Sometimes, when I reflect on the past two years, I struggle to unpack all that’s happened. Looking back at March 2020, we were reeling from the first stay-at-home orders due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tom Hanks testing positive, the NBA postponing its season—this list goes on. It was a scary time, and in many ways, we’re still facing uncertainty with new variants, surges and confusing mandates.
That uncertainty for what the future held meant a tumultuous business landscape. For those lucky to still be working in 2020, burnout became the name of the game, and workers reconsidered what they wanted out of a career or life. The ubiquitous “help wanted” sign is now the norm in our communities, and job boards have no shortage of positions for knowledge workers.
Like most things Covid-19-related, the hiring landscape is fraught with differing opinions, constant change and mentally exhausted people. But as we continue to live through the pandemic and its ripple effects, recruitment and retention need to become more sustainable.
For year three, can we meet in the middle? I have a few recommendations for doing so.
The Current Situation
Despite the dramatically different world Covid-19 forced, many organizations are sticking to the status quo, refusing to budge on benefits and salary for current employees, while the talent market demands higher wages to entice new workers.
Employees are tired. Their workloads and stress continue to increase, along with familial tensions at home, and caretakers are facing more responsibilities than ever. With the many familial responsibilities disproportionately falling on women, they tend to leave the workforce more than men—now, more than ever. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, there are nearly 2 million fewer women in the labor force today. This “she-session” affects women of color more than white cohorts.
Include inflation in the mix and financial strain adds to the litany of stresses. With consumer prices increasing 7.5% from January 2021 to 2022, the U.S. is experiencing the highest inflation since 1982. Average hourly wages have only increased 4.7%, meaning workers are effectively making less money than they were pre-pandemic.
For too long, workers have bent to the demands of employers. But in this volatile talent market, if workers see the potential for a better environment and higher pay elsewhere, they have many opportunities waiting for them. As time goes on, that power will inevitably flip again, and workers will potentially have to settle for what they can get (who here remembers 2009?). Instead, I advocate for meeting in the middle, finding compromises that meet the needs of both business and staff, for the long term.
Finding Middle Ground: It Starts With Communication
Communication and compromise are important parts of maintaining long-term relationships, in general. Romantic, platonic, familial and even professional relationships all involve some amount of give and take.
To achieve a middle ground, organizational leaders should first ask for feedback, then compromise accordingly. Start by asking staff what they need to best help the business. Ask about work requirements, as well as what tools and conditions the workers need in their day-to-day tasks. Some questions to ask:
• Do the job descriptions match the work?
• Do we require unnecessary qualifications for applicants, or can we open the door to people without college degrees, without certain certifications and in locations outside of the headquartered city?
• What benefits or programs is the organization overlooking that would help employees in their work and personal lives?
• What does your ideal working world look like?
The business might have its boundaries—financial, legal, etc.—and those should be explained to employees, with some level of transparency. Still, understand that employees will see through lip service and double standards.
Next comes the compromise. Where can staff and leadership meet in the middle, both making mutually beneficial concessions to reach a common goal?
For example, knowledge workers have proven they can successfully work from home and maintain productivity. While some still prefer the central office for collaboration—or just to work in a different environment—it remains a struggle overall for companies to bring staff back.
Some solutions include the hybrid model: allowing for workers to come to the office only on certain days of the week or month and otherwise working remotely. Employers could also incentivize commuters by offering catered breakfast or meal stipends.
Or maybe the organization does away with the office altogether (saving money along the way). At my company, McCann Partners, we’ve been remote since our start in 2011. It can be done! If your staff prefers working remotely, then consider dropping the office space altogether, renting something smaller or exploring co-working spaces.
Whether or not workers come into an office is just one of many areas of work that will require compromise, so this practice of communication and coming to a creative solution doesn’t end there. Although “leadership” might imply taking a top-down approach, being authoritative is no way to go about it. Leaders should poll their workers and consider their ideas, or trust will never come about. Instead, business leaders must continuously practice asking for feedback, listening and finding solutions with employees.
There are numerous compromises that can benefit companies and employees alike if we just communicate effectively and get creative in the solutions.
“Recruitment And Retention In The Third Year Of The Pandemic Require Communication And Compromise” originally appeared on Forbes.com.