Employees’ priorities have changed: here’s what managers can do

Stephanie Andel, PhD
Team Humu

The pandemic changed the way employees work—and what they want from their organizations and managers. Their shifting expectations have made people more willing than ever to leave their jobs in search of roles that better support their changing needs. In 2021 alone, a record 47.4 million U.S. employees voluntarily quit.

To get a better understanding of workers’ new priorities, we surveyed 240 full-time U.S. employees. Here are the three key themes that emerged in our findings.

1. Employees’ #1 priority is work-life balance

In early 2020, many people abruptly started working from home and got a taste of what life is like without a major commute. Studies show that employees enjoy and don’t want to give up the flexibility that working from home offers: in a 2022 Pew Research survey, nearly two-thirds of remote workers said remote work  made it easier for them to find work-life balance. That explains why once companies started to go back fully “in person”, many employees felt that their newfound flexibility was being stripped away without much regard for their preferences or wellbeing.

79% of participants said that they would leave their job for one that better supports their wellbeing.

Thanks in part to these experiences, employees are now more focused than ever on prioritizing their wellbeing and balance. In our survey, a whopping 79% of participants said that they would leave their job for one that better supports their wellbeing. And when asked about the key factors that affect their job satisfaction, “work-life balance” was at the top of the list: 76% respondents ranked it as one of the top three things that determine whether or not they like their job.

2. People want a manager who supports their wellbeing

Not only are employees seeking greater wellbeing at work, they also expect their manager to care about their wellbeing, too.  When asked to list the attribute that they want most in a manager, employees’ top response was “support for work-life balance” (61%) followed by “flexible work arrangements” (39%). 

Managerial support is indeed critical for a positive employee experience: employees who have a manager that makes an effort to help them combat burnout are a whopping 13x more likely to be satisfied with their manager. On the flip side, without this type of support, the consequences are dire: those with a manager who does NOT help them combat burnout are 3.1x more likely to feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and ready to quit. Unsurprisingly, 58% of employees agreed that the biggest contributor to burnout is having a bad manager.

Employees who have a manager that makes an effort to help them combat burnout are a whopping 13x more likely to be satisfied with their manager. 

Another (often overlooked) part of supporting employees’ wellbeing is providing them with sufficient growth and development opportunities. We find that individuals whose manager fails to give them useful and frequent feedback are 2.6x more likely to feel burnt out and 5x more likely to consider quitting. On the other hand, employees with managers that regularly take time to give them feedback are 3.6x more likely to feel motivated by their work. This aligns with past Humu research that showed that employees who don’t have enough growth opportunities at work are 7.9x more eager to quit.

3. People feel close to their managers, but disconnected from their teammates

When we asked respondents working in a hybrid environment about the top most challenging aspects of coming into the office part-time, an interesting pattern emerged: 63% listed “building and maintaining relationships with colleagues” as a top challenge, while only 19% listed “feeling supported by my manager”.

These results suggest that hybrid employees feel connected to their manager, but less close to their teammates. Hybrid managers seem to be doing a good job of checking-in with their reports one-on-one, but may want to focus on cultivating group experiences that will rally their team together.

How managers can respond

Our findings highlight critical issues that significantly impact employees’ experiences. The good news is that managers can take action to respond to these important employee needs. Here are some tips to get started:

Make the small changes that have a big impact

In your next 1:1s, ask each team member what one small change could have a big impact on their well-being at work. Offer examples if needed (e.g., a predictable schedule, or shared expectations about communicating with remote team members).

Be up front that you might not be able to make their dreams come true, but that you’ll see what’s possible—and are open to hearing any ideas they have.

Offer frequent development opportunities

At least once a month, make it a goal to identify—and schedule—one growth opportunity for each of your team members. When you schedule each opportunity, make sure to explain why you think it’s valuable to the individual.

Keep in mind that these don’t need to be formal trainings, but could be invitations to leadership meetings, working sessions, or informal job-shadowing opportunities. For example, pair your report with someone they don’t usually interact with, and encourage them to take note of any strategies or approaches the other person uses that they can apply to their own work. 

Promote cohesion by shining a light on work others might not see

As a leader, you can create a culture in which every employee--whether they’re in-person or remote--feels valued and connected. Start by taking some time each week to think of an individual or team that has been doing a stellar job. Then, during your weekly team meeting, shout out these people and their accomplishments.

Keep in mind that you might not be aware of all the great work that is happening - especially if some of your people work remotely. In that case, it might be helpful to ask your reports or other leaders for recommendations on who deserves recognition.

To learn about how Humu can give managers the tools to better support their people, request a demo here.