When the Future of Work is Uncertain, Culture Looms Large for Talent Engagement and Retention
September 24, 2021
September 24, 2021

Here’s a newsflash you’re likely living and breathing every day if you’re in an HR or leadership position: The Great Resignation is upon us, and up to 55% of employees (your employees) are looking for jobs and expect to make a career change in the next 12 months. That’s according to a new Bankrate survey that piles on to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that there are an all-time-high 10.1 million open positions across the U.S. right now.

HR leaders, already weary from challenging years in 2020 and 2021, are preparing for more uncharted territory on the talent front in 2022. The talent tumult is driven by continued COVID upheaval and growing competition for workers who seem increasingly hard to find and difficult to keep in their seats. While the risk of burnout is real, savvy CHROs and HR executives are finding solace by tapping into the wisdom and lessons learned from their peers and revising their strategies. Yes, the war for talent is raging, but there’s just as much—and perhaps more—to be gained from collaboration than competition.

If you’re feeling a bit like you’re on an island as an HR leader or talent manager, rest assured that the challenges you’re facing are very much the same reality for your peers. We recently gathered a group of CHROs from some of the area’s leading employers for a lively roundtable discussion. The themes, thoughts and takeaways are indicative of the challenges – and opportunities – HR leaders have right now.

Culture is the Bedrock of Talent Engagement

The watchword for HR leaders, both this year and next, is “fluidity.” When it comes to planning, fixed is out; resilience and flexibility are in. Many of us experienced this need poignantly with the recent announcement of sweeping new vaccine mandates that will affect 100 million Americans—and the HR leaders who are trying to support them. When plans are in a constant state of flux, your culture will provide stability and serve as the foundation for your talent recruitment and retention efforts.

While it’s true that culture has always been a driver and this is nothing new, its importance has expanded nearly exponentially in a tight labor market. It’s how organizations will address and put into action the solutions to some of the biggest issues that are top-of-mind with employees.

Additionally, culture is now in the hands of leaders across the organization, not just a select few. CHROs and executives will need to recognize this decentralization and look for ways to address skills gaps and deficits. What got us here today won’t necessarily get us there tomorrow.

Prepare Leaders to Provide a Clear Vision for Employees and Their Future

The flexibility many employers afforded their workers throughout the pandemic has taken root and is now an expectation. While this is true across all components that affect the work-life balance, it’s specifically manifesting in discussions around DE&I, remote work policies, compensation models, and benefits packages. The last 18 months have opened employees’ eyes to the potential for radical changes in how work gets done, their employer’s role in their career development, and the organization’s responsibility to support positive changes around diversity and inclusion.

The demarcation between work and life has blurred. As a result, HR and business leaders need to be prepared to dialogue thoughtfully on the issues that matter to talent both professionally and personally:

  • What can you do to accelerate my growth and development?
  • How can you help me chart my career path here?
  • What specific benefits can I access that are important to me?
  • How do I know I am doing work that matters?

There’s a Light, But It’s in the Distance

The consensus at our CHRO roundtable is that things are likely to get worse before they get better on the talent front, and we’re in for a challenging 2022. The diversity of opinion among HR leaders about their approach, with some hardliners advocating for less flexibility with talent than their progressive counterparts, shows how much is unknown right now and how much is yet to solidify. However, the CHROs we’ve spoken with nearly unanimously agree that more one-on-one conversations are needed to explore what’s important to employees and potential employees.

We wholeheartedly agree and are advocating for HR leaders to start thinking through three topics and approaches:

1. Focus on Leadership Development: It’s important to prepare your leaders at all levels of the organization to address these challenging issues. The one-size-fits-all era is over and these leaders will need to develop new skill sets to have productive conversations with employees. It’s equally important to give them the tools and techniques to mitigate the very real stress they’ll be facing over the next 12 months on the talent front

2. Increase Your Proximity to the Employee Experience: The gap between leaders and frontline employees, especially remote workers, is widening. This is most keenly felt at large and complex organizations. It’s important now to attempt to bridge those gaps in new and creative ways.

3. Appreciate the Differences and Have a Conversation: Generational differences in the workplace are more than interesting things to talk about in research reports. They manifest in real ways that impact employee satisfaction. Expectations among mid-career managers will be different than those of your youngest employees, so it’s important to start having conversations with people at all life and career stages to get a better understanding of their motivations. Employees not only want to be included but feel they belong. Recognizing and respecting differences is a starting point to belonging.

Where Do We Go from Here?

If any of this rings true or piques your interest, we invite you to attend the upcoming Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce event, Rethinking Company Culture for Talent Engagement. On September 28th at 10 a.m., I’ll provide opening remarks for a virtual panel of regional employers exploring the importance of defining company culture in the workplace and other factors that can positively affect talent engagement during times of change.