Skip to navigation
4 Min Read

Stuck in the Middle? How HR Can Navigate the Push-Pull Between Company & Employee Interests

Nicole Klemp

To kick off our 2022 HR Hacks for Business Virtual Summit, we were honored to have Vice President & Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, J.P. Gownder, as our featured keynote speaker. 

J.P. took us on a deep dive into a relatable problem for many HR professionals — the feeling of being perpetually stuck between serving the business needs of the company and championing employee experience. He summarized the problem, shared some of Forrester’s latest research on the topic, and offered some helpful solutions for getting “unstuck.”

Why HR professionals feel like they’re on a seesaw

As J.P. pointed out, America hasn’t gone through a workforce transformation as dramatic as the one we’re in currently since World War II. That means, for most of the workforce, there’s never been a market shift of this magnitude in our lifetime.

The pandemic and other cultural and economic factors have collided, creating a perfect storm of challenges for HR professionals over the last two years, from health & safety policies to fair pay concerns to talent shortages. These factors have also created an even bigger push-pull between business executives concerned about the bottom line and building high performance organizations, and employees demanding more competitive wages and a more flexible work experience. 

Employees want to keep their remote work options, and many execs are resistant

Research shows employees still want more remote work days than most employers offer. Forrester found that 68% of employees expect their organization to allow them to work from home more often post-pandemic, and 89% want more anywhere-work, be it full-time remote or hybrid options.

Competition for talent is fierce, and workers say they want more flexible work options. So why are some executives still digging their heels in on this issue? 

According to J.P., there are a few main reasons business leaders are skeptical of remote work:

  • They want more control and monitoring of employees
  • They have little to no experience in managing remote employees
  • They’re concerned about data security and compliance
  • They think the ability to work from home is a perk
  • They grew their career in an office, so why shouldn’t everyone else?

An increasingly common practice among some resistant executives and middle managers is rewarding office presenteeism. In other words, these leaders are showing favor to employees who choose to come into the office more often. This puts unnecessary pressure and disadvantage on employees who are simply exercising their option to work from home.

Find middle ground by changing the tone

If a business leader is concerned about managing remote teams or wants employees to experience more of an in-person work environment, J.P. says it helps to reframe the value rather than ordering employees into the office (or punishing them for working from home). 

Here is how a presenteeism approach differs from a collaborative approach:

Presenteeism: “The CMO will be in today, so  you have to be there for some face time.”

Collaboration: “The CMO will spend time with the team today brainstorming new solutions in person.”

See the difference in tone? Making the office a place where team members want to come and collaborate and have meaningful social interactions is much more inviting than treating it like a prison in which they must do their time. And don’t forget to remind your executive leaders that having the option to work remotely isn’t a perk; it’s a lucrative strategy to build a high-performance workplace culture. The more autonomy and flexibility there is, the more productive and engaged employees will be.

Be the guardian of employee experience

To get “unstuck,” J.P. recommends that HR leaders learn to articulate the business-centric benefits of people and company culture initiatives (e.g., increased productivity, reduced attrition costs, shorter time to fill open roles, etc.). It is possible to be a champion for employee experience while showing business leaders the bottom-line value of your efforts.

When feeling stuck, HR teams can ground themselves in their role as the protector of people and company culture. J.P. recommends using stories and data to advocate for employees when presenting to business leaders. If executives are skeptical or pushing back on your initiatives, build a business case and highlight a common goal.

Keep an open dialogue with employees so you can continue to represent their shifting values and priorities. Be the embodiment of transparency and true to your word. Remember, your commitment to the employee experience is not in direct conflict with the business — your people are the business.