As conversations centered around work - what makes it valuable, what drives one to do it, and how it relates to the current economic conditions - continue to evolve every single day, there has been a shift in perception and leaders organizations now truly understand the value of quality of work over quantity of time.
Especially in Australia and New Zealand, where there were a quarter of a million more jobs at the end of the pandemic than there were at the beginning, employers have started to ask themselves the tough questions regarding what makes people stick around. With the added factor of hybrid work increasingly being the norm, companies have to go the extra mile to cater to the evolving needs of their workforce.
Engagement now sets the stage
What earlier drove employees in any organization was an understanding of what the leadership was able to communicate about the company values and where the company was headed. With the pandemic affecting regular work routines and changing the ways in which employees engage with their work, the key factor now driving engagement in an organization is a sense of belongingness, indicates research by Qualtrics.
Given that unemployment is at record lows, it is important for companies to have a singular focus on this aspect of engagement. This is especially true for smaller businesses, who struggle to retain talent in the face of opposition from bigger companies as well as other constraints such as lack of resources and predictability. Given the technological growth that has come out of this necessity, companies in the ANZ region have been quick to include that in their portfolio of offerings to their companies so that they can get the best experience possible as they straddle home and office life.
Differentiated policies pave the way
A recent survey by Deloitte indicates that companies that prioritise employee engagement report higher sales growth, quality of work delivered, as well as customer satisfaction when compared to companies that don’t. Perhaps in line with this, companies are implementing not just policies that are generally thought to be helpful - for example, more flexibility in terms of conducting work during working hours - but are instead implementing policies that are specific to their employees and how they approach their work.
No matter the size of the company, there is a direct incentive to promote employee engagement, and they have unique ways of doing this as well. For example, Beaumont Company, a recruitment company of just 40 people, has implemented a four-day work week to make sure that their employees can focus on themselves adequately. Employees must meet productivity targets to quality, and everybody gets a fair shot to make this happen. As a policy this was implemented before the pandemic, and promises to continue well into the future as well.
And other companies have followed suit! This includes the New Zealand branch of Unilever, which started a four-day work week in December 2020, an experiment that is set to go on for a year. To begin with, it will be limited only to the 81 staff members in the New Zealand offices - which houses staff that are in marketing, sales, and distribution - and if the experiment goes well, it will also extend to its 155,000 employees the world over.
Other examples of unique approaches to engagement activities in small companies are in Today - a design services company that restructured its company into three interdisciplinary teams that facilitated trust and growth both cross-team as well as among them - and Bendelta, a business transformation company, which initiated a pod-like structure, where every employee was a part of a pod. Each pod is responsible for its growth, and with this caveat, the growth of all individuals was linked to the growth of the team, thereby creating an environment of active collaboration.
Alongside employee engagement, employee wellness too has been a key concern for organizations. One of the examples of this is Beaumont Company, which actively encourages its employees to share how they spend their extra day off so that others can learn more about their colleagues’ approach to well-being. In fact PwC Australia’s COO Liza Maimone has corroborated the fact that employees want to be engaged around what are their barriers to considering coming back into the office. It has led to deeper questions around well-being and mental health, which all helped us to think about when, what and how we should open up our offices. Overall, the push for wellness supports the engagement initiatives, making sure that the foundation for engagement is not a mentally taxing one - but rather one that encourages employees to do the best they can, as and when they have the mental bandwidth to do so.
The future will be founded on engagement
An article by PwC mentions clarity in communication, connecting as a community, and co-creating with people as the three most important things to keep in mind when trying to engage employees during turbulent times. As companies all over Australia use this playbook to handle their operations in the crucial post-pandemic phase, the work culture currently being created will define the expectations - as well as the reality - for the generations of work to come.