Global Leader of Workforce Transformation, Mercer
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright spotlight on the well-being concerns of the workforce. From depression and loneliness that might stem from physical isolation, to the overwhelming stress of having to care for and educate young children while working full time, to staying productive while avoiding burnout, to name but a few of these concerns.
While these particular challenges may in part be addressed by the arrival of vaccines, they are the latest in a long list for a workforce that has been struggling for years to keep up with the pace of change while ensuring its continued relevance. As work has become increasingly democratized and automated, and the half-life of skills continues to shrink, the stability and certainty that characterized the workplace of the past, and their direct and indirect impact on well-being, have steadily ebbed away. What used to be a four-year investment in a college degree, with its assurances of a return for a lifetime, has increasingly become irrelevant as traditional education and work diverge.
But the steady, and somewhat predictable, changes like these are just one factor. Systemic shocks from so called “black swan” events like the pandemic are talked about as if they are the rarest of beasts, yet we have had two in 12 years when you include the global financial crisis. So not quite so rare. Employees will always seek certainty and stability during times of disruption or change, but the best any for-profit employer can do is to provide clarity and continued relevance for a changing world.
So, how can organizations reset their employee experience to ensure well-being through the promise of clarity and continued relevance? I believe companies need to focus on building resilience while providing flexibility.
Fostering personal resilience for a changing world of work requires us to make continuous upskilling and reskilling a foundational element of the employee experience. Continuously signaling to the workforce how skills premiums are changing, and what that means for work both within the organization and beyond.
This signaling needs to be tied to opportunities to acquire new skills that keep employees relevant for their current jobs (upskilling), and unrelated future jobs that require adjacent or comparable skills (reskilling), whether those jobs exist within the company or beyond. Empowering and equipping talent to see work and skills as ever-evolving can result in more agile ways of working for the organization, and the creation of an agile mindset for the workforce.
Meeting employees where they are
Flexible ways of working, along with the right resources, are essential to meeting talent “where they are.” The pandemic has shattered many of the old myths about where, when, and how work should be done. Progressive organizations rightly recognize the growing importance of flexibility to the employee experience, but it is not just about giving people the flexibility; it also involves providing them with the benefits and resources that are most relevant to them. For parents of young children, that might mean access to reliable childcare, while for someone struggling with burnout, that might mean access to mindfulness classes.
Well-being will increasingly be a mission-critical imperative for organization and a centerpiece of the new employee experience, but only if it is defined holistically, and results in greater resilience and flexibility.