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Outside the Box: Employers need to get with the post-pandemic work program or lose star employees

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A post-pandemic labor shift is coming, and corporate culture will be the defining factor for companies to attract and retain staff.

More than half of employees surveyed in the U.S. and Canada are looking to change jobs in 2021. The main reasons — burnout, balance, and better pay and benefits — aren’t new. After a year or more of working remotely, and amplified through the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are ready to step away from their current work situations.

This will come at a cost to employers. Replacing an single employee can cost from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. People leaving en masse has an even greater effect on teamwork. It takes significant time to rebuild trust and safety within the group, and this has a detrimental effect on productivity and innovation. 

The pandemic has revealed two critical shifts. First, business leaders have a responsibility for their workers’ well-being. Second, rising income inequality in the U.S. is a call for systemic change at all levels of American society, including the workplace. Designing an employee experience that works for everyone is a critical imperative for leaders in every sector — not only to stop people from leaving but to engage and inspire them to be the best version of themselves so that both they and the business can thrive.

The perks that once played a key role in attracting and retaining staff now feel less valuable after this pandemic year. Listening to what people want from their workplace can help company leaders design a culture that fits the post-pandemic era. Here are four key areas of focus:

1. Flexibility: Working from anywhere can be the new normal. Just 9% of employees now want to return to the office full-time. Real flexibility is not just where we work, but also when and how. Leaders need to let go of managing workers’ time and start enabling teams to make their own way. For example, using learning from the pandemic about what employees want and how they work at their best, U.K. firm iTech Media invited staff to design their own work day, trusting teams to find ways to collaborate that take into account individual circumstances.

2. Connection: Employees who feel a sense of belonging are five times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work than employees at workplaces that do not focus on inclusion. Hybrid work environments will make this more difficult. New processes for onboarding employees to plug them into the culture quickly are now essential. 

For example, Amy’s Kitchen, the purpose-led organic vegetarian food company, has used the pandemic as an opportunity to offer new team members ways to better understand the company’s values. Likewise, reflect on the rituals that work for your company and revise or retire the ones that do not support open communication. Leaders can listen for what teams need to strengthen bonds, build trust and involve employees in decision-making. 

3. Reward: While pay and benefits will remain a factor, nine of 10 workers say they are willing to take a pay cut for more purposeful work. Rewarding work recognizes the impact and contribution of each individual. Leaders can make promises that ensure the opportunity for meaningful work, connecting each team member to their role in delivering on the company’s purpose.

4. Growth: Climbing the corporate ladder is now less important for many people. Employees instead want balance, well-being and personal growth. The development of the whole person, tailored to one’s learning style, will not only support the individual to thrive but also foster the collective growth of the organization. 

Leaders can demonstrate their support for development that takes into account all aspects of a person’s growth. We can no longer separate “work” from “life” when the two have become so interconnected. For leaders themselves, demonstrating a personal commitment to development is also essential to role-model the importance of well-being to the corporate culture.

These four areas — flexibility, connection, reward and growth — are the critical lenses that company leaders can use to rethink and redesign the workplace experience. In doing so, they will address the critical areas of disengagement and dissatisfaction. 

Looking at the four areas holistically will ensure the corporate culture is strengthened at all levels. Through deep listening to individual needs, managers can better understand how to deliver an equitable employee experience that sets everyone up for success. Attracting and retaining the best people now relies less on providing perks and more on keeping promises.

Jeff Melnyk is founding partner at Within People, which helps business leaders build purpose-led and values-driven corporate cultures.

Also read: One prediction of returning to work post-COVID: ‘Unpredictable and potentially chaotic’

Plus: The coronavirus pandemic will end as it began — unpredictably

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