The past year and a half has been difficult and devastating. But despite (and, most certainly, because of) the pandemic, we've discovered that new ways of working are possible--even preferable. For more than a year, employees have experimented with fully remote work, and it's significantly impacted what they expect from the modern workplace.
Many are now leaving old jobs and looking for new ones that meet their updated expectations. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more people are leaving their current employment than have in the past 20 years, and nearly half of workers plan to look for a new job in the next year, a recent Qualtrics study found.
As companies face this "Great Resignation," they'll need to find fresh ways to attract new and re-attract existing talent. To do so, leaders must learn from pandemic-era lessons and continuously listen to their employees, understand what they truly want and need, and then take action to improve the experiences they offer.
Here are three key ways leaders and organizations can create best-in-class employee experiences and win the race for talent:
Focus on work-life integration
According to the Qualtrics study, stress and burnout are two of the top reasons employees are leaving their jobs or looking for new ones. During the first year and a half of the pandemic, many of us were asked to (literally) bring our work home with us, and it has become even more difficult to mentally separate the two. In fact, there's a stigma, workers say, that being more available makes you a better employee.
Though employees have appreciated the flexibility that remote work offers, they often feel they must always be "on"--and maintaining harmony between work and life has become more challenging than ever. In fact, the Qualtrics data suggests satisfying work-life integration is the main driver of employee loyalty (followed closely by fulfilling, purposeful work and a good manager).
As remote work becomes more common, work-life integration will become critical to companies in a race for talent.
In the past 18 months, like many mothers I know, I often had to switch between work-Julia and mom-Julia throughout the day. I would leave my desk and throw on the "mom jersey" to run down the stairs to check schoolwork, cook meals, and act as dean of students. While I appreciate the extra time I had with my family, I had to find new ways for myself to context shift between work and home--especially since there was no more commute time to serve as a tangible transition.
Companies can help employees find harmony by giving them the flexibility to do the things that are important to them during the day, like participating in a child's school event or volunteering in the community. Organizations that truly help their employees find that harmony between work and life will be much more successful at attracting and re-attracting talent than those that say they support work-life integration but then require their employees to be in the office five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Organizations that want to win the race for talent need to recognize their employees' desire for flexibility and will be mindful of the unintended consequences of flexible or hybrid work. They will differentiate themselves by creating an inclusive environment and continuously listening to employee feedback to ensure they are fostering a culture that supports employee well-being, belonging and work-life integration.
Personalize the employee experience by leveraging and investing in managers
While the majority of employees may prefer a hybrid model of work, post-pandemic employee experience should not look the same for everyone: Women on the job hunt care more about flexibility than do men, Gen-Z and Millennials place a high value on leadership diversity, and every industry has differing priorities and expectations of their workplace, data shows.
As leaders listen to what their employees share, they'll need to hear those individual voices that may be overlooked in pursuit of a one-size-fits-all solution. Any back-to-work strategies should be continuously flexible and tailored to differing needs.
This is where managers become critical, by investing time, getting to know employees on a personal level, and understanding what matters to them. Knowing this is powerful, but it's only possible with empowered (and properly trained) managers.
One risk to be especially cognizant of: More than half (52 percent) of all managers and directors say they'll look for a new job in the next year, compared with only 37 percent of individual contributors. And the main reason they're leaving is that they want better growth opportunities.
Organizations that want to come out of the pandemic stronger than before will not only focus on the individual needs of their employees but will also find ways to support their managers' growth and development.
Provide employees with growth opportunities
Managers aren't the only ones who want better growth opportunities, however. In fact, the No. 1 reason employees say they will look for a new job in the next year is for a chance to grow professionally. Growth is key for everyone. I've switched jobs during the pandemic, too, and growth was a key driver in my own decision. It's important for employees to own their career and let their managers know they're looking for growth opportunities so their managers can support and guide employees in developing their abilities. It's also important for managers to have those conversations with their individual team members regularly.
The Qualtrics data found that 60 percent of workers report that their employer didn't offer any sort of professional development and training during the first year of the pandemic, and 64 percent say the same about networking and mentoring opportunities. And women seem to have borne the brunt of that neglect with 72 percent of women saying they were not offered mentoring or networking opportunities, compared with 55 percent of men.
Leaders who want to keep and attract talent will lean in on providing their employees the ability to learn and advance.
And one size won't fit all. The companies I've seen that do this well have a strong internal mobility program that reattracts talent, a rotation program that allows employees to take on stretch assignments, a mentor program, opportunities for coaching, and even a learning fund.
The pandemic has created an opportunity to reflect and experiment in ways we wouldn't have before. As organizations across the globe rethink their future of work, the most important first step they can take is to listen and collect feedback--not just once, but continually. Once they know and understand how their employees feel, and how those feelings evolve over time, they will be equipped to take the action necessary to usher in their own experience transformation.