An NTT Ltd report has found that business leaders are significantly more satisfied with how they have adjusted to new working norms than their employees have, and points to the need for clearer organisational insight into how employees have re-evaluated what they need from their workplace.
The NTT's 2021 Global Workplace Report, conducted 1,146 interviews across 23 countries, including Australia, and found near-universal agreement that remote working has introduced difficulties, with 86 per cent of ANZ respondents saying that it has been challenging for both organisational performance and employees. Meanwhile, about 67 per cent of ANZ CHROs say that employee wellbeing has deteriorated over the course of the pandemic.
Currently, the narrative is all about remote working – but the reality of employees’ needs is much more complicated and any failure to accurately assess and respond to that fact presents a serious risk to organisations, according to Alex Bennett, global senior vice-president, GTM Solutions at NTT Ltd.
“These are not mild preferences: we found that work-life balance and commute times are now the two biggest factors people look at when deciding where to work, and so performing well on workforce and workplace strategy will be a real competitive advantage,” Bennett said.
Broad awareness of the issue is not always translating into a realistic assessment of organisational capability. Compared to operations staff, globally CEOs are 20 per cent more likely to believe that their organisation is very effective at managing working hours, 28 per cent more likely to believe that they are effective at preventing burnout, and 41 points more likely to be very satisfied with their organisation’s employee experience (EX) capabilities.
This awareness gap mirrors a serious lack of employee confidence though, with globally just 38 per cent saying that their employer fully values their health and wellbeing, and only 23 per cent saying they are very happy working for their employer.
Underlying the satisfaction gap between employers and employees, the research found a significant degree of diversity in employee attitudes towards their own future working preferences. Voice of the Employee (VoE) data shows that, when offered a choice of at-home, hybrid, or in-office working arrangements, employees are relatively evenly split between the three, at 30 per cent, 30 per cent, and 39 per cent, respectively.
This finding contradicts the belief, shared by 79 per cent of organisations, that employees prefer office working – when in fact, VoE data finds that just 39 per cent of employees desire full time office working.
“I would look at this as a call to shift our thinking from being about actions to being about outcomes,” Bennett continues.
“What’s important is not what we do to improve the workplace, but how it actually benefits the workforce – and an organisation cannot know that without a mature approach to measuring employees’ sentiment."
Acting on the basis of a clear view of employees’ outlooks is being made more difficult by a lack of thorough data and insight collection. In terms of data priorities, 40 per cent of ANZ businesses report VoE being a top focus, second only to workplace analytics at (38 per cent). In spite of this, however, just 29 per cent of organisations have structured VoE programs, and 35 per cent employ real-time sentiment analysis, compared to 51 per cent utilising employee surveys.
"Surprisingly, two-thirds of employees globally say they’re not yet equipped with all the tools they need to work from home, and just 65 per cent of ANZ organisations say they are strongly satisfied that office spaces are ready for hybrid working," Bennett added.
"Nonetheless, 87 per cent of ANZ organisations are engaged in reshaping their office space over the next 12 months to foster an environment of innovation and social connection."
The research also demonstrated that the application of these kinds of data for improving an organisation’s EX needs to go much further than day-to-day quality-of-life improvements; at 40 per cent globally, a company’s purpose and values are now the third-most important factors for choosing where to work. In this area, employees and business leaders are in sync in ANZ, with 92 per cent agreeing that environment, social and governance (ESG) objectives are at the heart of the organisation’s agenda.
"Clearly, there’s an awareness on some level that immature workforce strategies will lead to employee discontent, and that work should be led by what people actually need,” Bennett concluded.