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Employee Relations and Leadership

By: Rita Trehan founder and CEO of Dare Worldwide

Labour shortages across the UK have helped shift the focus back towards the employee experience. Companies need attractive conditions that support good work if they are to forge a well-paid, well-skilled, highly productive economy.

In the City of London, well-stocked white-collar firms are struggling to fill roles quickly enough to keep up with demand. According to the FT, the most popular jobs on LinkedIn are now in recruitment as competitors look to secure skilled in-house talent.

But with more freedom to choose, employees are electing to uproot, reskill or move to rival companies with a better offer. Businesses now are looking to make up for pandemic-era wage cuts with incentives that frequently miss the mark such as gym memberships and signing bonuses.

Retaining a skilled workforce

Leaders need a longer term strategy. With a majority of UK sectors now facing six-month lows in output, businesses are prioritising hiring and staff retention policies. To avoid high employee turnover, leaders must focus on the employee experience, creating an environment that people want to work in.

With such varied experiences of lockdown, workers will need support in adjusting to the new world of work. While 45% of workers felt better off working from home, 67% also felt more disconnected from colleagues.  Crucially, only a third received support from their employer.

Workers who see the value of their work may forgive a decision that does not go their way if they can see how it benefits the whole. It is a sense of purpose and inclusion that drives employees to stay or leave. In difficult decision making, it is vital that leaders help individuals see their contribution to a bigger project, including them in long term strategy and offering support to help maximise their potential.

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Businesses should continually look to reinforce this message with opportunities for staff to learn skills, work towards promotion or have their voice heard. Top quality talent may be drawn to a handsome pay packet but will be kept by the companies that understand them. 80% of employees would rather have meaningful perks than a raise, including development opportunities, company equity and performance related rewards.

The best hires are not necessarily those with the most experience but those who will gel with staff and company culture. Staff retention is not bought by giving generous salaries to the people with the best degrees. It is achieved by finding those who complement your workplace ambitions and giving them a supportive environment to thrive in.

Collaboration in leadership

Above all, leaders must be receptive to new information. To maintain an effective working relationship with employees, leaders must be decisive while setting out a framework for support and offering workers space for consultation.

For some, lockdown has been an opportunity to save money, wake up later and work without interruption. Others have had major career setbacks, finding themselves with extended career breaks or new anxieties about work and health. A soft touch is encouraged for leaders looking to get the best out of their staff. Keeping good employees may require a new sensitivity to complex issues, inviting new conversations about what can reasonably be expected of staff.

Employees are frustrated by management strategies that feel detached from the employee experience. In finance and insurance, where remote work can be done with minimal effect on productivity, workers tend to resent the commute to the physical office. Leaders must be willing to flatten hierarchies, including employees in decisions that affect them and staying open to new ideas.

People do not leave when they reach a different conclusion to you. They leave when they feel ignored. There is something to be said for humility in leadership, especially as experimentation becomes the norm in management strategy. And while there is always value in being a strong, decisive leader, there is strength in being flexible.

Employee relations are collaborative processes, not built through top-down leadership models or in isolation. As blue collar industries start to reflect on how staff are treated, the offices of 2021 must also look at how they communicate a sense of purpose to their staff.

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