Social contracts, returning to the office and retaining your people in the new hybrid workplace

Posted 20 May 2022 by
Melissa Summer, The Myers-Briggs Company

4 minute read

What’s in your company’s social contract?

First, what is a social contract? It's an agreement (written or not) about what each group will give to the other and get from the other. There can be social contracts between teams, between society and the workplace, or between the employer and the employee. That last social contract is the one we’ll be referring to throughout this article. 

Social contracts between employees and organizations are sometimes written statements or pledges that detail the way a company says that they’ll care for employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. But oftentimes they’re an unwritten understanding of ground rules between the company and the employee.

HR Zone details that social contracts between employees and the organization will likely contain three things:

  1. What the employee can expect
  2. What the employee can ask for
  3. What support is available to the employee

“Originally, social contracts have their roots in social capital theory, which emphasizes information exchange and reciprocity between employees, mutual trust and fairness, and shared values and expectations” write Christine Riordan and Kevin O’Brien in this HBR article

“At its basis, a social employee-employer contract says ‘are you asking me to do something that unduly puts a burden on me, even more so, one that wasn’t there before?’” describes Dr. Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson, Senior Consultant and co-creator of Inclusive Leadership: Harnessing Diversity of Thought. “That burden could be social, or a physical burden like making someone come into the office before they felt it was physically safe to do so.” 

And in a post-pandemic world where there are more job openings that candidates, employees are holding the pen to rewrite that new social contract. 

“They’re expecting more from employers than they had before. People want to know how companies will care for them as a whole person – not just as a 9-5 worker,” says Cubas-Wilkinson.  

“Companies have been approaching remote work from a tech adoption standpoint, and focusing on that to figure out how to get the work done. But they’ve dug little into depth of individual needs. One person’s needs for thriving in a remote environment might be radically different than their coworkers. And with everything HR professionals have on their plates right now, it’s easy to ‘miss’ employees who aren’t in their typical employee personas.”

One place employees are rewriting that social contract is around their preferred, ideal hybrid working arrangement: how much time they’re spending in the office compared to how much time they’re spending working remotely. 

Ideal amount of remote work vs. the real hybrid working mix

From John Hackston’s upcoming research report: Remote and Hybrid Working, people’s ideal hybrid work mix was to be working remotely 41% - 90% of the time. Over half of survey respondents preferred this range.  

However, less than a quarter of respondents actually had this ideal working pattern. 

“The greater the mismatch between people’s ideal hybrid working mix and their actual hybrid working mix, the more likely they were to say they were looking for a new job and the less likely they were to say they really enjoyed their job,” says Hackston. 

According to research, only 27% of those surveyed were working remotely at a level that matched their ideal preference. 

“One piece of good news is that 82% of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that their organization had been supportive during the COVID pandemic. However, as offices reopen many people won’t want to give up the work-life balance that they may have found during the pandemic. If organizations aren’t willing to listen to their people about their ideal hybrid working mix, they risk turnover.” 

“In addition, the manager-employee relationship is critical to the conversation. If the employee and manager don’t have good communication habits, or if there’s a lack of trust, employees might not get their ideal hybrid working arrangements across.”

Fighting the great resignation with flexibility

You’ve heard about the Great Resignation, the Turnover Tsunami, and Big Quit. Employees are leaving in mass from their positions, and there’s no one reason for it. Rather, there are many reasons. And flexibility is one of the big ones.

“With organizations hiring again, employees are taking advantage of the new opportunities. This has been compounded by the normalization of remote work. Put simply, many workers can now consider jobs with companies across the country, where they previously may have been tied down to one location,” says Sherrie Haynie in her Forbes article How To Retain Your Talent In A Turnover Tsunami Using Personality Type.

According to Hackston’s research, the less people ideal people’s hybrid working arrangements were, the more likely they were to say that they were searching for a new job. 

Those who responded that they’re looking for a new job were:

“It’s the people managers in the middle of the organization that’re feeling the brunt of the pressure as companies return to the office,” says Cubas-Wilkinson. 

“People managers now face creating all new work arrangements or enforcing a mandated return to the office, which we see many employees simply don’t want.” 

“And in organizations seeing more attrition, people managers face mounting challenges to keep up with the workload and recruit replacements. Without the ability to offer flexibility in work arrangements, hiring can become an even greater challenge for already strained people managers.”

Keep an eye out for the next blog, which will have a link to download Hackston’s Remote and Hybrid Working research report. 

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