Hi everyone, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank every one of you who has listened, subscribed and commented on the value you are gaining from The Reimagined Workforce podcast. I have to admit to being a tad overwhelmed by all the support.
I suspect there are people in your network who may be facing their own workforce challenges. I would love you to share these episodes with them or subscribe and give the show a rating to help improve it’s visibility.
When I started the podcast, I committed to myself to produce at least ten episodes and then re-evaluate.
Our tenth episode is now available and I feel like we have only just scratched the surface of all there is to discuss in the realm of workforce transformation.
What I am confident about is that this is a topic that is high on people’s agenda. It is something people are keen to talk about. I also think it is a topic that affects almost everyone and can evoke people’s emotions and passions.
For so many of us, work is fundamental to our identity. It has a massive influence on our health and wellbeing both at work and in our lives.
Philosophically, I believe that work should be a positive experience because we invest so much of our lives to it. I cannot honestly remember a time when I didn’t feel that at my core. When I left school I majored in Employment Relations and submajored in Economics because I wanted to demonstrate to organisations the financial value of looking after your people.
I have to admit to feeling absolutely gutted when, with my rose coloured glasses, I entered the workforce and discovered this wasn’t a commonly held belief.
What does thrill me though is that some 20ish years later, there has been a seismic shift toward making work human by valuing people as individuals who are all unique, have diverse backgrounds and experiences and all have something to offer the world.
I accept that we are not there yet, but we are certainly making progress.
I don’t think I need to tell anyone that the world of work, well actually, the world in almost every aspect has fundamentally changed since COVID 19 became a reality.
It is hard to identify a facet of our lives that hasn’t been impacted in some way. I think the degree of impact exists along a spectrum from disastrous to wonderful and most things lie somewhere in between.
For many, COVID brought the opportunity to work from home, a privilege that might not have been afforded if COVID has not occurred, at least not just yet. While this may have been a blessing for some, for others it meant attempting to work while caring for others. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I was not in that impossible position. I have four children who are relatively independent which allowed me to focus on one task at a time that was rarely disrupted.
This is just one of a multitude of examples that demonstrate to me that people’s experiences differ for a variety of reasons.
If we want to get the best of our people, it is our challenge to understand those impacts, identify those reasons and the effect they have so we can manipulate them for mutual gain.
Organisations and the people in them share a symbiotic relationship where they both derive mutual benefits from their contribution. And I believe there is a multiplier effect derived through reciprocity where the more we give, the more we get and the cycle continues.
As I record this, it is 2022 and the world continues to change. For months we have been talking incessantly about the tight talent market and the need for innovative workforce strategies to keep the workforce we have, nurture them to grow all while attracting the workforce we need. But in the last few weeks, Elon Musk has taken ownership of Twitter and my LinkedIn feed is full of people who have been ‘paid off’. I think the count is 11,000 employees, many of whom are now searching for work. Additionally, inflation rates are rising, real wages are falling and governments are increasing interest rates to slow it down. I worry about low income earners who are vulnerable and what might happen to them.
I can’t help but think that some of the inflationary pressure was driven by increasing salary levels because organisations have approached the war for talent through financial reward, creating a price war that will never end well.
I started this podcast to encourage people to think differently to discover those innovative solutions that we need to ensure people can apply their capabilities in organisations where they are needed. I want people to ask ‘what if?’ and consider things we might not have thought of before.
So I thought I would take the opportunity in this episode to share three ideas for how we might solve our workforce challenges that are relatively cost neutral and cost effective.
The first of these is job crafting.
Job crafting is where employees make adjustments to align the fit between the role their organisation has defined and their own personal preferences. It empowers employees to reimagine and redesign their role in personally meaningful ways to make it more enjoyable while still achieving the same or better outcomes for their organisations and the people they serve.
Wrzesniewski and Dutton who initially proposed the term believed that even in the most routine jobs in the most restrictive environments, employees have some degree of control over how work is performed, who it is performed with and the meaning that is derived from it.
Job crafting is beneficial because, as Hertzberg demonstrated back in the late 1960s, it enhances the autonomy employees experience and boosts their motivation. Autonomy is one of the core characteristics that positively impact an employee’s psychological state and results in improved motivation, performance and satisfaction along with reduced absenteeism and attrition. Many empirical studies have also shown the positive relationship between autonomy and job involvement, general health and wellbeing and meta-cognitive learning processes while enhancing resilience to negative aspects of work that may be unavoidable, such as might occur in a healthcare setting.
What is essential for job crafting is that it is initiated by the employee who has the necessary understanding of the work, the expected outcomes and their own strengths and preferences, placing them in the perfect position to be crafting their own role.
Job crafting can impact the task, the relational or cognitive aspects of a role.
