I watched the enigmatic Michael O’Leary interviewed this morning following Ryanair’s announcement of a 280% increase in profits (phenomenal!). With the much documented challenges facing rival CEO Willie Walsh at British Airways, the interviewer pressed O’Leary on whether BA had aspirations for a similar model to Ryanair. O’Leary’s response was to challenge the validity of the BA model in the same way that so many business models, so much of our established business thinking and many of our long-held assumptions are being challenged as to their place in modern business.
How are traditional assumptions and models affecting employment and in particular the relationship between employers and employees? Back in 2009 I recall many conversations with HR Directors regarding the challenges they were facing convincing CEO’s of the benefits of an engaged workforce. At the time the press was awash with announcements of unemployment Armageddon and the purveying attitude was that those in employment should consider themselves lucky. Those organisations persisting with such an outdated and outmoded attitude to employee engagement will struggle to last. We no longer live in a world where jobs for life prevail. Although unemployment continues to rise, the majority of employees have a choice when it comes to their employer. It is only those employers who are willing to work hard on providing an environment that enables employees to thrive, to engage with employees, that will take advantage of any upside as the war for talent returns with a vengeance. Is is also those companies who will enjoy great improvements in productivity, performance and retention as the economic landscape continues to change radically.
So what in 2010 does such an environment look like? The bond between employer and employee has been changing for some time. The worlds fastest growing and highest performing companies recognise this and have gone to great lengths to understand this relationship and how to get the best from it. The changing shape of the workplace was evidenced further following PricewaterhouseCoopers latest survey of employees in the UK. The findings of the survey highlight that employees value flexible working arrangements above performance related bonuses. This comes at a time when the new UK coalition government has promised to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. The PwC survey found that both men and women ranked flexible working as the most valuable benefit. As business models are being tested, so it would appear are employees attitudes to the workplace.
Employees want to be treated like adults. They want to understand the vision of the organisation and their part within that vision. They want to understand the company’s values and to make a decision as to whether those values reflect their own (more than a third of those surveyed would like to be employed by a company whose values matched theirs). They want to be given the objectives and parameters, timescales and deadlines, to be told whats expected of them and to understand if that’s realistic and assuming it is, to be left to get on with it.
This is further backed up by the findings evidencing more than half of those surveyed would rather work for themselves, making their own decisions, controlling their own working day. It is those companies that adapt to the working worlds growing flexible working culture, itself an enormous test of our tried and tested method of working developed over the last 200 years, that will be best placed to retain its top talent and attract the talent needed to thrive.