Editor’s Note: Rosabeth Moss Kanter (@RosabethKanter) is the Arbuckle Professor at Harvard Business School and was Founding Chair and Director of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative. Her most recent book is Think Outside the Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart Innovation at a Time. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
As the economy continues to reopen, labor market turbulence is on the rise. Workers are leaving their jobs in favor of new careers or locations, and some aren’t going back to work at all, leaving critical jobs unfilled.
To deal with labor shortages, employers must go beyond the basics of pay and benefits. Money is important, but it’s just a starting point. Many companies are already offering employees $15 an hour even without legislative mandates. At higher salary levels, offers for sought-after professionals are met with counter-offers, and people are likely to hold out for more than just the paycheck. Winning the competition for talent will be a matter of company culture and quality of life.
Here are five important factors employers should be thinking about:
Flexibility and choice
Working remotely gave many employees a taste for the joys of autonomy and control; they don’t want to be stuck in rigid structures.
Although employers are considering a wide range of options — e.g., staggered schedules in which only part of the workforce is in the office at any one time, or giving everyone the same Wednesday off — what people really want is the chance to make choices. Keep in mind that a major motivator is self-determination. When people are trusted to work it out, they are more productive and innovative.
For this reason, a company might want to customize the perks it is offering new employees, or allow them to decide whether they’d like to work remotely or in the office.
Flexibility on a daily basis is important too, such as flexible start and stop times, enticing reluctant workers worried about traffic congestion or their children’s school schedules.
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People in every industry are looking at jobs where there is potential to advance. For instance, a bartender might be able to showcase his people skills to try for a job as a bank teller because it promises career growth.
To attract and retain the best people, companies must enrich jobs with opportunities for learning and skill development, allow employees to have a say in big decisions, open up clogged career paths, and promote people faster. A rising professional I know at a health care company in the South loved her job and her boss, but was about to leave because she didn’t see that she’d have any upward movement in the current hierarchy. The company responded by making her more of a peer to her boss, adding responsibilities and a better title, with more voice in decisions.
Camaraderie and belonging
Leaders must never underestimate the power of human connections. One lure of a job is the feeling of community, from compatible co-workers who enjoy being together to bosses with empathy who bother to know the names of employees’ partners and children. Frequent recognition celebrations that applaud employees for their accomplishments, family picnics, treats such as ice cream deliveries on a hot day, employee art exhibits or lunchtime concerts where employees can show off their musical talents are signs of a caring culture that recognizes people’s individuality.
Causes and values
Employers who want to attract and retain workers should give people a chance to act on their values and advance causes they care about.
Employees at Bain & Company, for instance, can volunteer to tutor at schools, serve meals at homeless shelters, and work in teams to offer consulting advice to nonprofits around the world.
Surveys consistently show that Millennials want to work for companies that make a positive difference in the world (e.g., on climate change or reducing economic disparities). Denny’s recently sent food trucks around the country to bring free meals to homeless veterans. Cook Medical, a device manufacturer, recently announced plans to build a grocery store in an underserved, relatively isolated neighborhood in Indianapolis — a food desert far from supermarkets.
Enabling people to act on their values on the job helps attract and retain them.
Improving the rest of life
Although not all employers can provide on-site child care or company buses for getting to and from work, some are attracting workers by acknowledging their constraints. Some McDonald’s franchises are offering emergency child care benefits, for example. Smaller businesses can collaborate to offer these types of amenities together — all the restaurants in an area contributing to a child care space, for instance, or the neighborhood business association sponsoring ride-sharing services. Potential employees notice these signs that their needs are being acknowledged and met.
Competition for talent will continue to require strategies beyond the paycheck. Rising expectations about the culture of work are unlikely to change even when labor shortages ease. The return on these people investments will come from greater loyalty and lower turnover costs, more and better ideas from workers who feel responsible for the fate of the enterprise, and communities that ensure that people can work without worrying about the rest of their lives.