Task crafting occurs when an employee alters the nature of the task or the amount of time and effort invested in it. An example of this might be of an employee who’s day might typically involve back to back meetings. This employee may apply task crafting to reduce their standard meeting times from an hour to 45 mins, to allow themselves a 15 gap between meetings. If we follow Parkinson’s theory (which is one of my favourites) that work expands or contracts to fit the time allotted to it, then there should be no change in the outcome, but there may be significant enhancement to the employee’s health and wellbeing, performance and satisfaction from having what might be perceived to be an extra 15 minutes to reflect on the meeting, prepare for the next or heaven forbid, go to the toilet or get a drink.
Another type of job crafting is relational crafting which refers to how, when and whom the employee interacts with when performing their role. If the task itself cannot be altered, there may be scope for an employee to influence who, when and how they work with other employees or customers that improves the enjoyment and meaning the derive from their work.
A great example of this was highlighted in interviews with cleaning staff in major Midwest hospitals in the US who saw themselves as part of the professional team impacting patient outcomes and not just the janitors. These individuals reported being alert to the varying needs of patients and their carers and adapting their interactions with them based on what they believed was required. For example, they would pay attention to whether patients had visitors and make an effort to speak to those who may be lonely or needing extra care and attention, all while being careful not to overstep the mark.
I will be speaking with Ralf Buechsenschuss in a not too distant episode about organisational network analysis. This is a process to understand how information and decisions flow throughout an organisation through both the formal and informal networks. ONA recognises that within organisations there are people who are the conduits for the exchange of information and ideas. This demonstrates the importance of social relationships on organisational performance. Encouraging relational crafting and visualising the organisational network analysis can empower employees to seek, build and maintain stronger relationships with preferred individuals to drive more positive outcomes when interacting with others. (The Double-Edged Sword Effect of Relational Crafting on Job Well-Being – PMC (nih.gov)).
The other type of job crafting is cognitive crafting where the employee reframes the perceived value of the task. Another example from the Midwest hospitals study was the housekeeper who made a point to rearrange wall art in the rooms of comatosed patients, which I think many of us might believe to be a bit of a waste of time. But this housekeeper held the belief that changing the patient’s environment may have a positive impact and by performing this task, felt their contribution held significant meaning. These cleaners were altering the way they thought about their work so they found greater meaning and fulfilment from it.
For job crafting to result in higher levels of engagement, it is imperative that employees perceive their work as meaningful. Employers can assist here by clearly articulating the purpose of their organisations and supporting their employees to see how they contribute to achieving it.
I do appreciate many listeners may be thinking I am dreaming and that job crafting is not a feasible option. Occupations like nursing, call centre staff, traffic operators for example must follow a clearly defined set of procedures to ensure the safety of their patients and customers. However, we need to empower our employees to look for opportunities to craft their roles to meet their personal preferences so they can find meaning in their work and deliver mutually beneficial outcomes for themselves, their organisations and the people they serve.
Job crafting should ideally employ a mix of all three and is never a one and done. It needs to be a sustained effort and adapted as needs change.
The next two ideas I am sharing is making better use potential labour sources that you not have considered
By this I mean those pockets that are often overlooked or dare I say avoided.
These are neurodiverse people and boomerang employees.
Let’s start with neuro diversity.
People who are neuro diverse include those who experience ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s and other atypical neurological conditions.
Research indicates there are some common traits neuro diverse people possess that are valuable to organisations including:
- Attention to detail
- Information processing
- Productivity and work quality
Depending on the source, an estimated 30-40 percent of the population are neurodiverse and of those, approximately 34% are unemployed. (source). That’s a huge potential workforce that could solve many of the workforce challenges we face today and tomorrow.
I recently listened to an episode of the This Working Life podcast that I will link to in the show notes with guest Aron Mercer, founder of the organisation Xceptional who’s mission is to help neuro diverse people find employment while supporting their employers.
I have to admit to being quite unaware of the challenges neurodiverse people face in obtaining and maintaining employment. Even though I had some awareness to these conditions, I had not really understood how this played out in the workplace. Before I provide a few examples, I want to make it very clear that every neuro diverse person will have different factors that impact them in a range of different ways, so please let’s not assume that there is a one size fits all solution for this group.
I am no expert in this space so am just pointing out a few things I have learned on this topic, but I do encourage you to explore further, listen to the This Working Life podcast episide and better still, share your own experiences on what we can do better with us on this podcast.
Let’s look first at the potential barriers to recruitment and onboarding of neuro diverse people
Assist neuro diverse people to prepare for an interview by providing them with the questions prior to the interview to allow them time to understand what is being asked and consider the best way to respond.
When interviewing neuro diverse applicants, be aware they may be sensitive to sensory stimuli so consider the lights, smells and sounds in the environment where an interview is planned to take place. Avoid cafés and crowded spaces because they may overload the applicant’s senses and make it difficult for them to think clearly and demonstrate their suitability. Instead, find a quiet location away from the kitchen or eating area that is not too bright and make sure the temperature is neither too warm or too cold. And remember to do this for neuro diverse employees as well.
