In this segment of “Office Optional with Larry English,” Larry explains why using remote work as a perk or benefit isn’t enough to attract top talent anymore.
In 2022, offering remote work isn’t a perk. It’s table stakes. The pandemic showed people the benefits of working from home, and they’re demanding flexibility from their workplaces. Many organizations are acquiescing. A federal report found that among companies that increased remote work during the pandemic, more than 60 percent plan to keep increases permanent moving forward.
Attitudes toward remote work have gone through a dramatic transformation. Back when my cofounders and I started Centric Consulting in 1999, being fully remote was almost unheard of. Over time, being a remote-first company became a big differentiator for us, allowing us to attract and retain great talent.
Those days are over. Offering remote work isn’t enough to remain competitive in today’s labor market. While balancing business economics and customer service expectations, companies must also evolve into true people-first organizations that invest in employee wellbeing in a variety of ways, including:
Investing in Mental Health
As the world suffered a collective crisis in 2020 and beyond, people got a glimpse of their employers’ true colors. People-first organizations actively worked to care for their stressed-out, anxious workforce.
Forward-thinking companies are destigmatizing the need for employees to care for themselves. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey, nearly 40 percent of employers increased access to mental health services since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s about time. BetterUp.com found that while 61 percent of people struggle with mental health challenges, fewer than 40 percent take time off from their jobs to attend to their wellbeing.
Offering mental health benefits is just the start, however. Employees may also require education around how to balance all the competing demands in their life.
Recognizing that mental health is important and that struggles in this area are a common part of the human experience is good for business, too. Mercer’s 2021 Health on Demand report found employees with mental health benefits are more likely to stay at their jobs.
Improving the Remote Work Experience
The home office environment shouldn’t be ignored. It’s a huge factor in how positively employees view their work experience and even your culture.
While going remote can offer some serious savings on office space, companies should reinvest some of those funds on the home office environment. After all, companies have traditionally invested into making their office conducive to productivity, creativity and collaboration. Why shouldn’t they take the same approach to the at-home work environment?
Centric, for example, provides a stipend for employees to apply toward whatever they need to improve their home office — whether that’s a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, a bigger monitor or an ergonomic chair, to name just a few examples. We designed this benefit to be flexible in recognition of unique employee needs. Home office stipends or reimbursements are becoming more common — nearly all of Centric’s clients offer something similar.
Designing Pathways for Leadership Development
After the pandemic broke out in 2020, one global survey asked workers what benefits would be most valuable to them in the future. More than half listed professional development and coaching within their top three.
“Offering a comprehensive training and development package can be a game-changer for any recruitment and retention strategic planning process,” says Lisa Smith, chief content officer at HelpDeskforHR.com. “Sadly, some employers mistake the term ‘comprehensive’ for ‘expensive.’ While there is always some sort of financial spend that must be expected, employers should never focus so much on the price tag that they miss the value a solid training program can offer to an organization.”
This tracks with what our HR team has noticed recently: Recruits are more frequently asking about leadership development and formal mentoring programs. They’re seeking help navigating the career development challenge of working remotely and having the visibility necessary for continued growth. They want to know that there is a pathway open to them, and that the company is invested in helping them succeed.
Working to Be a Force for Good
Companies need to increase investments in their social impact programs — not just because it’s the right thing to do but also because moving forward, it will play a more prominent role in the talent they’re able to attract. Employees (especially younger professionals) want to know they’re working for organizations that care about their impact on the world. More than ever they want to work for companies that align with their personal values.
At Centric, we’re getting more and more questions during interviews about our diversity and inclusion program and what we’re doing on a local and even national level to have an impact. Although one of our stated values is doing better for the greater good, recruits want to know that we’re truly living those values, not just paying lip service.
Listening To Your People
While all people-first organizations will have some things in common, when it comes to the details of what benefits and perks you offer, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
It’s important to ask your people what matters to them. As companies continue taking steps to permanently adopt remote or hybrid work, it will be important to continue to pulse people about their challenges and needs.
What are they saying that they need to have an optimal work experience? What are some common areas of friction in their lives? What are they passionate about it?
Being a people-driven organization means actively putting your company values into action by taking care of your people, giving them room and support to be human, providing pathways for their careers and giving back to the community. You can’t just say it, you must live these values daily.