What businesses need to do to attract - and keep - top talent

What businesses need to do to attract - and keep - top talent

By Deborah Stevenson, Chief People Officer, PwC Operate

Lots has been said and written about the so-called Great Resignation - and rightly. COVID-19 gave people the time and opportunity to reevaluate their lives, what they value and what they want to change. For some people, that meant a change in their relationship with work, giving businesses such as PwC food for thought. 

How do we make ourselves somewhere people want to be? That’s not a new question being asked by business, far from it. But the answers today are very different from the ones that might have emerged only a few years ago. Driven by a number of factors, we are having to rethink what sort of an employer we want to be, because right now it’s people not places that hold many of the cards. 

At PwC we are finding people today are more confident about asking for what they want in a way workers before have not always been. It’s not high expectations so much as knowing their worth. Employees are reconsidering their motivations and aspirations at the same time as employers are facing the highest levels of attrition seen since 2009 and a shortage of critical skills. 

Putting people front and centre

Organisations need to review and refresh their employee or people value proposition - taking a very human-centric design approach and really listening to what current and future employees want. At PwC, we spend a lot of time considering how we bring to life everything that we as an organisation have to offer people so that potential future employees can make much better informed choices. One of the most powerful ways to do this is by telling the real, lived experiences of our people, although in a world with so much information there is a challenge of making sure these stories are visible and heard. 

Once we have recruited the right people, that’s when the real hard work begins; we have to be even more focussed on retaining our people. The key to this is putting people at the centre of business strategy. 

Workers’ hopes and fears

PwC surveyed its people on the world of work, and the UK findings give some pointers as to how they feel about work post-COVID-19.

77% of respondents prefer a mix of in-person and remote working, which is higher than the global average. Depending on the sector, it tells us hybrid working and increased flexibility are already starting to be considered non-negotiables for many. The desire for the correct work-life balance, discussed in forums like this for so long, is now driving people’s work decision-making. Businesses not catering for this risk finding themselves down the pecking order. At PwC, the shift to hybrid working sees our people spending 40-60% of their week co-locating with their colleagues in our offices or on client sites, and we believe this gives people the flexibility they are looking for while providing in-person collaboration, a shared identity and common goals too. 

Workers in the UK are also much more likely to choose to do a job that makes a difference over maximising their salary, the report continues. That chimes with what we’ve been hearing where people want to feel looked after and part of a supportive culture, connected to a community, to a common purpose, with sustainable practices and a variety of interesting work. But there is no doubt that with inflationary pressures, a competitive reward package (salary, benefits, additional ‘perks’ such as giving people volunteering days, subscribing to a wellbeing app, and matching money raised by staff for charities) are most likely at the top of most people’s wishlist. 

The results also revealed UK respondents are also less willing than people in other countries to learn new skills in response to new technologies entering the workplace. 

For us, a focus on skills is hugely important. Reskilling people you already have is an important way to address scarcity of talent and you can consider what is transferable at some future point while keeping your people relevant. 

A rounded people experience

For me personally however, the power of a supportive culture that is serious in investing in its people continuously is critical. If jobs are only about the work we do, many of us have multiple options of where we could in theory do the ‘day job’ in other organisations. The culture created by organisations and replicated within teams is, and needs to be, a differentiator. Pulling the entire package together so that flexibility, autonomy, a strong focus on wellbeing and support, continual development and creating the ability to intentionally collaborate and innovate need to be included in your people strategy. But fundamentally, the need to treat people as unique individuals is where you can make a substantial difference, alongside how to keep at least four if not five generations of workers - from people in their 60s and 70s to recent school leavers - happy, collaborative and learning from each other. 

All this is only possible if leaders are on board. Now perhaps more than ever, the tone from the top establishes so much of what makes an organisation, as communicating clearly with people, listening to their concerns and addressing them builds inclusion and trust in leadership. Leaders themselves must demonstrate that inclusion is demanded from everyone, and how they bring that to life must be authentic if they want to inspire. 

People’s relationship with work has changed and it will never be the same as it was before the pandemic. Despite the challenges, I’m excited about what the future of work could look like - I believe these next few years will provide so much opportunity to define how employers and employees work together.

Deborah Stevenson was a speaker at the CIPD Northern Ireland Annual Conference at the ICC Belfast on 12 May.

Have a look at the CIPD Good Work Index, the annual benchmark of job quality in the UK, published 20 June 2022: https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/work/trends/goodwork