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The pressure is on for companies to implement programs that will exceed these expectations, help maintain and grow their workforce, and build a meaningful culture.
More than ever, employees want to feel engaged and connected at work but, more importantly, they want to be valued by their employer. New data shows that almost half of employees say their expectations for happiness at work has grown in the last year. These realities make the stakes high for companies looking to build a culture that will help attract and retain the best talent. The workforce of the future is motivated by many things including the desire for better benefits, work-life balance, effective leadership, and a sense of belonging, inclusion, and purpose at work. The pressure is on for companies to implement programs that will exceed these expectations, help maintain and grow their workforce, and build a meaningful culture.
Over the past several years, I have seen organizations hiring Chief People Officers at a record pace as CEOs and other leaders recognize the importance that culture plays in today’s workplace. Additionally, boards of directors – who traditionally focus on compensation, finance, and the overall business – are now inviting CPOs to join in recognition of their valuable insights and recommendations on culture, leadership, and talent. The CPO’s role is critical to meet the shifting demands of employee populations and ensuring there are short- and long-term strategies in place to advance the business strategy and ensure continued growth. These executives have the insights and power to build a productive and engaged workforce with a culture that embraces today’s environment, values inclusivity and belonging, and cultivates the next generation of leadership talent.
As a CPO, the three most important imperatives that are on my mind right now include:
Prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
According to Gallup, 42% of employees say that having an employer that is diverse and inclusive is important when considering their next job. They crave a working environment that truly appreciates people for who they are, reinforces acceptance and belonging, and aligns with their values and desire for purpose. They want a sense of belonging, which can be difficult to achieve in the workplace of the future.
DEI needs to be more than just a future-of-work tenet. To be successful, DEI efforts must be part of the core business strategy with a committed leadership team, and investments from across the organization. The CPO can help lead the charge, however, promoting DEI in the workplace is a team effort. Companies need to have a clear mission around creating an inclusive work culture that makes everyone feel like they belong and can bring their whole selves to work. Giving back to their community, whether local or globally, and empowering employees to do the same, can also create a bond beyond the boardroom. Working alongside the rest of company leadership, the CPO plays a critical role in spearheading initiatives and driving employee engagement. They have a direct line to employees’ needs, attitudes, and feedback, and a responsibility to hold their company accountable for delivering on promises of a more diverse and representative workforce.
Creating a cohesive culture
Gallup also found that 40% of workers have adopted a hybrid schedule, 39% work entirely from home, and 70% of them want to keep it that way. With this shift, companies have had to put a tremendous amount of trust in their employees, and most have proven they can get their job done from anywhere. Today, many organizations are working with a mix of fully remote, hybrid, and in-person employees. These same organizations are also balancing employees that live in various states or countries working across different time zones. Yet, employees are not just sitting in differing locations – how they collaborate and get work done has shifted, and it has changed the workplace culture. CPOs are well-positioned to blend them all together to create a cohesive culture that embraces everyone’s unique needs and values, as well as new ways of working. Ultimately, a steadfast focus on cultural integration, cross collaboration, and engagement should be a top priority. Some simple solutions such as finding ways for employees to connect virtually or in person, coffee, or lunch dates (or meal delivery gift cards for remote employees), mentorship programs, and after-work events, can go a long way. These activities allow employees to share best practices, learn from one another, connect on shared interests and hobbies, and feel like they are part of a team even if they aren’t in the same physical location. They can also organize presentations or in-person and virtual meetups around important awareness months and days, or other moments in a time that may resonate with employees and make them feel acknowledged and informed.
Building the next generation of leaders
The traditional and rigid business practices of the past are not working today. The pandemic sparked a new leadership style that leans heavily on empathy, appreciation, understanding, and flexibility. These attributes are key to attracting and retaining top talent and will be essential for leaders of the future – as well as creating a successful culture and business. In fact, data shows that 90% of employees think that empathetic leadership leads to higher job satisfaction and 79% say it decreases employee turnover. When employees feel appreciated and are actively achieving their personal goals, their morale, productivity, and motivation will rise. By giving employees the flexibility to change or adjust their goals, work environment or even their job description, leaders can boost engagement and loyalty among their workforces. As a CPO, my role is to understand who the next generation of leaders are, what skills and capabilities they need to lead the future workforce, and equip them with the tools, training, and coaching they need to ensure success in leading a multi-generational workforce. Now is the time for companies to embrace the role of CPO. By focusing on these three key areas, companies will remain competitive, attract, and retain the best candidates, inspire employees to do their best work, and ultimately deliver positive business outcomes. The role of the CPO will continue to evolve along with the business environment. Those who remain strategic and agile, can efficiently solve problems, value communication, and recognize how people embrace change will be well-positioned to create a resilient workforce that will be most likely to succeed today and into the future.
Di Holman is the Chief People Officer at Virgin Pulse.