HR Insights
April 25, 2024

What employers must know about today’s workforce balancing act

Driving high performance in a complex business climate requires a balance between business and employee needs. To succeed, employers first must understand today’s workforce balancing act and how to master it.


Today’s employers are caught in a never-ending balancing act. At Dayforce we hear this often from customers as they grapple with balancing flexibility against compliance, empathy against productivity, and employee expectations against tight budgets.  

The story often sounds something like this: HR teams and people leaders are stuck in the middle between the seemingly opposing priorities of employees and senior leadership. They’re trying to retain top talent, attract the right candidates quickly, and reduce burnout, but there is ever-more pressure to also manage costs, compliance, and production effectively.  

HR leaders and managers know that if they don’t meet employees’ expectations, they risk losing their best performers to companies offering higher pay, advancement opportunities, and more flexibility. And with lingering labor shortages in many industries, it won’t be easy to fill these roles. Employees are all but demanding a new social contract at work post-pandemic – one that better fits their career goals, lifestyles, and individual preferences.  

On the other side, senior leaders face a sea of external pressures from rising inflation and economic uncertainty. Every minute of labor in today’s world must be efficient, productive, and profitable. And this new imperative puts renewed pressure on HR teams and people leaders, creating a great balancing act.  

Let’s dive into the three main sets of competing priorities we see unsettling today’s organizations, and what to do about them.  

Flexibility vs. compliance 

Today's workforce is fluid, borderless, and always-on. It’s what we at Dayforce call the Boundless Workforce. And it offers organizations new ways to source the right talent, ensure coverage across time zones, and drive employee retention with work-from-anywhere perks. At the same time, employees are increasingly seeking other types of flexibility, from when they work to the way they get paid to how their careers progress.  

Whether flexibility is granted to drive employee retention or to increase the available talent pool, it introduces new compliance challenges. Organizations have many competing priorities to manage when it comes to workplace flexibility. Upper management is often reluctant to support untested flexibility programs that may negatively impact productivity. And the types of flexibility employees desire most – remote work, working abroad, adapted schedules – create compliance and fairness complexity, including include tax reporting, scheduling requirements, and technology enablement, which introduces more risk to the organization. 

Empathy vs. productivity 

During the pandemic, we were all going through a crisis together, even if we experienced it differently. Many leaders responded by putting a high priority on approaching employees with empathy, understanding, and flexibility.  

And we see the tremendous value of empathy in the 14th Annual Pulse of Talent survey from Dayforce. Ninety percent of surveyed workers said their employer showing them more empathy would have a positive effect on their work life, including improved job satisfaction (52%), better mental health (48%), and increased loyalty (41%). 

But post-pandemic inflation, workforce downsizing, and economic uncertainty are creating pressure to improve organizational efficiency. This is leading many in upper management to walk back or re-evaluate pandemic-era benefits, such as remote work, scheduling flexibility, and even the heightened emphasis on DEI. At the same time, they’re ramping up performance goals that stress employees and further diminish the perceived empathy of leadership. 

Today's HR leaders are challenged with balancing employees' desire for empathy against pressure from the C-suite to demonstrate increased productivity. With employees demanding a new social contract post-pandemic, there is often a gap between HR leaders' mindsets and that of their CEOs. 

Employee expectations vs. budget realities 

Today's organizations are stuck in a balancing act between ever-higher employee expectations and the reality of shrinking or stagnant budgets. Ongoing labor and skills shortages, coupled with inflation, are driving wages higher, leaving organizations to cope with these rising labor costs and the internal wage inequality they create. 

And it is these challenges that put budgets and employee expectations – and the C-suite and HR – at odds. HR professionals understand the importance of great employee experiences and the impact they have on attracting and retaining talent, but cost considerations can prevent them from meeting employees’ expectations.  

This creates a vicious circle where the best, highest performing employees leave for better pay and perks, hurting productivity and creating new costs from attrition, as well as burnout among remaining employees. According to McKinsey, high performers are found to be 400% more productive than average ones, so even with the Great Resignation waning there is still a high cost to regrettable loss.  

What should employers do? 

At Dayforce, we don’t believe these are truly competing priorities. Organizations can strike a great balance between employee satisfaction and business imperatives.  We’re committed to helping organizations strike that perfect balance through our innovative solutions that deliver simplicity at scale across the entire organization, Dayforce empowers cross-functional teams to tackle the most complex challenges, bringing employee and business goals into alignment.  

Pacesetting organizations, enabled by the right technology, can master our five success rules to manage today’s great balancing act, drive high performance, and make work life better: 

  1. Nail the hard stuff: Strengthen payroll and compliance by galvanizing business controls, eliminating error, prioritizing privacy and security, and ensuring you stay on the right side of the law. 

  2. Be data driven: Optimize your people operations with real-time insights that surface better intelligence for decision certainty. 

  3. Empower your people: Unleash your full workforce potential by activating your team through personalized user experiences, automating the mundane, and offering self-service. 

  4. Be ready for anywhere: Leverage a global HR ecosystem to tap into any labor market, create visibility across multiple jurisdictions, and benefit from the experience of trusted global and regional IT partners. 

  5. Deliver quantifiable value: Drive sustained ROI and de-risk your modernization journey, while lowering your cost structure and embracing the autonomous future. 

Finding the middle ground between driving business performance and satisfying employee needs in a complex business climate isn’t without its challenges. And it can often put HR and upper management at odds with one another. But with the right technology and strategies, organizations can successfully master the workforce balancing act and unlock more value, realize their people potential, and operate with confidence for sustainable results.  

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