The new must-haves for sustainable productivity in business, let alone retention of talent, include real advocacy for mental health and safety at the forefront. The impacts on the next generation are hard to measure right now but we all know it will surely be impactful on the future. Childcare and backup care as well as long-term care resources like EAPs have been seen in some larger businesses for years.
Nonetheless, the creativity of some of the best leading companies includes exploratory new programs and solutions to meet the talent where they are, at home. Pivoting to provide virtual and/or onsite learning resources at a discount or even for free, was necessary as children came home and for many, the end is far from sight.
Companies were forced to act and adapt to keep their talent working when many felt like throwing in the towel. I was even onsite at a client in the essential sector this past week and I walked past cubicles with children in them. Remember, take your child to the rd workday? An actual national day is declared to be April 23 each year. It’s laughable now and that may be a good thing. It was wonderful to witness all the pets and children that interrupted our meetings this past year. Suddenly, real life is okay. Finally, people are realizing we do not need to be compartmentalized to be professional. We are who we are and Amen. And for all to feel this, not just men or women, but all!
And some who were ahead of the curve can now help the rest of the majority to make the necessary transitions. For example, mentorship programs have morphed into businesses formally identifying internal coaches and advocate programs. One of my favorites is offered by a recognized leader in engagement, PwC who pivoted by offering Parent Flexibility Champions to provide support to working parents in developing their own flexible working arrangements. This requires greater communication and transparency in businesses and among teams. While many employers had to be flexible during the lockdowns and shelter at home orders, there were many essential businesses that never closed. I found myself serving them in person and the businesses that had me onsite were investing in listening to the heart of their business.
Leading companies believe in and support two-way conversation and no decision isolated to the top executives will serve all in your organization well. How could it? More than 75% of working parents surveyed cited their employer’s programs to be ineffective for working parents. Meanwhile, the response to parents was so mainstream that many who were not parents suddenly felt less important at work and this is a whole new subset of generational upset. This finding leads me to believe that everyone is feeling the priorities.
Unlike the equal opportunity and same general brush approach to all the programs and work assignments of the future must set forth the need for businesses to meet talent wherever they are in the life stage. It is now necessary to create custom and/or elective options for people depending on their life stage. By only speaking to one segment of your workforce, be it women or working parents, inequalities will be felt.
It is imperative that every business speaks to each demographic in order for them all to feel heard and acknowledged. Most parents fall into much of the available workforce given Millennials now make up 50% of the available talent pool and Gen X’ers comprising a third of the current talent pool domestically. It is essential to attract new Generation Z talent coming out of college. In fact, this talent is career-minded and fiscally conservative like the greatest generation was. The key difference is these young professionals are tech-savvy and globally networked. The point being, while nearly all your talent is likely in the years of raising a family, your current talent on payroll is not your future talent nor the talent you are trying to keep working longer.
Reality tells me that many companies are still figuring out how to adapt. As for the talent, many will choose to never come back, and some made choices to switch jobs, move out of state and even change careers just to get access to virtual work. I find some leaving full-time work to go to part-time work to care for their family members, be it an older grandparent, an ill spouse, or a child. You hear it clearly in job advertisements of growing companies now offering sign-on bonuses and agile shift scheduling as well as full benefits for part-time workers. I feel many businesses will fail to adapt and keep pace with this shift in practice. Many will even underestimate the impact of how the realities of the pandemic hit home.
While the truly best companies retain talent successfully by providing flexibility, resources, and support; I feel that employees will not be as generous with their discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is what people choose to do when no one is looking. Like the executives, I spoke with in March that didn’t like how their employer handled the workforce during the pandemic. Discretionary effort is the energy they reserve to fuel their sense of passion, accomplishment, or something that makes them feel good. Thus, if getting something done makes them feel good, the question remains will it be for home or work? Home will win 9 times out of 10 but the challenge will be for employers to make the life of an employee so seamless in their transition between home and work that the two are integrated.
Work-life integration makes space for physical health, mental wellbeing, and overall self-actualization. When people are enabled and empowered through work to do what is best for them, discretionary effort is realized. If personal values align with organizational values, then what is best for them is in fact the best for the business in which they work as well. Imagine your talent being enabled to achieve excellence in both places and feel good rather than feel the need to choose and sacrifice one for the other.
Imagine if your business had a hand in making that a reality for everyone. Unless the businesses really advocate for shared leadership across demographics and a shared fate to affect the greater good overall, businesses that conduct business as usual when we all know it isn’t usual will lose.
In essence, gone are the days of just providing benefits. Truly caring for people is not a perk you get at work. Truly caring is essential to any relationship and businesses need to start to recognize the relationship they have with everyone on the team. This requires leadership at all levels.