The impact of COVID-19 on organizations has entered a new phase. Perceptions of work have evolved, and competition for talent crosses nearly every industry, requiring employers to rethink a new set of employee concerns, expectations and values.
Since early 2020, the intensity and constancy of change has forced organizations to keep moving forward without looking back. They initially shifted from a reactive mode caused by market disruptions to a focus on business continuity, including employee safety and wellbeing. Now, though operational concerns about COVID-19 linger, attraction and retention has reemerged as a key priority.
Recommitting to the employee value proposition (EVP)
Understanding what the workforce values most is not a new priority for attraction and retention, but its importance takes on a new dimension as organizations adapt to the pandemic. Employees' coping methods and skills have improved, but familiar concerns such as personal finances and childcare still preoccupy the minds of many. For these reasons, day-to-day stress is putting job satisfaction at the heart of their employment interests.
In response, employers are reexamining how closely and consistently they adhere to their EVP. While language updates or a shift in direction can occur relatively quickly, changing the lived experience of the organizational culture takes longer — and this could pose a problem.
A lag between the EVP's intent and cultural reality can create a disconnect that erodes trust and may even lead to growing discontent. However, by making incremental updates, leadership and management are able to introduce change gradually, allowing it to cascade through the organization. There's more time for training and other adjustments, which helps them better understand how to enact the EVP's promise successfully.
The global events of 2020 that forced organizations to pivot and adopt new policies at record speed did not escape the notice of the workforce. Having glimpsed the capacity for operational change, employees have updated expectations about the pace and parameters of organizational change. Alongside traditional benefits, they also value a more nimble — and accommodating — employee experience. Yet with employers and employees still shaping what the future of work will look like, this expectation puts a huge demand on leadership teams. They're accustomed to much longer strategic timelines, which highlights the need for innovation.
Getting ahead of the challenges and opportunities of remote work
Remote work, typically a more limited opportunity for many employees in the recent past, proliferated into a popular and sometimes mandated arrangement. Although this desirable perk has become more of an expectation, it's still important for attraction and retention. But forward-thinking employers may want to consider more distinctive options to add value to their employee experience.
Issues of compensation related to remote work have created another wrinkle for HR. More employers now face the task of determining a fair and competitive wage for employees who regularly work at a site that is far removed from their employer's location. So pulling ahead in the competition for talent requires analysis of actionable data from a variety of internal and external sources.
How data drives HR and operational goals
Real-time benchmarking of compensation and benefit trends enables employers to refine their attraction and retention strategies. When in-house capabilities for analyzing the strength of foundational benefits reach their limit, external expertise can help differentiate results at the sector level. An important extension of this process is finding best-fit candidates to fill specific roles.
For employers, an extended pandemic recovery continues to spotlight both the need and the opportunity to update their hiring and workforce management processes. Radical changes to the business environment in the last two years may have altered the talent profiles required to move an organization forward. Plotting a course based on a three- to five-year people strategy guards against an over-emphasis on short-term needs and current staffing concerns.
Employee turnover disrupts operations and can influence future departures. Analysis of exit interviews, demographic patterns and characteristics by role may provide important insights into why employees are leaving. Understanding who is leaving and where they're going may also uncover critical information about how to refine retention efforts and strengthen the employee experience.
Expanding the dashboard of employee performance metrics to include soft skills may help increase engagement, and boost employee and customer satisfaction. Overall, a best practice is identifying how to use data in new ways that effect positive change, leading to sustainable improvements within the organization.
Perception of Remote Work Among Employees2:
- Twenty-two percent (22%) of employers described the current perception of remote work arrangements among their employees as an expectation, not a perk
- Thirty percent (30%) of employers described the current perception of remote work arrangements among their employees increasingly common option but an appreciated perk
- Twenty-one percent (21%) of employers described the current perception of remote work arrangements among their employees as a very distinct option and highly valued perk
Building engagement and continuity through communication
Pay may be the primary reason people need jobs, but an attractive employer brand and a satisfying experience are the reasons why they want them and why they stay. Communicating with employees only about compensation and benefits creates one-dimensional awareness of all the organization offers — and missed opportunities for appreciation.
The employee experience is more fully enhanced when support for career paths and meeting growth goals is promoted. It's also enriched through communication about investments in community interests and opportunities for the workforce to participate. As part of the organization's story, concern for society often resonates, especially in the current climate.
A multifaceted communication strategy better prepares organizations to more effectively reach and engage individuals and groups within a hybrid workforce. Creating targeted content and planning delivery based on a comprehensive cross-functional calendar helps ensure that messages meet their mark, when recipients are most receptive. Choosing from a variety of channels will help drive engagement, including mobile touchpoints as well as on-demand and visual platforms. Digital communication is the common denominator for ensuring continuity across work locations.
Messaging that increases interest and understanding while influencing attitudes and behaviors is the overall goal of employee communications. Specifically, the desired outcomes for employers may range from the completion of a specific task to boosting the likelihood of retention. With much of the world accustomed to social media, shorter and more casual messages with a clear intent and personal touch will capture more attention.
Throughout the dialogue employers have with their employees, every touchpoint is an opportunity to tell the organization's story. It's a chance to build the brand and enrich a shared vision of success, wherever and however the connection is made.
Why a hybrid workforce raises concerns about equity
Working remotely may come with flexible options, which increases its appeal to some workers, while others welcome the return to a familiar onsite space that's conducive to in-person collaboration. Potentially, such personal preferences could divide employees. So employers will want to get ahead of risks like unconscious bias and other toxic workplace dynamics, which may lead to discrimination against remote workers.
As time passes and social influences evolve, work location preferences may become more individualized. Continuing to monitor changes and manage expectations is essential to an authentic EVP and a competitive brand. Communicating the value of the onsite workplace as both a shared interaction hub and the touchpoint for a common identity creates an inviting culture. Through this strategic practice, employers create and sustain a unified employee experience that builds organizational success from within — no matter where work gets done.
This article is part of the 2021 Q4 Gallagher Better WorksSM Insights Report: Building a Better Employee Experience that explores longer-term strategies centered on paid time off, mental health resources and hybrid work environments, as well as trending approaches for more immediate challenges like vaccination mandates and incentives.
1Gallagher, "Workforce Trends Report Series: People & Organizational Wellbeing Strategy," June 2021
2Gallagher, "Workforce Trends Pulse Survey #3," October 2021