People can enjoy their job, the work they do, and even who they work for—and still want to do something different. That feeling is among the motivations driving the Great Resignation.
“The past 18 months has given people time to pause, reflect, and rethink what they want to do,” said Leena Nair, chief human resources officer at multinational consumer goods company Unilever. “We can stay ahead of the resignation curve if we truly understand the changing needs of employees and create pioneering employment models they can use.”
Nair’s comments were part of her in-depth discussion with Workday Chief People Officer Ashley Goldsmith at Workday’s Conversations for a Changing World, a digital event. Organizations are facing accelerated organizational trends that are impacting employee expectations, but the opportunity is now to reimagine a work model for the 21st century.
“I tell them please reimagine the place you work, because it'll be a pity if we all go back to the way we were doing things in 2019, without learning anything from the pandemic,” Nair said.
Workers are asking for increased flexibility in their working arrangements, but the benefit shouldn’t be limited to managers or office jobs. Working arrangements didn’t drastically change for many people in the manufacturing, retail, and hospitality industries, said Nair, adding that as soon as those businesses were allowed to fully open, they went back to operating in almost exactly the same way.
“I also worry that some of this might enhance inequality between different kinds of employees,” Nair said of flexibility. “The big message is it's taught us a lot, it's accelerated the future, and we must keep in mind that flexibility and wellbeing are as important to workforces everywhere, in addition to security and employment.”
“We can share our learnings in real time and together create a better world that's good for everyone.”Leena Nair Chief Human Resources Officer Unilever
Along those same lines, company leaders can do more to increase belonging, diversity, and inclusion within their companies and advocate for change externally.
“Too many people are denied opportunities,” Nair said. “We are going to have to further break down barriers and create opportunities in our workplaces, our supply and distribution chains, and in society at large.”
Among the biggest opportunities for change is putting the health and wellbeing of people at the center of board discussions. Recent research revealed one out of five people will experience a mental illness. And employees have become more comfortable talking about their mental health and wellbeing at work.
“The pandemic has forced leaders to embrace these shifts, to put people at the heart of everything they're doing, and to try and begin to find answers to some of these complex changes that are going on in the world,” Nair said. “The opportunity for us is that the big conversations about people and what affects people is at the heart of all business strategy.”
Organizations are adapting to rapidly evolving ways of working, and as a result, reskilling and upskilling have become a necessity. Unilever, for example, has invested in tools that support employees in learning a future-fit skill set aligned with the employee’s purpose and the job they desire.
“I think the best thing we teach our people is learning agility,” Nair said. “One of the things we've done to help people thrive in this world that's continuously changing, where the half-life of a skill is two-and-a-half years, is by supporting them to identify their purpose.”
Companies that have embraced and invested in technologies enhancing the employee experience are more prepared for recruiting talent in the current landscape. For example, by partnering with Workday to help with digitization, Unilever has a more accessible and visible view of talent data, enabling the company’s talent and succession plan to be much more robust, Nair said.
“So I do feel that we've got to get more digital in nature, allowing us to become more human,” she said. “And I'm a passionate believer that no company can do this alone. We need partners like Workday and others to help us on this journey.”
The current landscape is showing that the new normal is anything but, highlighting how traditional models of work are not right for the twenty-first century. CHROs and their organizations can embrace the moment for reinventing, reimagining, and reenergizing the workplace for the new reality.
“So let's not miss this moment,” Nair said. “Let's reimagine things. Let's pioneer new things. Let's make a heck of a lot of mistakes. Let's try new models. Let's experiment. ... So this is the moment to do all of that. And let's hold hands as a community when we experiment together. We can share our learnings in real time and together create a better world that's good for everyone.”
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