How employers can support the transforming nature of employees

Long gone are the days when employees were grateful for a job that offered competitive pay and a workplace pension.


If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Employees have evolved to demand a far broader mix of employee benefits and a more supportive working environment.
  • Employees increasingly want a job to be on their terms, which includes being able to work and do things on the go.
  • Many employers may simply require an overhaul of their communications strategy to help support these new demands, rather than needing to introduce new perks.

Employees have evolved to demand a far broader mix of employee benefits and a working environment that supports and empowers them to perform to the best of their abilities, rather than one that controls them. 

Matthew Gregson, consulting director at benefits consultancy Thomsons Online Benefits, says: “The big shift [within the evolution of the employee] has been the move towards employees pretty much wanting everything on their terms. Staff are compromising a lot less than they did generations ago.”

The drivers for this change extend beyond the workplace to wider social trends, particularly around parenting styles, which are much more liberal than ever before and which are nurturing highly demanding individuals who have a far greater sense of self and self-importance than their predecessors, says Gregson.

Dr Patricia Hind, director of Ashridge Business School’s Centre for Research in Executive Development, adds: “We can think of the millennials [employees born between the early 1980s and early 2000s] coming through as the ‘I’ generation, and that has two meanings. It is the generation that has grown up with iPhones, and one that is much more self-aware and self-conscious about its own needs, its own wants, its own abilities and its own expectations.”

Greater job flexibility is required

For millennials, this sense of self translates into a need for greater flexibility around, and control over, their job roles than their baby boomer peers ever dreamt about.

This means that workplace technology, such as mobile phones, is no longer considered an innovative feature of schemes such as an employer’s flexible benefits plan, but instead is seen as comprising necessary tools that enable employees to perform their roles.

Frances Quigg, head of Vodafone’s ‘Better ways of working’ team, says: “A lot of employees, particularly millennials, coming into the workplace have an expectation of a better work-life balance, and being able to work and do things on the go.” (See case study, below).

Career paths need to be clear and achievable

Millennials are also starting work with clear career paths, and with that an expectation of access to training and development, to help them exploit career opportunities as and when they arise.

Instant gratification is key for this population of employees, thanks to the instantaneous nature of their lives that has been created and propelled by technological development. Consequently, top talent is less likely to be prepared to wait for career opportunities that employees believe they deserve.

“Baby boomers’ mentality was that they were going to do something and then ask to be rewarded for it, whereas when generation Y and millennials want something, they want it now,” says Gregson.

This culture of immediate gratification extends to benefits, with younger employees more likely to value perks such as free lunches and Subbuteo tables over workplace savings vehicles such as a pension.

This is also true at the other end of the age spectrum, although older employees’ demands are often more about a desire than an expectation for their employers to retrain them, to enable them to remain in work for longer.

Business leaders need to be authentic

But irrespective of age, employees are increasingly expecting transparency, authenticity and thought leadership to be at the heart of the organisations for which they work.

Joe Wiggins, career trends analyst at employer review website Glassdoor, says: “Employees want to believe in what they do, and spend their working hours doing something that they believe is important and that matters.”

Undertake a benefits audit to ensure suitability

Employers keen to support employees’ evolving needs should start by undertaking an audit of their existing workforce to identify the benefits support and working environment that existing staff and prospective recruits actually want. They should then compare this with their existing employee value proposition (EVP) to help identify any provision gaps.

But employers should be mindful of the fact that their benefits range is often less of a problem than the way in which they are designed to be appropriate for their workforce. Dr Eric Tyree, chief data scientist at benefits consultancy Capita Employee Benefits, says: “Employers have got to ensure that they are sending out the right messages to the right employees.”

For many employers, this may simply require an overhaul of their communications strategy, to help highlight the benefits that they already have in place, rather than introducing new perks. Employers can optimise the effectiveness of their campaigns by using life events, such as marriage or becoming a parent, as a focus.

Jonathan Underwood, director of product management of BenPal, JLT Benefit Solutions’ benefits portal, says: “When communications are driven around events, messaging really becomes a unique proposition to the individual employee.”

Employees need a voice

Employers need to ensure that their employee value proposition (EVP) recognises employees’ need for a voice. Top talent demands to be heard and to feel that they are involved in, and have influence over, the future shape and performance of their organisation.

