Every employer has a value proposition to deliver on to its people, which includes looking after both personal and professional growth and wellbeing. That has taken on new dimensions in 2020, as employers find themselves needing to be their employees’ friend, therapist, safety supervisor, community builder and megaphone for social justice. That’s a lot of hats to wear, and yet it’s clear these and more will be part of the new baseline expectations employees have.
The pressure mounts to craft the right employee value proposition
Companies are finding they must make sometimes large transitions to play these roles, and are doing so amidst a background of significant tensions. The current economic climate is forcing a contraction of the workforce at the exact moment employers are being called on to deepen their commitment to their employee base. Financial concerns are ever more urgent but are often at odds with being a good world citizen. And digital transformation is accelerating faster than ever before, at a moment when people are desperately seeking more humanity.
The pressure to be on the right side of history in such a cataclysmic moment is very intense, and historic efforts haven’t always threaded the needle of these tensions successfully. We’ve all seen companies that have made big statements on purpose, culture, social responsibility and diversity—but in an effort to prioritize customers and shareholders, many have not delivered on them. 2020 has served as a fresh reminder that businesses can’t pick and choose amongst stakeholders anymore—the survivors of this crisis will prioritize customers, shareholders and employees, as well as communities and society, to truly be good corporate citizens.
This moment demands that employers strike a new deal with their employees.
- Serving customers means serving teams. Customer centricity is critical, but your teams can’t be customer-centric if they are themselves drowning. Taking care of employees’ health, wellbeing and work-life balance need to be an explicit part of any go-forward plan. In fact, 64% of employers believe that COVID will have an outsized impact on employee wellbeing and many are already expanding their efforts to respond.
- Serving diverse audiences requires having multiple perspectives in the conversation. Supporting a diverse network starts by harnessing the contribution of all voices within an organization. A business that makes diversity and inclusivity part of its business strategy now will see this investment pay off when it acquires better, more relevant work and when its position is elevated as a desirable place for top talent to build careers. Interesting that in our own recent research into successfully managing transformation, “harnessing many voices” was seen at the top attribute required by leaders at global organizations.
- Serving employees’ hearts and minds means serving the world. Corporate Social Responsibility is fast becoming a thing of the past as companies are being called into Corporate Social Justice. The calls for social justice made in 2020 are only solidifying the existing trend toward employee-employer shared values. The workforce of tomorrow will only work where they see their employer not only aligning with their values but also making non-optical external commitments to advancing a better world.
Deals go both ways – employers also need new things from their teams:
- Flexibility and agility. Agile is not a new concept. Events of 2020 have demonstrated the need for workforces that are able to “embrace the unknown” and pivot on a dime.
- Learning at the speed of change. With the increased acceleration to automation, companies are imagining fewer and new types of roles. The moment of “meet your new colleagues, they’re robots” is coming to us all. Not just keeping pace but learning ahead of and outside of one’s current job will be critical to success.
- Resilience. If this year has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Employers will value team members that are not just able to change, but willing to lean into what’s next—even when the future is still shrouded in ambiguity.
3 Steps to Future Proof Your Employee-Employer Relationship
To successfully achieve this new contract, employers will need to go beyond standing up one–off efforts to the side of their central business strategy. Serving employees and the world cannot be done with an “initiative,” because it needs to show up at many levels every day and must include many voices to be relevant. The annual planning season is upon us! So what can your company be doing right now to future proof your employee relationship?
1) Take stock of your entire employee value proposition.
Identify the current deal you offer to your employees and set a vision for what you will offer and expect from your workforce tomorrow. Go well beyond traditional mechanisms like salary and benefits to think about long term progression, social impact, education and community.
2) Prioritize building an employee data strategy.
Data will be central to this story. You’ve likely spent years building up your customer data strategy, but most companies either have poor workforce data or are not set up to use it well. Workforce data will be crucial for responding to real-time dynamics and quantifying your impact on people.
3) Seek an active relationship with your employees.
Look to move from a passive relationship with employees to more active, dynamic participation. Just as companies have now practiced maintaining ongoing relevance with customers in a changing world, they must look to build their employee relationships in the same way. They must truly get to know them as individuals not just numbers.
Successfully setting this new deal will bring us closer to hiring, retaining and building the workforce we desire to achieve our business and social goals. And we’ll probably see happier and more productive employees too.