What Employees Want in the Reimagined Workplace

The Words Welcome Back Are Standing On A Chalkboard, Reopen Post Covid 19 Pandemic, Back To Normal, Community

The evidence is clear that employees today want more work-life balance. A Bain study found that 58% of workers across 10 global economies feel the pandemic has forced them to rethink the balance between their work and their personal lives.[1]

Employees are questioning why they work – what is it for? how can we do it better? The result is a “new era of humanity,” according to Korn Ferry. Among the ways organizations will reinvent themselves in response are to become more fluid with flatter, non-hierarchical structures and formalized hybrid models of working.[2] One report suggests that “human relations” will take the place of “human resources.”[3]

McKinsey has laid out 9 themes important to employees in the future workplace:[4]

Supporting employee perspectives about reimagining the workplace experience, a Gartner survey of 52 HR executives in 2020 found that companies were already moving ahead with changes:

  • 94% of companies made significant investments in their well-being programs
  • 85% increased support for mental health benefits
  • 50% increased support for physical well-being
  • 38% increased support for financial well-being[5]

Employee Well-Being

Employee well-being has expanded beyond physical well-being to include emotional, financial, social and career wellness.

  • Research by Paychex and Future Workplace among 603 full-time workers found 62% of employees identified well-being benefits and a holistic benefits package as a key factor in deciding whether to apply for a new job. This was especially true for Gen Z, where 67% strongly agreed or agreed that well-being benefits will be a priority for them in evaluating new job offers.
    • The employee well-being benefits most in-demand include financial well-being and emotional/mental health well-being.
    • Financial education and training are growing in importance for workers across generations. 
    • Nearly 30% requested improved mental health support and resources.[6]

Examples of programs to enhance individual and family life experiences of workers include:

  • Venture money is following this trend, with apps and digital tools like League, Real, Virgin Pulse, Limeade, BetterUp, SoundingBoard, SpringHealth and meQuilibrium.
  • Tech companies are implementing new perks to make work more “fun” – ranging from food trucks and concerts and “appreciation events,” including lawn games (life-size chess) and classes (canvas painting).[7]
  • With the costs of a daily routine pricier than two years ago, firms are helping offset employee costs for coffee, food and transportation, which decrease purchasing power as inflation rises.[8]
  • Arrivia, a travel business, said use of its “employee assistance” program – which includes no-cost therapy – has increased tenfold since the start of the pandemic.[9]

The Global Wellness Institute believes workplace mental health benefits will grow 9.8% annually over the next five years. “This should move HR leaders away from one-size-fits-all benefit solutions to a personalized approach to well-being benefits where the goal is to create a culture of care that meets the needs of all workers,” reports Forbes magazine. Meanwhile, managers are having to learn that they need to “check in” with their employees regarding how they are “feeling” about life.[10]

As they return to onsite and continue in hybrid environments, working parents have made it clear that their unique needs require special practices, including subsidized childcare, expanded parental leave for new mothers and fathers and flexible work schedules.

Hybrid – What the Majority of Workers Want

Accenture’s Future of Work study last year showed that a massive 83% of employees want the future of work to be hybrid, supported by a variety of factors that influence their ability to thrive, whether onsite or off.

Nearly 6 in 10 workers say their jobs can be done working from home all or most of the time, according to Pew Research.[11] While this is a drop from 2020, it’s still much higher than the 23% who say they teleworked frequently before COVID-19. Other findings in the Pew study:

  • Fewer employees cite concerns about coronavirus exposure onsite (42% now versus 57% in 2020).
  • Those who have shifted to working from home all or most of the time say they are doing it out of preference (76% now versus 60% in 2020).
  • Those who have shifted to telework at least part of the time say it’s easier to balance work and their personal life, and many say it’s easier to get their work done and meet deadlines.
  • Yet 60% working from home at least some of the time say they feel less connected to their co-workers now.
  • Among teleworking parents whose workplaces are open and who have at least one child younger than 18, 32% say child care is a major reason they are working from home all or most of the time.
  • Meanwhile, workers with jobs that can be done from home but are choosing to go into the office cite preference and productivity as major reasons why they rarely or never work from home.

In fact, across most surveys, younger generations are increasingly overwhelmed – due to psychological strain, financial issues, job security or failing to meet career goals and fewer chances for upward mobility.[12]

This is an opportunity for companies to re-evaluate their corporate culture and integrate new and improved policies for hybrid working, with employee well-being at the top of the agenda.

And in fact, a McKinsey study last year showed that 90% of businesses want to adopt a hybrid way of working as well. While dozens of organizations are calling their employees back in, this hybrid trend appears to be “here to stay.” One of the chief benefits is that it will allow organizations to acquire the best talent, as long as they are also implementing new practices to support this working model.[13]

Critical among these is the emotional transition already surfacing in a workforce on edge, and the reality that supervisors are having to help people navigate personal challenges.

For Leaders – What Do These Changes Mean?

What observers are describing as this “new power of employees” will require new skills and strategies for manager. A few are summarized below in a recent article in MIT Sloan Management Review:[14]

 Embrace inclusive leadership

  • Cultivate better collaboration for teams
  • Create space for dialogue
  • Prevent bias from limiting decisions
  • Foster respect by demonstrating genuine curiosity about what employees find meaningful
  • Empower peer coaching and leadership on teams – set up systems to help your team help each other

“Equity means that all team members feel a sense of belonging and value,” says Curtis L. Odom, executive professor of management in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University and author of Why Pivoting People Is a Strategic Priority. Equity also means making sure people can bring their real identity into the workplace.[15]

Leaders mindful about helping employees unlock their full potential are making investments in learning, thinking laterally about career journeys and cultivating a growth mindset in their organizations. They also can help workers create career paths that match individual ideas of a meaningful life. “Now is the time to focus on the human side of work, which will allow leading firms to attract, develop and retain the workforce that is core to their future success,” says James Root, a partner at Bain & Company and co-chair of Bain Futures.



[1] The Working Future: More Human, Not Less, Bain & Company, 2022.

[2] Future of Work Trends in 2022 – The new era of humanity, Korn Ferry Insights, 2022.

[3] Ten trends defining the future of work in 2022, Regus Magazine UK, 2022.

[4] This time it’s personal: Shaping the ‘new possible’ through employee experience, McKinsey & Company, September 30, 2021.

[5] 11 Trends That Will Shape 2022 and Beyond, Harvard Business Review, Jan. 13, 2022.

[6] Report: Over 60 percent of Employees Surveyed Indicate Well-being Support as Top Priority when Seeking Employment, Paychex, Dec. 15, 2021.

[7] Welcome Back to the Office. Isn’t This Fun? New York Times, April 12, 2022.

[8] With Inflation, Workers are Facing Return-to-Office Sticker Shock, New York Times, April 20, 2022.

[9] Ready or not: Companies are calling workers back to the office, but will it ever be the same? New York Times, April 5, 2022.

[10] Everyone is Not OK, but Back to Work Anyway, New York Times, April 7, 2022.

[11] COVID-19 Pandemic Continues to Reshape Work in America, Pew Research Center, Feb. 16, 2022.

[12] Ibid., Bain.

[13] How to manage the transformation to hybrid, Regus Magazine UK, 2022.

[14] Six Ways Leaders Can Adapt to the Workplace of 2022, MITSloan Management Review, Dec. 28, 2021.

[15] Ibid., MITSloan.