The changing nature of being an ‘Employer of Choice’ in 2020

The phrase “Employer of Choice” is a common refrain from Human Resources departments keen to ensure their organisation attracts and retains the best talent in the market. Yet, given the massive upheaval in business processes and the employment market due to the Covid pandemic, what does it actually mean in the current climate?

Despite the change in business conditions in 2020, many of the traditional factors that influence employees’ views on their workplace remain the same. This year’s Australian Business Awards’ Employer of Choice category for example, will be judged by the following criteria:

  • Organisational Culture & Leadership
  • Employee Education, Training & Development
  • Employee Health, Safety & Satisfaction
  • Performance Management
  • Recognition & Remuneration.

Nothing particularly new here, but what all the above aim to promote is ‘Employee Engagement’ – in essence making your employee feel valued and aligned to the overall business objectives. A recent Gallup poll in the US (published before the pandemic hit, incidentally), found that:

Employee engagement is determined by factors such as feeling clear about your role, having the opportunity to do what you do best, having opportunities at work to develop, enjoying strong co-worker relationships and working with a common mission or purpose.”

Communication is the Key

 Interestingly, they go on to list communication as one of the four key elements to improving engagement with employers, explaining how leading organisations in this field “have a designated ‘champions network’ that communicates, collects best practices and answers questions” for example.

Identifying, promoting and formalising specific champions of the characteristics your organisation stands for is not a new concept, but how many companies can say they truly invest in this currently? If you don’t have a champions network in place (not always appropriate for SME’s), then are you investing in a mentoring program instead? Upskilling your staff in the current environment could be valuable exercise, as they will see it as a commitment to them and their long-term prospects with your company. Mentoring can be an affordable and effective way of doing this.

Some may conclude that, in the current employment market, employees are just happy to have a job, but the cycle will undoubtedly turn in their favour down the track. Therefore, it would be reasonable to predict that how organisations engage with their staff now will impact on employee decisions well into the future.

As alluded to earlier, much has changed in 2020 that has been out of our control and, as with most things in this unprecedented year, these changes are likely to affect what employees’ value in their place of work.

Speaking from my own experience, I know that the last 6 months have caused me to reflect on what is important in life, and whether what I do makes a difference not only to my employer but also the broader community. It’s unlikely I’m the only one to think like this in recent times, and chances are it’s crossed the mind of your employees too.

Corporate Social Responsibility on the rise

One way an organisation can increase their employee engagement in ‘the new normal’ is to consider how their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program aligns with what their employees actually care about outside of work. When was the last time we actually asked them (if ever?). 

A recent article by consulting firm Power2Motivate suggests that including your employees in the decision-making process of designing (or updating) your Corporate Social Responsibility Program can increase their engagement significantly. Which makes sense if you think about it, as who wouldn’t like a topic that they are passionate about being recognised by the people they work with?

Clearly there needs to be some thought around how this is done (an online suggestion box and a voting system that is meritocratic yet anonymous would be initial suggestions), yet again this is not an overly onerous task for HR departments to undertake.

Another suggestion from the same article is a really powerful one, which is to combine your CSR efforts with upskilling your staff. Arranging for your employees to volunteer at Not for Profit organisations that often lack specialist skills in their workforce is one way of doing this; and has a multitude of benefits. Firstly, the business benefits, as it increases the skills at its disposal, and secondly the individual gets to learn news skills or hone existing ones. All while making a contribution to the broader notion of benefiting the wider community.

What Millennials Want

This idea seems to particularly resonate with younger employees, as Power2Motivate explain:

Everyone wants to learn new skills, none more so than millennials – 87 per cent of respondents to a Gallup survey from this age group rated professional or career growth and development opportunities as important to them in a job.”

By combining your CSR program with upskilling your younger employees, you are also satisfying one of the top priorities for millennials in their quest to work for an Employer of Choice. We’re pretty sure that most HR Directors would welcome the opportunity to say that in their communication to the board or senior management!

One final point worth making on Corporate Social Responsibility comes back to communication again. Make sure you are publicising your CSR efforts on social media! Remember that being an Employer of Choice is not just about engaging your existing staff – although they will no doubt be proud to be associated with the companies’ efforts in this area – but also attracting new talent to the business. Given that your audience for future employees is online and almost certainly on social media, telling people how your company is trying to ‘make a difference’ can do wonders for your brand within the broader job market, even if you aren’t hiring right now.

In summary, being an Employer of Choice encompasses a range of factors, including some well-worn favourites and others that have arisen from the monumental change we’ve all been through recently. What is constant though is that, as the job market slowly moves back from employer to employee led over the next 18 months, the efforts companies make in this area will have a direct correlation to their ability to retain and attract new talent to their business. The ‘new normal’ has probably just accelerated the change in how we might do this. 

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