Authors: Kathleen Schulz Tom Belmont Jr. Genevieve Roberts
Predictions about when businesses will fully transition out of a crisis mode, after the pandemic resolves, remain speculative. What is certain is that the experience of this predicament has influenced more agile approaches to compensation and benefits. Employers now focus on recalibrating employee expectations, with the support of management training and a new emphasis on courageous leadership.
Decisions about staff and supply chain needs based on only a near-term impact have become a riskier gamble with the potential for long-term consequences. In a hot labor market, compensation is often used as a lever to address both attraction and retention — yet changes tend to have lasting ramifications for employers and a corresponding effect on their customers. Pay increases alone will not sufficiently and sustainably lift morale.
Recalibrating to an evolving reality makes sense in the current climate. Employers create a better employee experience when they put a higher importance on work flexibility and psychologically safe workplaces that value diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
The essential relationship between empathetic listening, appropriate actions and productivity
Rising concerns about employees' mental and emotional health include challenges related to workforce civility, productivity and turnover. Beyond workplace relationships, negative behaviors may have a reverberating impact on the customer experience.
As workforce needs and expectations change, management and leadership styles are more successful when they adapt in response. Finding the right ways to show employees they matter instills a greater sense of wellbeing and has a positive effect on engagement, inclusivity and work-life balance. These are the necessary conditions for driving innovation and increasing retention. CEOs appear to be attuned to this priority, with empathy being the skill they desire most in their future leaders.1
Recognizing that the rules of engagement are shifting, many companies are better equipping their managers and leaders to handle the new world of work. They are also reshuffling the focus on key competencies. Enhancing the ability of management and leadership to listen drives alignment with business urgencies, priorities and expectations.
Underlying efforts include assessing and staying up to date on the needs and expectations of employees to determine what is most important to them. For instance, some employers have introduced onsite employee assistance program services such as in- house counselors, demonstrating that mental and emotional health are a cultural priority. Currently, 7% have a counselor or psychologist on staff.2
Sustaining a flexible workplace by setting expectations and examples
Work flexibility is a top retention issue, including workday management, yet many employees in remote or hybrid environments do not voice their expectations for receiving this benefit. Also, a lack of informal interaction with managers, including face time, often leaves them without a comfortable opportunity to discuss concerns. These communication gaps have a significant downside — they may prevent employees from taking necessary breaks or creating healthy boundaries between their work and personal lives.
Positive cultural shifts occur when employers frame, clearly articulate and model expectations for managing work. Simply reminding employees about the importance of taking lunch and exercise breaks or revisiting expectations for email responses can lift the burden of uncertainty.