Taking care of your business means taking care of your people

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, business leaders are not just battling to keep their organisations financially secure, they also face the challenge of maintaining their people’s trust, motivation and engagement, if not their overall affiliation and identification with their employer.

This poses a unique problem in Europe, where employers and employees enjoy a social contract rarely found elsewhere in the world. Powerful unions, social security and stringent labour laws ensure European workers feel protected and looked after.

Our Global Care To Do Better report uncovered that by meeting six fundamental human needs through work, companies can unlock their people’s full potential. We call this framework “Net Better Off,” and its six dimensions are: Emotional and Mental, Relational, Physical, Financial, Purposeful and Employable.

The Net Better Off model

Trust and the care and concern for people is the new currency at work and organisations that leave people Net Better Off will attract and retain the best and brightest talent.

Caring for employees makes them Net Better Off – all the more so in a crisis

In May 2020, 30 percent of business leaders expected the recovery in Europe to follow a quick and sustained V-shape. Only two months later, the expectations of 700 respondents interviewed anticipated a slower U-shaped recovery.

Changing outlooks

The recovery everybody hoped for after the first wave in spring 2020 turned out to be more subdued than anticipated. So is it realistic to think that while companies are struggling, they can also focus on caring for their people? The answer is yes, as long as they make their people Net Better Off.

Trust is a currency that seems to have lost its value for both leaders and workers

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, workers have questioned how their employers meet both their physical and emotional needs. Our figures show that while the overall employer ratings among workers in the US have improved since the onset of the pandemic, they have decreased in Europe.

How employees rate their employer since the COVID-19 outbreak (% of positive rating)

In monthly global pulse surveys conducted by Accenture Research from March-July 2020, we found that 71 percent of European C-level executives consider themselves more trustworthy than before the pandemic and 69 percent view themselves as more empathetic. However, only 57 percent of workers trust that their company is doing the right thing during the crisis and just 53 percent feel supported by their employer. Similar gaps between employees' and employers' perceptions also exist in the areas of responsibility and transparency.

Employer/employee disconnect since the COVID-19 outbreak

Europe’s social contract appears to have suffered a setback. Many workers might still sufficiently trust their employers, but they aren’t necessarily as committed to them as they were before the COVID-19 crisis. Our research reveals that 41 percent of workers in Europe are right now contemplating career changes, though with marked differences at country levels.

Commitment to employers is being challenged

Required: a model for a new social contract making people Net Better Off

The 2020 Accenture Research report Bold Moves in Tough Times shows that there is an opportunity for renewed competitiveness across Europe.

The European path for reinvention

The impact of new ways of working

The needs addressed in the Net Better Off model reflect the changing nature of work. We found that 66 percent of the European workforce shifted to working from home during the first infection wave of the pandemic. As people find themselves in isolation, their mental health, time for physical activity and relational needs are all heightened.

Financial, employable and purposeful needs also require broader support as 51 percent of workers in Europe are concerned about their job security and are reassessing their priorities. Such factors have contributed to research which suggests the mental health impact of the pandemic could last much longer than the physical health impact.

High levels of concern continue in Europe regarding the economy and job security

Adopting a holistic employee strategy will be critical for European companies as they position for growth after the pandemic. Even with today’s economic challenges, businesses with close and caring work relations stand to gain upwards of five percent revenue growth—compared to a decline of 4.7 percent expected at company levels for 2020.

The drivers of worker behaviour

Research showed that, even before the pandemic struck, the emotional, relational and purposeful dimensions were the strongest drivers of positive employee behaviour. After the start of the pandemic, physical needs rose in importance, while relational, employable and financial needs remained high.

While most business leaders seem only prepared to deal with subsets of our six dimensions and not the whole range, it is encouraging that C-level executives are thinking and talking more about our six dimensions over the course of the pandemic, even if relational and emotional needs—identified as particularly important for people—remain relatively low. Our analysis shows that workers’ needs intensified during 2020 earnings calls versus 2019. Physical, purposeful, as well as emotional needs have significantly jumped upwards on the agenda.

