As organizations execute return-to-workplace strategies, they must take deliberate steps to define and reshape the worker-employer relationship.

The challenges brought on by the pandemic have caused a fundamental shift in work, especially as worker-employer tensions surface amid return-to-workplace discussions. Executives recognize the profound effect this moment could have on how organizations recruit, support, and interact with workers in the future. While the “survey-and-react”—or work as fashion—method has dominated to date, thriving in an uncertain future relies on having a clear and sustainable workforce strategy.

Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends Special Report, “The Worker-Employer Relationship Disrupted: If We’re Not Family, What Are We?,” examines four potential futures based on the evolving worker-employer relationship, and how leaders are addressing those challenges while simultaneously grappling with a global public health crisis, economic uncertainty, and a wide spectrum of social movements. Each scenario is based upon two factors which will have the greatest impact on the evolution of the worker-employer relationship: the supply of talent and the degree of government action.

“As we step into a brave new world with a promising economic outlook, the search for talent is a priority consistently seen across all industries. As a result of new work modes, leaders are reviewing their workforce strategies seeking to optimize every element of the talent experience. For now, the new hybrid work model enables the flexibility—which has become a non-negotiable for today’s talent—while encouraging the importance of in-house experiences to bring people together—offering the best of both virtual and physical environments. In the longer-term, organizations need to focus on what the workforce of tomorrow will look like and how to harness their need for creation, collaboration, and capacity,” said Pascal Martino, Partner and Human Capital Leader at Deloitte Luxembourg.

While a majority of surveyed executives (86%) believe that workers will gain greater independence and influence relative to employers in the future, 63% of workers think their relationship with their employers will either become stronger or stay the same. As workers are reconsidering everything from who they want to work for, to the role they expect employers to play in society’s most pressing issues, organizations are contemplating how this intersects with their purpose and how to balance shareholder and stakeholder needs. There are several possibilities:

Work as fashion

Many organizations are currently experiencing this reactive employer-worker relationship, often focusing on the most fashionable topics of the moment. As they develop new policies for the future of work, organizations are responding to worker feedback, competitor actions, and marketplace trends in real-time through surveys and other listening tools. Although this allows organizations to gauge worker feedback in the moment, it can also relegate corporate purpose to the role of decorative accessory.

This model will likely produce short-term satisfaction for both the employer and the worker, but may inadvertently lead to questions around inclusion as less-dominant voices are overshadowed and underrepresented. To thrive, employers will need to align on a set of unwavering values and develop sustainable workforce strategies that will benefit everyone in the long-run. 

War between talent

In a future where the talent supply outpaces the availability of jobs, the employer-worker relationship is impersonal, with the employer in a power position, valuing efficient work over developing and investing in the workforce. This could fuel trends such as globalization, offshoring, automation of work, and the use of an alternative workforce. 

While leaning on these approaches may save on short-term workforce costs, organizations may risk losing out on potential productivity and innovation gains. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of the executives surveyed in the “2021 Global Human Capital Trends report said that the ability of their people to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles was one of the most important factors in their ability to navigate future disruptions. What’s more, 41% of executives said building workforce capability was one of the most important actions they were taking to transform work. With such a highly motivated supply of talent, it is the organizations that decide to invest in reskilling and retraining that could find themselves best able to thrive in the future.

Work is work

This scenario centers on drawing clear lines between work and personal life and maintaining a professional employer-worker relationship. Access to benefits such as financial stability and paid time off play a crucial role in this scenario, as workers need both to be able to pursue fulfillment outside of work. It also means that the work itself becomes the dominant factor in the employer-worker relationship.

Deloitte’s “2021 Global Human Capital Trends” report revealed that 61% of leaders are reimagining work, more than double the 29% doing so pre-pandemic. Re-architecting work to focus on human capabilities and the purpose behind work can help workers build their sense of belonging beyond the day-to-day tasks that characterize the work-is-work scenario. Leaders focused on thriving in this setting must shift to outcome-based performance management, prioritizing well-being, diversity, and reskilling. 

Purpose unleashed

Though some organizations have stepped back from the role of the social enterprise, many others have embraced purpose, recognizing its potential impact on their corporate reputation. These organizations have put purpose at the heart of business decision-making and have focused on uniting their workers around a common goal. In this communal worker-employer future, the two parties operate as cocreators of the organizational purpose and rely on each other for organizational and personal fulfillment.

While a majority (86%) of executives believe that workers will increasingly value meaningful missions at organizations in the next five years, this approach is not without its risks. To avoid purpose being viewed as performative, organizations should regularly pull in external perspectives that represent impacted stakeholders, as well as feedback from workers. In that way, the organization can ensure that purpose is embedded into every part of the organization. 

“In today’s turbulent and rapidly-evolving environment, looking beyond the need to be reactive to current demands poses significant challenges for many business leaders. Although shaping and eventually encouraging a hybrid work model is an important first step, creating a worker-employer relationship that empowers an organization to thrive will depend on a clearly defined and sustainable strategy,” states François Bade, Human Capital Partner at Deloitte Luxembourg.


The insights gathered for this report leverage Deloitte’s scenario-planning methodology and are fueled by research findings from a combination of social media polling, live survey polling, AI-enabled focus groups, and interviews with business and HR executives across industries and—for the first-time in the eleven-year history of Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report—hundreds of workers from all over the world.

Communicated by Deloitte Luxembourg

Captions: Pascal Martino, Partner and Human Capital Leader, and François Bade, Human Capital Partner at Deloitte Luxembourg

Publié le 13 octobre 2021