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The Seismic Shift of 2021: free cans of soda won't buy my loyalty

As the demand for talent becomes increasingly more competitive, Profile Director Amanda Clarke highlights the need for authenticity and empathy in the workplace as more employees consider making a move.

Simon Sinek, the performance coach, said, “working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress, working hard for something we love is called passion”. 

Over the last 17 years working in recruitment, I have met people from all over the world who, for one reason or another, simply don’t like the companies they work for. Some don’t believe they have enough opportunity to progress, others feel undervalued, many dislike their firm’s culture or politics, and several cite poor managers.

When you break it down and think about it closely, companies (and colleagues) have an obligation to make sure that, at the very least, we gain some enjoyment from our daily working lives. While employers may not be able to change job content and deliverables, they can make the environment within which employees work a whole lot better. That doesn’t mean we need all the office extras – like bean bags and subsidised canteens - but rather, if employers want our commitment, they will have to show they have our backs. 

Each year we carry out various surveys on working lives in Asia Pacific. Of over 2,000 respondents in Asia Pacific who filled out our Working in Asia 2021 survey, circa 50% said they were open to leaving their companies in the next six months (down from around 70% in previous years). While around half of the respondents cited ‘lack of career development’, a whopping 31% said they wanted to leave because they don’t feel ‘appreciated or recognised’ for the work they do.

Similarly, of those wanting to stay in their organisation (aside from the ‘uncertain market conditions’ quoted by many), 40% confirmed it was thanks to the ‘enjoyable and productive culture’ and because they felt ‘appreciated or recognised’ (35%). 

Quite clearly, being valued and recognised plays a significant role in whether employees stay or leave their firms. And notably, these motivators scored higher than their interest in financial rewards (both to stay and leave). 

So, what makes an employee enjoy their firm’s culture and feel appreciated and recognised? 

Over the years, I have seen more and more stuff presented to enhance the office environment – from in-house drinks bars and yoga rooms to pianos and pinball machines; one even has a DJ booth and a Mahjong room. But does this make us happy? Does it mean we enjoy our jobs more and feel valued? Maybe. Possibly. Is it sustainable longer-term? I don’t think so. 

2021 is seeing a seismic shift. A recognition that the stuff isn’t as important as more holistic values and needs: our wellbeing, our sense of inclusiveness, our time. Forward-thinking companies are beginning to review their medical plans and offering better benefits to same-sex partners, improved maternity/paternity leave, vaccinations, flexi-work, meditation apps, sabbaticals, and more. Will it retain us in these firms? It will certainly help.

As the last eighteen months has dramatically shown, the world is evolving all the time – and so are we. We are constantly developing what we need and what makes us engaged and productive, so employers must be empathetic and walk with us; share our wins and losses together.

Leaders are starting to acknowledge that they must be truly authentic. They need to be visible, even fallible – they need to imbue kindness and show they care.  Employees, in turn, will more readily feel the office is a safe environment where they can voice concerns and where their feedback is valued. And it is in feeling valued, appreciated, and safe that we can grow. And it is then that we feel loyal.

So, the leaders of every organisation should know that employees of 2021 are a lot more demanding with an increasing list of expectations for their working environment. Yet, while they might enjoy the office extras, what they really want is your guidance, trust, support and, ultimately, kindness. 

As we think through employee loyalty and engagement, it’s important to point out that as some employees start or continue to work from home more often, they will view their office space differently. As firms look to readdress space planning and employees potentially desk-share, perhaps they will feel less attachment to their physical surroundings. After all the years of carefully curating office spaces, free cans of soda in the pantry may not matter anymore.

And if that is the case, it will be even more important that employees feel loyal to the people with whom they work, because it will be – as it’s always been – the main reason employees will be committed to stay. 


Amanda Clarke, Director, Profile, A WilsonHCG Company


August 2021