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The Great Divide – Six Gaps Between Leader and Employee Sentiment on Employee Experience

August 14, 2021

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

The 2021 Gartner Hybrid Work Employee Survey of 4,000 employees in January 2021 revealed six perception gaps that employers must resolve in order to improve the employee experience and therefore engagement. As employers implement their future of work strategies, including decisions around hybrid work, employers must take a close look at these perception gaps between employees and leadership.

“We examined the key areas crucial to planning for the future employee experience and discovered significant dissonance between employee and executive sentiment across all,” said Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice. “If left unaddressed, this division may lead to a critical failure to build trust and employee buy-in for future of work plans.”

The six perception gaps include revealed in the January 2021 survey include:

1. Executives Think They Have a Culture of Flexibility — Employees Don’t

The survey shows that 75% of executive leaders believe they are already operating within a culture of flexibility, yet only 57% of employees indicate that their organizational culture embraces flexible work. Further, nearly three-quarters of executives believe the business understands how flexible work patterns support employees, but only half of employees share this view.

“Employees do not feel that their need for flexibility is seen as a driver of performance,” said Cambon. “More concerning is the clear gap when it comes to autonomy over the decision to work flexibly — 72% of executives agree they can work out their own flexible work arrangement with their manager, whereas only half of employees feel they have that same privilege.”

2. Executives Are Better Equipped to Work Remotely Than Employees

Only 66% of employees agree they have the technology they need to effectively work remotely, compared to 80% of executives. In fact, only 59% of employees agree their organization has invested in providing them with resources that allow them to work the way they would onsite in a virtual environment — compared to 76% of executives. The gap between executives and employees in their ability to work from home is likely to further disadvantage employees if it makes them less likely to take advantage of flexibility.

3. Employees Have Lower Levels of Trust Than Executive Leaders

Only 41% of employees agree that senior leadership acts in their best interest, compared to 69% of executives. Executives are also more likely to feel trusted when it comes to working from home, with 70% agreeing that their organization trusts employees not to abuse work flexibility, compared to 58% of employees.

“Without trust, employees may feel wary of sharing their honest opinions about how, where and when they want to work,” said Cambon. “According to our most recent survey on hybrid work, only 56% of employees agree they feel welcome to express their true feelings at work, compared to 74% of executives.”

4. Executives Think They Listen but Employees Disagree

Only 47% of employees believe leadership takes their perspective into consideration when making decisions, whereas 75% of senior leaders feel they do. This divide extends to whether employees believe their work environment is inclusive of a diverse set of employee needs and preferences; while 72% of executives believe this is the case, only 59% of employees feel the same.

5. Executives Hear One Thing and Employees Another

There is a clear disconnect between how executives and employees perceive the content and effectiveness of their organization’s communication. For example, 71% of executives agree leadership at their organization has expressed a preference for work conditions to return to their pre-pandemic model, whereas only 50% of employees have that same impression. 

6. Executives Feel Greater Purpose Than Employees

While 77% of executives agree they feel like they are a part of something important at their organization, only 59% of employees feel similarly. The increasing focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion over the last 18 months has shone a light on how different employee segments feel about their organization’s diversity. 70% of executives believe that managers at their organization are as diverse as the broader workforce at their organization, compared to only 52% of employees.

The Gartner survey reveals that there is a definite disconnect between leadership and employees.  Do you know how your employees feel on these topics?  Are you guessing or do you really know?  As the survey data shows, leaders often have a misperception of employee sentiment.  Therefore, it’s important to survey your employees. These issues can’t be fixed if you don’t know there is a problem.  Improving the employee experience starts with honesty and trust.  Don’t guess how your employees are feeling – ask them.

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