The Great Resignation of 2021 is real. Record numbers of employees are changing jobs, choosing new careers, starting their own businesses, or going back to school. It’s understandable after the disruption and introspection of the pandemic, which put a spotlight on what matters and gave many a taste of how things could be different. 

According to Prudential Financial’s Pulse of the American Worker survey, 1 in 4 workers is preparing to look for opportunities with a new employer. This churn, combined with demographic changes and an expanding economy, is creating a labor shortage that is likely to continue for a while. Businesses are already feeling the hit. 

In this employee market, people can be picky about what jobs they take. To gain a competitive edge it is critical for companies to reimagine and transform what work looks like for employees so that they can recruit and retain talent.

The modern office job was created after World War II. Based on a military model with strict hierarchies, it was imagined by men for men, with an assumption that there is a wife at home to handle the daily duties of life. This sounds outdated, but so much is still soundly in place. The pandemic made it clear that we are way overdue for change.

Businesses Need to Transform Work for Well-Being

To retain and attract the talent needed to grow a successful business, approach recruiting and hiring from the employee’s perspective. What is important to them? After a year of juggling work, family, homeschooling kids, health concerns, job loss, and financial fears, people have realigned their priorities. Here’s what’s likely risen to the top of the list for the people you want to hire.

Create Ways for Employees to Find Work-Life Balance 

This may seem obvious, but it is often ignored. Studies and data show that your business is much better served by having healthy, engaged and happy employees.

Provide the flexibility to be productive at work and in life

During the pandemic, employees worked more productively than ever while being able to have lunch with kids, garden mid-day, help a neighbor in need, or catch up on laundry between meetings. Why go back to a two-hour commute just to sit in an office 8:00 to 5:00 five days a week? People want the flexibility, and realistic workload and performance expectations to achieve better work-life balance. They will choose the employers that offer this.

Offer remote work options

Nearly 30 percent of employees say they are likely to switch jobs if made to fully return to on-site work, highlighting that employee preferences need to be considered before creating policy around returning to the office. How, when and why are you asking them to come back? Is it really mission-critical? How does a mandatory work-on-site requirement vs. remote options impact employees differently and is that imbalance something you are okay with?

Scale back the workweek

The country of Iceland experimented with a 35-hour work week (without cutting pay). The multi-year study showed that productivity remained the same or even improved, while worker well-being dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout, to health and work-life balance. Such a move especially helps mothers, who are often working reduced hours at reduced pay, yet handling the same workload as their full-time counterparts.

Show How Employees Can Advance Their Careers at Your Company 

Employees want to gain knowledge, training and experience from their jobs. While people used to stay with one company for a long time to move up the ladder, employees are now more likely to leverage one job into the next, or “job hop,” to advance their careers. 

So you’ve got an open role. How will this job serve the employee?

How can you provide great talent options for internal mobility and professional development? If you hire someone who has all the industry experience you need (been there, done that), what’s in it for them? This is the case for both professional jobs and skilled labor jobs. People want jobs that help them progress in their careers, learn new skills, or experience new industries.

Be creative about job requirements

As you promote your jobs in hopes of finding the right candidate, think through your requirements. Does someone really need a college degree and a lot of specific experience, or can you look for the skills and traits that are indicators for success and then provide training? 

Develop mentorship programs

Mentorships are a great addition to training and professional development for both parties: the mentor and the mentee. This type of collaboration can also help create a sense of connection and cross-pollination of ideas, even in remote or hybrid environments.

Offer Benefits and Compensation That Build Financial Resilience 

Workplace wellness comes in all forms, including financial. The pandemic unveiled how financially vulnerable many people were. Workers are leveraging the tight labor market to find compensation and benefits packages that work well for them. Many companies are offering signing bonuses, doing compensation analyses to ensure their offers are in step with the market, and adding more value to their benefits package.

While good financial compensation is important, workers are looking at a whole package. What is the stickiness of your company — the thing that people find most attractive? Lean into that. For instance, it is hard for employees to walk away from a generous PTO package, healthcare paid for family members, or a sabbatical program. For some, even things like paid lunches are enough to create better retention.

Create a Workplace Culture Where People Want to Stay

When work is positive, equitable, inclusive and fulfilling it becomes additive to one’s life, rather than a drain. People who are happy at work are better employees, parents, partners and community members. These are the people who are likely to work hard for you, and refer new employees and clients. 

Create strong two-way communication

Employers who are constantly asking the right questions and paying attention to the pulse of their workforce are better able to proactively meet employees’ needs, provide the most relevant value, create opportunities for connection, and address things before they become problematic. Create a work environment where people feel safe sharing ideas and concerns. Conduct regular employee surveys and do exit interviews to understand why people are leaving (or not accepting your job offer in the first place) and what would have made a difference.

At the same time, employees need transparent information and direction from leadership. They want clarity on the future vision of the organization. They need to understand how their individual contributions further the company’s overall goals. Without this, employees are three times as likely to report moderate to high levels of burnout symptoms. Once the roadmap has been laid out, reinforce your message by celebrating milestones and recognizing wins big and small. 

Commit to diversity, equity and inclusion

Employees actively seek out companies that are diverse, especially Millennials, which will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. Data and experience show that diverse companies have greater innovation and financial performance. Creating a company that is diverse and inclusive is a long-term, wholistic commitment that starts with leadership, rather than a one-time training.

Create Purpose and Meaning Through Work

How do you inspire employees to love their work? Give them work that has meaning. The pandemic gave people time to re-evaluate what matters most. Many realized that they want their work to have meaning. This could mean working for a company that has a clear mission, helping to create a positive, inclusive work culture, or learning from great leaders. What pivots can your company make to show employees how their work will make a difference in the world?

Take the time to assess what your company is doing well and where your opportunities for improvement lie. While some areas may sound time-intensive or expensive, remember that a front-end investment will save you in the long run. Companies with a strong employment brand will be the most competitive in this tight labor market, saving on recruiting, onboarding, training, turnover and lost opportunity costs.