The New Value Exchange Between Employer And Employee: Here’s what to do about it

By Jan Bruce

This piece originally appeared on

Employee engagement is at an all-time low. More than half of American workers are looking for a new job at any one time, seeking out positions and workplaces that match their core values. They are looking for more out of work than just pay and benefits.

What does this mean? First, the methods that have historically been used to retain workers and attract new talent no longer work. But more than that, in the midst of this sea change, a new value exchange between employer and employee has emerged that changes the very DNA of the HR function and how companies prioritize and put into action their values.

Today, employees see the relationship with their employer as a two-way, reciprocal relationship. This is a partnership, where the organization actively fosters employee resilience and satisfaction. Key to this new reality are professional and personal development (for all, not just senior leaders), organized flextime, values-driven leadership and a strong culture.

With employees now seeking control, not security, HR teams can no longer be solely benefit providers; they must be empowerment builders. In exchange for this empowerment, employees will deliver increased engagement and commitment.

How the New Value Exchange Emerged?
The rising millennial workforce has new expectations regarding loyalty. According to Deloitte 2020, more than one quarter of surveyed Millennials reported they plan to leave their employers at some time in the next year—the highest of any generational group. Millennials have rapidly become the dominant workplace cohort and, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, they’ll readily leave an employer to find a new job that better suits their lifestyle and career development goals. Having come of age during the great recession and as the first generation of digital natives, they’re accustomed to uncertainty and self-reliance.

Secondly, technology has created an always-on world, and millennial digital natives are especially comfortable integrating a commitment to work with a commitment to other aspects of their lives. They want to work for an employer who understands this.

Lastly, shifting the cost and responsibility for managing benefits from employers to employees has driven a need for increased self-reliance. Employees consider themselves personal activists who need to operate on their own behalf and in their own self-interest. They are looking for benefits that develop them personally and professionally, including skill development to make the most of their strengths, personal well-being programs and being part of companies with a sense of purpose.

How to Foster the New Value Exchange in your Organization?
HR teams can transition from benefits provider to growth-enabler by promoting three key qualities:

  • Flexibility: As Gallup notes, flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job. Increasingly, people want to adjust their hours and schedules as needed and work remotely when they can, without compromising quality or productivity. Gallup finds that 51 percent of employees say they would switch to a job that allows them flextime and 37 percent would switch to a job that allows them to work off-site at least part of the time.
  • Increased Well-being: Meanwhile, 60 percent of women and 48 percent of men say it’s important that their job allows greater flexibility and better personal well-being. As Gallup notes, the most meaningful benefits “aren’t rock climbing walls and unlimited beverages. The benefits and perks that employees truly care about are those that offer them greater flexibility, autonomy and the ability to lead a better life,” such as wellness plans.
  • A Sense of Purpose: According to Deloitte 2020, employees value meaningful work over other retention initiatives. And according to Gallup, actively disengaged employees are twice as likely as engaged employees to seek new work: 56 percent of not-engaged employees and 73 percent of actively disengaged employees are looking for jobs. Our own research has shown that employees who feel they have a sense of mission beyond their day-to-day workload are more engaged and productive.

Companies ignore these needs at their peril because disengaged employees drain prosperity and slow growth. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the United States up to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. It’s time for HR teams to embrace this new value exchange and reap its rewards: a fulfilled workforce is an adaptive, resilient one. By engaging employees as partners in the mission of the company, employers will get a more productive and reliable workforce willing to shift and change to meet its needs in return. R&E