Human relations experts claim companies who are more supportive of their people as we navigate choppy economic and geopolitical waters will do better.
Prof Maeve Houlihan is associate dean and director of the UCD Lochlann Quinn School of Business. While she admits “the great resignation” that was predicted following the pandemic didn’t quite materialise, she believes people are still assessing what they want from their careers in the aftermath.
“People are beginning to really appraise their jobs. It was a rough pandemic and now we are beginning to see a lot of churn. We are seeing a lot of mobility and pent up demand for change. Retaining talent and having reliable talent is a real challenge for organisations.”
Ultimately there has been a shift in people’s expectations, Houlihan says. “People are rethinking what they are comfortable with, even if they are quite loyal. Our psychological contract has essentially shifted along with our expectations, and organisations have to respond because there is so much choice at the moment for people with the talent shortage.”
According to Orla Stafford, human capital senior manager at Deloitte, the pandemic did herald a paradigm shift in the workplace, whereby it is now infinitely more “human centric”.
“The relationship between the organisation and the workforce is evolving,” says Stafford. “Deloitte research has shown that highly successful companies across the globe tend to adopt a human-centric approach which requires them to approach everything with a human-first mindset – whether it is designing a new process, deciding how to return to work or implementing a new system. Your first question should always be, ‘how can we make this more human?’” She sees this as being inevitable, but admits the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this.
Good work life balance and development opportunities are attractive to Millennials and the Gen Z population, Stafford adds. “Therefore organisations are making significant investments to ensure these needs are accommodated, whereas it might not have been the case 20 years ago.”
Organisations are also recognising that purpose is an important factor in attracting and retaining talent – people are seeking new meaning in their career choices and their lives. “Having a strong purpose helps organisations be distinctly human by speaking to the need of people to belong,” Stafford says. “People no longer just want to work for a salary – they want to work for a place where they find meaning in what they do. In a world that is constantly changing, the one thing that should remain constant is the values and purpose that guides the organisation.”
Lorraine Roche, director of HR at law firm Matheson, agrees. “Good employers who want to keep their talent truly engaged need to fully embrace all aspects of diversity and inclusion. They need to understand the importance of providing a psychologically safe environment where employees feel comfortable speaking out and sharing opinions and ideas without fear of being judged. This level of support encourages employees to be themselves and in turn breeds innovation and job satisfaction.”
Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of employees should be a priority for all organisations, adds Roche. She says access to some form of employee-assistance programme is more crucial than ever as employees continue to struggle with adapting to change brought on by Covid-19.
“Offering employees the flexibility to work the hours that suit them to accommodate personal demands, be it childcare, caring responsibilities, training commitments etc, is a really great support and should remain a priority as the majority of organisations transition to hybrid working,” she says. “Every employee wants to feel appreciated for the work they do, and in today’s hybrid working world an employer’s gratitude can make a very positive impact.”
Jonathan Legge, co-founder and CEO of &Open, which works with clients such as Intercom and BetterUp, agrees. “As a society we’re getting better about inserting more humanity and thoughtfulness into the workplace; corporations that still operate in a dog-eat-dog world feel extremely archaic and outdated. Not to mention not at all what candidates are looking for.”
According to Legge, that shift starts with prioritising employee happiness, noting that there are plenty of studies that show happier employees generally lead to higher productivity. “This can look like extra days off, more meaningful check-ins, or even something novel like a great gift. Whatever it is, letting those on the inside know they’re valued has the power to positively influence not only retention rates but business-critical objectives. We’ve seen it time and time again with our own clients at &Open.”
Many companies are trying to go the extra mile. Recent headlines about major companies introducing policies on leave for miscarriages, menstrual issues, and fertility treatment have caused a stir. Does this mean women are finally getting the recognition they deserve when it comes to specific health problems that in the past they would have simply had to just get on with? Roche believes this is the case.
“As part of the wider D&I agenda, organisations need to focus more on women’s health as a means to keep strong female talent engaged and supported. Conversations are now starting to take place that deal with what once were ‘taboo’ subjects such as menopause and the impact that this particular stage in life can have on wellbeing and work performance,” she says, adding that the stigma of female ageing is now something that many organisations are looking to address. “Providing supports around awareness campaigns and introducing advocates and role models to share their own personal experiences can be very impactful.”
Stafford agrees. She says the recent Deloitte Women @ Work report, which surveyed 5,000 women across 10 countries, found that women’s everyday workplace experiences were having a detrimental impact on their engagement and their women’s lives and career.
“In addition to surveying women about their views on the workplace, we asked them what their employers could do to advance gender equality. The highest-ranking action was to provide a respectful and inclusive workplace culture, something that is critical for gender equality at work.”
Yet Stafford believes that the decision of organisations to actively support their workforce is not always purely altruistic, and can often be a strategic one. “Nowadays the way in which a company manages their workforce affects how they are viewed by the public.”
Certainly when it comes to offering a range of supports within the workplace, Houlihan sees it as a win-win for the employer and their people. “If you are not thinking that way as an employer or if you don’t have the means to support your employees in that way, then very quickly you will realise you are not the employer of choice.”