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From hierarchy to partnership: rethinking the employee/employer relationship in 2024

Employees sitting working on laptops around a table

Employees want to feel valued by their employers Image: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Sander van't Noordende
CEO, Randstad
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Society and Equity

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Companies need to embrace a new talent ABC — focusing on ambition, balance and connection, according to the Randstad Workmonitor 2024.
  • Workers are rethinking what they want, putting work-life balance, flexibility, equity and skills at the heart of career decisions.
  • Providing paths to career progression is one of the most promising ways for organizations to increase their access to and retention of talent, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report says.

What five words would you use to describe yourself?

Have a think.

I don’t know what your answers are, but I do know there’s little chance of any two readers of this article coming up with the same list of words.

And, I think it’s unlikely the word 'employee' would feature on that list. There is so much more to your talent pool than a job title, so do you need to get to know your staff better?

Nearly a third (29%) of workers feel like their generation is not understood by their employers. Image: Randstad Workmonitor 2024

The employer/employee divide

Understanding the individuals behind their employees is an increasingly important part of what employers need to do. This is one of the key messages that emerges from our Randstad Workmonitor 2024. Our 21st annual survey, which covers 27,000 workers in 34 markets across Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Americas, shows that fostering a human connection with and understanding talent is more crucial than ever.

However, the evidence we have uncovered in Workmonitor 2024 points to a growing divide, with employers not always understanding what their people need to feel like they belong at work. This covers everything from promotion prospects and training opportunities to work-life balance and creating more equitable workplaces.

Feeling misunderstood

Overall, nearly a third (29%) of workers feel like their generation is not understood by their employers, but this rises to 40% for Generation Z (those born after the mid-1990s). And more than half (55%) say they feel the need to hide aspects of themselves at work.

People also feel it is increasingly important to work for a company that aligns with their views on environmental matters (58%) and social/political issues (54%) and just over a third (37%) say they would never accept a job at a company that is failing to make proactive efforts to improve diversity and equity.

This is not the only area of disconnect between people and employers – there needs to be a better balance between what talent want in terms of career progression and development and what companies are offering them, our report shows.

While 40% of employees want to talk to their employer about career progression at least once a quarter, a third of them are never given the chance to have these conversations.

Bridging this gap is critical if companies want to retain their best staff. Promotions and career progression opportunities are widely seen as the most promising way for companies to increase their access to and retention of talent, finds the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023.

42% of people see training provision as an employer’s responsibility, while only 23% think it lies with the employee Image: Randstad Workmonitor 2024

Learning opportunities

Yet, as I pointed out earlier, all employees are individuals. This means that not everyone is motivated by the prospect of a promotion. Workmonitor 2024 shows that for every person saying they would only accept a job if it offered career progression (42%), there is another (47%) saying this is not what they want.

For many, this is because their personal lives take priority over their careers. More than four in ten (41%) say their level of ambition changes depending on what’s going on outside their job. This also came across when we asked people what they see as important when choosing a job – 93% said work-life balance and 81% said flexibility around working hours, while only 70% said career ambition.

Prioritizing flexibility has been shown to enhance a company’s diversity, equity and inclusion. People from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds are among those more likely to benefit from such arrangements.

While workers prioritize flexibility over career development, employers are expecting disruption to the core skills they require Image: World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Surveys 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2023

But there remains a great need to do more on this front and providing training opportunities for staff is one of the ways companies can support this.

Underserved communities have limited access to education and upskilling. This is not just unfair to them, it means companies are missing out on potential pools of untapped talent.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The emergence of new technologies, such as AI, threatens to widen knowledge gaps. Employers need to step in to level the playing field – indeed, 42% of people see training provision as an employer’s responsibility, while only 23% think it lies with the employee.

Providing training benefits everyone. A total of 72% of workers rank training as important, Workmonitor shows, with AI skills (29%) and IT and tech literacy (29%) the most sought-after areas. Giving staff these opportunities makes them more likely to stay in their jobs and boosts the skills and talent employers have to draw on.

3 areas to focus on:

To drive a greater feeling of belonging among the workforce and to foster a culture of equity, employers need to focus on a new talent ABC.

A stands for ambition

By building a real understanding of employees’ motivations and ambitions, employers will be able to provide development and promotion opportunities that give people what they want and boost employee retention.

B stands for balance

For most workers, the importance of their personal lives outweighs that of their careers. Employers should explore how flexibility can be offered – both in terms of when and where people work.

C stands for connection

Organizations need to develop a culture of respect and understanding where employees feel a connection – both with each other and with their employer – about what they need to make them feel happy in their work.

Ultimately, it’s about rethinking the employee-employer relationship and building a true partnership. After all, employers and employees have a mutual need for one another.

By creating processes and communication channels that allow better alignment with their people, organizations have the chance to stand out as an employer of choice for current and prospective colleagues.

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