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Care to do better

Building trust will enhance employee potential and leave your people and your business Net Better Off


September 23, 2020

In brief

  • Leaders are taking more responsibility for workers’ holistic well-being and are actively seeking to earn their trust. Employees are expecting more from employers, particularly as they anticipate a post-pandemic world.

  • Our groundbreaking research found that by meeting six fundamental human needs through work, companies unlock their people’s full potential.

  • We call this framework “Net Better Off,” and its six dimensions are: Emotional & Mental, Relational, Physical, Financial, Purposeful and Employable.

  • It pays to make business personal: As employers boost these dimensions and create meaningful and trusting relationships with employees, they see an increase in business performance.

  • Trailblazing “Modern HR Leaders” are the catalyst for leaving employees—and the business—better off. This group exhibits a new ethos, pursues new skills and develops new collaborations.

The CHRO is a catalyst for growth

The CHRO has emerged as one of the most vital roles in the C-suite, as organizations work to keep employees safe, employed, supported and equal. Modern CHROs recognize that trust is the new currency at work. That’s because trust enables them to architect or help create a culture that supports workers, grows the business and helps the broader community.

The peak of the pandemic has passed, and people have increasingly focused on whom to work for and where to do business. Organizations that are answering the call to take better care of their people have made progress so far and will win in the market of the future.

What do employees want? They are increasingly looking to their employer to help meet their individual “me” needs (physical, financial, employable, emotional/mental), their “me and you” needs (relational) and their collective “we” needs (purposeful). These shifting expectations offer CHROs the opportunity to reclaim one of their most fundamental missions: the care and resiliency of human workers. They are now able to rewrite a script that builds trust based on the fundamentals of what matters most to their people. And as our research demonstrates, it makes good business sense to do so.

In fact, the entire C-suite is rethinking their responsibility to workers. Prior to the pandemic, 35 percent of CXOs fully embraced the responsibility to support people’s holistic needs. In six short months, this has escalated dramatically to represent 50 percent of CXOs.

Reinvent work in the age of gen AI

The CHRO is a catalyst for growth
The CHRO is a catalyst for growth

Unlock people’s potential—boost business

We engaged 3,200 senior executives (50 percent HR decision makers and 50 percent other CXOs) and 15,600+ workers spanning 15 industries and 10 countries in a comprehensive and first-of-its-kind study. This research uncovered a powerful finding:

By meeting six fundamental human needs through work, companies unlock their people’s full potential. We call this framework “Net Better Off,” and its six dimensions are: Emotional & Mental, Relational, Physical, Financial, Purposeful and Employable.

Our research found that 64 percent of a person’s potential—defined by their ability to use their skills and strengths at work—is influenced by whether or not they feel better off across these six dimensions. Conversely, less than 9 percent of unlocking potential can be explained by factors such as education, tenure, level, industry, geography and company size.

How do you score across the six Net Better Off dimensions?

But, it’s more than people’s potential that is unlocked—it’s also business potential. As employers boost these dimensions and create meaningful and trusting relationships with employees, they see an increase in business performance.

Examining five specific practices, we found that even in today’s weak GDP environments, organizations stand to gain upwards of 5 percent revenue growth, compared to the anticipated 2020 average company decline of -4.7 percent. Before the pandemic began during a strong and growing economy, organizations could realize double-digit revenue growth by engaging in the practices that leave their people better off.

A groundbreaking new model: Net Better Off addresses fundamental human needs

Dimensions of Next Better Off
Dimensions of Next Better Off

Based on our research before COVID-19, the Emotional, Relational and Purposeful dimensions were the strongest drivers of positive employee behaviors. During the pandemic, physical needs rose in importance for workers. However, relational needs remained high, as did employable and financial needs.

Pre-crisis, most organizational leaders were investing only in the Employable and Financial dimensions, and thereby failing to unlock the full potential of their people.

What to ask TODAY to be better off TOMORROW


Are we equipping people with the right adjacent skillsets to transition into higher paying jobs and explore new roles and industries?


Do our reward and benefit packages meet the evolving needs of our people in times of crisis and in times of abundance?


How do we create a sense of belonging in virtual teams? How do we ensure every voice is being heard throughout the organization?


What have we learned about our peoples’ physical well-being that should be adopted as best practices moving into the future?


How does our purpose evolve to meet an enlightened workforce and customer? How does our purpose come to life in our communities?

Emotional & Mental

How can we support the ongoing mental resilience of our people when the potential trauma from the crisis may have lasting effects?

Taking care of business by taking care of people: Five Sweet Spot Practices

Armed with a clear understanding of Net Better Off, we used statistical testing to sort through 20+ employer practices to determine which supported revenue growth and people reaching their potential. What emerged were five practices that, when taken together, form a sweet spot for investment—paying dividends for both individuals and the organization.

