companies can differentiate themselves in the eyes of employees by working to close the gap between company statements and employee reality.
We all know we need to. In doing so, leaders and the companies they work for can get a leg up on the 21st century war for talent – and more importantly, employees can begin to see and feel like their company’s most important and valued asset. But it will require change. Change at the top. It will require a strategic shift in how we think about HR and how we approach employees.
Putting employees at the center
We need to begin to treat employees like customers. And we need to start by creating an Employee Value Proposition (EVP).
If the 20th century was about becoming customer centric, then the 21st century will be about becoming employee centric. The next area of major disruption and innovation for an organization will be in Human Resources (HR). As leaders, we need to reinforce the importance of HR as a strategic partner. As a strategic partner, HR can evolve and rise in corporate importance, just as the office of the CFO did in the late 80s early 90s (see Ram Charan, Dominic Barton and Dennis Carey's provocative HBR article, People Before Strategy for another great read on this topic).
This rise in the importance of HR, along with a strategic shift in the social contract between employee and employer, could be a huge step towards actually making employees the company’s most important and valued asset. To begin the journey of becoming “employee centric,” companies and their leaders must engage in the development of an EVP.
To build an EVP, we need to start with the employee and what they value. We need to adjust the perception that we already know what employees want and value. We need to stop assuming employees are happy or even “lucky” to be employed at all.
We can start by engaging in discovery with employees. The discovery has to be open, honest and without judgement. The employees need to view the discussion as a safe one. Create a conversation, one where employees can share all ideas, not just the “right” ideas, without ridicule or indifferent dismissal. Leaders need to stop talking and start asking and listening, asking questions across the lifecycle of employment, like:
- What attracted you to our company?
- What makes you stay?
- What keeps you connected once you leave?
It’s a long-term journey, not a point in time
The idea of an EVP is a new and growing trend. As I researched it, to help develop one for my own team, I centered on 4 critical levers:
- Culture – how work actually gets done
- People – who you work with (their skills, passions and social behavior)
- Career opportunity and job flexibility – what can I learn, how can I grow and what are my flexible work options
- Tangible rewards – short and long-term
The secret is integrating the levers and then creating and connecting communities of customers, employees and partners into a cohesive whole.
Through my efforts to develop an EVP for my team, I realized it’s a journey. In this journey, you must first establish a relationship of mutual respect. The journey is very iterative and you need to have patience. The vision of an end goal may change multiple times along the way, and that’s ok. The process and inclusive approach will set a foundation for progress in a meaningful way. For me, I listened, I learned, and then with my team, we tested ideas continued to modify.
As a leader, my biggest learning has been that people value respect and trust more than anything.
They want a relationship of equals. They understand profit and how they can positively impact it. Profit and care for the employee can co-exist. Employees take pride in working for a great company and they want to have a role in making the company a better and more successful place. All you have to do is ask for their help, ask for their ideas and show them you care every step of the way.
It’s a win-win proposition
Beside the fact that this is the right and decent thing to do, having a workforce that feels valued and respected is also the single best way to grow a business. Gallup has another (even more staggering) stat on their website: their research, which includes 30 years and 30 million employees, finds that “companies with a highly engaged workforce outperform their peers 147% in earnings per share.” If we get this right, we all win – the company, the customers, the shareholders, and most importantly... the employee. It seems like a no-brainer to me.
Let’s get started.