As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to fundamentally change the way we work and live, it has never been more difficult to hire and retain employees. Due to evolving societal norms, advances in technology and a shortage of qualified candidates, the tide had already started to shift in employees’ favor in recent years.

The pandemic accelerated this trend, as even more employees found reasons to quit — from seeking more flexibility to spend more time with family to wanting to devote their energy toward more meaningful causes. Yet despite The Great Resignation, many employers still don’t seem to give enough thought into retaining their workforce.

A recently published whitepaper on becoming a human-centric employer cites a survey of 1,000 senior executives in North America in which only 16% of the respondents said that improving employee engagement and retention would be a priority for their organization over the next two years. In addition, only 5% stated that employee demand is a top consideration when they make big strategic or operational changes. Even in a data-driven environment that trends toward high-tech concepts such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, humans remain the heart and soul of a business. If companies don’t start paying attention to the changing needs of its people, it will eventually lead to problems such as increased turnover, disengaged employees, lower productivity, a lack of innovation and more difficulty in hiring top talent.

So, what can an organization do to not only attract the most qualified candidates, but also retain them and keep them motivated and productive? Here are four strategies that can help employers focus employees’ holistic well-being and gain a significant advantage over the competition.

1.) Embrace Flexibility

Perhaps the biggest change to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic was the shift to remote work and flexible work arrangements. Almost overnight, companies were forced to completely change the way they operate.

This monumental transformation in workplace dynamics has shifted the balance of power to employees. Workers now expect that the technology and tools they use in their daily lives, which enable lightning-fast collaboration and access to information, should also be readily available at work. However, many organizations have still not made enough effort to accelerate their transformation to a dynamic and digital workplace.

Even those who let their employees work remotely may not actually be equipped to do so. You can’t simply implement a flexible, productive, and secure remote-capable work environment without the proper infrastructure. That’s why companies must take this opportunity to invest in building a dynamic workplace that allows its team members to connect and collaborate seamlessly.

But technology isn’t the only way that companies can empower employees. Leaders should also take this opportunity to rethink productivity through the lens of efficiency. Instead of focusing on the number of hours spent on a task, or the process required to achieve it, teams may be better off focusing on the impact or outcome. This motivates and empowers employees by giving them the chance to take ownership of their work and harness their creativity and talents to achieve optimal results.

2.) Adopt a Holistic Policy That Champions Health and Wellness

Employers have typically addressed employee well-being with sick leave and a standard company-wide health insurance plan. However, the concept of health and wellness is much more than that.

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. It’s not just merely treating a sickness or condition when it arises, it’s providing a holistic and supportive system that focuses on individual employees’ unique goals. This holistic approach to health and well-being means expanding beyond traditional benefits like health insurance to promote a better work-life balance. Employers should ask questions such as, “What do they need from us?” and “How can we support them at work?”

This could lead to flexible work arrangements and better support for remote workers. It could mean more progressive wellness benefits such as counseling services, ergonomic furniture, fitness programs, and charitable work. Employees also want to feel connected with their colleagues despite not physically being in the same office, so ways to encourage connection, such as employee resource groups, can help keep workers engaged and happy.

3.) Build a Culture People Want to Be a Part of

For many decades, a job was considered ‘good’ if it paid well and had benefits such a retirement plan and health insurance. That was back when people didn’t really have much information about the culture and values of the companies they were applying to. These days, with the internet and social media now a daily part of our lives, it’s very easy to find out exactly what a company stands for.

As a result, most of today’s employees, especially the younger generations entering the workforce, want a lot more than just a steady paycheck when they apply for a job. They only want to join organizations that enable them to grow professionally while also aligning with their own personal values such as sustainability, corporate social responsibility and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

To attract and retain employees that will remain engaged and be proud of their job, companies must establish a clear mission and vision that promotes employee development and engagement, as well as positive social change. Many people are reflecting on what they want to do, and leaders need to ask them what else they want to do and how the company can help them achieve their professional and personal goals. Employees want to make sure they are on the path they want to be on and that they feel connected while doing their work.

4.) Cultivate Innovation and Creativity

Nowadays, we have this disconnected workforce that’s brought together by technology but lacking the human connection that is vital for creativity and collaboration. This impersonal way of working impacts communication and the speed at which you can innovate as a team.

Innovation is key to thriving in today’s fast-changing business environment. Finding creative solutions requires an out-of-the-box mindset that avoids the existing frameworks and processes that led to the roadblock in the first place.

There’s a balance to what you can do remotely versus in person, but we need to really think about our employees as an asset and have strategies to keep them engaged. We need to be more purposeful about bringing people together. Initiatives such as photography and talent contests, lunchtime art classes and group fitness activities are great for this because they foster creativity in each employee while increasing morale and the sense of community within the organization.

Other strategies include promoting more inclusive team environments and empowering workers to come up with their own ways to solve problems. Giving employees more autonomy helps increase their motivation and performance because they are more invested in what they do. It cultivates a growth mindset that helps bring out the best in each individual team member.