Prior to the global pandemic, the unwritten agreement, or social contract, between employers and employees was quite simple. Employers provided a living wage and safe working conditions and staff generally remained loyal in return. Over the years after joining a company, workers would grow within their organization, developing their skills and receiving commensurate pay increases and promotions.

Under this version of the “social contract,” it was generally easy for workers to keep their personal and professional lives separate. Employees understood that going into the workplace meant about eight hours of focused time on the clock, and when they walked out the door, they had the rest of the day available to run errands, cook dinner and spend time with their families.

Now with home office setups, employees are working around the clock and our personal and professional lives have become intertwined like never before. Even after two years of adjusting to remote work and relying on Zoom calls, dogs, kids and deliveries all frequently feature in business meetings.


The Social Contract Breaks

After more than two years of the pandemic, including several false starts on policies to return to a central office, employees have had a chance to reflect and reexamine the terms of the social contract. In the recent AI@Work study conducted by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence and surveying more than 14,000 workers and leaders, 93% of people used the past year to reflect on their personal and professional lives.

And as a result, many people decided their employers are not living up to their end of the social contract. In fact, as many as 75% of workers have felt “stuck” in their professional lives over the past year. This is not a surprise when you look at how many employers haven’t stepped up and adapted to their workers’ needs, despite having asked their employees to do so at the start of the pandemic.

For example, many employers are not taking into account their employees’ desires when they dictate how and where they work, once it becomes safe to work anywhere.

This is not a new phenomenon. It had been creeping up on the world of work for years before the pandemic. Stories about the increasing weight of workplace expectations including longer hours in the office and timely responses to work matters even out of the office have been building up for years.

Businesses had started putting in stop-gap measures such as yoga classes or catered lunches, and some governments even enacted legislation barring emails after work hours, but these were only band-aids on much larger problems around mental health and employee burnout. 


Renegotiating the Social Contract 

The time that employees spent reflecting on their lives over the last year has led many to realize they want to make major changes to their careers. According to the AI@Work study, 88% of people said the meaning of success has changed since the pandemic began, with work-life balance, mental health and workplace flexibility now top priorities. 


That mass reflection has led many workers to realize that they can jump ship for greener pastures, leading to what many have called “The Great Resignation” and creating a massive shift in the power balance between workers and businesses. The sudden rise of open positions has given workers leverage to help them get what they want or need when they ask for things like more flexible hours or new career opportunities. 

Whether these are current employees or new candidates looking for ways to align their career with their personal goals, it is up to businesses to step up and provide the support employees expect of them. A big part of that is listening to what workers have to say. As many as 87% of workers believe their company should be doing more to listen to the needs of their workforce. 


Listen and Take Action

Doing this successfully requires two equally important steps. The first step is to proactively collect feedback from workers at all levels, from executives all the way down to frontline line workers, and to do so in a way that’s natural in the course of their daily work.

The second step is to use that feedback in the decisions that affect workers. That will give employees a continual voice, help managers positively react in the course of their daily work and foster better relationships where individuals feel seen, heard and understood. 

Another thing companies can do to help attract and retain the right talent is to offer individuals unique opportunities to guide their own careers. Employees have the drive to succeed, with 73% saying that they are motivated to advance their career over the next year. Companies that help employees learn new skills and find new jobs within the organization and beyond the most direct career path can help keep employees engaged and focused.

It’s easier for employees to feel like they have an employer who wants to work with them if they have clear and easy ways to advance their careers. In fact, 55% of people said that they are more likely to stay with a company that uses AI to support career growth.

Businesses need to be aware that they have an important role to play in the bargain between employee and employers. They need to meet the needs of their workforce not only in terms of compensation, but also in flexibility and career development.

Companies that forget the power that employees have in advocating for and seeking ways to fulfill their needs will see their best talent flow away to their competitors. Employees have come to the table to renegotiate the terms of the social contract of work and businesses can’t afford to ignore them.

Yvette Cameron

Yvette Cameron, senior vice president of Oracle HCM, is a known HCM product leader, having grown her career in HCM over the past 25+ years with technology vendors SAP, Saba, PeopleSoft and JDEdwards. She spent the first 10 years of her career as an HR practitioner, informing her later roles with the practical perspective of an HR user and buyer. Oracle offers integrated suites of applications for HR, finance, supply chain and more, as well as secure, autonomous infrastructure in the Oracle Cloud. For more information about Oracle Fusion Cloud HCM, please visit us at