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There have been more people changing jobs and careers in the past 18 months than in the last decade. This is of course due to the mass upheaval of the economy, but also in a large part because of the new ethos shift from ‘living to work’ towards ‘working to live’. So, what really matters to employees now?

Each of us has had a ‘wake up call’ of sorts since the pandemic began. Priorities have shifted, and in the face of death, loss and economic devastation, winning the rat race, office politics and other career concerns seem less important. Employees who may have fallen into a career path that did not fully satisfy them and their life goals are re-considering life’s priorities and choosing to make changes to support their personal ambitions. They are moving away from cities to greener, coastal areas and switching commute time for family and leisure time. More people than ever are turning to self-employment if their employers are inflexible, or as they try to take control of their destiny ahead of the impending furlough finale waiting to be delivered in September.

The current ‘now or never’ mentality has emboldened the global workforce, and companies must improve their employee experience if they want to retain talent. Sharon Barton always dreamed of being her own boss, and recently invested in a new role as Partner at the HR Franchise ourHRpeople after more than 20 years working in senior HR roles, most recently in the NHS. She now has first hand experience of taking the leap towards a better work life balance, and is looking forward to spending less time in meetings and more time at her beach hut on the South Coast. 

Sharon says: Businesses need to be prepared for a much bigger shift in culture than simply where workers physically locate themselves. It will have an impact on business relationships, mentorship, talent development, performance management and culture development. Adapting to virtual meetings is one thing, but developing relationships, having tough conversations and really engaging with your workforce remotely is more challenging. The energy that can be created in a business conference or board meeting is much harder to duplicate virtually. A big part of performance management is observation – much tougher when you are not working alongside that individual, so communication methods must adapt and evolve, sometimes on a case-by-case basis, requiring empathy and emotional intelligence from managers. There is training available if this doesn’t come naturally, and can make an immediate improvement in company culture.

It is time for businesses who want to embrace the positives that the pandemic has brought, to really listen to what their work forces (employed or otherwise) are asking for. Businesses will have to re-think how their culture manifests itself, whether their values are still relevant and how they manage those who don’t fulfill the expectations of the business.

The key to getting this right is to engage with your employees from the beginning of this process, hold focus groups; find out what do people feel is changing for the better and what have they lost that would like to retain. Engaging employees in the solutions is a great way to improve their experience, as whatever the outcome, they have been valued and involved. Managing performance in a remote world will require some thinking and tight management. Be clear on what the deliverables and output are, where they are falling short and what support they will get to improve. It is likely you might need more frequent check-ins than previously and the employee may have more of a need for a mentor who can support them in making improvements.

The successful organisations will be those that support their people to achieve their life goals as those people will be the most motivated to deliver and perform and they are getting what they need personally – if companies get this right, they will retain the skills they need to be agile and achieve growth goals.”

The ‘new normal’ isn’t entirely in the employees’ favour. With geographic boundaries removed, and more self-employed contractors offering specialist services, companies will have many more options for acquiring the skills that they need than ever before. Whilst this allows for much variety, flexibility and creativity, this will bring challenges in how to manage flexible work forces. It can be hard to plan with confidence, when you are reliant on contractors who need to be mindful of their IR35 responsibilities. Employers need to be cautious around relying too heavily on contractors, ensuring they are on the right side of the key IR35 requirements of supervision and control, substitution and mutuality of obligation. Operating a flexible model that gets the balance right between skill provision and fluidity is the prime goal.”

    Sharon has held senior HR leadership roles in a variety of sectors including pharmaceutical consultancy, life sciences and aerospace. Sharon has most recently held a senior HR role within the NHS, before joining ourHRpeople as Director of the Bournemouth branch, covering all BH postcodes.

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