In the dynamic landscape of employee relations, buzzwords, and trends emerge with regularity, capturing headlines and stirring discussions. From “Lazy girl jobs” and “Quiet quitting” to “Rage applying” and the phenomenon of “Overmployment” — not to mention “Great resignation” and movements like r/antiwork — these terms flood our feeds. But are they indicative of the future of labor relations, or are they merely sensationalist terms that skirt the real issues?
Jordan Steinhort, a seasoned Manager at The Gap Partnership, questions whether excelling in today’s labor market requires one to become a TikTok influencer or Reddit moderator. He argues that these media-propelled “trends” are often just clickbait that overlook the substantive shifts in employee-employer dynamics. Indeed, the relationship between workers and businesses is undergoing a transformation, with these trends being manifestations of deeper challenges that organizations must confront to engage with the most educated workforce we’ve witnessed to date.
Cultural shifts have altered worker priorities, diminishing the once-hallowed regard for the corporate titans and their empires. Today’s workforce seeks more than commercial success; they yearn for meaning and purpose, aspiring to contribute to a company that actively addresses the pressing issues of our times.
The stark reality is that without a sense of purpose, employment becomes a mere transaction. Workers are increasingly prepared to either walk away or form unions if their need for authentic and relatable leadership is unmet. The traditional career paths of previous generations no longer define the trajectory for today’s workforce. The essence of employment negotiation has fundamentally shifted.
Recent research conducted by The Gap Partnership illuminates these evolving relationships and offers insights on navigating the new terrain of employment negotiation. In February 2023, a survey of 800 decision-makers from businesses with annual revenues exceeding £20 million across eight major markets revealed a landscape of negotiation challenges and insights into the future of business from their vantage point.
A key insight gained from our research was that employee’s priorities have changed. Variables that may have been important in the past (e.g. long-term security of employment, organizational prestige, workplace culture, and office perks) create less leverage in the negotiation process than they used to. Therefore, employers that expect these variables to trade for their previous values are all but guaranteed to end up frustrated and suboptimize the potential value of the relationship. In some negotiations, this will lead to more competitive, transactional-style behavior.
What are the core values of the emerging workforce? Recent research by The Gap Partnership has identified four critical factors deemed important or highly important for attracting and retaining talent in 2023:
- Health Insurance: A significant 59% of respondents rate this as a priority.
- Retirement Plans: Close behind, with 57% of professionals highlighting its importance.
- Professional Development and Education Benefits: Also at 57%, indicating a strong desire for growth and learning opportunities.
- Flexible Work Options: A priority for 56% of those surveyed, reflecting the modern demand for work-life balance.
When these preferences are juxtaposed with the 2023 Deloitte Gen Z and Millennial survey, it’s clear that Diversity, Equity, and inclusion (DE&I), societal impact, and environmental action are areas where younger generations feel employers are currently falling short. This discrepancy presents a unique opportunity for employers to leverage these variables to enhance their talent acquisition and retention strategies and to build more robust partnerships with their teams.
Reece Broadfoot, the Head of Category and shopper Marketing at Nestlé Purina Petcare Australia, shares insights on this pivotal topic.
“There is definitely a shift in behavior that we have seen since the pandemic. One reason is that flexible working has been established and as a leader, it takes a different skill set to engage your team in that way of working. I have personally noticed a shift in priorities from people. There is a general belief that work needs to fit around people’s lives, not the other way around. If they have to be at commitments post work, then they need to work from home that day. The real challenge in the short term is that we need to find ways to engage our team. The onus is on us to create an environment and a mission for the business that people believe in and want to be a part of.
Another challenge we face is that graduates and younger team members are highly ambitious and they have a very high level of self-belief. They believe they are ready for more responsibility and desire quick progression and they are confident enough to blaze their own trail, not following in the footsteps of others. I have found that being a genuine and authentic leader is key to motivating the younger members of my team. They need to feel like you are approachable and trustworthy otherwise they will disconnect and that has a greater cost to the business and the team in the longer term. Overall, I think the future is bright as the young people joining our team are intelligent, energetic, motivated, and add a lot of value to the business.”
Employee relations are transforming. The great resignation and related phenomena are reflections of changing values, priorities, and expectations among the newer generations of workers. More than mere commercial success, they demand meaning, humanity, authenticity, and a greater alignment with their personal lives and values.
The research highlighted in this article, as well as first-hand insights from industry professionals like Reece Broadfoot, underscores the urgent need for employers to recognize and adapt to these shifts. The priorities of health insurance, retirement plans, professional development, education benefits, flexible work, diversity, equity & inclusion, societal impact, and environmental responsibility are not merely preferences of the moment but central to attracting and retaining talent in the modern era.
The challenge and opportunity for businesses lie in translating these insights into actionable strategies, creating environments that resonate with employees’ desire for authenticity and purpose. By fostering a workplace that acknowledges the humanity of its team and strives to make work fit around life rather than vice versa, employers can not only mitigate the risks of disconnection and disengagement but also unleash the full potential of a motivated, energetic, and values-driven workforce. The “clickbait” trends may pass, but the underlying shifts in labor relations they point to are here to stay, making them crucial for contemporary leadership to understand and embrace.