The discrepancy in work expectations has long been a lingering problem between employees and employers. With jobs being a means of improving one’s standard of living, chasing their dreams, and planning for a comfortable retirement, it’s natural for employees to expect good benefits and career progression. On the other hand, senior executives have high-level KPIs to achieve which are somehow tied to business growth — and that usually would mean that employees need to go the extra mile.
To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and forced organisations to send employees to work from home. This “new” working arrangement found its own supporter base, prompting one in three employees to expect to work remotely permanently. And now as it is slowly subsiding, the employee-employer disconnect is heightened when the time comes to return to the office — or not.
Work flexibility is still favoured by the majority of employees, with 76% wanting the freedom to choose where they work and 94% preferring to have flexible working hours. On the other hand, research also reports that 68% of executives want to work in the office most or all of the time.
However, this hasn’t been followed up with a clear, transparent return-to-office policy from the executives — a phenomenon also known as the ‘shybrid’ practice. And, as a result, it is not clear if senior executives would lean towards employees’ preferences — or barge ahead with their own wishes.
What will happen if this continues?
The gap widens up as the recession looms
Organisations that demand a full return-to-office arrangement against their employees’ wishes can expect an increase in disengagement and possibly even the rate of attrition. However, with the looming global recession, 1 in 3 workers who plan to resign for a better working environment now has another factor to consider before doing so.
Since the bloom of the Great Resignation, employees and job seekers have been holding the cards in the talent war, with much help from the timely recovery of the economy. However, with the news of recession — also predicted to strike countries like Singapore and UK — the dynamics will once again be disrupted, shifting back in favour of the employers.
Employers may expect to have the upper hand again when it comes to choosing working arrangements. In spite of that, employee satisfaction is still a vital factor to consider if they want to retain and recruit the best talents. This is especially true, seeing that 78% of employees feel burnt out at work and only 54% are satisfied with their work-life harmony.
The state of work-life harmony in Singapore
The National Work-Life Harmony Study was conducted in March 2022, based on a survey of more than 3,300 respondents across 10 industries. From the study, we found that work-life harmony is directly correlated to employee engagement. 32% of employees with high work-life harmony satisfaction are reportedly more engaged and willing to recommend their workplace to others.
With that being said, it goes without saying that improving work-life harmony is a crucial aspect that organisations need to place high on the priority list. However, what it entails is different for every employee.
How employees perceive work-life harmony
Taken from the respondents of the nationwide study, below are the top three keywords from answers to the question “What does work-life harmony mean to you?”:
- Time — Be it for a break or settling personal matters, employees want to be able to take some time for themselves or loved ones.
- Family — It is important that the organisation also cares for the well-being of employees’ families.
- Balance — Having clear boundaries between work and personal life, so that employees can excel and have the best of both worlds.
Other keywords extracted from survey responses include hours, leave, need, flexibility, and more. This shows that work-life harmony is a complex and diverse matter which can vary greatly from one person to another.
However, work-life harmony is not the sole responsibility of the organisation. Employees also play a huge part in it — it’s their life, after all. So, this gap needs to be bridged with a relevant, tailored approach.
Challenges in promoting greater work-life harmony while working from home
Work-life harmony is one of the key factors in bridging employee-employer disconnect, yet both organisations and the workforce face a number of challenges trying to achieve it.
To begin with, 31% of employees find it difficult to draw the line between professional work and personal life. And even though flexiwork is favoured by more than half of respondents, it is a privilege that 17% of them cannot enjoy due to the very nature of their work.
Work resources and facilities also need more attention, as 13% are held back by the lack of the right hardware and 3% by software.
And lastly, the absence of supervisor support is also a stumbling block faced by 7% of employees.
Fortunately, this is not a dead end. Organisations can initiate work-life harmony strategies and bridge the disconnect by empowering managers.
This might interest you: How to Create Healthy Work Boundaries
A tailored approach is needed as certain cohorts are at risk of lower work-life harmony
Employers can better accommodate their workforce by grouping the latter in several different cohorts according to their needs, age range, gender, and other defining factors — all while paying attention to the varying levels of employee engagement and harmony satisfaction, and burnout levels.
The report shows that 15% of Millennials are dissatisfied with their state of work-life harmony, followed by 13% of Gen X, and only 8% of Boomers. Meanwhile, Gen X (83%), women (80%) and caregivers (80%) are at the highest risk of burnout. With this data, then, different strategies can be implemented for these cohorts.
Having an understanding of the employee cohorts that are at-risk and in greater need of work-life harmony is the first fundamental step; but what are the possible interventions that organisations can undertake?
Employees’ expectations toward work-life harmony strategies
When enquired about the initiatives that would help improve their work-life harmony, 61% of employees say that enhanced leave benefits are crucial, 56% opt for employee support schemes and flexible work arrangements, 55% management support, and 43% scheme communication.
Of all these five top initiatives, employee support schemes have the greatest impact. Other initiatives such as team-bonding activities, family-friendly outings, and health and wellness programs also play a part in improving the overall employee experience and employee engagement. However, it is unfortunate that these schemes are adopted the least by organisations.
Managers play a key role in bridging the disconnect
With or without a recession, low-quality employee engagement and work-life harmony can drive employees and employers apart. The wider the gap, the tougher it will get to bridge the disconnect. And this is where team managers come in.
Each team has different responsibilities, dynamics, interpersonal relationships, as well as engagement and satisfaction levels. With all these nuances, organisations need people who have localised context about each team and individual employees to take on the role of bridging the disconnect.
Managers are closely involved with their team members and, at the same time, responsible and aware of the importance of business growth. This allows them to engage with the workforce on a more personal level, understand their side of the story, communicate the business vision and strategy, and progressively close the gap.
Empowering managers to be champions of work-life harmony
Between maintaining team performance, taking their own workload and OKRs, and nurturing their team members’ work-life harmony, managers have a lot to juggle. While they are more than capable of analysing business data, analysing people data requires a different approach in which they may not have enough experience — especially if they do not have much experience in human resources or people management. That is why HR should provide ample support to managers so that they are not alone when it comes to improving employee engagement, creating work-life harmony, and closing the disconnect gap.
However, we do realise that this is easier said than done. Empowering managers comes with its own set of challenges. As many as 42% of HR administrators stated that they find it difficult to include team managers in the process to take action. And it is not due to a lack of intention or participation from either side. On the contrary, there simply aren’t enough resources.
Organisations should empower managers to have autonomy, but not leave them in the dark without providing any support. They need to be equipped and trained with the right tools and resources. Hence, they are able to empower their team members, engage with them effectively and compassionately, and — most importantly — take the right actions to drive meaningful change.
Read more about employee engagement: Gold Employee Engagement Award for Budaya