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Future of Work: Beyond a Return to Normal Mindset

New research uncovers growing momentum for the "Great Resignation" phenomenon. As employers implement their forward-looking strategies, including decisions around hybrid work and increased flexibility, a gap is emerging between executive and employee perceptions, according to the latest market study by Gartner.

"We examined the key areas crucial to planning for the future employee experience and discovered significant dissonance between employee and executive sentiment across all," said Alexia Cambon, director at Gartner. "If left unaddressed, this division may lead to a critical failure to build trust and employee buy-in for future of work plans."

Flexible Work Market Development

The Gartner survey shows that 75 percent of executive leaders believe they are already operating within a culture of flexibility, yet only 57 percent of employees indicate that their organizational culture embraces flexible work.

Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of executives believe the business understands how flexible work patterns support employees, but only half of the employees share this view.

Employees do not feel that their need for flexibility is seen as a driver of performance. More concerning is the clear gap when it comes to autonomy over the decision to work flexibly -- 72 percent of executives agree they can work out their own flexible work arrangement with their manager, whereas only half of the employees feel they have that same privilege.

Only 66 percent of employees agree they have the technology they need to effectively work remotely, compared to 80 percent of executives. In fact, only 59 percent of employees agree their organization has invested in providing them with resources that allow them to work the way they would onsite in a virtual environment -- that's compared to 76 percent of executives.

The gap between executives and employees in their ability to work from home is likely to further disadvantage employees if it makes them less likely to take advantage of flexibility.

Only 41 percent of employees agree that senior leadership acts in their best interest, compared to 69 percent of executives. Executives are also more likely to feel trusted when it comes to working from home, with 70 percent agreeing that their organization trusts employees not to abuse work flexibility, compared to 58 percent of employees.

"Without trust, employees may feel wary of sharing their honest opinions about how, where, and when they want to work," said Cambon. "According to our most recent survey on hybrid work, only 56 percent of employees agree they feel welcome to express their true feelings at work -- that's compared to 74 percent of executives."

Only 47 percent of employees believe leadership takes their perspective into consideration when making decisions, whereas 75 percent of senior leaders feel they do. This divide extends to whether employees believe their work environment is inclusive of a diverse set of employee needs and preferences -- while 72 percent of executives believe this is the case, only 59 percent of employees feel the same.

There is a clear disconnect between how executives and employees perceive the content and effectiveness of their organization’s communication. For example, 71 percent of executives agree leadership at their organization has expressed a preference for work conditions to returning to their pre-pandemic model, whereas only 50 percent of employees have that same impression.

Outlook for The Future of Work Reimagined 

Organizations are striving more than ever to create a shared purpose, yet Gartner's research reveals that while 77 percent of executives agree they feel like they are a part of something important at their organization, only 59 percent of employees feel similarly.

The increasing focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion over the last 18 months has shone a light on how different employee segments feel about their organization's diversity. Seventy percent of executives believe that managers at their organization are as diverse as the broader workforce at their organization, compared to only 52 percent of employees.

That said, while I anticipate there may be ongoing differences in the perception of a typical enterprise work environment, I believe that more CEOs will collaborate with their CHRO to help close the gap between executives and employees. They'll move past the mediocre "return to normal" rhetoric, and instead, focus more on raising the bar of expectations for executive leadership -- toward work reimagined.

Meaningful and substantive employee retention strategies must start with bold aspirations for radical changes to the prior status quo. The upside opportunities for progress are significant. However, that will require an evolved mindset that's vastly different from the legacy "command and control" leaders of the past.

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