For many organisations, remaining a relevant and attractive workplace for their employees will require a fundamental modernisation of their culture and management.
60 percent of Danish companies predict that a shortage of labour could slow their growth in 2022. 32,000 more employees would be in jobs if those employees existed, which means that we are missing out on more than 2.5 billion dollars in value creation per month. One in three attempts at recruitment in the last half of 2021 was in vain. That equates to 158,000 failed recruitment attempts. Try for a moment to think about how many working hours that is. Add to that the hours spent on the remaining two-thirds who were successful. And then put in the hours spent on getting all the new employees off to a good start. It is no wonder that recruiters are having to run really fast at the moment, or if you as a manager are finding you are spending more time on recruitment interviews than on your core business.
Companies and organisations struggle to attract the right people, and you only have to look at your LinkedIn feeds or the headlines on today's newspaper to see how intensively companies are working on Employer Branding and Employee value propositions, which sum up the benefits you offer your employees at a workplace.
However, what we quickly forget while we are deeply preoccupied with recruiting, is all those people who already come, physically or virtually, to work day after day. The people who make up the organisation who, on the first of every month, have to take on another set of new colleagues. What’s the experience of your current employees ? What attention do they get? To what extent does their employee experience correspond to the reputation of the company and the promises they were made in the recruitment process.
With the glorious labour market we're experiencing right now, many companies and organisations are seeing the number of people they welcome at the start of the month equal the number of people they say goodbye to at the end of the month. And this is not simply due to the attention that many people today get from recruiters. This is just as much about the lack of attention and meaning they see in their workplace – and all their unmet expectations.
Focus on the attractive workplace
If you, as an organisation, want to ensure greater continuity, less knowledge loss and less erosion of the organisation's energy, you need to reverse – or if nothing else to supplement – your focus on boosting your brand and your value proposition on paper, and ensure that you can actually deliver it. A first step is to take the time and energy to understand the employees who are already in the organisation, because as we know – generation after generation – the new generation comes with different (and often higher) expectations than we are used to, and if we do not manage to modernise ourselves, it is difficult to stay relevant to them.
Towering ambitions followed by great vulnerability
So what characterises employees in the labour market today? They insist on being seen as human beings – whole people – even at work. Reflecting Christian Hjortkær's theories on why we feel inadequate, they can be described as the 'Just do it generation' to use Nike’s slogan. They have grown up with a narrative that the world is at their feet and that they just have to seize it. They can do whatever they want. Anything is possible.
And that narrative is not to be confused with freedom, as many of us in their parent’s generation might think. The narrative is more an injunction. A requirement to do, be, feel and perform and not least optimise. The whole world is at your feet and if you don't grab it, it's your own fault. Your own incapacity. And since everything is never possible, it means that you will always be inadequate. Hence, that creates a great vulnerability, which unfortunately can also be seen in the figures: just over 43 percent of young women between 16-24 and 22 percent of young men feel stressed, more than one in five students in the 9th grade have tried to harm themselves and the same numbers apply to high school students.
Being your whole self at work
Next, there has been a social awakening. We are socially conscious and feel social responsibility to a completely different degree than before. And we expect the organisation we work in to do the same. And this applies not just to climate change. This applies just as much to ethics. Morality. Propriety. Transparency. Diversity and inclusion have become a hygiene factor. And bad leadership is unacceptable. This also means that the younger generation insists on being treated as human beings – whole people – at work. Their vulnerability is not something they pack away. On the contrary. And they expect the same from the people they work with.
That is why the modern leader can no longer be a "know everything, can do everything, am allowed to do everything" type but, on the contrary, must be vulnerable, reflective and curious.
These very high expectations are accompanied by very limited patience. If you present your workplace with purposeless, unfounded guidelines for how to work, they think you are stodgy, and old-fashioned – and that can be a response to anything from bonus schemes to climatefootprint to lack of diversity. If you do not prioritise the opportunity to develop or move around and/or lag behind on digitisation, employee loyalty will be very limited. And they won't hold back on drawing your attention to it.
We want you to stay a little longer
If you want to remain an attractive, healthy organisation in the future, it is not enough to change your maternity leave scheme, offer dry cleaning or buy a football table. The transformation needs to be much more fundamental. We have to work with the culture in the organisation itself and it is one of the most difficult things to do. Culture requires a targeted, holistic approach, where all parts of the culture are reviewed. From performance management, bonus structures and organisational design to management behaviour and meeting dynamics. And the very first step will be to map the culture – both visible and invisible – and create awareness of strengths and challenges. Only then can you work purposefully to shape it.
In the future, there will only be a few 20 year work anniversaries – or 10 year anniversaries for that matter – and we will have to think of our workforce as something much more organic and changeable. But try to imagine if each employee just stayed a little longer – a year, or two. Think about the knowledge that would no longer disappear quite as quickly. The organisational energy that would not have to be spent saying goodbye and welcome. And the loss of productivity that would not constantly put pressure on the remaining employees with all the negative spirals it entails. We can’t pretend that doesn’t matter.