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The Big Question: Employer-Employee Relationships

What's the future of the employer-employee relationship? We asked two CHROs to share their insights.

For centuries, the traditional notion of employer-employee relationships has been framed in terms of leverage. Who has the upper hand? Who can "get" the most from the other? But the pandemic forced both sides to reconsider that arrangement—and to want something better. People + Strategy asked two CHROs to share their insights on how organizations can rethink the future of employee relationships.


The Benefits of Creating a Co-Designed Work Experience

by Laura Fuentes, CHRO at Hilton

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world of work in ways we've never experienced before. First, it was systemic and affected all workers, including those on the front lines. Second, it was sustained, lasting longer than any of us anticipated. Finally, it was synchronous, as the working world went through it at nearly the same time.

The combination of all these reasons accelerated a combustion of workplace frustrations and brought them to the forefront for employees globally. This vast disruption also led to a lot of soul-searching, revealing what we as humans ultimately seek: a fully human experience at work. And as both humans and employees, we need to know our purpose—our "why"—to fulfill this ultimate expectation. Knowing our why allows us to live authentically, create followership and navigate all of life's ups and downs.

Alongside this rise in pandemic-fueled introspection, the competition for talent intensified unlike ever before. The combination of personal soul-searching and the hot talent market motivated workers to ask their employers for new and different things.

This confluence sparked discussion about how this period represented a paradox for employers: How can it be possible to be both fully inclusive while also addressing individual wants and needs? How can employers provide career growth opportunities while also preventing burnout?

Rather than a healthy look at human needs, the cultural narrative became a push-pull between employers and employees focused on the balance of influence. 

Having come through this unique period together, employers and employees need to shift perspective and reframe the mindset from one where there is an expectation that someone is always in control to one where both groups are co-designing the future of work together. With this mindset, employers can now focus on the opportunity to build a fully human experience at work.

People want to work for an employer where they can reach their full potential and live their best and most authentic lives, while at the same time working together to grow our businesses. Employers can embrace this moment as an exciting, purposeful chance to build a better future of work and ultimately a better world together.

Now more than ever, it is important to create an ecosystem within companies that is more inclusive, healthier, more growth-oriented and more values-driven. At Hilton, we developed a framework anchored on four pillars reflective of both the pressing issues of our times and the timeless issues of our lives:

  • Am I welcome here?
  • Is this a safe space?
  • Is this a place where I will develop and be my best self?
  • Is this a place that aligns with my values?

By asking and answering these key questions, we can deliver what people need to feel fulfilled. If we or any employer can achieve this, the healthy relationship between employers and employees can begin to evolve in more constructive ways.

The challenges of the past few years were extreme. But they also ignited a sense of clarity—both for people and for companies—that put greater emphasis on the importance of each of those four pillars.

For industries like ours where we are in the business of people serving
people, the recipe for our success is based on a co-designed work experience, where we listen to our team members' voices and shape our business collaboratively.

By embracing that new clarity and understanding what humans need to be truly fulfilled, employees and companies can work to build a new kind of healthy relationship together.


Provide Meaning and Purpose to Win During This 'Great Reflection'

by Andre Joyner, CHRO at JCPenney

By now, we've all heard of the Great Resignation—the mass exodus of employees from their respective careers and organizations. While the reasons for leaving one's job vary person to person, at the root is something singular—reflection: Am I happy and thriving? Am I valued and seen? Am I contributing to something worthwhile?

Employees are in a period of Great Reflection, and employers are now right there beside them.

In the midst of tumult and uncertainty in the world, people want greater purpose and meaning for their lives and in their workplace. Employees are thinking more deeply about what matters to them and are seeking more purpose in their jobs and in their lives outside of work.

Previously, organizations were not typically seen as active partners in providing their employees with a personal sense of purpose. People were more accepting of limitations associated with work/life balance. Through a combination of technology and tenacity, expectations have evolved, and employees are collectively amplifying their voices to communicate their needs and wants. Individuals now have the power to nudge organizations towards taking a closer look at how they can enable the type of meaningful and enriched lives employees seek to have.

These shifts in employee and employer dynamics have left many organizations in a delicate balancing act. How can organization leaders provide greater value to employees that will support their social, emotional and professional aspirations?

There are a few key steps organizations can take to meet employees at the intersection or work and life fulfillment:

1. Get Personal

Companies want to make as many connections as they can with their workforce. So they often cast a wide net of values and philosophies that ultimately may not resonate fully with employees. Inclusivity should be at the forefront of getting personal with employees to develop a holistic picture of wants and needs.

For some, robust medical benefits may be the priority. For others, access to reliable childcare is a crucial element of daily life. Organizational workforces should be equipped with the tools and resources they need to be successful, both on and off the clock.

2. Invest in the Whole Employee

Recent surveys indicate that 87 percent of organizations are currently experiencing a skills gap or expect to face a skills gap within the next few years. Investing in appropriate training and resources not only strengthens the skillset of your workforce, but it also signals support for and commitment to your employees' development.

Have conversations at all levels of the organization to uncover the skills gap that require the most attention and bridging. And be prepared for the possibility that a real commitment to the whole employee might mean watching them leave.

As employers, sometimes we have to be open to the possibility that our employees are seeking to grow in ways that the organization may not be able to support at the time, which indicates a potential for the employee to fulfill those personal needs elsewhere. At the end of the day, organizations need to care about the human experience in totality.

Employees who may need to depart at a particular time can return later when the time is right. That level of support goes far when people are seeking what matters to them.

3. Listen and Adapt

We often see employee-employer relationships as a static construct, with rules and norms that govern the work environment. But as the last few years showed, individual priorities and interests change, sometimes quite quickly or dramatically. Employees who prefer a transactional work relationship today could seek deeper connections in the workplace tomorrow due to life events or changed perspectives.

For example, a decline in the health of a close relative could require an employee to become a primary caregiver, which would necessitate a more flexible work schedule.

An employee who struggles with mental health might be best supported with a broader array of self-care options that best meet their unique circumstances.

Listening to your employees is the only way to know what they need. Leverage different forums and channels and remain nimble as you mine the feedback, assess the needs and adapt to serve your employees.

When considering how to best engage and support employees in today's work environment, organizations should look inward.

Look to your people—their needs, their preferences and their personal goals—and examine your company values to develop a human-centered approach that focuses on creating inclusive solutions to support the needs of a diverse workforce.

When this period of Great Reflection comes to pass, it will be the organizations that lead with curiosity, act with empathy and adapt to meet people where they are throughout their dynamic, ever-evolving lives and careers that employees will want to call home.



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