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The workplace has changed significantly over the past few years, and so has the world’s relationship with work. Employees now expect more from their work, including a sense of purpose, empathetic leaders, and flexibility that lets them work where and when they want without falling behind. 

However, only 27% of knowledge workers surveyed for HP’s first annual Work Relationship Index would describe their relationship with work as healthy. To uncover what promotes positive work relationships, and what damages them, HP surveyed more than 12,000 knowledge workers, 3,600 IT decision makers, and 1,200 business leaders across 12 countries. 

The impact of an unhealthy relationship with work

Surveyed knowledge workers said that an unhealthy relationship with work takes a toll on both their physical health (62%) and their mental and/or emotional wellbeing (55%). This damaged relationship also impacts employers, as workers with an unhealthy work relationship were more likely to report lower productivity, engagement, and connection than those with a healthy relationship. 

Knowledge workers who lack positive feelings about their work are also more likely to be planning their exit (76%, compared to 22% of those with a healthy work relationship). And less than a quarter would recommend their company as a good place to work (compared to 93% of those with a healthy work relationship).

The relationship with work is so important that most knowledge workers (83%) would even take a pay cut if it meant they’d love their work more. This percentage was higher for Millennial (89%) and Gen Z (93%) workers. 

The six drivers behind positive work relationships 

Nearly 70% of surveyed leaders agree that now is the time to redefine relationships with work. Knowledge workers recognize their role, too, with 73% agreeing that they share responsibility in this effort.

To help leaders and employees building better relationships with work, HP identified six core essentials:

  • Fulfillment: Only 28% of knowledge workers say their work gives them purpose, connection, and meaning — all these experiences are critical to a healthy work relationship.
  • Leadership: Nearly three in four knowledge workers believe it’s important for leaders to be empathetic, yet only 20% say their current leaders consistently show emotional intelligence. Surveyed workers also feel it’s important for leaders to acknowledge their mistakes, be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and be transparent about difficult topics. Most business leaders (68%) agree that it’s time to implement new leadership styles. 
  • People-centricity: Nearly 70% of knowledge workers believe it’s important to prioritize mental and physical health over work, but only a quarter feel that their company treats people as valued and respected and makes them feel safe to be their authentic selves.
  • Skills: Seven in 10 surveyed knowledge workers say both hard skills and people skills are important to their relationship with work, yet only 31% have confidence in these skills. Only 35% are confident they possess the right skills to be successful at their job.
  • Tools: Many knowledge workers also lack the tools — such as office equipment, technology, and space — to be successful. Though 76% say such tools are important to their workplace success, just 27% say their company provides them.  
  • Workspace: Flexibility is vital to a healthy work relationship. More than 70% of knowledge workers would take a pay cut for a job that allows them to work where and when they want, and that percentage jumps to about 80% for Gen Z and Millennial employees. 

For a more in-depth view of how the relationship with work is impacting businesses and their employees, and how to create more positive associations with work, see HP’s full report