Employers vs. Employees: Understanding the Perception Paradox

September 2023

Do you know your employees as well as you think you do? Unispace recently published a new report called Returning for Good, informed by a global survey of over 16,000 employers and employees. The key takeaway from our research was that today’s employers and employees are not aligned on the purpose and value of the office. We’re calling this the Perception Paradox.


Three-and-a-half years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, returns to the office globally are rapidly becoming the norm—but these returns aren’t going as smoothly as hoped. Research shows that what employers think employees want in the workplace and what employees actually want are different, which is affecting staff productivity and satisfaction. Consider these findings:

·        83% of employers believe their offices are set up for productivity, but 58% of employees say they struggle to carry out their core job when in the workplace

·        89% of employers believe their offices enable innovation, but only 71% of employees agree

·        Employers think employees dislike the office because they have to commute there, but employees say their top dislikes are the lack of privacy and feeling less effective than when working remotely

The deltas here mean office mandates aren’t sitting well with employees. 42% of firms that mandated returns to the workplace have experienced increased employee attrition, and 29% are struggling to recruit new talent.

How can companies bridge this disconnect?

1.      Build what people want

When asked why they come into the workplace, 33% of employees said they enjoyed social interactions with colleagues and 29% said they enjoyed collaborating with colleagues. Today’s workforce craves human connection, and employers can satisfy this by providing diverse space types centered around community.

Employees also value their personal space. While desk sharing is the office setup for 48% of employees, 83% of them say they’d be more inclined to come into the workplace if they had an assigned desk. Employers should regularly check in with employees about what is and isn’t working in the office and use that feedback to create more purposeful spaces.

2.      Make workplaces resilient

We recently hosted a public event in New York City to present our Returning for Good data and introduce a new framework: Resilient Workplace. Resilient Workplace outlines what all modern offices should be able to do: withstand disruption, enable an engaged workforce, enhance company culture, and boost talent attraction and retention. To be a Resilient Workplace, an office must have the following components:

·        Adaptability: Flexible, morphable, scalable

·        Alignment: Creates a place for all, future-workplace focused

·        Authenticity: Connects to the company’s brand and purpose, tells a story

·        Connection: Provides access to each other, encourages knowledge sharing

·        Immersion: Offers unique experiences, maximizes employee effectiveness

·        Wellbeing: Physically inspiring, creates hope

By aligning the desire for each of these components to organizations, we can create Resilient Workplaces where employers can accommodate employees’ changing needs over time and offer experiences that will make staff happier to come into the office.

3.      Maintain employee loyalty

Despite the employee/employer disconnect, loyalty is on the rise, with 81% of U.S. employees feeling loyal to their company–the highest rate of any country surveyed globally. How can employers maintain that sentiment?

With employees stating that the top influencers of staying with their company are liking their peers (30%), enjoying their work (27%), and having a positive work-life balance (25%), employers should ensure that their spaces and policies allow staff to connect with one another, get their work done effectively, and promote wellbeing. Employers should also show empathy, maintain an open dialogue with staff, and make leadership accessible in the office.

So what is the future of the office and the Perception Paradox?

To get on the same page with employees, employers need to allot time and resources to understanding what their unique workforce needs rather than base their office strategy and design on what other businesses are doing. Companies should also test new ideas like organizing the workplace by activity rather than department or designing areas specifically for play and learning. But it’s important they don’t forget the basics—a strong internet connection, efficient workplace technology, and present leadership are all essential to ensuring employee productivity and satisfaction when in the office.

A company’s most valuable asset is its employees. If employers align their goals with their workforce and invest in their people’s success, business outcomes will follow.

For more, read the full Returning for Good report here.