Line manager training is also key, because only managers confident, and armed with the resources, to empower their employees to perform to the best of their ability will help create an organisation for which employees of the future want to work.

Iain McMath, chief executive officer at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services, says: “It is about employers giving managers the freedom and support to identify and support talent, and the framework to understand that their role is not just about managing today’s jobs, but about considering what can happen in the business in five to 10 years.”

But most importantly, employers need to ask themselves if they can honestly evolve their organisational structure and culture to offer the EVP that top talent increasingly demands, particularly in respect of flexible working.

It is, however, equally important for employers to balance the needs of their workforce with the needs of their business.

Mark Pemberthy, a director at JLT Employee Benefits, says: “The reality is that most employers have got lots of generations and categories of employees, and they have all got different expectations and ways that they want to interact, so I think this is all as much about where the employer is and what it requires of its workforce as it is about employees and what they need.”

Gregson adds: “This is not a paradigm shift, which is a case of all or nothing, because an employer still has a responsibility to drive good behaviours. But there is definitely a rebalancing away from this wonderful safety net of benefits support to benefits that employees really want.”

Case study: Vodafone supports employee demand for flexible working


Vodafone supports employees’ increasing demand for flexible working by enabling staff, regardless of grade, to work in a location of their choice as part of its ‘Better ways of working’ initiative.

The ability to work flexibly is one of three demands being presented by employees coming into the workforce that Vodafone has identified and addressed, along with a flexible working environment and a work space within this location that is as collaborative and innovative as possible.

For example, none of the staff at the organisation’s Newbury campus, including its chief executive, has an office or a fixed desk. Instead, staff are assigned an employer-funded laptop and mobile phone when appointed by the organisation and work at hot desks, which the organisation dubs ‘shared tables’.

Employees’ job functions determine whether or not they can set their own hours, with core hours applicable for some teams across the business.

Line managers have been trained to support the organisation’s flexible-working practices. Training covers Vodafone’s new performance metrics, which have been shifted to focus on employee outcomes, to reflect the fact that staff are not always visible in the office.

Frances Quigg, head of Vodafone’s ‘Better ways of working’ team, says: “We’ve changed the way we measure staff, so we have moved very much away from presenteeism to delivering on employees’ outcomes.”

The key challenge that Vodafone faced in implementing its new strategy was a fear among employees that the removal of personalised desk space was part and parcel of a long-term rationalisation project that would result in redundancy, but the new strategy means that jobs are in fact protected because of the cost savings that have been generated, explains Quigg. 

Ian Hodson: Why employers need to offer learning and development support within their reward packages

Ian Hodson

The evolution of the public sector over the last five years, and the need to recruit a different skillset to meet the needs of a different budget-focused business model, has required benefits professionals to create a different type of reward package.

Public sector employers’ reward packages traditionally had very good pension scheme and pay structures at their core, with reactive support for the likes of staff sickness, redundancy and parental leave existing on the periphery. In comparison, private sector employers have tended to offer staff much more of a proactive reward package linked to business targets and strategy, as well as motivation, performance-related pay and the culture and feel of their workplace.

But employees are now demanding more flexible ways of working, including career breaks and sabbaticals, requiring employers to offer staff development in different ways to meet these needs. For example, we find ourselves looking at how development and technology agendas can be integrated to meet the needs of both our organisation and our employees. 

But learning and development is not just linked to the generation entering the workforce for the first time, where we are much more aware of the increase in priority of development from an employer, but also at other points of the employee lifecycle. The concept of lifelong learning is gaining momentum among employees of all ages, along with the expectation to work for longer and the need to be skilled to allow for this.

Retraining in later life

We also now see staff more willing to retrain in later life for a second career, where life experiences and circumstances may enable them to choose a career of choice, which may be more of an enabler towards personal interests or a sense of fulfilment.

The approach of many public sector organisations of investing in employee development far beyond regulatory training has allowed, with support from marketing, for a proposition of development to be clearly articulated and encompass aspects from financial education and planning, confidence building, personal development and progressive competency-based programmes for staff.

I believe that the incorporation of development will be the key area of focus for employers of choice in the next 12 months, and those that get it right will reap the rewards for doing so.

Ian Hodson is reward and benefits manager at the University of Lincoln

Evolution of employee