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How to retain people in a post pandemic world – revisiting the value of your people

Dr Michael Reilly is a qualified Psychologist and Director at Change Corp. He has previously worked with NHS and public sector organisations on transformation projects such as digital patient pathways, managing change, online mental health services for patients and online education portals for GPs.
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In the course of human history, there have been few events which have collectively impacted the entire world. The COVID-19 global pandemic is one of those few.  In 2020, Dennis Tourish reflected on the Milton Friedman’s influence to how we organize our economy. He wrote:

Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman asserted that the social responsibility of business was only to increase its profits, within the law. This mantra, with its focus on the short term, gained a strong hold on much of business practice and continues to guide leadership decision-making in response to COVID-19”  (Tourish 2020)

Adherence to this mantra suggests that organization response to the disruption caused by the pandemic must therefore lead to cost reductions – people being the biggest driver of costs.  In fact, a completely different response is needed, at a macro- economic level and politically for sure, but also inside organisations across all sectors!

But who could have predicted the post-pandemic employment landscape in which we find ourselves? One in which:

  • People continue to reevaluate their lives, choosing balance, health and family over hard-charging business priorities;
  • The end of the Furlough scheme, and people waiting it to see if their old jobs will return;
  • Supply chain chaos, with managers and leaders in many sectors scrambling to find employees willing to take jobs;
  • Skills shortages from butchers to HGV drivers, care workers, nurses, police, flower pickers, fruit pickers – the list is endless and is compounded by a worrying ageing employed population;
  • Slowly rising inflation and commensurate price increases for goods – including food stuffs, fuel, building materials etc.

What does this mean for employers?

Ask any HR professional and they will tell you that productivity increases the more engaged an employee is. Why? Because engagement is often defined as the discretionary effort an employee will give in service to the organization’s goals. What happens when the employee doesn’t identify with the company goals or mission? They put in less effort (relatively). What makes an employee identify with the company’s goals or mission? The employee’s values. If you don’t know what your employees value, (and it is more than their paycheck) then you have some investigating to do and I advise doing so quickly. More employees and candidates will prioritize their values, clarified by our collective near- death experience, as they make employment decisions.

This means that you quickly need to consider actions to take to retain your most valued employees.

Meaningful Work

Generationally speaking, each generation, from the Boomers to Gen Z, have gotten progressively concerned with the meaning of their work, of feeling valued, and that they are contributing to a greater good. To keep these employees, organizations need to be able to articulate the bigger picture of their impact in your community and the value that the individual employee contributes to that picture.If you can restructure or reprioritize work so that your employees can spend more time contributing in ways that they are passionate about, you are more likely to retain them. They in turn are likely to be more productive because their energy and effort is directed in ways that align with their values. To make this strategy work, you need to understand what parts of an employee’s job they are passionate about.

Workplace environment

If you want to retain and obtain specific skills and talent going forward, then we must recalibrate where we believe value resides – and current events suggest the pyramid is being turned upside down. Previously unappreciated roles are seen in a new light – where value is seen in how they contribute to delivering services long taken for granted – the HGV driver, the nurse, the refuse collectors, the care workers and agricultural workers – in the pre Covid-19 world – the Milton Friedman world – the lowest paid!

The pandemic accelerated employers’ acceptance of flexible workplace policies to better align with the expectations of the talent marketplace. Combined with a renewed energy of employees to prioritize their values and their personal lives, organizations will need innovative responses to win the war for talent.

Rethink talent needs.

Recognize that the world in which you operate has dramatically changed. As much as it might be comfortable to focus on backfilling people you may have already lost by looking for those with similar skills and experience, you have a golden opportunity to rethink what your organization needs to do to move forward.

Identify talent and skill gaps and refocus your recruiting strategies to attract people who will drive future success. Analyze your most significant challenges and what kind of employees will help you overcome them. Seek people who have honed their remote working skills. Even if you plan to bring most employees back into the office, you are likely to find new demands for remote work either from employees themselves or from the need to cut your operational costs.

Beef up employee recognition.

Does anyone think they get too much recognition? Your employees at all levels have been through a lot this past year, professionally and personally. Many are burned out. Some have suffered personal loss and grief.

Middle managers play an essential role in effective employee recognition. Be sure to offer them training on how to provide a variety of public and private recognition to employees and coach them on the importance of being specific when providing recognition. Such feedback should include what the employee did, what strengths they applied and how it positively impacted the company or team.

Help managers understand how important it is for employees to feel respected and valued by them and develop ways to hold them accountable for doing this. Further, set the right example and recognize those middle managers who are successful at recognizing others.

Conduct stay interviews.

Many companies conduct exit interviews, but unfortunately, these are too late to retain your valuable employees.

 “What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?” and “What would make your job more satisfying?” Work with managers and your human resources team to compile the answers to these questions and look for patterns where action is needed.

Find out what employees are thinking and feeling.

Pre-pandemic you may well have done a great job of assessing your organizational culture. Perhaps not. Either way much has changed.

Three ways to assess the current status of your culture include focus groups; employee spot surveys; and getting out of your office and walking around, observing and listening to employees. Use the information gathered from these approaches to develop an employee retention plan and include a diverse cross-section of employees to aid in its development. Make sure employees who are working remotely are involved.

Do not underestimate the importance of equity.

Employees leave organizations for many reasons and it is tempting to think that as long as your pay scales are competitive, compensation will not be a key driver of turnover.

Ensuring fair and equitable pay, however, is a vital component of your company’s reputation, both internally and externally. Do a deep dive into your pay practices from a diversity and inclusion perspective: Are women in like roles paid less than men? What about minorities or other diverse employees? Also, examine if your organization targets promotional opportunities as well and developmental assignments in an equitable manner.

Post-pandemic success is contingent on your ability to think and lead differently. A more employee-centered approach with all aspects of the way in which you conduct business will create a positive environment and a more loyal workforce.

Contact me for more information on our Team Leaders for the Future programme and how we can help you build high performance teams.

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Contact us if you would like to discuss how Change Corp can support you in these challenging times.

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