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Employee Expectations in Modern Business

You know what you expect from your employees, but do you know what your employees expect from you? 

Your people have their own expectations for how your organization and your leaders should act; if their expectations aren't met, they’ll eventually look elsewhere for work. The cost of turnover runs anywhere from 16 to 213% of an employee’s annual salary, so now is the time to consider your company’s current practices and whether you’re living up to your employees’ expectations.

Meeting employee expectations in modern business

In order to improve employee engagement and retention at your organization, you'll need to develop a deeper understanding of your employees’ expectations and the modern business best practices that can address them. Your individual employees may not always be vocal about their expectations, but several studies have honed in on what employees really want in the modern business world.

So, let’s start with what we know for sure:

In the modern business landscape, employees expect to be treated with respect, to be paid equitably, to trust and be trusted by the people they work with, to feel job secure, and to have opportunities to use their skills and abilities in their work. Not only do they expect to be treated respectfully, but they expect that all employees at all levels will be treated respectfully, as well, per SHRM's 2017 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report.

According to SHRM, the top five contributors to job satisfaction in 2017 were:

  • Respectful treatment of all employees at all levels
  • Compensation/pay, overall
  • Trust between employees and senior management
  • Job security
  • Opportunity to use your skills and abilities in your work 

What's notable about this list is that most employees valued respect and trust over benefits, pay, or job security. In the report, SHRM notes that this has been the case every year since 2014, with 72% of female employees and 57% of male employees indicating that “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” is a very important contributor to job satisfaction.

Since giving your employees the opportunity to use their skills and abilities in their work is a top  contributor to their job satisfaction, what if you offered them chances to develop their skill sets and grow within your organization?

TINYpulse surveyed over 25,000 employees at more than 1,000 organizations across 20 industries for its 2019 Employee Engagement Report and found that 44% of all respondents don’t see an opportunity for professional growth in their current positions.

If you don’t work to meet their expectations, odds are your employees will start to look elsewhere, especially if your company culture leaves something to be desired: less than one third of all TINYpulse survey respondents believe they have a strong company culture, and 43% of them would be willing to leave their companies for a 10% salary increase.

If that last turnover stat surprises you, check out the full list of surprising employee retention statistics we’ve gathered here.


What else do your employees expect?

Modern employees value meaningful work and look for companies that value a healthy work-life balance. Positive company cultures and mentorship are also high on modern employees’ list of expectations. Let’s dive into each to see what they’re all about.


Modern employees are driven by a sense of purpose, and they demand more from a company than just a salary. A poll concluded that 57% of younger Americans said that they wanted to be part of something that was enjoyable or made a difference in society, demonstrating that fulfillment is a key driver of employee happiness.

If you’re not at an organization where you’re changing the worldand not many of us are!—it’s still worthwhile to be transparent and regularly communicate your immediate and long-term business goals. Being reminded of the impact they have on your end users, your coworkers, and other stakeholders can help your employees feel a greater sense of purpose and find meaning in the work they do.


Culture is tied closely with purpose, and is typically immediately evident within a company. A company’s culture is a company’s personality, and it has wide-ranging impact across an organization.

But why do modern employees value the culture at their workplaces so much? Because they  want to feel connected to a purpose and take part in something larger than themselves. When you clearly communicate your company’s values and mission, those shared objectives can contribute to a sense of identity and community.

Your company culture defines for you and for all others, how your organization does business, how your organization interacts with one another and how the team interacts with the outside world, specifically your customers, employees, partners, suppliers, media and all other stakeholders.
Peter Ashworth, Chief Marketing Officer/Chief Operating Officer at Wells of Life


Having a great onboarding process isn’t a “nice to have”—it’s an absolute must. When BambooHR surveyed more than 1,000 currently employed Americans, nearly a third of respondents indicated that they’d left a job before hitting the six-month mark.

One of the top reasons for leaving so quickly? A poor onboarding experience.

An employee’s first few days at a company send a powerful message about what their experience will be like going forward. From the messaging of the official welcome meeting, to what they see, hear, and do during working hours, onboarding experiences can either confirm or undermine the impressions new hires formed during the hiring process. If an employee feels like they’ve been misled by their interview process, it could severely color their productivity and engagement going forward, or even push them to leave.

Growth opportunities

Employees who don’t feel supported in their professional development are three times more likely to search for a new job.

Modern employees are always looking up, and 59% of younger workers say opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job. In fact, it ranked in the top three job attributes that younger employees value most, separating them from previous generations.

This is an area that many companies are sorely lacking, since only 39% of those young employees say that they learned something new in the past 30 days that they can use to do their jobs better. Providing opportunities for career development and training goes a long way in both engaging and retaining employeesand represents a competitive edge for the companies that do so.


Consider this: 40% of employees who do not rate their supervisor’s performance highly have interviewed for a new job in the last three months, compared to just 10% of those that do rate their supervisor highly. Managers can make or break their employees’ work experience, so it’s important for every leader in your organization to continue growing their management skills in order to retain employees.

Strong leadership also has huge implications for company culture. If leaders don’t embody and reinforce company values and beliefs, it’s hard for employees to believe in a company’s mission. In order to positively influence their employees, leaders have to talk the talkand walk the walk.


While mentorship and guidance are certainly welcome, most employees want to have control of their work. They want to be able to decide when, where, and how their work gets done. Nobody likes being micromanaged, because it indicates a lack of trust. TINYpulse's Dora Wang has this to say about micromanaging employees:

When you've hired someone to do a job, you've effectively stated that you trust them to get it done in your stead. So let them. Make sure they have all the training they need and let them know they can come to you with any questions, but don't insult them by trying to do their job for them.
-Dora Wang, TINYpulse

By resisting the urge to micromanage your employees and giving them the autonomy to do their jobs, you’ll show them that you trust them—the second most important expectation modern employees have of their employers, according to SHRM. Plus, the more independent work they do, the more opportunities you have to recognize your employees for the great work they do!


Only a third of all respondents who took TINYpulse’s employee engagement survey received recognition the last time they went the extra mile at work, and just a quarter say they feel highly valued at work. Giving recognition is foundational in retaining and engaging employees, and it’s an underutilized engagement tool despite being a simple, low-overhead interaction. Recognition doesn't cost anything, and it takes very little time to say "thank you."

You can lower the overhead of recognition even further by implementing a peer recognition program. Instead of relying on a few people to witness, recognize, and reward every valuable contribution your employees make, you can empower everyone in your organization to recognize each other. An added benefit of peer recognition is that it satisfies modern employees’ expectation of autonomy, giving them the freedom to express their own values and expectations through the praise they give their colleagues.


The world is changing, and so is the workplace! It’s important to stay dynamic and evolve in order to attract and retain the best employees. With a better understanding of what modern employees expect of their employers, from growth opportunities to purpose-driven work, you can create an environment that your people will love. If you can provide an experience that exceeds your employees’ expectations, chances are good that you’ll grow with them, too.

To learn how you can improve the employee experience at your organization, check out 10 Dead Simple Ways to Improve Your Company Culture:

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Originally published on June 29, 2015 → Last updated July 22, 2020

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Raphael Crawford-Marks

Raphael Crawford-Marks is the Founder and CEO of Bonusly, an enterprise platform that helps companies create high-performance, high-engagement workplaces. He's passionate about building products that help people connect with their work and each other in meaningful ways.


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