Employees have significantly different expectations of their employers and their careers than they did just a few years ago.
“After spending months at home during a crisis, workers have never been more in touch with what they want from their work and workplace,” according to workplace products and services provider Steelcase in a global report on the changing expectations for the future of work. “They have new and increased expectations of their employers and workplaces — desiring a dramatically different and better experience than the one they left.”
Meeting those expectations and providing those experiences is critical for HR teams that are competing for top talent in a tight labor market where employees have the ability to be very selective about the companies they work for. “A pandemic-tightened labor market has given willing and able workers more of an upper hand with their employers for the first time in generations,” writes Ben Popken, senior business reporter at NBC News.
Here’s what human resources teams need to do to attract and retain talent in these unprecedented circumstances.
Lesson No.1: Prioritize Employee Well-Being
As people get back to work in a post-pandemic economy, they expect organizations to place a premium on employee wellness. “The crisis cast new light on the importance of well-being and made us acutely aware of the consequences when well-being is put at risk,” Jen Fisher, chief well-being officer at Deloitte U.S., and fellow authors write.
In light of the changing expectations regarding employee wellness in the workplace, “leaders have a responsibility not only to invest in and promote well-being, but also to commit to it by designing well-being into work and making well-being a consideration as important as any other factor that affects the bottom line,” Fisher, et al. explain.
Doing this successfully means organizations must address all areas of employee wellness — physical health, mental health, and financial health. What does that look like for each area?
- Promoting physical health means ensuring employees have safe and healthy work spaces, creating and communicating health guidelines, and rewarding employees for caring for their physical health.
- Encouraging mental health includes openly discussing mental health in the workplace, reducing the stigma surrounding the issue, establishing employee assistance programs, and supporting employees efforts to get help addressing mental health issues they are dealing with, notes Amy Morin, licensed psychotherapist and editor-in-chief at Verywell Mind.
- Supporting financial health entails compensating employees fairly for the work they perform, offering relevant benefits such as paid time off and childcare provisions, and incentivizing participation in retirement savings plans.
When companies focus on these issues, they demonstrate to workers that they value employee well-being. This gives them an advantage over other employers in the war for talent.
Lesson No. 2: Give Employees the Option to Work Remotely
A healthy work/life balance has become particularly important to workers during the pandemic. Many were pushed into working remotely while offices were closed, and many enjoyed the flexibility that inherently followed the new work arrangement.
“Being able to work remotely has allowed the employees to spend time with their families in a more significant way,” writes SHRM India consultant Swati Thakur. “They will want to be able to continue with that.” It’s an inevitable evolution in working arrangements after employees have figured out how to get the most out of their work and home lives during the pandemic.
But implementing more flexible work arrangements on a permanent basis requires careful planning.
According to research by McKinsey & Company, employees do have some anxiety about permanently incorporating remote work into their working arrangements. That anxiety stems primarily from “the lack of remote-relevant specifics” such as “detailed guidelines, policies, expectations, and approaches.”
That’s why it’s important for companies to develop a formal work-from-home plan that sets expectations and parameters for both employers and employees in the new arrangement. One way to help further curb that anxiety while developing a work-from-home plan is to include employees in the process. This gives them the opportunity to express their concerns and have them addressed by the employer.
Lesson No. 3: Create Positive Employee Experiences
Workplace culture plays a big role in employee satisfaction. With so many options available to employees, companies need to focus on creating positive employee experiences that feed an employee-centric workplace culture.
Optimized employee experiences not only attract top talent, but also may “lead employees to choose to spend their career with your organization — because your organization provides them the best opportunity to develop and continually improve their workplace well-being,” according to Gallup in a report on designing employee experiences.
That experience starts at recruiting and carries through an employee’s tenure with the company. AI-backed tools can help HR teams build those positive employee experiences.
For example, with talent intelligence tools, HR can write better job descriptions that are more inclusive, accurate, and comprehensive which can attract the right talent for each role. As applicants work through the application and hiring process, chatbots powered by AI can be used to answer questions they may have, even after hours.
When it comes to onboarding, talent intelligence tools enable HR to personalize the experience and guide new employees quickly through a more seamless process. This is especially important because “if your onboarding is disorganized, slow, and clunky, employees start at your company with a lower estimation of it,” notes Simona Iancu, head of marketing at the Academy to Innovate HR.
AI can also be used to help employees throughout their careers with the company by showing them different career paths, the skills they need to follow them, and the training opportunities available to develop those skills.
All of these factors add up to improving the employee experience in ways that translate into happier employees, which can lead to employees staying with the company longer and job applicants seeking out positions with the company.
Lesson No. 4: Embrace Employees’ Desire to Look to the Future
The volatility workers experienced during the pandemic has left them more concerned with the future of their careers. They are looking ahead to not only their career progression but also to the skills they will need to succeed in future roles, and they expect employers to show them both. “No one wants to remain in a stationary position for years on end, especially when they can see the potential for growth elsewhere,” writes Evelyn Long, editor-in-chief at Renovated, in an article for Training Journal.
That means HR teams need to be prepared to create career paths for employees and offer opportunities for them to upskill and reskill as needed to follow those paths. AI-powered technology enables HR teams to do both.
When it comes to career mapping, the predictive capabilities of talent intelligence tools let companies match employees with potential roles that align with their skills and career goals. The inherent flexibility in career maps allow employees to follow paths that include lateral moves into different departments or promotions in their current department.
In order to reach those goals, employees need the opportunities to develop and sharpen their skills. A key takeaway from PwC’s 2021 Workforce Pulse Survey is that “employees have signaled a robust appetite for learning and want to increase their productivity and employability.” Employers encourage this growth by providing learning opportunities to employees as they move along their career paths.
AI can be used to help employees identify the skills they need and the learning opportunities available to them. Technology can also be used to help employees register for training programs and track their progress.
When the competition for talent is so tight, HR teams cannot afford to ignore the new expectations workers have for their careers and the companies they work for. Organizations must find ways to meet and surpass employee expectations so they can attract, hire, and retain top talent. AI-backed talent intelligence tools can help.
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