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The New Social Contract: Effective Employee Communications Is Employee Satisfaction

April 15, 2021
By Josh Rogers

Hundreds of years ago, the concept of the social contract gained traction in the writings of philosophers. It was the idea that citizens would agree to give up some of their freedoms in return for protections provided by organized government.

During the last century, the concept of the social contract began to evolve, with many using the phrase to refer to the unwritten agreement between employers and their workers. As the U.S. economy expanded following World War II, employers came to understand that perks — such as benefits and a pension — in addition to competitive pay could help attract and retain employees. And it worked: many members of the Greatest Generation (those born between 1901 and the 1920s) and even some of the Silent Generation that followed repaid their employers with nearly boundless loyalty, spending their entire careers with a single organization.

Today the social contract means something different for businesses and their workforces, and the latest FleishmanHillard study from TRUE Global Intelligence and Talent + Transformation demonstrates the integral role employee communications plays in that construct.

In the new social contract, the employer-employee relationship is more dimensional and transactional. Competitive pay and a comprehensive benefits package for workers are table stakes, pensions largely are an anachronism, and employee expectations increasingly include less-tangible elements, such as working for an organization with purpose and values that align with their own. Reciprocally, employers need workers who not only come to work and perform the duties stated in their job descriptions, but who also are willing to spend discretionary effort for the benefit of the organization, buoy its culture and invest themselves in the achievement of business results.

Not surprising, the “The New Social Contract” report indicates that job satisfaction is a key determinant of the extent to which employees are willing to demonstrate these desired behaviors. It also shows that effective employee communication is the primary driver of employee satisfaction.

In fact, the study shows the top three factors that separate very satisfied employees from workers in general are:

  • Working for a purpose-driven organization with a set of defined values
  • Receiving accurate and honest communications
  • Working for leaders who mean and do what they say

Nearly twice as many very satisfied employees say they receive accurate and honest communications when compared with the average employee. Comparatively, unsatisfied employees are almost three times less likely than the average employee to say they receive accurate and honest communications.

This, of course, means great opportunity for business leaders and their employee communicators, who have a very real opportunity to make a meaningful difference for their organizations. And as the study shows, this can play out in the form of employees regularly advocating for their employer as a great place to work, promoting employer decisions even if they don’t agree, encouraging appropriate behavior among coworkers, surfacing new ideas, stepping in to do a job when someone else can’t, covering for a coworker who has a personal obligation to attend to, unofficially mentoring colleagues and more.

The study also shows that very satisfied employees are more willing to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of their employer, even if those employees go unrewarded for these actions, such as balancing taking care of family and job needs at the same time, as well as working outside of normal business hours or during time off.

All of this points to a new imperative for executives: The ability to continuously transform their business to stay competitive as every successful organization must do — depends on employee satisfaction, which is directly driven by employee communications. With a relentless commitment to keeping employees informed and engaged (and aligned to the organization’s strategy and goals), business can inspire workers to willingly go above and beyond to drive results that matter.

But without embracing this new version of the social contract, an organization’s ability to achieve growth and success in the future simply will not reach its full potential.