The challenge, and the opportunity
Today's shifting landscape is certainly a challenge, but it’s also a once in a career lifetime opportunity, and particularly for HR. That’s because the organisations that thrive in the new world of work will be those that have created an engaging and positive culture. And most importantly, one that’s based on what their people want today. I believe that HR has a big part to play in delivering this change.
I’ve been working as a People Director throughout the pandemic. I’ve experienced the same people challenges that many organisations have faced. Some have responded well, others less so. The ones that are retaining their people are those that have put their people before profits, listened carefully and become very in-tune with employee aspirations.
Let’s take a closer look at what these are - and you’ll notice that salary is nowhere to be seen:
Purpose and meaning
Purpose has become a major driver for many employees and is now a key choice they make when deciding where to work. One of the defining aspects of the pandemic was the recognition given to keyworkers. Our nurses, teachers and delivery drivers worked on, often in the frontline of danger - and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Many people are now asking what their own roles do to make a difference - and with it, the purpose of their employer. My first tip is therefore to be very clear about what your organisation does, why you do it and how everyone fits into that.
At any time, pandemic or not, everyone appreciates being recognised for the work that they do. One of the most effective motivators during home working has been keeping in touch and recognising the pressures and the contributions made by many who have gone above and beyond their job description. The best line managers and leaders have helped boost the morale of many by a simple ‘thank you’. Don’t stop now.
Support, empathy and understanding
One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the importance given to the mental health and wellbeing of employees. Many have combined work with other family worries and responsibilities, leading to a poor work-life balance which is often reflected in reduced performance. While there is a business case for investing in employee wellbeing that demonstrates for every £1 invested, organisations will see a £5 return in productivity, the real reason for offering this support is that it’s the right thing to do, especially after what so many have been through. The empathy and understanding shown by employers to their people will go a long way towards helping them, and reassuring them, that they want to remain. Line managers have a key role in all of this, simply by giving people flexibility and coaching rather than controlling their teams.
Employees don’t just need empathy and understanding around their mental health; they’ll have a number of other concerns, especially around their safety when back in the workplace. No organisation will see an invigorated workforce that feels unsafe and worried about risks to their health or even the journey into the workplace. What’s more, many are worried about where they’ll fit into the organisation, how the team dynamics may be different and what, or indeed who, has changed. What can you do to offer reassurances around their safety and the role that they do?
Openness and transparency
In difficult times, there can be a fine balance between protecting employees from unnecessary worry, and being open with the truth, where indeed that truth is known. I tend to feel that employees respond better to openness and honesty than they do to evasiveness or silence. Just be upfront with where you are as an organisation. Even if it’s not what they want to hear you’ll get more respect than if they think they are not hearing the truth. No leader or line manager wants to go back on what they’ve said.
Flexibility in ways of working
Many of us have changed the way we work for reasons beyond finding it easier to work from home - and employers would be wise to remember this. For those still nervous about the workplace, they feel safer. For those whose family responsibilities mean they need it, it’s a necessity. Organisations expecting a return to how things were two years ago might as well draw up their plans for replacing lost employees now. Acas are expecting that over half of employers (55%) will see an increase in staff wanting to work from home or remotely part of the week. And research by Microsoft found that 71% of UK workers want flexible work options to stay after the pandemic has passed. You need a flexible working policy or risk your talent going to other organisations that have embraced it.
My 10-point checklist for re-engaging and invigorating your people
What should you do:
- Listen (really listen) to what your people want and take action.
- People want to find meaning so this is an ideal opportunity to reinforce your purpose/mission - just as long as you are clear what it is. Consider how the organisation has changed too.
- Establish the purpose of any office-based work and if you want people to come into your physical office, establish what’s in it for them.
- Train your managers on the new ways of working, with particular reference to the soft skills of empathy and listening.
- Be clear about your expectations (explain why) on your ways of working.
- Review the ways you communicate with people – are they still relevant?
- Review the employee experience to make sure it’s still relevant to new ways of working (recruitment, induction, performance management etc.).
- Use tech to keep people connected. Many organisations found themselves quickly becoming good at virtual meetings and doing so with humour and personality. What could have been a real ordeal was fun for many. Don’t stop now. Create more opportunities to get people together (virtual coffees) etc. and mix this with in person days.
- Recruit a Head of Remote. By most expectations, over half your workforce expects to remain working this way. It needs to work for employer and employee.
- Finally, you can do all of the above and people will still leave. Accept that this will happen and make sure that those exits are positive and their time with you is acknowledged. Not everyone finds their moves work out. It’s always good to keep the door open for good talent to return.
What your employees want and arguably need is significantly different from before the pandemic. Today, feelings of purpose, belonging and trust are far more important than reward. Creating a new culture that meets their changing needs is a real opportunity, especially for HR who can be the instigators and drivers of this culture. So, don’t fear the changes, embrace them and those that do will recruit and retain the best talent. After Covid, it’s now not so much about where we work - but how we work.
About Rich Roberts
Rich Roberts is an employee engagement and culture specialist and is passionate about building highly motivated and productive teams in both start-ups and larger organisations.
Until recently he was the People Director at sustainable energy provider Pure Planet. He is currently undertaking freelance assignments under his own brand enRich.
He presents at UK and international conferences on the topics of employee engagement and culture drawing on his experiences at Virgin Mobile, Pure Planet and other organisations.
Richard is a Top 100 Global Employee Engagement Influencer and was shortlisted in the HR Excellence Awards 2021 for HR Director of the Year.
He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org