Although it might feel like we’ve turned the corner on the pandemic, not everyone agrees. One survey found that 27% of the workforce that either works remotely or is between jobs believes returning to the office poses significant risk. This can make recruitment and retention a challenge for many employers — and that’s not accounting for the other factors at play in this collective reluctance to accept a job offer or stay at a company.
For some, the lack of interest in work can be traced back to burnout. Others have had a chance to reflect on what exactly they want to do for a living and are willing to wait for the perfect opportunity. Then, there are those who have care responsibilities keeping them on the sidelines, and those who seek greater workplace flexibility, and those who have opted for early retirement, and so on.
A combination of factors is putting greater pressure on the talent market, and companies must respond in kind by repositioning their workplaces to fit the expectations of today’s employees. Doing anything otherwise doesn’t just make you less attractive to job seekers, but it will also cause your retention rates to decline, which hurts the company’s bottom line. Yet only 47% of employed workers are happy with their jobs.
People are looking for more from the companies and leaders they choose to work for. Here’s how you can attract the best:
1. Accommodate employees’ mental health needs.
The impact of the past two years on workplace mental health hasn’t gone unnoticed by the majority of companies. One survey found that 86% of employers rank it as a priority for 2022. However, only 30% of employees say their companies offer access to mental health services.
Review the mental health services covered in your company’s benefits to determine whether improvements must be made. Even expanding coverage to include virtual mental health visits or bringing in a stress coach to help with guided meditation can be of great assistance — and it can support your employee recruitment and retention efforts in the process.
Consider the affordability of mental health services. If your company’s health benefits fail to cover a broad range of services, employees might choose to forgo the expense of high co-pays or other out-of-pocket expenses, leading to more burnout and stress. Look at ways to offset those costs. If insurance coverage is a problem, it’s worth the investment to re-negotiate that type of coverage on new policies, and then make sure your people are aware of the benefits. Sometimes, employees are simply unaware of what’s covered in their plans. The company newsletter, email notifications, and posters in common areas are great ways to spread the word and create a culture of acceptance around asking for help and developing healthy coping skills.
2. Explore new employee engagement strategies.
Employee burnout is frighteningly high these days. Nearly three in five workers report experiencing negative impacts of work-related stress. Countering burnout can be a challenge, but one of the easiest ways to start is with recognition. Gartner research found that employees’ need for recognition increases by around 30% during challenging times. Make a habit of recognizing employee contributions publicly. Use internal communication channels to offer your congratulations, and then send a personal note of thanks to let people know their value.
Nyasha Gutsa, co-founder and CEO of billy, suggests taking employee engagement efforts a step further. “We have a billy day, which is a day when employees get to spend time working on perfecting their craft,” he says. “There are no internal meetings. Employees can sleep in, or they can go run errands if they need to. This has helped us foster a more passionate, engaged workforce, which, in turn, helps us solve business problems.”
Mind you, launching new engagement strategies does take some experimentation. Not everything will move the needle. As Gutsa explains, “We ask what our employees want to do to start feeling more engaged, and we make tweaks to billy day or our other engagement efforts to reflect their preferences.” It’s all about learning what works best for your team.
3. Institute policies that encourage work-life boundaries.
Most people understand the importance of maintaining a work-life balance, and chances are they’re also familiar with some of its tactics: Prioritize health, unplug, make time for friends, etc. But none of these things are possible without the ability to set clear boundaries at work, which is difficult when employees don’t feel supported in doing so.
To ensure you’re instituting policies that do, in fact, encourage work-life boundaries, go directly to the source. Seek feedback from employees on what they might need from you to achieve a better work-life balance. Also, set boundaries with your clients that allow team members to make the break between work and life. More importantly, set a good example by encouraging the leadership team to not send emails after 5 p.m. or on weekends.
One especially novel concept is job crafting, where employees are given the flexibility to alter aspects of their job to find more meaning in their work. Do certain aspects of the job feel more fulfilling? Does their interest lie in certain responsibilities more than others? Job crafting can improve worker satisfaction and support greater work-life balance.
4. Reassess your benefits and compensation package.
The Social Security cost-of-living adjustment will increase 5.9% for this year — the largest since 1982. This has led many companies to rethink not just their raise targets, but also the perks they offer employees. Bonuses, flexible schedules, tuition reimbursement, and hybrid work models are just a few of the benefits topping the list.
To remain competitive in a tight talent market, consider offering more than the new “basics.” Higher starting salaries are always a good start, as are wage increases companywide. One strategy Gartner’s RJ Cheremond recommends is letting employees “trade in” their paid time off. “Remote workers, for example, might have accumulated leave they don’t need; allow them to donate it to an on-site employee to alleviate some of their strain,” she writes. You could also let them trade it in for gift certificates or cash. Another consideration is student-loan debt. Assistance paying down the cost of higher education will be welcome. If your CFO says your company can’t afford these initiatives, it’s time to redefine employee benefits as investments that will pay dividends in the long run.
People often talk about the “new normal” as if it only applies to the adjustments everyone has had to make in their lives. That’s far from the long and short of it, though. Many of the new strategies and policies we’re seeing in the workplace should have been there all along; in many ways, the old days were abnormal. The record-low unemployment rate presents a great opportunity to make a lasting impact on the humanity of recruiting and retention.