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.
Over the last six months, future-seeking leaders have continued to play both offense and defense in responding to what many call “The Great Resignation.”
September jobs reports in several countries indicate that, while hiring is increasing in most markets, overall labor force participation rates remain lower than prior to the pandemic, turnover rates remain higher and millions of job openings remain unfilled.
The July article, Transforming the Great Resignation into The Great Hire, described the actions future-seeking leaders take to be “net talent gainers” in the current environment. They hire more employees than they lose, and they focus on why people join and stay as well as why they leave. In addition, they create value propositions and employee experiences to drive success, setting their organizations apart by considering flexibility an advantage, transforming pay and benefits, aligning wellbeing, resiliency and work, and reinforcing culture, values and purpose.
Since the writing of that article, millions of workers around the world have returned to workplaces on a hybrid or full-time basis, joining the hundreds of millions who remained onsite during the pandemic in roles that could not be performed remotely.
Net talent gainers take the following additional actions to differentiate themselves, using lessons learned during the pandemic as a guide: promotion and overall engagement. CDOs typically collaborate with CHROs, CROs, CSOs and General Counsels.
While in-person interaction may be less frequent in a world of hybrid and remote work, net talent gainers understand and convey its value when it occurs. Anecdotes from leaders hosting first meetings for workers since the outset of the pandemic report unanticipated levels of energy, connection, inclusion, focus, creativity, productivity, insight and innovation from employees who are together for the first time in over a year – or ever. While some workers remain anxious about potential risks of travel, commuting or being in-person, they report a certain elation from the meetings themselves with a frequent refrain, “This was the first meeting I was at in 18 months when no one told me I was on mute.” Leaders make in-person meetings meaningful – and valuable – and do not take them for granted.
During the pandemic, approximately one-third of the global workforce remained onsite for essential in-person job activities, and future-seeking leaders learned that these workers value flexibility as much (and sometimes more) than remote workers. As those working remotely now return to in-person work arrangements, net talent gainers are applying their learnings to the new environment. For example, they learned the value of flexible shift schedules to all workers (onsite, remote or hybrid), and that when people work can be as important as where people work. They provide critical benefits to employees that may include time off, caregiving support (for children, special-needs adults and elders), flexible healthcare and emotional wellbeing benefits that can be accessed at/near the worksite, virtually or at/near home, and financial wellbeing support that includes education and access to programs tailored to specific needs and demographic groups. They focus on workload and skill development. They also may provide onsite meals (or meal vouchers for nearby restaurants), commuting assistance or technologies that enable work to be more flexible. They understand that meeting people where they are (regardless of where or when they work) is both vital and differentiating and will not change as they restore stability.
Net talent gainers report that, after flexibility, employees most value being heard, seen and understood by their leaders. The pandemic exacted a high emotional toll on employees around the world, with research reporting many feeling isolated, detached, distracted, and overwhelmed. The ensuing social disruption in many countries also polarized many employees, leaving many expressing a feeling of marginalization and lack of dignity. Reduced travel, remote work and shuttered social institutions created further detachment and lack of understanding across geographies and demographic groups. Leaders who engage employees through regular listening (formal and informal), acknowledgement of needs and concerns, and communication that they see, hear and understand employees through empathy, compassion and dignity not only experience higher levels of attraction and retention, but also report higher levels of engagement, productivity, innovation and performance. They also report the key learning that treating people fairly does not mean treating them same.
Net talent gainers recognized the importance of physical and psychological safety during the pandemic. They now hear that employees continue to value these attributes and that many choose employers based on their perceptions of safety in culture and practice. Employees who are physically safe and treated with respect in an environment free from marginalization (e.g., discrimination, harassment, exclusion, bullying) report greater ability to be themselves, enabling the organization to attract talent from a broader pool, address work-related stress and increase retention. According to Willis Towers Watson research, such cultures translate to bottom-line gains on key talent metrics, including employee wellbeing, the ability to attract and retain talent, DEI initiatives, as well as creating an innovative and more collaborative work environment.
While labor markets remain disrupted, actions of future-seeking leaders help turn their organizations into net talent gainers, restoring stability and positioning them more favorably for post-pandemic operations.
A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com on October 21, 2021.