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Rewriting Employee Engagement

Organizations must now consider a deeper and more holistic view of what employees want out of their work experience. Those that can't do it will inevitably see their best talent leave.

A group of people sitting around a table in an office.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the "working" world as we knew it suddenly stopped. It was an unprecedented moment for people to examine their working lives. Do I like my job? Is this the best I can do to integrate my personal and professional life? Am I making a difference? Am I happy?

Many didn't like what they realized.

Hence the Great Reshuffle, which describes a recent significant trend toward people quitting their jobs to find ones they believe could be more satisfying. Nineteen million resigned between March and July 2021. Routinely changing jobs is nothing new, especially in a robust economy, but this is different: it's a desire for change fed by pandemic-era introspection.

Not surprisingly, tech is the industry with the highest quit rate since 2020, which likely is a result of burnout that's common in the field and the sheer number of options in the job-rich sector.

It would be easy or tempting for employers to dismiss the Great Reshuffle as a blip, a short-term trend to be managed as a crisis. I believe it is indeed a people movement—particularly in industries like tech that already were contending with labor shortages—but it's one that is becoming endemic.

What we're seeing now is shift of power from employer to employee, a humanistic labor evolution in which people are revisiting their values and what they want to do with their lives. That is forcing employers to adapt to employees' needs instead of the other way around.

Remember when businesses thought the way to make employees happy was a strong compensation package, generous vacation policies and good snacks in the break room? That was so 2019.

Organizations must now consider a deeper and more holistic view of what employees want out of their work experience. Those that can't do it will inevitably see their best talent leave.

So, what should leaders be thinking about in this new era of employee empowerment?

1. Define flexibility. 

Many companies have correctly concluded that workplace flexibility—where, when and how people work—has become an essential ingredient in employee retention.

The fact is, we're living in a time when skilled people can call their own shots. Just about every HR professional has had a conversation with an employee that goes something like this: "You want my brain? I want to move to Connecticut. I'll stay if I can work from there, otherwise, not interested."

At the same time, companies have to decide what works best to meet the goals of the business and consider all stakeholders on it. In some cases, it may be that remote location, part-time schedules or sabbaticals simply are not the best way to meet a team's objectives and key results. That's just business sense.

It's a complex situation, obviously, and it's critical that companies figure out the appropriate balance.

2. Hear people out. 

An organization that executes a top-down approach to deciding the way to work nowadays, without listening to employees, knows well to expect a high attrition rate of their best talent. Managers at all levels and across all functions need to proactively engage their employees in a dialogue about how their lives are changing and what it will take to work at their best moving forward. Listening to the feedback and considering it is a top factor in what happens moving forward are two key components.

And the conversation probably won't be just about hybrid environments. Perhaps, for example, someone would like an opportunity to try a different job in the company. This is an especially ideal time to have the discussion.

The pandemic has left employees with potent, highly personal feelings about their lives and futures. Companies have no choice but to meet them where they are and work together on what that near future looks like. This means the C-suite must be exceedingly human and make employees feel that executives are making decisions based on listening to them, as well as business objectives. Creative solutions are likely to result.

3. Integrate the focus on employee's well-being. 

We have never seen so many businesses prioritize workers' mental health as we do today. Wellness initiatives, from free access to mental health resources to no-work wellness days, have become practically de rigueur in corporate America in the last year. This is a positive step and should not be considered as a temporary fix, but a key aspect of organizational health moving forward.

4. Develop a customer mindset. 

It's second nature for businesses to sweat over their value proposition—the set of qualities that tells prospective customers why they should do business with you rather than competitors and what specific benefits your products deliver.

We should be thinking about employees in the same way. What exactly do we offer to talent in ways that matter to them? How does working for our company meet their professional and life objectives? Why should they work here and not somewhere else?

Clearly delineating their employer value proposition helps companies focus on what it takes to attract and retain talent, and it's become imperative to have this nailed. Everyone is learning as we go, and leaders need to adapt, based on what's working and what's not for the "customer."

The pandemic has presented employers with tremendous challenges. The Great Reshuffle is real and it's not going away any time soon. If companies take the opportunity to adapt and integrate smart approaches, everybody comes out stronger.

Eva Andres is Chief People Officer at Juniper Networks.


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