After a lengthy hiatus I’m delighted to be back on blog duty! Thanks for joining me here.
If your organization is struggling with recruitment and retention right now, you’re far from alone. There have been some pretty radical changes in the labour market over the past few years. The Great Resignation was a strong indicator that many Canadians were reassessing their priorities, and perhaps questioning whether the return they were getting for the time and energy invested into their jobs was worth it. The number of people seeking part-time work over full-time positions increased significantly as the 40 hours that constitute a standard workweek in Canada came into question. Individual and family needs vary, so doesn’t it make more sense to say the number of hours allocated to paid work will depend on your own financial circumstances, priorities and goals as opposed to matching what is, after all, kind of an arbitrary number of hours per week? Interesting food for thought!
Financial remuneration was THE main selling point of a job for Boomers and Gen X. Money talked – TALKED, past tense. A raise, promotion or bonus was seen as “proof” that you were valued by your organization. There was also a sense of pride associated with remaining loyalty to one’s organization, exemplified in organizational rituals like bestowing a physical memento (e.g. a watch) with great ceremony to recognize years of service to the company. Millennials and Gen Z’ers have really shaken things up! Financial remuneration has taken a backseat to other factors for younger workers. So what’s at the top of the list?
Flexibility and work/life balance – including a culture that’s conducive to the balancing act between work and personal/family responsibilities – are high on the list of what Canadian workers want in a job today. To meet the evolving needs of the labour market some Canadian companies are getting creative. It’s no secret that remote and hybrid positions are here to stay, and will likely continue to be in demand. Following a model born in Scandinavia many years ago, the four day work week is becoming more popular. Even when weekly hours are reduced, most research shows a boost in productivity. Other organizations are presenting the option of flexible scheduling to their team, meaning you can choose the days and time frames where you get your hours in. One of the most innovative approaches I’ve seen is to offer unlimited paid time off. I know, it sounds pretty “out there” at first, but here’s the rationale: think about an team member who consistently goes above and beyond, putting out high quality work and getting their tasks done in significantly less time that what’s allotted. How has that person been rewarded for their high degree of discretionary effort? All too often, we give that person a pat on the back… and then add more items to their To Do List! In other words, we’re setting up ideal circumstances for burnout. In effort to rectify this common practice, some organizations are saying, “Here are the tasks we’ve assigned to this role and we believe it’ll take 35-40 hours to get them done. If you work with high efficiency and finish the work in fewer hours (and it’s done well), you’re going to be rewarded for that by taking the remainder of your working hours off, or banking those hours to roll into vacation time.” Quite an incentive!
With all of these examples, it’s likely that biggest impact on engagement is not in the particulars but in the broader message of the organization’s willingness to think outside the box. Providing flexibility when possible – in a way that works for both your team and the company – makes people feel heard and valued. It’s a tangible example of the organization’s culture and belief system.
Sticking with structure or routines on the basis that “it’s how we’ve always done it” can be interpreted by employees (or potential employees) as an indicator that:
The organization doesn’t value innovative thinking
Employee needs/wants aren’t taken seriously
The organization is “behind the times”/isn’t competitive with benefits many other organizations are offering or trying to find a way to offer
There’s a strong hierarchy where a small few makes decisions for everyone
Employee wellness isn’t a priority
The organization doesn’t appreciate that employees have responsibilities outside of work
Sure, there are definitely circumstances (certain positions and industries) where these types of flexibility might not be possible… but organizations need to be able to explain what that’s the case, as “because I said so” just doesn’t cut it in today’s market. If you’re unable to offer the types of flexibility explored above, don’t worry – there are still ways to support healthy balance! One very simple strategy that communicates a big message is ensuring everyone takes their breaks. For far too long there’s been a (largely unspoken) belief that an employee who takes their full allotted break time is not as dedicated to their work or as productive as someone who regularly forgoes their breaks and scarfs down their lunch so they can quickly get back to their job tasks. In actuality, pushing the pause button periodically typically makes us more productive and gives our brains and bodies a necessary repose so we can continue to put out our best work. A person’s physical presence at work has very little to do with their productivity or engagement. Breaks throughout the workday are mandated by law but actually taking them isn’t always part of the culture. In the same vein, some organizations are taking steps to encourage employees to take their vacation time rather than have it paid out at the end of the year.
No matter what way it’s expressed, an appreciation for work/life balance is solid strategy to retain your team and to attract top talent. Although implementing some of these ideas requires some time, brainstorming and resource allocation, it’s nothing compared to the cost of losing great workers or having a position sit vacant for longer than it needs to. The job market is ultra competitive and organizations on the cutting edge are differentiating themselves by responding to the call for enhanced work/life balance.
What’s your organization’s top challenge today? Let me know! I’m always looking for new ideas to explore in the blog. I’d love to hear from you (drop me a line).
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Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the Founder & President of Arpeggio Health Services, one of Canada’s largest providers of public mental health trainings.