Over the years a lot has been written about how companies can become ‘employers of choice’ and how important it is for a business to be ‘winning the war for talent’. These topics have formed the basis of many academic papers and conference slots have been devoted to them, leading, no doubt to a healthy stream of work for consultants and advisers.
And why wouldn’t an employer strive to create a place where people want to work, as it is a vitally important part of attracting the best people?
Today, there is at least some consensus around what makes an ‘employer of choice’. I don’t intend to tackle that topic in great detail here, except to say that in the 20 or so years since I first entered the world of pay and benefits, there has been a shift in the notion of what makes a good employer. Back in the 90s and 80s – in the private sector at least – the concept of a great place to work was heavily rooted in how much money a company made and how much of that money was shared with its employees, through above market rate salaries, bonuses and commissions. Back then it seems, a ‘good company’ ie one that made a lot of money, equated to a ‘good employer’.
The impact of societal changes
Since then, societal changes have created a landscape where employees, while still valuing financial stability in their employer, have a much broader set of wants and needs when it comes to deciding where to work. Things like wellbeing, mindfulness, equality and social responsibility all have a part to play in the choices people make when choosing an employer.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental differences we see now compared to the 80s, say, is in the notion of a work/life balance. At that time, it meant finding a way to do your job while still having the flexibility to spend meaningful time with family and friends without feeling guilty – nothing more.
Today, technology has resulted in a shift towards an ‘always on’ work culture, meaning that the lines between ‘work’ and ‘not-work’ are much more blurred. And, while this brings some advantages and perhaps allows more people to participate in the workplace, it also creates a more complex relationship between employer and employee, often requiring a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement between them.
Barriers between work and home have softened
Unlike 30 years ago, when there was a hard break between work and home life, many employees today don’t have such a barrier and can be contacted at any time or see things developing in their workplace even if they’re not physically there. Of course, the flipside is also true, so a quick glance at the mobile phone during the morning tea break will allow an employee to see what’s going on outside their workplace.
As work frequently encroaches on employees’ outside lives today, they find that if they are to achieve a work/life balance, they will need to bring their ‘life’ into their workplace.
So, what are the kinds of life issues that employees might bring into the workplace and what can their employer do to help?