The Changing Face of the Employer-Worker Social Contract

Written By Alberto Lopez Valenzuela, Founder and CEO, alva

The last few months have brought a host of challenges to employees in a variety of different industries. Those still journeying into work have to grapple with new anxieties around safety, with something as simple as the daily commute now representing a significant health risk.

Meanwhile, many of those working from home are dealing with issues that can range from increased isolation, managing home and family life, and many other difficulties.

The coronavirus crisis has broken down the boundaries between home and work, with laptops at the kitchen table and interrupted Zoom calls now becoming commonplace. As the UK’s unemployment figures rise to their highest level in two years, alva’s analysis of the media and the effects of COVID-19 suggests that big business is increasingly aware of the reputational impact of worker wellbeing and job security.

Could the current circumstances mean that it is time for your company to reassess the nature of its employer-worker social contract?

Businesses are recognising that in this new landscape it is increasingly important to support their employees through so many new anxieties. This in turn is leading to an increasing involvement in their workforces’ personal lives.

Old employee benefits offered by large corporations may have lost their relevance in the age of social distancing. Instead, employers could be more likely to encounter questions about how they can help individuals navigate their day to day in the new normal.

One key issue has been childcare. Parents have had to balance looking after their children with full time jobs while schools have been closed. Now as young people return to classrooms, some are concerned about the health risks of in-person education. Others are still struggling as after-school activities and breakfast clubs remain on hold.

Some workplaces have reacted by helping their employees cover childcare, or supplementing tutoring to ease anxieties. For example, post-pandemic, colleagues at Goldman Sachs are now entitled to an extra 10 days of childcare at the bank’s creche – amounting to a total of 30 days.

Meanwhile in the US, Citigroup is providing its workforce with discounts on tutoring services, as many continue to work from home while their kids start the new school year.

Bank of America is offering its staff daily childcare reimbursements of up to $100 per employee. The bank is also providing online resources to help staff find childcare and virtual learning, and will help employees get access to discounted childcare and tutoring.

Salesforce has offered $20 million in grants to five school districts to support distance learning. Fidelity Investments even ran a virtual summer camp to occupy the children of its employees over the summer holidays.

Of course, the pandemic has transformed the fundamental structure of the working day for many people – and as such businesses need to look beyond issues like work benefits when assessing how Covid-19 could affect their employees.

In August, Just Eat CEO Jitse Groen suggested the company would move away from using gig economy workers in Europe, and instead offer benefits and protection to its workforce. He said: “We’re a large multinational company with quite a lot of money and we want to insure our people. We want to be certain they do have benefits, that we do pay taxes on those workers.”

All of these moves suggest that there are evolving perspectives on the role companies should take in the lives of their workforce. And competitors to those companies mentioned above may already be feeling some pressure to follow suit.

Indeed, all companies need to assess both how the new working day could be impacting employees’ lives and the changing needs of their staff – and what a business’s remit should be.