How the pandemic has changed the way workers value work and well-being

The Microsoft Work Trend Index 2022 reports employees’ priorities have shifted, which creates opportunities — and challenges — for organizations.

By Kacey Larsen      
employees’ priorities have shifted

According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index 2022, employees have a changed “worth it” equation — what they want from work and what they’re willing to give in return — since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty-seven percent of employee respondents say they are more likely to prioritize family and personal life over work than they were prior to the pandemic. More than half of employees (53%) are now more likely to put their health and well-being over work.

The Work Trend Index, conducted by Edelman Data x Intelligence, surveyed 31,102 full-time employed or self-employed workers across 31 markets from January to February 2022. The annual report also includes analysis of trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365 and labor trends on LinkedIn.

With this re-evaluation of priorities in mind and beyond pay, the survey findings show the top five aspects of work employees rate as “very important” are:

  1. Positive culture – 46%
  2. Mental health/well-being benefits – 42%
  3. Sense of purpose/meaning – 40%
  4. Flexible work hours – 38%
  5. More than the standard two weeks of paid vacation time per year – 36%

Gen Z respondents shared the same top three qualities but rated positive feedback and recognition in fourth and a manager who will help advance their career as fifth.

These top aspects of work are interesting to juxtapose against the top five reasons employees gave for quitting jobs:

  1. Personal well-being or mental health – 24%
  2. Work-life balance – 24%
  3. Risk of getting COVID-19 – 21%
  4. Lack of confidence in senior management/leadership – 21%
  5. Lack of flexible work hours or location – 21%

With 43% of employees somewhat or extremely likely to consider changing jobs in the coming year —even higher among Gen Z and millennials at 52% — employees remain in the driver’s seat and are acting on their priorities. The report says, “Now, flexibility and well-being are non-negotiables that companies can’t afford to ignore.”

Work relationships impact well-being

While many organizations are navigating a return-to-office plan, hybrid work or remaining remote, the relationships employees have at work have changed. Forty-three percent of leaders — defined as these as those in mid- to upper-job levels, such as the C-suite, who have some influence on decision making — say relationship-building is the greatest challenge in the hybrid and remote world.

Among employees who onboarded within the past two years, that relationship-building challenge is ringing true. Index data shows that employees hired since 2020 are:

  • Less likely to feel included (60% vs. 64% for existing employees).
  • Have weaker relationships with their direct team (51% vs. 55% for existing).
  • At greater risk of attrition (56% are likely to leave their employer in the year ahead vs. 38%).

Relationships at work have an impact. Having thriving relationships with their immediate team leads employees to report better well-being (76%) than those with poor relationships (57%). Those employee respondents who report having thriving relationships beyond their immediate team members say they are more satisfied with their employer, more fulfilled by work and have a more positive outlook on workplace stress than those without such a network.

Navigating workplace relationships successfully has varied based on whether employees are hybrid or remote, the survey finds. Hybrid employees — who at the time of the survey are working a least one day every other week in-person and the rest remotely — indicate they have thriving relationships with their direct team (58%) and with people outside their immediate team (48%). For strictly remote employees, those thriving relationship numbers drop to 50% with their immediate team and 42% outside of the team.

 “Leaders should not see a return to the office as the only solve for rebuilding the social capital we’ve lost over the past two years,” the annual report takeaways say. “They should prioritize time for relationship-building to happen, knowing remote and newly onboarded employees will need extra support.”

How are you fostering team or relationship building in remote or hybrid workplaces, readers? Let us know!