While it’s true that CHROs can be the architects of these practices, we found that they are developed and championed with input from individuals throughout the organization. The entire C-suite must collaborate to implement these practices and ensure they remain vibrant.

Sweet Spot Practices: The impact

Sweet Spot Practices: The impact
Sweet Spot Practices: The impact

Few organizations focus on Sweet Spot Practices despite associated positive workforce behaviors and financial rewards

Few organizations focus on Sweet Spot Practices despite associated positive workforce behaviors and financial rewards
Few organizations focus on Sweet Spot Practices despite associated positive workforce behaviors and financial rewards

Organizations that lead in this practice use data analysis to anticipate future skills needs. They deconstruct and reconstruct roles, determining which tasks are best suited for machines and which require uniquely human skills. They also use technology and innovative methods to make people’s learning experiences more effective and accessible.

Organizations that lead in this practice use technology to anticipate, predict and quickly respond to their people’s needs. They use two-way 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. Our research found that 92 percent of workers are open to the collection of data on them and their work in exchange for an improvement in their productivity, well-being and other benefits.

Many businesses apply intelligent technologies to automate tasks and improve productivity. Organizations 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 work.

This practice requires more than having a program: that’s a “check-the-box” effort. Organizations that lead in this practice continually support and refine their well-being initiatives to reflect people’s changing needs. For instance, in the midst of the current pandemic, organizations have had to be nimble to redesign and create initiatives to safeguard the physical and psychological well-being of their workers. Similarly, many organizations are mobilizing to become more inclusive places to work and nurturing a culture that elevates a sense of belonging and accelerates equality for all.

The most equal and diverse cultures experience 11 times the innovation mindset of the least equal and diverse, according to Accenture research. Organizations that lead in this practice showcase their commitment by ensuring people metrics are in place. There should be accountability and transparency with regard to these metrics, and, ideally, targets and results should be shared publicly to strengthen accountability. In light of the ongoing social discourse regarding racial and social injustice and the fact that individuals identify across many different dimensions, leading organizations need to focus not only on their commitment, but also on their actions to create a workplace where individuals feel they belong and can be the same person both inside and outside of work.

The Modern HR Mindset

Modern HR leaders are those embracing a new role in the C-suite. They’ve moved beyond efficiency and process execution and see the future differently. They are creating experiences grounded in care for people and concern for their communities while accelerating the performance of the business.

This group is enabling employees to work creatively with new technologies. They also connect people results to business results and team in boundaryless ways that cut across levels and functions within the company. They are helping organizations achieve several goals simultaneously: enhancing relationships with workers based on trust and accountability, accelerating business performance, and creating positive societal change.

These goals are closely tied to the fact that Modern HR leaders feel much more responsible for leaving people net better off than their peers—2.3 times more responsible.

What are the hallmarks of Modern HR leaders?

We found three ways in which these trailblazers approach their work differently than their peers in other organizations. They exhibit a new ethos, pursue new skills and develop new collaborations. More specifically, they adopt a new mindset and accountability toward their people, their business and the communities they serve.

They also develop new skill sets to support emerging roles within HR and focus on upskilling their workforce to better prepare for the future of work. And lastly, they operate in boundaryless ways by teaming across the organization in order to meet the needs of their people and achieve shared success.

Less than 20% within our study were Modern HR leaders. While a small group, it is a vital and emerging set who are charting a different course by putting people at the heart of all they do.

The Modern HR Mindset


more likely to strongly believe that organizations should publicly report on the well-being of their people (65% vs. 57%)


More likely to make significant investments in upskilling their people (61% vs. 43%)


More likely to initiate and drive collaborations across their organization (39% vs. 9%)

Elevate people. Lift your business.

Ensuring your people are net better off is more critical now than ever—to support workers today when they need it most and strengthen their trust in the employer-employee relationship to reap benefits tomorrow.

The Net Better Off model enables individuals to work at their full potential. And it allows them to feel greater purpose at a time when many are seeking more meaning. Lastly, leaving people better off can help organizations drive minimal-to-moderate growth in a period when most businesses are being significantly challenged.

However, this reorientation requires Modern HR leaders who can solve the right problems in innovative, tech-forward ways and reshape how work is done in their organizations. It requires adopting a data-driven mindset to meet the core needs of people.

Modern HR leaders know that committing to making people net better off requires more than imaginative practices and policies. It means putting care and compassion at the heart of the work experience and building trust through transparency. People’s potential can change when they are sufficiently supported.

In the end, Modern HR is an ethos, not a function, that focuses on designing and shaping work and work experiences that unleash the full potential of individuals, teams, organizations and communities. Our workforce and communities are counting on CHROs — in concert with the rest of C-suite — to support them and emerge stronger from this crisis than before. The future of HR depends on how we seize this moment.

Business Sponsor: Eva Sage-Gavin Senior Managing Director, Global Talent & Organization/Human Potential Practice Lead


Ellyn Shook

Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer

David Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Global Chief Human Resources Officer, Marriott International