About the series
John Bremen is a guest contributor for Forbes.com, writing on topics including the future of work, leadership strategy, compensation and benefits, and sustainable strategies that support productivity and business success.
Employers are facing daunting challenges in attracting and retaining talent that they expect will continue through 2022. According to a recent survey, 73% of organizations have difficulty attracting employees, up from 26% last year. Similarly, 61% struggle to retain talent, up from 15% last year.
To increase retention, 71% of employers reported they have taken a broader focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Similarly, 70% have increased workplace flexibility and 65% tuition reimbursement. These data highlight a common theme for leadership behaviors that create dignity at, in and from work.
During the disruption of 2020 and 2021, investors, boards and senior leadership teams have learned that organizational resilience provides a new form of competitive advantage. In general, organization resilience is defined as having the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and displaying toughness. Underlying support systems drive resilience in the name of sustainable performance and risk management.
Culture is a key element in driving resilience. According to Willis Towers Watson research, cultures of dignity translate to bottom-line gains on key talent metrics, including employee wellbeing, the ability to attract and retain talent, and DEI, as well as creating an innovative and more collaborative work environment. Further, companies that say they have a culture of dignity tend to have higher Net Promoter Scores — that is, their leaders and employees are more likely to recommend their company as a place to work based on its company culture.
The same research shows that 87% of employees reporting high levels of dignity are highly engaged, versus only 5% of employees with low levels of dignity (82% of employees with low levels of dignity are detached or disengaged). A 2020 study conducted by Kumanu and The Harris Poll validated these results adding that employees with high levels of dignity and high levels of work purpose were almost 15 times more engaged than employees with low levels of dignity and work purpose.
DEI is an essential component of workplace dignity but alone is not enough in the new environment. Engagement remains highest when high levels of workplace dignity support company purpose and elevate culture, programs and employee experience company wide.
Engagement remains highest when high levels of workplace dignity support company purpose and elevate culture, programs and employee experience.
Effective leaders bring alive cultures of workplace dignity across three dimensions:
Employees are physically safe and treated with respect in an environment free from marginalization (e.g., discrimination, harassment, exclusion, bullying). They feel a sense of psychological safety in their ability to be themselves, voice concerns and be heard. Their culture enables the organization to attract and retain diverse talent. It is foundational for inclusion. And it helps address work-related stress at one of its sources.
Employees find meaning and purpose in their work and understand how it contributes to the organization’s broader goals. They take pride in what they do because it is valued, and they see a future where they will continue to be valued even as jobs are redefined with technological advances and other changes, and where employers prioritize reskilling and career-long learning.
Employees feel respected because they are paid what they are worth, can sustain a suitable standard of living, are confident in their benefits to provide the security they need to provide for themselves and their dependents, and have the wellbeing to thrive now and in the future.
Workplace dignity starts at the top and is part of a health company culture. Leaders engage in the practices of “net talent gainers,” leading with practicality, compassion and transparency in concert with long-term vision, emphasizing dignity at, in and from work, and making work culture safe, inclusive and equitable. Leaders learned during the pandemic that fairness does not mean sameness, and that employees want to be seen, heard, and understood, and to have their individual work needs met. As workplaces reopen, frequent, accurate and culturally appropriate communication helps employees feel confident that their employer genuinely cares about them, their safety and wellbeing. It also prevents undue fear of returning to workplaces.
Effective leaders collect employee feedback on each pillar of healthy company culture (dignity, psychological safety, inclusion, wellbeing, physical safety, agility and innovation) as part of employee listening strategies (e.g., annual engagement surveys) and look to identify strengths and correlation between healthy employees and financial outcomes as well as risk mitigation.
They ensure employee programs (e.g., pay, benefits, careers) support dignity, purpose and wellbeing. For example, pay and benefit programs create financial security and physical/emotional health; flexible work arrangements and dependent care assistance meet employees where they are; and careers include inclusive opportunity and career-long skilling opportunities. The top actions companies plan to take to drive attraction today include market movement adjustments for pay, higher base salary increases, changes to health and wellbeing benefits, and increased training opportunities.
Great leaders know purpose and dignity drive resilience and impact through business results and mitigation of risk, helping create a new kind of competitive advantage in today’s volatile world.
A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com on August 30, 2021.