Why the life-work shift is the secret to attracting talent


Debra Timmerman

Vice President, MSP Solutions, Direct Sourcing, Career Transitions and Executive Coaching

We’ve all felt how the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 upended well-established routines in business life around the world. Where we worked, when we worked and how we worked were suddenly disrupted – and we’re still dealing with the effects. Employees have been looking to change and improve the role of work to better suit their lives.

In our 2022 Re:work Report, we describe the changes that are under way as the “life-work shift,” which is bigger than the old notion of work/life balance. Today’s life-work shift is about the flexibility employees have to integrate work in their lives, and the experiences they have when they’re doing their work. Smart employers have realized they need to meet these new expectations if they are to successfully retain and attract talent.

For our report, we surveyed 1,000 senior executives across twelve countries Here are five insights I see emerging from the research about how to deliver the life-work shift. And the essential ways for employers to boost their appeal with a new generation of talent.

1. Listen to your employees

Time and again, I see across our programs that employee experience and their ownership over how they work is core to the life-work shift. It is vital that companies stop and listen to employees.

In our research, the leading companies, which we call the Vanguards, are far more likely to survey employees regularly, and to hold one-to-ones on life-work issues. Almost three-quarters (71%) of the leaders surveyed said their business is taking steps to redefine the employee experience. More than ever, leaders have to show they hear what employees are telling them about how work fits in their lives.

2. Change is led from the top

If you want employees to know an initiative is taken seriously, who would you pick to front it? The CEO or maybe another C-suite leader. Yet only 34% of our survey respondents described their C-suite leaders as “very involved” in reshaping employee experience – a number that rises to 57% among the Vanguards.

I believe that delivering the life-work shift is just like any other project. It needs senior leaders’ commitment to make it stick.

3. Improve your employee benefits

Many businesses have been nudged into reviewing their employee benefits by the Great Resignation. After all, it could be the deciding factor for a potential employee choosing between two job offers – whether it's healthcare, enhanced time off, or the prospect of great career development opportunities.

Our report found that 57% of Vanguards have started offering improved benefits and/or higher wages (compared to 38% of the rest). Vanguards are much more likely to benchmark themselves against the competition too. That’s shows the sort of mindset needed to stay ahead of the pack.

4. Develop a flexible, autonomous culture

Many organizations have seen how the shift to hybrid working has given their employees more flexibility and autonomy in their work than ever before. Now, leading firms are putting those values at the heart of their cultures for the long term. The majority of Vanguard firms (83%) say they give employees flexibility about where and when they work, and autonomy in how they achieve objectives (versus 61% and 57% among the rest).

Building a truly flexible, autonomous culture means giving managers control over more people-related decisions. Whether it’s flexible working arrangements, career breaks, or progression decisions, managers need to be empowered to make decisions about their people without having to follow a rigid corporate framework.

5. Prioritize employees’ mental health

Let's face it, the last couple of years have been tough. They've taken a toll on many employees’ mental wellbeing and now cost of living concerns are adding fresh worries on many people.

There’s a lot that businesses can do to support their people. The first thing is to make it okay for employees to talk about their mental health challenges: 41% of Vanguards say they have a culture where it’s acceptable to present mental-health challenges as a reason for taking time off, vs 28% of the rest. As Malcolm O’Neal, SVP Human Resources at MRC Global, told us, “If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that talking about mental health is no longer taboo.”

Vanguards are also more likely to provide support such as access to counselling services, mental health first-aiders, and education sessions to increase awareness of common mental health issues.

47% of Vanguards continuously evaluate management-employee interaction to quickly address bullying or other toxic behaviors, vs just 31% of firms overall. That’s so important. We’ve seen the power of social media in movements like #MeToo. No business can ignore damaging behaviors that harm employees’ mental health.

Employees have made clear they are ready to walk when employers fall short of their expectations. By following the steps identified in our research, organizations can make the life-work shift a reality and build a more productive workplace culture which will appeal to a new generation of talent. If you would like to chat about your organization’s challenges around the life-work shift and enhancing employee experience, I'd love to hear from you.


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