‘Are they an employee, or are they doing you a favour?’ How can firms attract ‘individualistic’ workers?

Panellists at the CIPD’s Employee Experience Conference discussed how power has shifted, with businesses now having to show why people should want to work for them

Credit: Ezra Bailey, fonikum-DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

Speaking at the CIPD’s Employee Experience Conference 2023, panellists discussed how benefits schemes are increasingly important to potential employees when considering job offers in a competitive job market.

What a firm is willing to offer employees is being viewed as a measure of its ethics and the role of workers within its company, Toby Culshaw, global head of talent intelligence at Amazon, said. He told delegates: “I think candidates are looking at what is your stance from an ESG perspective, from a DEI perspective, from a benefits perspective? Because it's a reflection of how you see them. Are they an employee, or are they doing you a favour? What are we to them and what is that relationship?”

Jamila Lecky, HR transformation planning manager and former reward specialist at GroupM, said employee benefits were appealing because they “can make life easier” and ensure a better work-life balance. “With things as simple as private medical and dental – and we all know it's impossible to get an NHS dentist appointment these days – being able to give your employees these things makes their lives easier,” Lecky said. 

These “basic, simple” measures can mean that workers can think: “‘Cool, that's covered, I don't need to worry about that’,” reducing stress outside of work, she said. “We talk about work-life balance all the time when it comes to employee experience, and it is being able to go into work, put your best foot forward and not having to worry so much about your personal things that you have to deal with on the side as well.”

Victoria Lewis-Stephens, MD and founder of United Culture, argued that employees were increasingly being driven by “individualistic” priorities over community-based ones. “People want more autonomy and they’re increasingly focused on what an organisation can offer them,” she said. Historically, we’d have talked about there being a balance and what you give and what you get from work. But that’s shifted a little bit post pandemic.” 

Work-life balance, flexibility and security are increasingly being cited as top priorities for workers. By comparison, more community-driven values, including being valued by co-workers and sharing values with peers, are being seen as less important. “I think what we can take from this is we're definitely seeing a more individualistic and less collective mindset in society, which means there’s a greater need for tailoring when we're thinking about employee experience and personalisation so that we can engage people in work when they're actually operating within an organisational capacity,” Lewis-Stephens continued.

Alys O'Neill, director of consulting and founder of United Culture, warned that companies were not being “brave” enough in how they approach HR offerings. “It's really tough for businesses today,” she said. “We're still living in an incredibly volatile world and, in truth, I don't think anyone's absolutely nailing it right now. We're not seeing many organisations being very brave in how they reimagine employee experience.”

There is lots of good work happening “at certain stages of the employee lifecycle”, she said, but this was not consistent enough. The role of line managers consequently in supporting workers should not be overlooked, she said: “The line manager [should] start to engage people as soon as they're offered a role and really help to drive a sense of belonging. People are more likely to stay within the organisation if they've had a successful first period.”