New Work, New Work…Taking stock of our attitude to work

The term ‘New Work’ first appeared in the 1970s and is now back in fashion, as employees’ attitude to work has undergone deep transformation over the last decade. This evolution was therefore already in place well before the health crisis and it is forcing those working in Human Resources to adapt to the new paradigm.  

In Switzerland, employees love their job

All the studies that have appeared in recent months* come to the same conclusions: employees like their work. In Romandy (the French-speaking area of Switzerland), 87% endorse it, especially people working for very small companies or who are self-employed. Then satisfaction diminishes as companies become larger. However, behind this general contentment, the place of work continues to take on a less central role in our lives. This is a global trend that the studies have observed in Europe, the United States and, more surprisingly, in China. So, the slogan: ‘work more to earn more’ is something of the past. In 2008, 68% of workers in France declared they preferred to earn more money in favour of having more free time. The situation is completely the opposite today, as 61% prefer to enjoy more free time and be paid less. Work is being seen less and less as a factor in social integration or the main driving force for a fulfilling life. 

Salary and recognition, the two drivers of satisfaction 

Even if the time/money balance has changed, the conclusions need to be clarified. Pay is still the most important criterion for employees when choosing a company. But salary alone is not enough to satisfy workers. Recognition is the main motivational lever. 60% of French-speaking Swiss do not feel appreciated enough and this shortfall is felt more strongly by young workers. 75% of employees feel stressed at work, which has a direct impact on absenteeism. Strangely, there does not seem to be any particular correlation between the hours worked and the feeling of an excessive workload. That self-employed people, who work more hours than the average worker, are generally more satisfied is proof of this. A criticism of management seems to be behind the observation. 33% of French-speaking Swiss do not think of their management as considerate. Other studies show that employees believe they do more work than their salary merits and that they are not fully recognised by their managers. Several reports clearly demonstrate that stress has three main causes: relational difficulties with management, psychological burden and a low level of autonomy. 

Younger generations seek flexibility and autonomy

The general increase in teleworking due to the health crisis has resulted in a real break from the past. In spite of great disparity between businesses that cannot or do not want to set up homeworking and those that have adopted it on an average of 2 to 3 days a week, 60% of French-speaking Swiss consider working from home as a way of gaining a better work-life balance. Younger generations are especially demanding about their working conditions, notably with regard to their autonomy in how to organise their work. Recruiters deal with this issue on a daily basis: it is difficult to attract Generation Z workers without offering a certain degree of flexibility. 

Large-scale resignation, myth or reality 

Some sectors, such as hotel and catering businesses, have seen waves of resignations since the pandemic. However, recent studies have tended to prove that even if a narrow majority of employees consider handing in their notice, only a few take action. The desire to resign has undoubtedly increased, but there is a discrepancy between what is being voiced and reality. Leaving a company is still considered a risky move for many people. The favourable labour market for workers explains the phenomenon of large-scale resignation… ‘which is not really one at all’, to which is added a post Covid catch-up situation. It would seem more appropriate to speak of a desire for job mobility within the company or in another company, or even for retraining. 25% of French-speaking Swiss are thinking about this. 

Vision of work: significant differences between the generations

Studies show generational differences that foreshadow future developments in the professional world. 18- to 24-year-olds have a more utilitarian vision of work than seniors, for whom work remains the way to find their place in society. Work no longer has a dimension of status and identity. It is a way to contribute to personal fulfilment, without being the only one. The vast majority of young people envisage occupational mobility, notably through the acquisition of new skills. They are looking for a job with meaning, that bears values and brings a feeling of fulfilment. We can all remember the recent advocacy by students from the prestigious French Grandes Ecoles, expressing their wish to make their skills available to serve society, breaking away from the model of previous generations. Their words coincide with David Graeber’s ‘bullshit jobs’ theory, as this American anthropologist highlighted in 2013 that a growing number of workers considered their job to be useless or even detrimental to the collective.
* Sources:

• Study by the Diot-Siaci Group and IFOP – fourth quarter 2022

• Survey on job satisfaction in Romandy by Comba consulting and Qualinsight- Nov. 22

• Survey by Institut Montaigne – February 2023

• “Je t’aime, moi non plus. Les ambivalences du nouveau rapport au travail” - Jan. 23 - Fondation Jean Jaurès

At the end of 2022, our parent company, Diot-Siaci Group, published a study with Ifop on the changes in how people perceived work. Mickaël Berrebi, Manager of the Diot-Siaci Institute, reviews the key points.

What are the principal breaks from traditional work relationships currently?

The first one concerns the employees’ vision of their relationship to work. Up to present, it was often perceived as a way to find one’s place in society, but this is no longer the case. Today, 41% of employees consider that the prime reason for work is utilitarian and they associate it with the constraint of having to earn money. This new idea of work is especially present among young people and labourers. The second break from traditions is the desire for mobility. 60% express this wish. Among these are younger workers, those who have been with their company for less than 10 years and employees in sectors such as construction, farming and industry. Finally, there is also a break in employee aspirations. The majority would like to see a better balance between their professional and private lives.

In your view, can we speak of a phenomenon of ‘large-scale resignation’?

Three quarters of the employees in the survey stated they were happy at work, a statistic that has been fairly stable in recent years. We can note their strong level of engagement too, as 77% of them stated they generally do more than is expected of them. However, we can also see that over half of the employees are thinking of resigning, and this desire has increased for 51% of them compared to a year ago. Nonetheless, the act of resigning remains linked with a high level of risk. As most employees are happy and engaged in their work, and as they also perceive the act of resigning as risky, we cannot really talk about ‘large-scale resignation’.

What are the impacts of these developments for HR departments?

If we add to these developments the current recruitment difficulties being encountered by all businesses and the rapid increase in the rate of inflation, HR departments are obviously going to be impacted. All the more so as the survey reminds us to what extent pay plays an important role for employees. However, some levers would seem effective in counterbalancing any remuneration that is less than expected, notably when an employee enjoys a good work atmosphere and the geographical location means it is an easy journey from their place of residence.
Mickaël Berrebi, Manager of the Diot-Siaci Institute
This article was published in Insurance Inside n°29 - March 2023. 
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