Navigating U.S. Tech Workers’ “New Essentials”

What do U.S. tech workers want from their employers?

The answers today are likely much different than they would have been before the pandemic. Despite being the industry that pioneered work-from-home, and that enabled millions of workers and students to keep on working/learning despite this unprecedented crisis, tech isn’t immune to new levels of scrutiny from employees and other stakeholders.

COVID-19 has redefined our lives… and our work. And as we emerge — very soon, hopefully — from the pandemic, what are tech industry workers thinking about their jobs, their employers, their futures?

It’s time for tech companies to take a good hard look at who they are, and who their employees want them to be.  And to get a firm grasp on what has changed in the last year.

Navigating Tech Workers’ “New Essentials” is a Communications Imperative - photo of man talking to people on a laptop

What Are the “New Essentials?” And Why Do They Matter?

Recently, Ketchum strived to peer into the pandemic-altered minds of U.S. workers across several industries, including tech, to learn what they want and expect from employers.  The resulting study, “The New Essentials: Working Lessons from a Year in the Pandemic,” found that the must-have elements of the employee experience have changed in a very short period of time. Overall, the paradigm has shifted, seismically, with regard to working remotely and the values employees expect from their companies.

Not surprisingly, the industry that powers work-from-home options — tech — was among the most vociferous in its praise for remote work:  82% of tech industry workers say COVID-19 made working remotely more important to them (versus 77% of American workers overall). Further, 74% of tech industry workers agree they see a future for themselves in their current career path (versus 65% of American workers overall), and 64% of tech industry workers feel more appreciated by their employer now than at the start of the pandemic (52% overall).

Still, tech companies must be mindful of some deeper and, perhaps, unexpected changes in employee perceptions that could — if ignored or unaddressed — have a detrimental effect on the ability to retain talent.

One particularly important area for all employees is tied to values. Eight in 10 (81%) American workers consider employer values to be more important to them in the wake of COVID-19. Relatedly, 43% of tech industry employees say the colleagues who influence them the most are those who best represent the company’s values, compared to the overall total of 38%.

These values-centric results may be especially significant for tech companies, many of whom have professed to be values-based companies in the past, but then drawn criticism for their business and political deals when they haven’t aligned with some employees’ ideals.  On the flip side, a handful of tech companies have recently tried to insulate themselves and their employee base from values-based discussions in the workplace, with a very mixed response.

Another tech-specific finding of note is that tech employees place high importance on their relationship with their manager: 35% of tech industry workers say they’d like to receive updates via direct conversations with their managers. And 42% of tech industry workers want to hear most from their manager, more than anyone else at their company.

Nonetheless, two-thirds (66%) of tech industry workers say they are less likely to leave their current job for one at a different company now than they were pre-pandemic. But about half (51%) of techies have considered switching industries during the pandemic, illustrating the importance of employer mindfulness with respect to employee needs, wants and opinions. Given the ongoing battle for attracting top tech talent, employers must not ignore visible or subtle signs of employee distress or frustration. In other words, they must strive to be as innovative with workforce engagement as they are with products and services.

Critical, Post-pandemic Communications

So, what are the ramifications of these findings for tech company communicators?

One has always been critical, but is even more so given the new essentials that are influencing tech industry employees now and beyond the pandemic. And that is — proactive communications are playing an even more essential role in employee retention and the acquisition of new talent.

Another is that tech companies who choose to be vocal with their stances on various values-based topics must take great care in doing so. Off-the-cuff reactions aren’t sustaining; but well-thought-out, carefully crafted positions on issues that matter — and that consistently align with the company’s mission and values — will be more likely to attain employee support than those seen to be reactionary.

That said, we have some suggestions for tech companies desiring to communicate effectively with all important audiences in this new era:

  • Values matter, especially to tech workers. Audit how the company is talking about values and determine if they are aligned with business decisions, especially those related to return-to-work policies. Expect more employee pushback on policies that are strict or poorly explained.
  • Be crystal clear and transparent about return-to-office timing and work flexibility. Several of tech’s leading companies have announced their plans, but many haven’t answered the question “Why?” Now is not the time for ambiguity or avoidance. When employees are uncertain about policies — or the future — they will begin to look elsewhere for opportunities.
  • Leverage leaders. In changing or uncertain times, the messenger can be as important as the message. Encourage company leadership to articulate the reasoning behind the company’s path forward.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the New Essentials survey is pretty obvious, but nonetheless critical:  employees have changed significantly in the past year. They are increasingly rejecting the status quo, and are open to — and in many cases, advocating for — new and improved employee experiences.

Are you, as the employer, equally open to change?

If you’re looking for counsel or support on communicating in today’s environment, Ketchum’s experts in technology and employee communications & engagement are ready to help.

Melissa is partner and North America portfolio leader for Technology and Food, Agriculture & Ingredients, specializing in corporate communications, issues management, business-to-business branding, corporate branding and strategic philanthropy/CSR.