A poll of more than 1,000 IT and business leaders had found that fewer than one in five rank employee satisfaction and retention as a top priority – despite resignation rates in many industries hitting record highs.
Research conducted by professional services firm NTT Data and research group Oxford Economics found that executives continue to put the satisfaction of their clients well above the people who work for them.
While two-thirds (66%) of businesses and IT leaders say that customer, patient, and constituent satisfaction is a priority, only 16% cite employee retention and engagement. At the same time, one-third of leaders believe culture is not a primary component of employee satisfaction, and only 5% claim employees factor into strategic and operational decision-making processes.
The researchers noted that businesses and IT leaders consider employee satisfaction as an afterthought despite plenty of evidence that workers "have a direct impact on customer satisfaction and other key business drivers like financial performance and cybersecurity."
The lack of focus on employees is also highlighted in responses related to flexible work, NTT Data said: just 21% of executives rated flexible-working options as a top contributor to employee satisfaction – the lowest of any response. This flies in the face of the numerous reports that suggest that flexible-working options are not only important to employees, but something they would consider leaving their jobs over.
This trend is predicted to carry over into 2022. Research from analytics platform Qualtrics this month found that 65% of workers plan to remain with their employer next year, compared to 70% in 2021. The research was based on nearly 14,000 full-time employees across 27 countries.
Workers in the tech industry appear even more likely to seek new opportunities in the coming months. In an October survey of 1,200 US tech and IT employees by TalentLMS and Workable, 72% said they intended to leave their job within the next 12 months.
Despite these potentially worrying numbers, which come as organizations struggle to find tech talent to fill new digital roles, employee retention does not appear to register highly on business leaders' agendas.
One explanation for this is that business leaders are still trying to figure out what investments they need to make to weather an ongoing period of uncertainty instigated by COVID-19.
NTT Data and Oxford Economics found that more than three-quarters (77%) of business and IT executives felt unprepared to meet "the challenges of continued disruption from health crises and natural disasters."
While executives worry about what comes next, employee satisfaction takes a backseat. "When times are uncertain, it is a natural response to tighten budgets and focus on short-term goals that bring revenue, but this comes at the expense of innovation and future goals," said Eric Clark, chief digital officer at NTT Data Services.
"Leaders must focus on identifying the effective digital technologies that allow them to quickly scale resources, support remote work and respond to market pressures while prioritizing employee retention."
That staff retention hinges party on giving employees the tools they need to work effectively within new 'hybrid' work environments, as well as giving them more freedom over where they do this work.
Both NTT Data and Qualtrics found employers to be lacking in this department. NTT Data's study found that only 42% of organizations had implemented digital workplace technologies, while nearly half say rigid processes did not allow for remote or flexible work.
Qualtrics also found that employees were underwhelmed by their current workplaces: one in three (30%) said their experience with their company's technology exceeded expectations, while just 23% said the same about their experience of working in the office.
"There's clearly a disconnect between the experiences employees expect and what employers are offering in hybrid work environments," said Benjamin Granger, head of employee experience advisory services at Qualtrics.
"The value of offices has evolved from simply being places for people to work from, to creating opportunities for collaboration and socialization. Understanding what people need to be effective and efficient in their roles is essential for curating workspaces that will encourage employees to bring their best selves to work."
Addressing work-life divides
Of course, employee experience goes beyond remote working. With more workers logging in from their homes and other remote locations, the boundary between work and personal life has also become more blurred.
Presenteeism and burnout are amongst the biggest issues affecting employee wellbeing, Qualtrics found, with 29% of employees reporting that they would not always take a sick day even if ill, with 61% of these citing workloads as the reason why. Meanwhile, one in five (20%) workers frequently worry about work problems during their personal time.
The impact is flowing upwards to middle managers, who appear to be bearing the brunt of employee discontent.
"Leaders are expected to do more than ever before. Beyond their day-to-day responsibilities, managers also need to support their employees' mental health, be culture champions, and make progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts," said Granger.
"This work is all critical toward creating amazing places to work, yet it's simultaneously resulting in burnout. Now is the time for organizations to invest in nurturing their leaders and equipping them to care for themselves so that they can care for others."