UK employers seeing significant changes in what employees expect at work

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Some 93 per cent of UK employers think employees’ expectations around their work experiences are changing, according to new research by professional services firm Aon plc.

The largest shifts focus on employer purpose as well as employee mental health, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

According to Aon’s UK Benefits and Trends Survey 2022, there has been a 44 percentage point increase in the number of employers that recognise their employees expect better awareness and handling of mental health – rising from 38 percent to 82 per cent in the last year.

There are also higher expectations around employer actions when it comes to ESG and DEI issues. 77 per cent of employers think employees expect better approaches to DEI, up from 70 per cent last year. Six in 10 employers (60 per cent) think employees expect more emphasis on environmental and sustainability policies or benefits, up from 51 percent in 2021.

Colin Barnes, head of advisory and specialities at Aon, said: “The results of this year’s survey show the rapid rise in the importance of wellbeing, inclusivity and sustainability. What an employer stands for – the purpose and brand – is incredibly important, particularly in this labour market where people are choosing their roles carefully. Employees and candidates are generally seeking an employer that provides purpose, offers diversity, equity and inclusion and shows genuine care for its impact on the planet, the community in which it operates and the people that it employs.

“Over the past two years, employers have been reminded about the importance of looking after their people. Initially, this was a reactive response to safeguard their employees’ wellbeing, but quickly evolved into a realisation that a healthy and resilient workforce is more engaged and more productive.

“In addition, organisations increasingly need to demonstrate to a range of stakeholders how they make a positive impact through ESG factors and sustainability. It’s increasingly a board-level issue.”

Employers believe the two top employee expectations are flexible working hours and agile working, at 95 per cent and 94 per cent, respectively. These are largely unchanged from last year (93 per cent and 95 per cent, respectively). There has, however, been a significant increase in the expectation of casual dress, up to 55 per cent from 41 per cent last year.

The Aon UK Benefits and Trends Survey 2022 also shows better alignment in what employees expect and how organisations are responding. Half of companies (50 per cent) now have an agile working policy in place, up from 43 per cent last year. 70 per cent of employers are planning to introduce more benefits to support ESG issues and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) have already done so. In addition, 72 per cent stated that they plan to introduce more benefits to support DEI and 23 per cent have already taken action in this space.

There is an awareness from UK employers, however, that they are not meeting the needs of all generations in the workplace; 42 per cent state this is the case, while 81 per cent recognise that meeting the needs of future generations will mean evolving their benefits offering further.

Barnes summarised: “Employers are responding to employee expectations by taking a hard look at their external and internal brand because employees can be, and are being, more selective about their employer. Employers know that to recruit, retain and engage the right talent, they must continually redefine their Employer Value Propositions (EVP) and benefits strategies to align with their broader purpose, their values and the significantly different needs of today’s – and tomorrow’s – employees.”

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    Lisa Carter

    All stories by: Lisa Carter