The transformation in working practices brought on by the pandemic has accelerated progress that might otherwise have taken generations. While most employees acknowledge this evolution to be a good thing, it has inevitably brought a shift in mindset that will disrupt the future of the workplace.
The great resignation and quiet quitting phenomena show that some of the biggest challenges may still lie ahead, as employers struggle to retain and engage their workforce. To tackle these trends, leaders must focus increasingly on how to foster a sustainable workplace dynamic, to help future-proof their workforce for an otherwise uncertain future.
Plan for flexibility
One of the biggest business lessons learnt of recent years is the importance of flexibility and retaining the capacity to react to unforeseen circumstances. The global political and economic uncertainty that we continue to face makes this essential to the future sustainability of any business.
In practice, this means anticipating potential risks and having a series of mitigation plans in place to implement if required. As a training organisation during the pandemic, an instant response was required to pivot delivery techniques and adapt content in order to retain both clients and personnel. With those plans already in place, we could rapidly and seamlessly deploy them to ensure business continuity.
Develop a retention mindset
The so called ‘big quit’ has exposed the need for a new recruitment mindset that focuses on hiring as an investment in the future, rather than simply to fulfil an immediate need. Knowledge retention is frequently overlooked in favour of cost-cutting, but as people are in most cases the biggest asset of an organisation, it cannot be ignored any longer.
Now, more than ever, employers need to show as much loyalty and commitment to their employees as they would expect from them in return. Investing in a fair market salary and providing structured training and development encourages employees to give more, delivering a win-win for businesses and employees alike.
Developing a retention mindset builds a workforce that feels engaged and valued. With this, employers and employees can ride the wave of any future uncertainties together, and should the worst happen, and an employee needs to be let go, delivering the message with dignity will leave them more inclined to return when circumstances improve.
Build loyalty with training, coaching and mentorship
Investing in your employees’ professional development is often perceived as a retention risk, as new skills can open new doors to opportunities outside the organisations. In reality, businesses that focus on internal mobility through learning and development retain employees for almost twice as long as those that don’t. What’s more, learning has now become more affordable with less need to travel and take time away from the workplace.
Professional development isn’t just about training and acquiring new skill. One-to-one mentoring and coaching help to build workforce capacity and create collegial relationships that promote knowledge exchange and improve team dynamics. Sharing expertise through mentoring, and empowering decision-making through coaching, can only come from on-the-job experiences and interactions.
Communicate with consistency
The businesses that did the best during the height of the pandemic were those that communicated on a continual basis – both with their customers and their employees. These interactions were not viewed as a short-term solution to an immediate problem, but a long-term commitment to retaining relationships through dialogue.
Communication is critical in any context, and particularly in times of crisis, but just as important is the way that the message is delivered. Inevitably, natural communication styles differ, but that delicate balance of calm assurity and genuine empathy is something that can be practiced based on self-awareness, by reflecting on any personal skill gaps and working to address them.
Lead with authenticity
It’s been reported that the great resignation has decimated the ranks of middle management, with the spotlight of responsibility falling on the C-suite. Leaders have a seismic impact on the culture of an organisation, which in turn has a significant bearing on employee retention.
A leadership style can translate into the persona of the business itself, and so an authentic approach must prevail over the authoritarian disposition. Leaders need to build trust and to do so they must reveal their real self and not shy away from exposing their own character and vulnerabilities.
Anticipate future skills and technology
With the current pace of change, anticipating the future of the workplace may be an impossible prospect. We know that technology will continue to evolve, and that we must embrace it in order to move forward. Training and development in particular must respond to this changing landscape as digitisation and alternative realities start to permeate most industries.
What we can predict is that the foundation for the growth of future talent will be soft skills. Adaptability, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, emotional intelligence and the ability to deal with ambiguity and unravel complexity will be the in-demand personal competencies. These are the skills that will enable the workforce to deal with the unknown of what lies ahead.
As business owners riding the storm of recent global events, we have become accustomed to expecting the unexpected, and we now need to build a workforce that embraces this mindset. At the same time, we need to create a workplace culture that employers and employees are equally invested in, so that they can consistently function at the optimum and react appropriately and in unison when future challenges arise.
Hanan Nagi is Founder and CEO of HNI, a learning consultancy organisation headquartered in Dubai with clients across the Middle East and North Africa, USA and Europe.