Love, acceptance, solid return on investment - what companies can learn from dr. House

Couple working at the office

Advances in technology and an increasingly networked approach are just two of the factors that have led to changes in the world of work in recent decades. Some call it Work 4.0, others workforce transformation, but are employees' basic expectations changing as quickly as these technologies? Or are we in a situation where we have Work 4.0 but Employee 1.0? The results of a study and insights from Dr. House tell us more about employees' expectations and about compensation.

The focus on a good basic salary and benefits has increased. According to the 2017 Global Talent Trends Study conducted by Mercer, employees spend an average of 13 hours per month on financial matters relating to their work. 

Therefore, it is no surprise that a fair, competitive salary and opportunities for progression are currently among the most important career priorities for employees in Germany. Some 96% of employees surveyed in Germany also want their performance to be recognized and rewarded appropriately. The Study examines the main trends in the world of work, based on responses from more than 1,700 HR professionals, 5,400 employees and 400 managers from 15 countries and 20 industries.

Compensation: What Are Employees Looking For?

Almost half of employees surveyed worldwide said that the main way their work situation could be improved was with money. The most common answers to the question of what would have a positive impact on their work situation were:

  • Fair and competitive remuneration.
  • Opportunities for progression.
  • Managers who provide clear direction.
  • Collaboration with good and capable colleagues.
  • Transparent salary and bonus structures.
  • Clear information about career opportunities.
  • More flexible working conditions.

When asked what would be of the greatest concern in the near future, the same answers were given across regions and generations: health, wealth, and career. A desire for non-monetary recognition was also cited, with only 51% of employees actually receiving this.

The Answer from Gregory House

Dr. House, the misanthropic hero and diagnostic genius of the American series "House", has a comparatively clear and realistic view of the human psyche.

When one of his employees asks him what he, the gruff loner, is actually looking for, his answer is calm and succinct: "Same as you: love, acceptance, solid return on investment."

With scientific evidence and the results of our study in mind, it seems fair to say that this flippant remark from House describes an anthropological constant — a constant that, of course, takes various forms across different cultural, economic, and biographical situations.

Compensation: The Answer from HR

The situation becomes interesting when employee expectations are at odds with the current priorities of the HR department. Only 28% of HR professionals surveyed said that the competitiveness of the compensation structure is an important issue for them in 2017. Likewise, employees' desire for fair pay does not feature in plans at present. Just 16% of HR managers include fair pay in their top five priorities.

The trend toward greater transparency across all areas is also leading to a more meaningful disclosure of compensation, more so for management than for other staff. Some 83% of companies want to increase transparency regarding how their managers' pay is determined — and why it is as high as it is.

Recognition: New Performance Management

Companies often still address performance recognition primarily via performance management.

Of the companies surveyed, 88% have made changes to their performance management processes in the past year. This trend is set to continue, which is no great surprise in view of discussions in recent years. What specifically do companies have planned for 2017? Plans include the following elements:

  • Better communication of strategic objectives.
  • Alignment of targets for comparable functions in the company.
  • Development of team-based targets and KPIs.
  • Replacement of numerical ratings with descriptions.
  • Complete removal of performance ratings.
  • Introduction or abolition of ranking (!)
  • Abolition of mandatory rankings.
  • Shift in focus of performance meetings toward career and development discussions.
  • Introduction of technology that enable regular feedback.

Some 83% of companies want to change their procedure for setting objectives or have already done so. Regular feedback is gaining in importance. Eighty-one percent of companies already have or plan to acquire a tool that can be used to provide regular feedback.

For their part, employees clearly indicate that performance ratings should not be considered negative per se. However, employees do not want their performance to be measured based solely on their individual contributions; they also expect the achievement of team objectives to be taken into account.

Incidentally, when faced with tricky diagnostic challenges, Dr. House often creates "sporting competition" between his employees for the benefit of the patient — and for his own entertainment. Whoever finds the answer first not only fulfils the Hippocratic Oath, but can also hope that it will benefit their career.

How Flexible Is the Organization and Working Life?

According to Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study 2017, most employees want more flexibility in the workplace. Some 40% of HR managers also have a positive attitude toward this topic. Of course modern organizations may also frequently require a rapid response to changing situations, and the HR professionals surveyed believe that employees could better achieve this with flexible working. Sixty-two percent of companies have already made individual areas more flexible and 27% offer options for flexible working, where the individual employee requests this arrangement and their manager agrees.

In the study, employees were also asked about their practical experiences. Experiences were generally positive, with 61% of managers and 64% of employees saying that they would support flexible working. However, one-third of employees also stated that a request for more flexible working arrangements had been rejected in the past. In addition, half expressed concern that working part time or from home could have a negative impact on promotion prospects.

Change — the "House" Way

Dr. House and his team at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital have highly flexible working patterns. The case, or the patient, determines the work to be completed and the procedures to be followed—so there is an extraordinary focus on the customer. The diverse team of brilliant analysts is just as driven when brainstorming on flip charts as during operations with high-tech equipment. They are only human, and—with every patient having a dramatic fate, and some failures along the way—it is all about flexibility, customer focus, big data, creative methods, responsibility, and purpose. That sounds like Work 4.0 to us. And on the subject of change in companies, Dr. House has a strong opinion on changing people and organization: “People say: time changes everything. That is not true. Doing things changes things. Doing nothing leaves things exactly what they are.”

Dieter Kern
by Dieter Kern


Partner, Mercer

Joann Lee
by Joann Lee

Consultant, Mercer

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