Pre-pandemic work culture has gone, and it’s not coming back. Here’s what you need to know about employee expectations in the post-COVID era.

A time traveler from 2019 would find much that’s familiar about the post-COVID workplace but also much that’s new.

Take the shift to remote and hybrid working, which has left many companies with half-empty offices (assuming they haven’t downsized already). Employers have maintained this arrangement even as the pandemic loosens its grip, and not only because it works well for them. It’s also what their employees expect.

Meeting (and perhaps even exceeding) these employee expectations is critical to hiring and retaining top talent in the post-pandemic era. Here are four areas to consider when strategizing how to balance your workforce’s wish list with your business goals.

hybrid work is here to stay

A recent McKinsey survey found that 87 percent of workers offered at least some remote work embrace the opportunity and spend three days per week on average working from home. For many employers, this is a win-win rather than a concession, allowing them to rethink their square footage requirements while maximizing employee engagement and productivity. Some companies have moved to a choice-based model, giving workers full autonomy over where and when they work. Others use job functions and personas to determine schedules, assessing which roles benefit most from in-person interactions. To get maximum buy-in for your scheduling strategy, be open with employees about why you’ve chosen said model and how it benefits both them and the business.

employees want to be trusted

Micromanaging is always bad. But it was arguably the lesser of two evils at the height of the pandemic, when many remote workers could have been left feeling isolated and rudderless without frequent check-ins from their managers. Leaders must loosen the reins in the post-pandemic era, signaling to employees that they trust them to perform their jobs wherever they’re based. The more faith you show in your team, the more likely they are to take a creative and, when appropriate, risk-taking approach toward problem-solving.

perks and benefits move the needle

In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, many employers quickly scaled up their health and wellness benefits while scaling back on offerings such as 401(k) matching contributions and professional development. While equilibrium has been somewhat restored in 2022, recent surveys suggest that all benefit types are rated by employers as more important today than in the pre-COVID era. From increased paid time off to tuition reimbursement and family caregiving assistance, offerings that help employees enhance their quality of life play a pivotal role in attracting and retaining talent.

a diverse workforce means diverse expectations

To recruit and retain a diverse workforce, you need to understand that employee expectations may vary according to race, gender, sexual orientation or other factors. A recent Future Forum survey found that the desire for hybrid or fully remote work arrangements remains strongest among underrepresented groups. The reasons for this are complex, but it remains the case that Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) workers are more likely to suffer from microaggressions and unconscious bias in an office environment than their white co-workers. Memories of such experiences may generate negative expectations among BIPOC employees about returning to the office, which you can address by investing in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) training, updated to reflect the needs of a distributed workforce.

key takeaways

Employee expectations are constantly changing, but the speed at which they’ve evolved in the pandemic era may surprise even the savviest employer. Review your work arrangements, compensation packages and DE&I policies to ensure you’re meeting the needs of today’s top talent.

For more suggestions on how to attract and retain the best in the business, be sure to check out Randstad USA’s Business Insights page.