Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are quitting their jobs in record numbers, countless Americans are foregoing commutes and the nine-to-five routine, opting to stay remote, and millions of positions remain unfilled as workers hold out for better jobs that offer more professional growth. Employees are reassessing the role of work and the workplace in their lives in search of a different sort of relationship with their employers and careers. Workers are facing a new — and in many cases, unfamiliar — set of challenges as they navigate the complexities of an increasingly remote and hybrid workplace.
It isn’t just a better compensation and work-life balance that today’s employees are seeking: A 2021 study by Amazon and Gallup found that younger workers say subsidized education and training benefits are more important to them than paid time off. They are placing a higher premium on finding potential employers that “walk the walk” on employee development — where company leadership goes above and beyond to support workers in ways that are far more about supporting growth and development instead of strictly about compensation and financial benefits.
The currency of employee benefits is changing, and companies are being forced to get more creative about the types of benefits and support services they provide.
Here are four strategies for companies to support business success and put the needs of employees at the center of today’s workplace:
The traditional compensation package — a competitive salary, medical benefits and paid time off — increasingly looks more like a floor than a ceiling. It is the basic starting point. A growing number of companies are assisting employees with child care and providing education, mental health and wellness benefits that employees want.
Now that more employees have gotten a taste of working from home, flexibility will be another key benefit going forward. Americans are working remotely at twice the rate they were before the pandemic. In some cases, it’s their choice, but in other cases, people are working remotely due to circumstances beyond their control, including a lack of affordable child care, a need to care for sick family members or public health restrictions to halt outbreaks of COVID-19.
Either way, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, nearly 60% of U.S. workers who don’t have to be in the office to do their jobs say they’re working at home most or all of the time. Nearly two-thirds say working from home helps them better balance their careers and personal lives, while the vast majority said they’re still getting as much or more work done at home than they did at the office. Against this backdrop, benefit programs supporting mental health, child care and other basic needs are all growing in popularity.
For instance, long before the pandemic began, Walgreens partnered with Kindercare to offer child care tuition subsidies to its more than 260,000 employees nationwide, helping to make safe, high-quality and affordable child care more accessible to workers in locations across the country. Outdoor apparel company Patagonia, meanwhile, offers on-site child care for employees at its corporate headquarters, consistently generating a 25% decrease in turnover among those who use the benefit. Consumer goods giant, Unilever, meanwhile, has taken lessons learned during the pandemic to create a new flexible and hybrid work program and even experimenting with a four-day work week.
Invest in Coaching and Mentoring
Workers are under immense pressure in today’s workplace. Companies can invest in individualized coaching and mentoring programs to help employees manage work life balance. Coaching and mentoring can help women in the workplace develop time management and organizational skills to balance the complex demands of work, education, finance and family responsibilities.
Today, learning and development (L&D) leaders are deploying new models of coaching, mentoring and support to help employees succeed. Coaching shouldn’t be a one-off meeting squeezed into a new employee’s orientation. Instead, it can be integrated as an employee benefit that supports growth and development over time, helping staff to identify goals, sharpen skills and overcome obstacles. For example, food delivery service Postmates offers a program called The Flexible Toolkit that offers gig workers a one-stop shop for career coaching, mock interviews and recommendations for education and training programs.
Build Pathways to Mobility
Workers have made it very clear that they want upskilling support from their employers. Also according to the Gallup-Amazon survey, upskilling has become an important employee benefit that also helps companies keep existing talent. In addition, six out of 10 workers said the chance to take part in an upskilling program was an extremely or very important factor in their decision to stay with a company. Young adults, meanwhile, rank upskilling as their third most important employee benefit — ahead of even sick time and vacation days.
Companies are beginning to view reskilling as a pragmatic strategy for “internal mobility” that supports retention and employee satisfaction. For example, JP Morgan Chase & Co., created a talent marketplace which provides an internal platform for upskilling and reskilling — helping employees explore new careers within the company, identify opportunities for retraining and learn more about transferable skills they can use in other parts of the company. Not only will this initiative help put current employees on the path to higher-paying careers in high-demand fields, but it will also help the company prepare its workforce for upcoming changes in business and technology.
Create a Culture of Employee Care
Employers must do more than simply operate within the constraints of skill and equity gaps — instead they must take action to close them. They can take action by embracing strategies that affect both individual and collective outcomes. A growing number of companies are awakening to the reality that investing in employee-centric benefits not only supports talent, but also fuels competitive advantage and company growth.
Building such a culture starts with a strong management ethos at the top — one that places a high value on the importance of employee satisfaction, well-being and advancement. Providing management coaching and leadership development for mid- and senior-level managers can help ensure that the organization lives up to its values. Because without strong managers who are committed to maintaining an organizational culture, good work and progress can quickly unravel.
Forward-thinking companies are beginning to realize the value — in economic terms — of an internal culture that puts employee care and success at the center. They can look to the example of Jobs for the Future (JFF), and its network of “impact employers” who are adopting strategies to recruit, retain and reward talent and positively affect employees as well as the company’s bottom line. At a time when an unprecedented amount of workforce turnover threatens productivity at many firms across many industries, a company’s existing talent might be its greatest asset of all.
This logic holds true across industries and across the spectrum — from non-profit organizations to small businesses and the largest corporations. In 2019, Business Roundtable adopted a new Statement on the Purpose of Corporation that declared that companies should serve not just customers and shareholders but also their employees and their communities. And it’s true: To thrive in these unsettling times, savvy companies must deliver a new type of social support — because corporate success and employee well-being are two sides of the same coin.