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We are in a time when our relationship with how we work is quickly changing. From shedding long-held beliefs about where and how we work to the increasing prevalence of technology in every aspect of our jobs, change in the workplace is sweeping. At BCG BrightHouse, we wanted to create a picture of where this disruption is headed. To answer this question, in March and April of 2023, BCG BrightHouse conducted a study of employees and managers across France, the UK, Italy, German, and Sweden. We gathered input from 2,500 respondents on questions about their work experience today and their hope for their future employment.
Purpose as a topic has been growing in the media. However, we saw a wide range of prevalence of Purpose based on region. Respondents from Sweden, the UK, and Germany reported over 70% agreement that their company has a clearly defined Purpose; in Italy, the response was the lowest at 45%. These numbers are reflected in the sense of pride employees feel in their work today, with again Sweden and the UK leading with the highest satisfaction rates and Italy with the lowest, with 51% reporting a sense of pride. For BCG BrightHouse, we ask ourselves how to increase a sense of pride amongst all employees and elevate the importance of Purpose from the Board Room to the front line.
When we asked respondents what defined an ideal company for them – the responses that stood out were: the atmosphere at work, quality of relationships with colleagues, and work-life balance. To help us delve deeper into this topic, we engaged three pre-imminent scholars in sociology, psychology, and anthropology, and the implications for the future employees desire most. Julia de Funès, a French Philosopher, rooted this inward-centered response with the upheaval in all our lives over the last few years. “Our personal lives are now more important than our career paths. With recent events (Covid, war, climate change), it is hard to plan, so people focus on the present instead of projecting onto the future,” Julia shared.
The responses were clear on the topic of desired traits for leaders in the future company. Employees want leaders with care and empathy and leaders who involve the employee perspective in decision-making. These traits, like strong management style and clear direction, were desired more than double any other trait. Malène Rydahl, a Danish Author and Executive coach, said this reflects a broader change in management styles, “We are shifting from an “old” management style (1980s onwards) focused on what people DO, to a “new” style where is what employees ARE that matters. This new style creates desires and bonds.”
We reflected a desire to see individual needs reflected as a top priority in companies. Julia de Funès distinguishes the desire for individualism and overall self-centeredness, “Individualism is very different from selfishness…individualism says that the cardinal value in society is the individual, and what matters for individuals is their fulfillment within the company: to flourish, employees must be given autonomy.” The call to action for companies is not to focus only on basic needs but to create a space where people feel in control of creating meaning for themselves and in their professional roles.
We concluded our study with the question, “What would you be willing to give up to join your ideal company?” The bottom line is people are willing to give more of themselves in the form of skills, responsibilities, and even salary for their ideal company. As we look to the future of work, an empathetic and meaning-centered organization will continue to be critical.