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The future of work talk continues

By
Megan Nash, Center for Growing Talent director of programs

There are a lot of business leaders who talk about the future of work.  It’s a favorite topic in our (almost) post-pandemic world and many are focused on how businesses can adapt, change and respond to the changing environmental and cultural pressures. We’ve talked about the future of the physical office, the prolific use of Zoom, hiring in a pandemic, and the continued conversation on flexible work hours.

One leader who is saying a lot right now about the future of business is Indra Nooyi, the former CEO and chairman of PepsiCo, who is also promoting her new memoir.

Megan Nash
Megan Nash

Nooyi, a famously successful and outspoken sage of business, has long been a voice dedicated to uplifting women and underrepresented leaders.   Looking back now as the pandemic is proving to have a disproportionate impact on women in the workforce, her words around the need for organized childcare seem prescient considering the devastating effect school closures and childcare costs have had on women especially.  Still, while she has been honest about the uneven impact women feel, she stands firm that any policy, practice or philosophy that isn’t supportive of women, families, or employees’ individual abilities to be supported in their work, is bad for business.

She’s not wrong.

Almost every industry is facing a labor shortage.  Our industry, which is responsible for one of the most noble and necessary roles in our global society — feeding and nourishing our world — is no stranger to labor challenges. It’s not easy to find enough people to do the skillful and difficult work to meet the growing demand for our products.  What we’re not as used to is the kind of unpredictable labor shortage in the “office” roles as well. 

There is no one reason for the labor shortage.  Different roles are facing different challenges in recruiting and retaining team members.  While there are more obvious reasons why customer-facing roles are harder to fill right now, the question of our more corporate or industry-facing roles are also seeing high turnover. 

Having openings at a company is not an inherently bad thing. It’s a sign of opportunity and growth. Many companies are scaling to meet the growing demand on our industry, opening roles and expanding their business’ reach.  But positions are not the same thing as people and when we think about the labor shortage, what we’re really talking about is a shortage of people filling those positions. There are a number of forces that are driving this shortage and we’ve heard a lot of conversation on the topic. But what is being said about the way that people are now choosing jobs or even choosing to leave jobs? 

One way to breakthrough some of these conversations is to stop thinking about those you work with as “employees” and start thinking about them as people. One of the prevailing outcomes of the pandemic is a reorientation people have had to the work they do.  There is an increase in how people think about work and it’s swinging the work balance scales dramatically. 

In a recent study from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, researchers found that companies where employees felt supported through the pandemic were less likely to see resignations than companies who had company cultures where team members felt less supported. This doesn’t seem like a huge revelation: people who like where they work are less likely to leave.  But, the biggest factor of the pandemic is that where people were once more tolerant of negative work environments, people are now far more willing to walk away.

During this time of the “Great Resignation” we’re also seeing that there are certain groups who are more likely to leave than others. According to research from Visier and looking at data from August 2019 to August 2020, while the youngest employees aged 20-25 were least likely to leave, those aged 30-35 had the highest increase in resignations with a 21.5 percent increase. These employees are young professionals who may be a company’s rising star, they may manage a team of people, and they may have years of invested training, development and experience.  These employees are essential to the future of any company and when they leave, not only do they leave significant gaps in productivity, but they leave companies without future leaders with company experience and more.

On the flip side, while in many cases, people are leaving the workforce altogether, many of these rising stars are going to other companies who also have openings. So how are some companies attracting these employees while others may be losing them? 

Lots of reasons, but for each employee, those reasons are deeply personal. For some, it’s flexibility to determine work hours. For some it’s about working remote, which saves money and allows employees to relocate for family or any other reason.  Regardless of the reason, it’s important to remember that your most talented team members have more options than ever before. So how can you improve your retention? 

Ask your team what they need to feel supported.  Consider ways to be flexible to ensure your business is benefitting from your employees’ best work.  The Great Resignation will level off eventually, and not all businesses or industries will be impacted in the same way, but one thing companies can do to ensure they’re better positioned to come out stronger?

Take Nooyi’s advice: Treat your employees like people. People with families, goals outside of their careers, and lots of options. 

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