When onboarding, be aware that social interaction may be overwhelming so limit the number of introductions by spreading them out over time and try to avoid whole team introductions without time for the employee to prepare.
At all times, encourage the neuro diverse employee to inform you or others of what they need and any requests to adapt the workplace to meet their needs.
When communication, consider the literal meaning of communications. Aron shared the example of phraseology like ‘at the end of the day’ and how a neuro diverse person might take this literally to mean by 5 pm which may induce unnecessary stress and anxiety.
In the workplace which includes anywhere where work is undertaken, make technology accessible by using closed captioning and making transcripts available and build in breaks between meetings, especially when they are virtual.
Provide flexibility to allow neuro diverse people to choose the environment in which they work best.
To create an safe and productive work environment for neuro diverse employees, foster inclusion through psychological safety, kindness, empathy and tolerance.
Educate others members of the workforce on the needs of neuro diverse people.
Develop, communicate and reinforce diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging policies and processes.
Recognise the achievements of neuro diverse people and the value they contribute to the organisation and the people they service.
Designing work and workplaces for people who identify as neuro diverse will not only increase your labour supply, it may benefit the rest of your workforce as well. And remember, some neuro diverse people may not feel safe advising their employer of their condition and these adaptations may help them as well.
Now let’s explore the potential of boomerang employees
For this one I will be pretty quick because it is relatively simple.
I imagine that every listener has heard of the Great Resignation where organisations globally are experiencing higher rates of attrition for a variety of reasons. Can I start by making a distinction between regrettable and non-regrettable attrition. When high performers leave critical roles, this is regrettable. However there will be times when people leave who may not have been performing to the standard necessary or their roles may no longer be required which is non-regrettable.
A boomerang employee strategy would aim to have those people who you regret leaving return.
In 2021, 4.5% of new hires were boomerang employees compared to 3.9% on 2019 indicating this approach is being used more often.
Rehiring people who were previously employed and performing to a high level can:
- provide peace of mind
- reduce recruitment and onboarding time and expense
- result in better performance
- provide existing employees with a level of comfort that their organisation is a good place to work.
There is also a good possibility they hold current registrations they may require which can speed up the recruitment and onboarding process.
McKinsey report that many employees who resigned voluntarily during the pandemic did so because they had been operating under extreme pressure for an extended period of time and were unable to find the work life balance they needed. Many left because they felt they were unable to sustain their workload and that they had no other option but to resign. Often they did not have another job to go to. Not surprisingly, the greatest attrition rates were experienced in consumer and retail, healthcare and education sectors that were all significantly impacted by the pandemic, organisations that are battling to increase their workforce capacity in a very tight talent market where the labour supply is often just not available.
To gain the greatest benefit from boomerang employees, organisations need to develop and employee listening strategy to engage with existing employees, especially those in critical roles, and ask them why they stay. This will not only help to understand what it might take to bring boomerang employees back, but it is also likely to inform your retention strategies to prevent people from leaving because they value their organisation and their place in it.
Your boomerang employee strategy will also need to:
- identify those employees you would like to return
- understand why they left
- determine what they are hoping for and
- ensure you are able to meet their expectations.
Interestingly, the top five reasons why past employees returned included workplace flexibility, compensation, sustainable work performance expectations, career development and advancement potential and meaningful work.
Research by Visier reported that the most critical time to attract past employees back is the 13 month mark. This peak is sharp and 13 months is really the sweet spot so organisations need to act quickly as the likelihood of people returning reduces significantly after that time.
It is important to note that of the employees who left voluntarily and returned, 25% are at least somewhat likely to leave again within 3-6 months, so it is absolutely critical their reasons for leaving are addressed to save everyone the hassle.
When bringing people back, think creatively about what you might be able to provide for them. McKinsey suggested a subsidised cleaning service instead of a gym membership as one idea, but the best ideas will come from asking the people you are attempting to bring back and being realistic about what you can provide.
The Visier report mentioned that boomerang employees often returned on significantly higher salaries. This is one of a gamut of strategies to attract people back. Personally, I don’t love the idea of financial reward, especially on it’s own, other than for low income earners, because I worry about the impact this might have on the people who remained loyal to the company and who may not be financially rewarded. I also have concerns about the inflationary pressure it might create. I also think it ignores the full range of benefits people derive from work and what they value, but that may be just me.
Anyway, if you are still with me, thank you for hanging in there.
I will include links to the many resources I accessed in developing the script for this episode in the transcript on the Workforce Transformations website.
If you have other creative and innovative strategies that you have implemented in your organisations that you’d like to share, please connect with me on LinkedIn start a conversation.
Until next time, take care and have an awesome day.