The Great Resignation has paved the way for 2022 to become a year of hyper-focus on the issues that matter most to the workforce.
The “Great Resignation” is happening in full force as millions of workers quit their jobs every month. More than ever, employers need to understand how they can meet employee’s expectations for what they want in a job—especially in an increasingly hybrid world.
“Given that shared office space is no longer the physical glue that unifies the employee experience, employers are tasked with redefining culture in the hybrid era,” says Juliette Meunier, EY Americas Technology People Advisory Services Leader. “They must simultaneously differentiate themselves and create unique experiences that allow them to stand out among the competition, while also ensuring equal footing for all employees—regardless of location.”
That’s why, in what she terms the coming “Year of the Employee,” we’ll see more employers applying a laser focus to areas like the physical and mental health of their people, transformative leadership, technology enablement, employee engagement and key social and environmental issues. Employee engagement will also emerge as a board-level topic in 2022 and we’ll see boards pressuring CEOs and executives to meaningfully address retention.
“As employees begin to take more control over the way they work and reinvent workflows and design processes that are more closely aligned with the way their team thinks and works, transformative leadership will be critical,” says Meunier. “The traditional leaders who believe the best strategy to develop their teams is by being in the same physical location will ultimately lose their relevance—and their best people.”
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Meunier shared her thoughts on five ways leaders and employers will need to adjust in the coming year—and beyond—as they strive to compete in the War for Talent
1.) Rethinking traditional work structures
As employers reimagine the employee experience, they need to figure out a way to replicate the pre-pandemic water cooler experience. “We used to ‘work hard, play hard,’” says Meunier. “Now we work hard and then work even harder. The pendulum has swung too far.”
According to the 2021 EY Work Reimagined Employer Survey, 96% of employees want flexibility in where and when they work, while 90% of employers agree on the need to provide future flexibility in where/when employees work.
But there’s a catch. While remote and hybrid work has given employees more autonomy, it has also forced a shifting of work/life boundaries. Employees are dealing with the uncertainty and anxiety of a global pandemic, while simultaneously caring for family members and managing back-to-back meetings without breaks. “No wonder our mental health has suffered,” says Meunier.
That’s why, in the coming year, fostering physical and mental well-being will become key priorities for employers—as well as rethinking traditional work structures and new ways of working.
“To bring back the human connection, employers will need to focus on creating engaging and meaningful environments where employees can thrive,” says Meunier, “as well as technology that can help them better engage and collaborate in real life.”
2.) Digitally empowering and supporting the workforce
We learned over the past two years how technology can play an increased role in how we work. That trend will continue into 2022 as employers strive to use technology to put the employee experience at the center of their efforts. Intelligent technology will be adopted at an accelerated rate and will be essential to effective and efficient ways of working. That includes functions like monitoring employee engagement, enabling environmental, social and governance goals while also powering diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
“With the power of collaboration tools and almost two years of data under our belts, technology tools can help employers determine the people who are the key knowledge brokers that need to be supported in order to drive the growth of the business,” says Meunier. “Making the invisible visible will allow employers to purposefully structure their horizontal networks in a way that until now has simply been left to chance. Through digital footprints from calendars, email and other information, employers can quickly identify key data points—both pockets of brilliance and gaps in the network that are impeding innovation.”
3.) Skills and outcomes will supersede roles and job functions
Meunier predicts that there will be a notable shift in workforce planning in 2022, with companies doubling down on hiring for the right capabilities and outcomes rather than filling jobs and roles. Employers will become more purposeful about how they can get the best talent at the right cost and risk levels.
“A focus on work outcomes, across talent and resourcing processes and systems, will enable real-time pooling and deployment of resources to where they are most needed,” she says. “New levels of remote and dispersed working will accelerate liquidity potential because talent can now be sourced and leveraged from anywhere, for shorter periods with fewer transaction costs, orchestrated in real time by digital tools.”
That kind of shift could be great news for employees who are just entering the workforce because the options are practically limitless—from being a gig worker, to working in a remote location, to focusing on certain skill sets in which they’d like to develop an expertise.
“This is an ideal time for the generation just entering the workforce to consider all of their options and shape the trajectory of their future,” says Meunier. “It is truly a new working world for them and they should take advantage of this.”
4.) Rethinking leadership
“If there was ever a time for strong leadership, it is now,” says Meunier. “Leaders need to focus on the well-being of their people and be super connectors. With the ‘Great Resignation,’ it’s critical for leaders to stay close to their employees and to help their teams stay connected in a virtual world.”
Meunier says it’s critical for leaders to prioritize two critical skills that can be lost in our virtual world: empathy and being present. Case in point: According to the 2021 EY Empathy in Business Survey, 89% of respondents agreed that empathy leads to better leadership and that it also creates more loyalty among employees.
“It is too easy to multitask and not be fully engaged during our many calls, meetings, presentations and personal responsibilities,” she says. “It’s also tempting to go inward and brace for impact during challenging times. However, being present, open, flexible and transparent are key traits that will go a long way in our new working world. Good leaders have always been the linchpins of the employee engagement puzzle, and the hybrid era will elevate the importance of strong leadership to new heights.”
Leaders need to be open and honest and involve employees in the business, ultimately creating a more engaged workforce.
“Strong leaders will adjust their leadership styles to adapt to these new ways of working and to the ‘on demand’ type of leadership and mentoring that younger generations crave,” says Meunier. “In the future, leadership will come about through more formalized mentorship and development opportunities and through more unstructured virtual forums for team conversations.”
5.) Attracting and retaining a diverse workforce
According to the 2021 EY Gen Z Segmentation Study, almost two-thirds (63%) of Gen-Z feel it is extremely important to work for an employer that shares their values, and they collectively shift toward activism when it comes to issues that matter to them.
Additionally, there will be a greater spotlight on hiring from a diverse talent pool, creating more overt, public roles for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), social anxiety disorders, autism, dyslexia and other conditions. Meunier also expects to see more companies prioritizing the acceleration and expansion of social and environmental goals.
“Employers need to demonstrate their shared values and make employees feel like they are seen, heard and appreciated,” says Meunier.
Leaning into the future
While many employers are viewing this time of the Great Resignation as a challenge, Meunier believes it will ultimately create positive change in the long term by requiring employers to rethink their strategies around employee engagement, retention, recruiting and understanding how they can improve the employee experience.
“Rather than simply replacing departing employees with new ones, employers will double down on retention for knowledge consistency, increased morale and lower costs,” she says.
In other words, the balance of power has begun to shift away from employers and more to employees—which is why 2022 promises to be the Year of the Employee.