What Is Work Really Like Today? Leaders and Employees See Things Differently

August 11, 2021

Contributor: Mary Baker

To gain competitive advantage around the future of work, organizations must address this divide.

As employers forge ahead with future-of-work strategies, they may think they’re addressing employees’ growing demands for hybrid working models and increased flexibility, but Gartner data shows a chasm exists between executives and employees over what is actually being delivered. Failing to acknowledge these sentiment gaps could fatally damage employee experience.

The 2021 Gartner Hybrid Work Employee Survey of 4,000 employees globally reveals six key areas where there is a significant divide between how employees and executives feel.

Learn more: Future of Work Reinvented

“If left unaddressed, these gaps may lead to a critical failure to build trust and employee buy-in for future-of-work plans — and make it hard to attract and retain critical talent,” says Alexia Cambon, Director, Research, Gartner. 

No. 1: Executives think they have a culture of flexibility; employees don’t

  • Gartner’s survey shows that 75% of executive leaders believe they are already operating within a culture of flexibility, yet only 57% of employees say that their organizational culture embraces flexible work
  • Nearly three-quarters of executives believe the business understands how flexible work patterns support employees, but only half of employees share this view.

“While 72% of executives agree they can work out their own flexible work arrangement with their manager, only half of employees feel they have that same privilege,” says Cambon. “Establishing a culture of flexibility — where flexible work is the norm, not the exception — is crucial to the success of hybrid work.”

Employees Are Better Equipped to Work Remotely Than Employees

No. 2: Executives are better equipped to work remotely than employees

  • Only 66% of employees agree they have the technology they need to effectively work remotely, compared to 80% of executives. 
  • Only 59% of employees agree their organization has invested in providing them with resources that allow them to work the way they would on-site in a virtual environment, compared to 76% of executives.

This gap between executives and employees could further disadvantage employees if decision-makers have a fundamentally different experience of remote work than the majority of the workforce. Designing the hybrid work experience will require leaders to adopt the vantage point of all populations of the workforce, particularly those which do not have a productive home environment to work from.

No. 3: Rank-and-file employees have lower levels of trust than executives 

  • Only 41% of employees agree that senior leadership acts in their best interest — compared to 69% of executives. 
  • Executives are also more likely to feel trusted when it comes to working from home, with 70% agreeing that their organization trusts employees not to abuse work flexibility, compared to 58% of employees.

This distrust extends to rewards and recognition — just 47% of employees believe that employees who help the organization achieve its strategic objectives are fairly rewarded and recognized, compared to 73% of executives.

“Without trust, employees may feel wary of sharing their honest opinions about how, where and when they want to work,” says Cambon. “According to our most recent survey on hybrid work, only 56% of employees agree they feel welcome to express their true feelings at work, compared to 74% of executives.”

No. 4: Executives think they listen, but employees disagree

  • Only 47% of employees believe leadership takes their perspective into consideration when making decisions, compared to 75% of executives. 
  • Only 59% of employees believe their work environment is inclusive of a diverse set of employee needs and preferences, compared with 72% of executives.

After more than a year of increased autonomy, employees are demanding increased flexibility, but this gap suggests that employees do not feel their desire to influence how, where and when they work is always being heard.

No. 5: Executives hear one thing; the rank and file another

  • 71% of executives agree leadership at their organization has expressed a preference for work conditions to return to their prepandemic model; only 50% of employees heard that same message. 
  • Nearly three-quarters of executives surveyed feel that communication from their organization is honest and open, compared to just over half of employees.

This data shows a clear disconnect between how executives and employees perceive their organization’s messaging and intent around future-of-work decisions. It's a disconnect that could further exacerbate employee distrust in leadership decision-making. 

No. 6: Executives feel a greater sense of purpose than employees

  • 77% of executives agree they feel like they are a part of something important at their organization; only 59% of employees feel the same. 
  • 70% of executives believe that managers are as diverse as the broader workforce at their organization, compared to only 52% of employees.

Equity, diversity, fairness and a shared sense of purpose are becoming increasingly key to employee experience, and this data highlights an important gap in perceptions — despite growing demands for organizational diversity. Decision-makers must take this disconnect into account if they are to design an inclusive hybrid work strategy that prioritizes diversity and equity.

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