By Lyndy van den Barselaar, MD at ManpowerGroup SA’s
Having experienced flexibility, autonomy and better work-life balance during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees want work to look different and are asking more of employers than ever before.
Gender roles were challenged, resulting in new sets of needs and wants for both male and female employees. ManpowerGroup Inc. asked 4 000 women what they want the future of work to look like. With talent shortages at their highest level in 15 years, we need to listen to what women want from employers in attracting and retaining them in the workforce.
Let’s take a step back and consider what changed for the women we surveyed under pandemic conditions. The pandemic negatively impacted women much more than men: while women constituted approximately 39% of the global workforce, they suffered 54% of the job losses, meaning that 1.7 million women left the workforce.
They also bore a disproportionate share of childcare responsibilities: a University of Arkansas study of the pandemic’s impact in the U.S. found that one in three working mothers in two-parent households were solely caring for their children, compared with one in ten working fathers.
Not all women who left the workforce did so for childcare reasons. Some households reviewed what was important to them and decided to take a career break, but that raises questions about why so many women feel that today’s working methods are incompatible with family life.
According to the ManpowerGroup Inc. survey, female employees are looking for three essentials from an employer, now and into the future:
- Autonomy on their terms: 80% of women want more work-life balance, with most saying that being able to choose to do their work at a time that works for them is most important;
- Equitable wages: women are looking for fair pay for fair work, with most indicating that earning more money would have the most positive impact on mental health;
- More empathetic leaders: 80% wish their manager better understood or knew them holistically – from understanding their workload to the challenges of being a parent or carer.
The flexibility that Work From Home (WFH) offered delivered a much better quality of life – if managed properly – and many women want to see the ability to maintain that balance. 25% would like to work a four-day week but would be reluctant to take a 20% pay cut – which makes sense since working 80% of the time doesn’t mean only doing 80% of the work before you.
41% of women want to return to the office to connect and collaborate with colleagues. valuing productivity is important: “it’s not about time spent at a desk or in a boardroom, but rather what the output is – so we need to start having more outcomes-focused conversations. Indeed, study respondents said that the things that made them most productive were fair pay for fair work (46% of women); more work-life balance; more flexibility in start and end times; more opportunities to learn and upskill; more flexibility to choose how to accomplish their work and more stability.
Although WFH, remote and hybrid work flexibility is highly desirable, there are negative outcomes for women, particularly around career progression. 37% of women say they are less likely when remote to get access to time with senior leaders than their male counterparts (32%); they don’t reap the benefits of earning from others (31% vs 28%); they’re less likely to be considered for a promotion (29% vs 26%); they struggle with brainstorming and collaboration (27% vs 23%); have less access to upskilling or training (22% vs 20%); have fewer stretch opportunities (23% vs 21%) and miss out on regular performance reviews more often (20% vs 18).
Childcare challenges remain a barrier to a full-time return to office – 8% of women cannot return to work due to childcare challenges (double vs men) and 7% due to household chores (also double vs men). Less than half of women believe their employer encourages their upskilling or training and that their manager is involved in planning their career development. More than 40% do not believe their manager recognises their skills or potential.
The need to feel secure in their jobs certainly matters more to women now, having experienced dramatic job cuts and uncertainty during the pandemic. 20% of women said the pandemic has made them want more security about their future, which they ranked as more important than a role reflecting their passion or values. 25% are anxious about changing jobs now due to economic uncertainty and 1 in 3 women believe economic uncertainty threatens their job.
The pandemic also put mental health under the spotlight – it’s become known as ‘the hidden pandemic’. Around the world, reported levels of anxiety and depression increased significantly, even doubling in some countries, driven both by the pandemic – the deaths caused by the virus, strict public health measures and the economic crisis it has triggered – and the effects live on.
In our study, 1 in 3 women wish their manager would better understand the impact of their workload on their mental health, and 14% of women would trade 5% of their salary for more time for physical and mental well-being. Nearly a 1/3 (27%) of women want more time in the office as a break from home and to establish clear boundaries between work life and home life – with 30% wishing their manager had a better understanding of the challenges impacting their work.
Unless new ways of getting work done, achieving pay equity and advancing reskilling become standard best practices for organisations, the global talent crisis will only worsen. Add to that an ageing population and skills shortage for the emerging roles of the future, and it becomes clear that getting aligned on what women want and need in the workforce has never been more urgent. The old ways of working feel less and less compatible with new priorities for living.
ManpowerGroup® (NYSE: MAN), the leading global workforce solutions company, helps
organisations transform in a fast-changing world of work by sourcing, assessing, developing and managing the talent that enables them to win. We develop innovative solutions for hundreds of thousands of organisations every year, providing them with skilled talent while finding meaningful, sustainable employment for millions of people across a wide range of industries and skills.