employee & employer = ❤ ?

How the relationship between employee & employer is changing #identity 

Usually, Esther Perel talks with love couples about their deepest desires, emotions and feelings in order to support them in their relationships. She is known as one of the most famous psychotherapists and relationship philosophers world wide and millions of people have read “The State of Affairs”, one of her bestselling books. In her newest podcast “How’s Work?” she applies her knowledge about human relationships to the workplace – which is, in its approach, quite fascinating. 

Why fascinating? Because this perspective is not the usual one we take when talking about work. Remember, a few years ago the expectations towards work were pretty clear: as a job seeker you were looking for a well-payed job. You would come to work in the morning, do the job you were hired for and leave after 8 hours (finally, work’s done!). And as a company you were looking for fitting skills to comply with the requirements of the job you were hiring for and try to negotiate the salary to the highest efficiency. And still many companies work like this. The relationship between employer and employee got fairly well summarized in a working contract: x amount of working hours plus your hard skills/ experiences, makes x amount of salary per year. Done deal. Easy. 

This relationship has been changing over time. The new relationship status is rather ‘complicated’. Why is that? The short answer: the expectations towards each other got far more complex. Words like impact, purpose, values & identification have been entering our working world. In fact, there has never been such an emotionally heavy language in the business world as there is today. Potential employees are no longer looking for a well paid job only. They are looking for a place where they can contribute to something purposeful with the right degree of freedom and opportunity. They have reflected and build their own values and are looking for a place that matches them. And slowly but surely, we have stopped to separate working life from private life as we realized it all contributes to the one life we are living. 

On the other side, companies started to formulate their mission and purpose, their unique way of working, values, rituals & beliefs. We would call this their company culture and, when hiring for new team members, they carefully take the culture fit into account. With the rise of digitalization working hours were put in a fairly unimportant position because measuring productivity of knowledge work simply doesn’t work that way. With the new complexity in value creation potential outweighs hard skills and impact triumphs working hours. Mhh. Not so easy anymore. 

The reason why this rather emotional bond between talent and employer comes as a surprise to us could be argued by the fact that for the last 200 years we have been perceiving a very one-dimensional picture of economy, driven by ego: If everybody takes care of themselves, then everybody is taken care of. We know this sentence from Adam Smith. And for a very long time this was a successful approach to work: workers in a factory focus on their piece of duty in the assembly line. Control was the best way to keep operations efficient.  In the 19th century, circumstances were slightly different: limited globalization, no digitalization and thus no such complexity in business as we have it in 2020. Not only has the type of work changed we have to coordinate right now – it needs way more team work, different perspectives and creativity for creation – the approach of Adam Smith has ignored an important fact wired into humanitys’ DNA: we’re social animals. We crave for connection, a group where we belong to. And our brain is not capable of switching off this switch when being at work. 

Although this sense of belonging has always been there, for sure it finds its peak in todays (western) world. Meditation, yoga, awareness training, name it – the time we spend on self reflection has increased massively. We, the new generation of workers & founders, invest a lot of our time and energy to define who we are and what is important to us. Being more clear on our personal drivers and values, we place them as an expectation to our surroundings: friends, family and work as well as products we buy and consume. Identity & belonging have become key words playing a magical role in the bond between people and their work. The company that matches our personal values & beliefs and offers us purpose is the one we identify with and would like to work for. Seeing it from that perspectives a job becomes more than just a job. It’s rather a confession and as employees we tend to invest more than just our skills & time into it. This creates a completely new work dynamic with way more potential for productivity on the one side and an increased work ethic responsibility for employers on the other side. 

Relational intelligence is thus developing to an important skill organizations need to master to either stay or become a successful and responsible place people want to contribute to. The Manager Academy has provided the following definition for relational intelligence: “it is a combination of emotional and ethical intelligence, that involves the ability to be aware of and understand own and others’ emotions, values, interests and demands, to discriminate among them, to critically reflect on them and to use this information to guide one’s action and behaviour with respect to people.” 

To develop this skill, companies should carefully reflect what their organization is standing for,  what purpose they offer, which kind of people they hire and how they are treating them as part of their communities.