9 things employees expect in a workplace in 2021
COVID-19 has changed so much about the way we work – and with this came a shake-up in what people expect from their workplace.

Employees have always valued work-life balance, flexibility and workplace relationships, but the pandemic has brought those to the fore. In fact, 1 in 3 candidates who are thinking about changing careers are doing so for better work-life balance, research conducted on behalf of SEEK reveals.

The research uncovers nine key factors that matter to candidates and employees when it comes to workplaces.

What’s more, people are keenly aware of whether businesses are truly committed to offering flexibility, or whether they’re just spouting empty words.

How COVID-19 changed candidates

“COVID-19 forced people to really think about what they want in life and what work-life balance means to them,” says Samantha Miklos, CEO of Cornerstone Medical Recruitment.

While salary and financial security are of course still crucial to candidates, there’s increased emphasis on factors such as lifestyle and personal fulfilment.

“Candidates have reflected on 2020 and have come into 2021 with clear expectations about what they want to be different this year, and are taking immediate action,” Miklos says.

“People are identifying what their goals are and what is important to them – and they expect that work will now support these goals.”

So, how can employers adapt?

Be specific about what you’re offering

With working from home now commonplace across many industries, general promises of flexibility and work-life balance aren’t enough to tempt employees any more, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read says.

Be specific when you’re outlining a role, she says. “Employees expect there to be commitment to wellbeing and work-life balance, and they want to know how that's going to translate for them personally. Employers and hirers need to spell that out.”

Miklos agrees: “Candidates are comparing your work-life balance offering in your job ad to your competitors.

“Make sure you mention everything you do for work-life balance and flexibility, and don’t assume they will already know that about your company.”

What candidates expect now

What does that shift mean for your business when you’re trying to attract top candidates, or retain your best talent? Here’s what matters to candidates in 2021 – and they’re things that businesses of any size can work to offer in some form.

  1. Engagement 
    Employees need to be engaged in their work to thrive, Read says. Show how your business encourages and values employee engagement, not just through Friday night drinks, but by encouraging engagement in their work.
     
  2. Relationships
    SEEK research shows that 1 in 2 people feel workplace relationships have become more important compared to pre-COVID, and more than half prefer a workplace where their colleagues are also their friends.

    Explain to candidates how you cultivate, support and value relationships, both personally and professionally, Read says. “If we overlook those, as an employer we're overlooking a significant part of an individual's wellbeing.”
     
  3. Meaning and purpose
    These are so important to a person's wellbeing, Read says. That’s backed by the research, which found 2 in 3 candidates want a job that gives them an opportunity to make a difference to society. Organisations should show how their work benefits society, or how the organisation supports causes in the wider community.

    At Miklos’ organisation, recognising the broader impact of their work is one way her team connects to its sense of purpose. “We believe that creating great experiences for our medical professionals is the greatest way we can make a difference to our community,” she says.
     
  4. Support with goals
    It’s never been more important to understand employees’ personal goals and know how to support them to achieve these, Miklos says.

    “Create a clear career direction, so new recruits can understand that they can have the opportunity of a career for life with your organisation.”

    Miklos says her organisation has two different streams for employees to progress through – one where they can excel as senior professionals and another where they can lead teams.

    What progress means will differ among employees, so understanding what drives each of them can be key to supporting your team with their goals.
     
  5. Sense of achievement 
    Employees want to know that what they're doing is making an impact, Read says. “Take the time to explain how success and desired outcomes are measured and celebrated.”
     
  6. True flexibility 
    It’s easy to throw the word “flexibility” around, but that broad term isn’t specific enough any more. “Working from home is old news now,” Read says.

    “What does flexibility mean in your workplace, and what kind of flexible practices are important to the candidate?”

    Having choice over start and finish times is important to a lot of candidates, Read says. “The typical core office hours of 8:30 to 5:30 don’t work for a lot of employees anymore, especially if they’re working around home-schooling or other people at home.”
     
  7. Trust 
    This isn’t an easy thing to gain straight away, but in an uncertain world it’s what employers and employees are both looking for, Read says.

    “How can we go about doing that? Sometimes actually using the word trust is important.” Explain that you want to create a culture of trust and show how you’ve built that in the past.
     
  8. Mental health support 
    2 in 5 candidates say they would have liked more mental health support during COVID-19, regardless of whether the workplaces have existing support in place or not.

    Candidates called out flexible work hours and mental health days as two things that can have a ‘huge impact’ on their mental health at work.

    Mental health is affected by relationships, financial stability, diet, exercise, and sleep. A workplace that offers wellbeing support such as online exercise classes, nutrition or sleep workshops, as well as open and non-judgemental communication will be showing they value sound mental health.
     
  9. Ongoing learning 
    SEEK research shows that 42% of Australians agree with the statement ‘I learned new skills I wouldn’t have learned if it wasn’t for COVID-19.’

    “Humans are hardwired to learn and grow and stretch ourselves,” Read says. “Any business can show they value learning by supporting small learning opportunities. That shows you value employees, and it also helps employees stay engaged in their work.”

There’s no doubt that expectations have shifted for many candidates in 2021. But that change has opened up new opportunities for hirers who are ready to understand and adapt to those expectations. And ultimately, doing this can help to broaden your appeal to new talent, and help you to support and retain your existing staff.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK. Interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published Mar 2021.