Looking back, the pandemic acted as an accelerator of changes we were already seeing in the world of work. Talent shortages already existed, companies were already struggling to offer an employee experience that matched employees’ heightened expectations, and there was already a gulf emerging between the old and new sectors of the economy – both as places to work, and between different workforce generations.
The current debates about flexible working and remote working in offices, and investment in skills for deskless workers, are playing out against this backdrop. The pandemic may have brought these conversations to the fore – but it didn’t start them.
And it’s clearly no longer enough to have competitive pay and benefits if you want to attract and retain your employees. They want something bigger and broader that addresses career growth, skills development, inclusion, belonging, fairness, purpose, flexibility, a supportive culture and wellness combined. Many, many different things, all contained in a holistic approach – and some of them potentially contradictory.
So, if you’re in a business struggling to find the people you need, where exactly do you start? What do you offer people to get them to come and join you, and to stick around? Do some things make more of a difference than others? I think they do.
A sense of belonging is particularly important. Indeed, more than half the respondents in a recent survey said they’d leave a job or a company if they didn’t feel like that they belonged there. Furthermore, 77% said they prioritise working at companies that have genuinely committed to sustainability and diversity – employees are still looking for a public commitment from their employer to do the right thing with.
Far from being ‘woke’, this is a societal trend that’s here to stay – so you can disregard much of the backlash happening in the right-wing press at present. They’re pandering to a worldview that’s out of date, and an audience that’s out of touch.
Rethinking your EVP
HR teams are uniquely equipped to tackle the challenge of rethinking the employee value proposition (EVP) to address these changing expectations and values. They have their finger on the pulse of the workforce – or, at least, they should do – and they’re better placed than most to receive and act upon clear insights based on workforce data and people science analytics.
It’s their job to ensure a clear promise is made to potential hires – and that it’s then delivered to actual hires – by using their own insights to make the company a better place to work. In many companies, that involves tactfully bridging a perception-reality gap – especially if it’s more of a chasm.
Here are seven ways you can make sure your company promotes itself to potential hires accurately, and in a way that will both differentiate you and appeal to them.
1. Re-engagement of the workforce
It all starts here as a central philosophy. If you don’t see this as a fundamental purpose for HR to lead on, you’re in the wrong profession. To re-engage employees, HR and managers must have frequent performance conversations with team members. These conversations help employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s mission, vision and values – leading to a greater sense of connection and purpose to both the manager and the company.
2. Talent attraction
To attract and retain the best talent, you need to invest in creating an offer that demonstrates how you foster strong values and a clear sense of purpose at work – because that’s what your potential hires will want. Flexible or hybrid working arrangements may well be important, but they’re not the be all and end all of what is valued by employees. These things are ‘table stakes’ in some sectors so, to stand out from the crowd, you need to combine your thinking on working arrangements with other cultural elements – such as fairness, autonomy, a supportive team in a healthy environment, diversity, a learning focus, and a vision that inspires prospective employees.
3. Interpersonal relationships
Investing up front in relationships creates the real payback. With flexible, remote and hybrid working becoming more prevalent, the manager’s role has changed – with a much greater emphasis now needed on how to create and nurture relationships. You don’t find many managers who know how to foster and coach employees without investing in them first – it’s not an innate gift. Don’t overlook the importance of encouraging and rewarding the right behaviours, too. Building a talent pipeline throughout the company, through a focus on training and skill-building, is a sure way to reduce talent hiding or hoarding – while also promoting a sustainable workforce with ever-broadening capabilities. You need both.
4. Think about ‘quiet hiring’
You should take a needs-based approach to your hiring decisions, through a combination of talent mobility and skills building. This means taking a ‘promote from within’ philosophy further than many do. When a vacancy occurs, you should fill it with someone from the team at the level below and then recruit at the lower level. Quiet hiring involves investing in people to help them grow, trusting that people will step up when you give them the chance, and not overlooking the talents you’ve got by giving them opportunities to shine. You’d be amazed how many employers signal to their current employees that they don’t value them by always hiring from the outside first. And that’s due to a failure in talent strategy, not a shortage of talent. Don’t underestimate how this can positively impact your gender and ethnicity pay gaps, too.
5. Employee retention
If you want to keep your people, you have to have a debate about what sort of work needs to be done – as well as where it’s done. The current obsession with remote or hybrid working somewhat misses the point that 80% of the world’s working population is deskless. You may be able to increase loyalty and retention by focusing on employee enablement practices that help your people problem solve and remove the road blocks that stop them from enjoying their work.
6. Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
We’ve seen a surfeit of box-ticking in this space for a long time now. To really bring EDIB to life, you need to define and measure goals and metrics that offer concrete practical and measurable steps – ones that you can publish to your people and your managers, so everyone can track how your company’s doing. This will expose those just putting statements on their websites talking about the difference they intend to make, versus those actually doing anything about discriminatory or non-inclusive work practices. The boldest employers are now seeking external accreditation as a measurable benchmark of their commitments and progress. If your business isn’t one of them, why not? Failure here excludes large sectors of the available workforce from considering you as their employer of choice and, in a tight labour market, that’s a dangerous choice to consciously make.
7. Health and wellbeing
Employee stress levels seem to be at an all-time high. Prioritising dealing with this will help you stand out as an employer from the many that don’t. While standard benefits packages such as health insurance, occupational health assistance and retirement plans are essential, they won’t be enough to tackle the stress and unhappiness epidemic we’re now seeing. You have to do more, by offering additional services such as mental wellbeing, financial wellbeing and clarity to managers on what they must do to succeed and support their teams. Health and wellbeing starts with regular conversations – and the single most important question you can ask is, “how are you?”
HR Leaders play a critical role in transforming work and improving the overall performance of a company. They need a strategic mindset, business acumen, and operational focus to become active members of the C-suite.
By understanding the company’s risks and demonstrating how people-based initiatives can solve them, you can make a compelling case for transformation and working towards realising business goals. All these things will help your company differentiate itself from the may others in the marketplace – especially if your EVP is real and not just a promise.
By transforming HR into a more strategic asset, you can create a more fulfilling and engaging work environment – not just for the people your company employs, but for yourself. But you can’t do that by standing still.
The trends in the world of work, even since before the pandemic, are clear. You need to get out in front them, or risk falling behind the curve.