Net Better Off dimensions increased in European companies’ priorities during the past year

Heed the five “Sweet Spot” practices to reinvigorate the social contract

Armed with a clear understanding of Net Better Off, we used statistical testing methods to check 20 employer practices for their support of revenue growth, trust-building and how they help employees reach their potential. What emerged were five practices that, when taken together, form a sweet spot for investment—paying dividends for both individuals and the organisation.

Sweet Spot practices

01 Enable continuous learning

Organisations that enable continuous learning use data analysis to anticipate future skills needs and train people accordingly. They also deconstruct and reconstruct roles, checking which tasks are best suited for machines and which require human skills. They also use technology and innovative methods to make employee learning experiences more effective and accessible.

A case in point:
Oxford Medical Simulation put into place a platform where trainees can engage with fully unreactive and unwell patients, using either virtual reality headsets or standard computers. They manage the patient as they would in real life—diagnosing, treating and interacting with others in the team. For instance, it is offering a free medical training system during the COVID-19 pandemic to help hospitals and medical schools bring in retired doctors and nurses to provide patient care.

Businesses leading in this practice use technology to anticipate, predict and respond quickly to their people’s needs. They use two-way communication applications that flag trends while giving individuals a voice. This allows them to build trust by applying insights in a way that provides clear benefits to individuals, not just to the business.

A case in point:
ABN AMRO placed employee experience at the centre of HR services and its operating model. It leverages people analytics with different surveys to study behavioural drivers, segment users into types of personas and create journey maps that inform HR services of the results. It collects data from different sources, but the most promising aspect is for new joiners who are asked to download an app and answer questions, such as “To what extent is it clear what is expected of you?”

Many businesses apply intelligent technologies to automate tasks and improve productivity. Organisations that lead in this practice do more. They select and apply technologies that enable them to reimagine work and processes through greater human-machine collaboration. They use technology to accelerate flexible work, freeing their people to engage in more fulfilling and innovative tasks.

A case in point:
The German engineering giant Bosch has put into place global flexible work models, available for most employees. The aim is to make employees’ working hours tailored to their life, on a schedule that suits their needs. For employees who choose to work from home, Bosch provides all the amenities they need to fulfill their responsibilities. This policy has helped the company to function normally during the pandemic.

Organisations that lead the way in this area continually support and refine their wellbeing initiatives to reflect people’s changing needs. For instance, during the current pandemic, organisations have had to be nimble to redesign and create initiatives to safeguard the physical and psychological wellbeing of their workers.

A case in point:
Direct Line has an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which has helped train more than 1,000 managers in mental health awareness and ensured there is a mental health first aid representative on every floor of every office building. The company’s mental health programme also addresses financial wellbeing (a potential stressor for many individuals) specially for the younger generation.

Our Modern Boards report states that boards today are excelling across five key areas: mindset, mission, muscle, makeup and metrics. And it is metrics that help organisations focus on their commitment to diversity. Our research shows the most equal and diverse cultures experience 11 times the innovation mindset of the least equal and diverse. With transparent and quantifiable people metrics in place, businesses can thrive and create a workplace where individuals feel included and valued.

A case in point:
The French dairy product giant Danone set an ambition in 2017 to be one of the most inclusive and diverse companies in the world. Its roadmap “2020 Global Inclusive Diversity” is based on three pillars: promoting inclusive behaviours, being gender balanced and having culturally diverse teams. Each pillar has a quantifiable goal, such as having 50 percent of directors and 30 percent of executives from under-represented nationalities by 2020, or 42 percent female directors and 30 percent female executives by 2020.

The impact of Sweet Spot practices on the workforce

European employers that enable continuous learning can, for example, rely on 88 percent of their employees recommending them to others (only 40 percent do this without such practices). And those who listen to what their frontline workers really need are rewarded by 91 percent of their employees adapting to change effectively.

A new social contract: a crucial cornerstone for reinventing European companies

As people across Europe seek greater wellbeing in all areas of their lives, this is a chance for leaders to preserve their people’s loyalty, energy and enthusiasm. By removing internal boundaries that limit their workers’ development and potential, organisations can hit their Sweet Spots and rebuild the social contract, enabling their people to become Net Better Off and turn a challenging time into one of growth and long-lasting positive change.

Jean-Marc Ollagnier


Tim Good

Managing Director – Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization

Kelly Monahan

Global Lead Talent Researcher

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