It’s a commonly heard criticism that leaders don’t really listen to employees’ concerns. Part of executives’ unspoken brief after all is to exude positivity about the organisation, hoping this will pervade the workforce. Some complaints can be considered to be just routine grumbles but the advent of remote working en masse and the need to work differently in future may have exacerbated a divide in perceptions, according to newly published research.
Gartner has found that organisations’ leaders are more likely to believe they are working in a culture of flexibility than employees. Additionally, leaders are much more likely to feel trusted than workers.
Researchers found that 75% of leaders believed they were already operating within a culture of flexibility, whereas only 57% of employees agreed that their organisation embraced flexibility.
Furthermore, three quarters (76%) of executives felt they had equipped staff with the resources to work virtually, but only 59% of employees believed the necessary investments had been made.
Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice, said on LinkedIn: “One of the most concerning trends to me emerging in our research is just how wide a perception gap there is between those most likely to be making the decisions about the future of work and those who will be experiencing it but may have very little say in shaping it.”
Perhaps most intriguing was the finding that 75% of leaders believed they had taken their employees’ perspective into consideration when making decisions, but only 47% of employees believed this was the case.
Future employee experience
According to Gartner these gaps between leaders’ and employees’ sentiment were highly significant when it came to planning the “future employee experience” as businesses emerged from the pandemic, albeit very slowly.
Cambon said these divisions of thought could have serious ramifications. She said: “We examined the key areas crucial to planning for the future employee experience and discovered significant dissonance between employee and executive sentiment across all.
“If left unaddressed, this division may lead to a critical failure to build trust and employee buy-in for future of work plans.
“Employees do not feel that their need for flexibility is seen as a driver of performance,” added Cambon. “More concerning is the clear gap when it comes to autonomy over the decision to work flexibly – 72% of executives agree they can work out their own flexible work arrangement with their manager, whereas only half of employees feel they have that same privilege.”
Without trust, employees may feel wary of sharing their honest opinions about how, where and when they want to work” – Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice
Only 66% of employees agreed they had the technology they needed to effectively work remotely, compared with 80% of executives. And only 59% of employees agree their organisation has invested in providing them with resources that allow them to work the way they would on-site in a virtual environment — compared with 76% of executives.
Gartner said the gap between executives and employees in their ability to work from home was likely to further disadvantage employees if it made them less likely to take advantage of flexibility.
The findings also revealed that employees had lower levels of trust than executive leaders with only 41% of employees agreeing that senior leadership acted in their best interests, compared with 69% of executives.
Cambon said that far from putting routine differences in perceptions on show, the research showed that the pandemic had exacerbated divisions and that leaders were struggling to visualise the future of work. She told Personnel Today: “The pandemic has essentially served as a trigger for the normalisation of remote work. Pre-pandemic, we lacked significant evidence that flexibility was a driver of high performance. We have that evidence now, which means employees’ expectations for more influence over how, where and when they work have naturally grown as they argue their autonomy provides better outcomes – our data shows that 75% of knowledge workers say their expectations for working flexibly have increased.
“But many leaders’ attitudes have not evolved at the same pace which is why this gap is more pronounced now than pre-pandemic. So in essence, the pandemic has moved the needle on how employees see flexibility: less as a privilege, and more as a right. That won’t go away even when we move into a post-pandemic era. But it hasn’t moved the needle as much for leaders’ perceptions, perhaps because their attitudes toward work are much more deeply entrenched. But until leaders revisit the fundamentals of why we work the way we do, this gap won’t close, and employees certainly won’t revert to seeing flexibility as a perk or a privilege that they must work toward earning.”
Executives were also more likely to feel trusted when it comes to working from home, with 70% agreeing that their organisation trusts employees not to abuse work flexibility, in contrast with 58% of employees.
Until leaders revisit the fundamentals of why we work the way we do, this gap won’t close, and employees certainly won’t revert to seeing flexibility as a perk or a privilege that they must work toward earning” – Alexia Cambon
“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% of employees agree they feel welcome to express their true feelings at work, compared to 74% of executives.”
Gartner stated that its analysis suggested “executives hear one thing and employees another”. One example of this disconnect was that 71% of executives agreed leadership at their organisation had expressed a preference for work conditions to return to their pre-pandemic model, whereas only 50% of employees had that same impression.
Similarly, when it came to “organisational purpose”, Gartner’s study revealed that while 77% of executives agreed they felt as though they were part of something important at their organisation, only 59% of employees felt similarly. For example, more than two-thirds of executives (70%) thought that managers at their organisation were as diverse as the broader workforce at their organisation, compared with only 52% of employees.
The Gartner Hybrid Work Employee Survey of 4,000 employees was carried out in January 2021.
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