The utility workforce is in the early stages of what we believe will be a deep, lasting transformation, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but reflecting major shifts in the way people think about their providers of heat and electricity.
The traditional view of utilities—as companies providing steady, if unexciting, jobs leading to a comfortable retirement— is disappearing fast. What is also becoming clear is the critical role utilities have to play in the energy transition, with a commitment to providing affordable, clean power to customers.
Despite these changing views, negative perceptions of utilities as a place to work, which include a lack of room for career growth, a slow-moving industry culture and a view of the industry as unexciting, persist.
More than three-quarters of U.S. utilities report difficulty in the ability to hire new employees.
One issue we have seen is a continued lack of critical focus on the part of utility companies to unlock the potential of their workforce. Prior to the pandemic, Accenture interviewed 3,200 senior executives—half of them decision-makers in human resources—as well as more than 15,000 workers spanning 15 industries and 10 countries in a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind study to determine how companies can capture and maintain employee trust by meeting the needs of what matters most to them.
A groundbreaking new model: Net Better Off
The research enabled us to develop a new model called “Net Better Off.” We found that nearly two-thirds of an individual’s potential—as defined by the skills, strengths, and capabilities they bring to work each day—is influenced by whether they feel better off across six key dimensions.
Getting the Net Better Off model right is important for unlocking employee potential, but also vital for unlocking the potential of the business. Employers that create meaningful, trusting relationships with their employees see an increase in business performance.
We found that each of the six dimensions of Net Better Off were significantly correlated with people trusting their employer. Also, we found that Net Better Off statistically drives people’s trust at work.
The Net Better Off framework addresses six fundamental human needs.
Utility companies want their people employees to recommend them to others, trust them as an employer, remain loyal, stay inspired and motivated, and apply their full range of skills. Employees, on the other hand, seek emotional, physical, and personal connections to the workplace. But these are exactly the needs for which employers feel least accountable. Companies are often neither aware of nor focused on providing employees with what they really want.
We can see that people want company leadership to help them become net better off, but leadership still needs to catch up.
Fortunately, there are ways to transform the utility employee experience to leave people feeling net better off in the workplace.
Leading practices for a new utility work environment
In this new environment, utilities have taken several steps to limit the risks associated with customer and employee interaction. We have identified five leading practices that can be integrated and incorporated into these measures to create a Net Better Off workplace.
More utilities are taking the kinds of action needed to build engagement with their workforce, encourage innovation and creative thinking, and foster commitment and a sense of purpose among employees. We find it helpful for utilities to think about the “big three” audiences for these initiatives—employees, new talent and managers of people—each with its own specific concerns and requirements.
Utility companies have recognized an increased responsibility to not only protect and compensate their employees, but also help them reach their full potential as workers and human beings. Using Net Better Off as a framework for specific, data-driven actions, utilities can improve their employees’ experience while attracting the talent needed for a challenging future.