As the pandemic continues to trudge forward coupled with a rugged economy, the mathematical equation to meeting human needs requires changing the inputs. Organizations have assigned teams which are busy working to implement solutions around process issues, staffing and finding ways to increase efficiency within the confines of tight balance sheets. Organizations need more productivity with scarce resources, now.
As organizations wrestle with these challenges, teams appear to be working within the same frameworks as times of old. Hire more people, retain more people, use Lean Six Sigma Principles, change out systems, increase compensation, hire more contractors; the list continues and sounds repeatedly familiar.
Efforts to squeeze more from the workforce – such as compensation plans like hazard pay, call to action pay, hero pay, vacancy pay, more overtime and many other compensation plans – continue to be proposed and debated. Many of these solutions have worked for a short time but, as time marches forward, these solutions have waned. The now sluggish results suggest an obvious answer to increase the dollars, but the workforce no longer finds value or interest. Leaders still find themselves facing holes in staffing coverage, which detrimentally impacts business results and outcomes.
Other symptoms of the problem include low morale, increased turnover, more retirements, staff relentlessly inquiring about more money, more difficult negotiations for new hires, continuously climbing salary and benefit expenses, a growing unkind culture or pressure from middle management asking for exceptions to long standing policies. In the quest for efficiency because of scarce resources, leaders may have inadvertently taken the human lens out of the workforce equation. The foundational business basics are not different but what and how things are executed is now front and center. This challenges organizations to think differently and do differently than they have in the past.
How do we put humanity back into the workforce? Here are several solutions to consider:
- Do all of our processes, programs, activities and leadership style reflect the kindness, understanding, transparency, flexibility and generosity of the humans involved? Are leaders listening and involving the people directly impacted? Is your workforce giving grace to leaders working relentlessly to provide solutions and trying new things?
- As humans, our personal lives are as unique as our fingerprints. For example, what humans need in our 20s is different than what we need in our 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and so on. Do your benefit plans flex to life circumstances? Are they customizable and allow choice? It may be time to consider providing cash compensation to employees not participating in certain benefits because the benefit provides no value add for them. Or consider allowing employees to choose where their benefit dollars are allocated to benefit their situation. Humans crave choice and options delivered in a timely manner. Employers may still choose what is on the menu, but let the employees pick where they want to participate. Gone are the days of a one size fits all approach.
- Unique and customized personal connections. This is deeper than rounding, town halls, team huddles and one-on-one meetings. Certainly, doing these things helps, but how are you celebrating work anniversaries or important dates in an employee’s life? How is leadership and the organization recognizing the milestone? An employee recently relayed “I would rather be given several hours of PTO instead of a $75 cash award as recognition even though the PTO is worth less in value.” Why? Because the PTO showed the employee trust by the employer. The value of the PTO is that it allowed the employee a mental break from duties. To that employee, this peace of mind and time away was worth far more than cash could ever provide. Cash equals a number, PTO equals trust.
- Consider allowing PRN or on call roles in far larger quantities than historically practiced so staff can flex to their familial needs. While this may add headcount and scheduling challenges, this idea permits for a more human experience with the inflexibility of life situations and the ongoing pandemic.
These are a few examples of ways that we can rethink what we do and, just like with employees’ personal needs, there isn’t a single approach or combination of changes that will work for every employer. We may not all be able to do each of these, but each organization must find the right balance and action items that work meet their needs, as well as those of their employees. Just as professional appearance policies have evolved to provide expressions of individuality and remote work now supports choice on where and how to live, organizations must now go deeper into places previously considered as non-negotiables. Trial and error will occur. Experimentation may represent risk as an organization forages into the unknown. To achieve organizational strategic objectives, we would do well to keep humans front and center, and the results for our customers will be just around the corner.