Employees expect more from their workplace – and their bosses


Yesh Surjoodeen | Managing Director | Southern Africa | HP | mail me |

Effective communication, emotional intelligence (EQ), trust, and willingness to be vulnerable are the most sought-after qualities for today’s business leaders.

New global research reveals a significant shift in our relationship with work and our expectations of it in recent years with employees seeking work environments in which they can grow. In a nutshell: we want more from our work and our bosses.

Correlation between productivity and team morale

The Work Relationship Index, our study of more than 15,500 people across 12 countries, indicates that 58% of surveyed workers acknowledge an increase in their expectations of their work relationship, over the past few years, along with 57% noting heightened expectations regarding how they should be treated in the workplace.

At the same time, 41% express dissatisfaction with the EQ of their company’s leaders, stating that it falls short of their expectations. The study has also been able to draw correlation between productivity and team morale.

Put simply, when productivity falls, we see team morale, connection and engagement weaken. In fact, more than a third (39%) of workers say they become disengaged from work when the relationship is unhealthy, and a similar number (38%) feel disconnected from their organisation.

Conversely, among individuals surveyed, those with positive work relationships express trust in their senior leaders’ intentions at 66% percentage. These individuals, in contrast to those facing challenges in their work relationships, have confidence in their company’s senior leadership’s ability to comprehend their needs, lend an ear to their ideas and concerns, and, on the whole, they feel a stronger sense of connection.

Six factors that contribute to a positive work relationship, offering insights into the evolving expectations of employees have been pinpointed through this research:

  • Fulfilment: purpose, meaning and empowerment are of greater importance.
  • Leadership: empathy and emotional connection are the traits employees are looking for in their senior leaders
  • People-centricity: employees desire decision-making processes that prioritise people’s well-being
  • Skills: employees want to be offered opportunities for training and skill development.
  • Tools: employees want a say in the technology and tools their employer provides.
  • Workspace: employees prefer a work environment that makes it easy and seamless to work from (and between) multiple locations – and to be able to work from their chosen location.

Among these drivers, three are particularly noteworthy in the quest to build a more content workforce: employee satisfaction, empathetic and emotionally connected leadership, and a people-centered approach.

Emotional fluency and employee satisfaction

It takes two to tango and the same rule applies to effective communication. A significant 64% of knowledge workers consider it important for people to feel encouraged to express their genuine emotions in the workplace.

At the same time, leaders are expected to need to set the example by demonstrating their own emotional vulnerability. In fact, a substantial 70% of business leaders acknowledge that their success is contingent upon their EQ. Furthermore, employees appear ready to act on their preferences; they express a willingness to forgo 11% of their salary in exchange for the opportunity to work in an environment led by empathetic leaders.

Today employees seek more profound meaning in their work. Businesses can facilitate this by providing employees with more autonomy and influence. This could involve granting them a say in their tasks and performance metrics, promoting a work-life balance that allows personal growth, and fostering an environment of respect and trust. Currently, a mere 29% of employees consistently encounter these aspects in their work.

Trust: walk the talk and embrace a people-centred approach

Building trust in the workplace can be challenging. According to the survey, a significant portion of employees (33%) express distrust in the intentions of the senior leadership team, with an additional 20% remaining uncertain. Furthermore, only 21% agree that leadership styles have adapted to accommodate new working methods in the past two to three years. In light of this, prioritising your employees and acknowledging them as human beings, not just human doings, can yield significant benefits.

As employees increasingly acknowledge the importance of emphasizing their mental and physical well-being, employers have a crucial role in providing support.

A significant 69% of workers believe that well-being should take precedence, even if it means ranking it above work responsibilities. But it’s only less than a quarter, among the surveyed employees, that experience this consistently. Furthermore, employees hold a less optimistic view than business leaders regarding the availability of flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance.

Approximately 27% of employees report experiencing these elements consistently, in contrast to 43% of business leaders. A substantial 69% of employees emphasize the importance of senior leaders setting the precedent for work-life balance. They look for leaders to demonstrate flexible working, establish boundaries, and promote such practices more broadly.

Vulnerability is key, not perfection

For business leaders, this might entail being receptive to feedback from junior staff and admitting their mistakes when they occur. Employees are expressing that it’s acceptable for leaders not to have all the answers all the time, to be vulnerable, and to express genuine emotions – to lead with authenticity.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of knowledge workers in the survey emphasize the importance of senior leaders acknowledging their mistakes, and 68% highlight the significance of transparent communication about challenging topics like layoffs or budgets. Nonetheless, only a fifth of workers concur that senior leaders in their organizations consistently exhibit EQ.

According to the research it is evident that both leaders and employees believe a different skill set is essential for success in today’s business landscape. Senior leaders and managers should exhibit empathy and heightened EQ, which, when demonstrated, garners respect from their employees.

The humane and transparent leadership style that gained prominence during the pandemic should be rekindled and maintained if leaders, along with the relationships they cultivate within the workplace, are to thrive in the future.



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