Article: Holding on to the good parts of the pandemic era: Flexibility, Wellness & Inclusion


Holding on to the good parts of the pandemic era: Flexibility, Wellness & Inclusion

Flexibility of work, a focus on employee wellness, and presence of inclusive talent policies will play a critical role in attracting and retaining talent over the next year.
Holding on to the good parts of the pandemic era: Flexibility, Wellness & Inclusion

Majority of the professionals across the globe have spent the past year working remotely, at their own pace. What will happen if they are suddenly asked to give away this flexibility? An Accenture report showed that most Gen Zs (63%) would rather work in a hybrid setting. Further, as per a Microsoft survey, 74 percent of employees say they want more flexible remote work. 

It is clear that employees want to hold on to the flexible way of working and if companies don't acknowledge this shift in preference, they may lose the war of talent, as there are many companies out there offering that flexibility. 

It is not only flexible working but other aspects like a focus on wellness and inclusion that the candidates out there are looking for in companies. Ever since the pandemic, employers have invested time, effort and money in improving their employee wellness strategy and also creating a more inclusive workplace. The positive shift should not just be maintained but further scaled up, even if things slowly start returning to the new normal. 

Reward Gateway’s latest survey of employees and senior HR decision-makers across the UK, U.S., and Australia shows employees’ plans to leave their current jobs, and reveals what HR leaders intend to do to keep them. The next 12 months will define how employers can balance healthy employee churn while attracting, retaining and engaging top talent.

“Coming off of a year that brought so much change, employees are seeking employers who will respond to their needs,” said Robert Hicks, Group HR Director, Reward Gateway.

“While employee turnover isn't always negative – and often makes room for those who will bring new capabilities – it’s something employers must manage strategically in 2021, in order to maintain an engaged workforce.” Hicks further added that it’s clear that reward and recognition, open and honest leadership and wellbeing support will play a critical role in attracting and retaining talent over the next year.

Flexible way of working is the new reality: Accept or Perish

The Reward Gateway’s research revealed that “fair pay” and “flexible working” are top employee “must-haves” in 2021. Multiple reports and surveys done across geographies have highlighted employees are looking for opportunities to work for companies who are offering more flexibility. They would rather quit than come to work from the office and as per older times. Hence, as employers plan ‘return to office’, experts predict what they call 'the great resignation'.

Commenting on which Elton Yeo, Head of Tribe Academy said, “In my opinion my colleagues are actually looking forward to returning to the office to see each other once again. However, we also know that we can work well from home and the era of coming in from 9.00am – 5.00pm all day everyday has passed. Companies that offer a degree of flexibility – coming into the office a few days a week, for instance – will attract more and better talent.”

The employees do feel the need to be occasionally at the office, either to have a critical discussion that would rather be done face to face, if possible, or to meet their colleagues and teams. However, they also don’t want the option of working from home to completely go away. The solution is a hybrid work model.  

“While we are still working out the specifics of our post-pandemic work model, a hybrid model is a strong possibility, where we might allow Mindtree Minds to choose to work either from home or office, or opt for a combination of the two, subject to client / security clearances and at the discretion of the management. We have the operational controls and designs in place to execute the work model at an appropriate time,” shared Paneesh Rao, Chief People Officer, Mindtree. 

Even other companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Tata Steel and Deutsche Bank have already started to execute hybrid work models. They are re-inventing their work systems and redefining employee connections and processes to integrate hybrid work models into the system. 

As Karam Malhotra, Partner and Global Vice President at the SHAREit Group shared with us, “Employers understand that flexibility for employees should no longer be just an option but entrenched in the company culture.” 

After having employees work from home for the longest time due to the pandemic, we are concerned about the complications which would arise by bringing them back to the office full time and not offer them work flexibility they have become accustomed to, ranging from location to staggered working hours.

Wellness can’t be taken for granted

It is not only flexibility but also overall employee wellness that employers have to take care of to keep employee experience in check. “Employees must believe that their company truly cares about them for them to stay with them for the long haul,” said Karam. 

Well-being and inclusion have taken on a whole new meaning with employees working remotely. How we care for our employees, how we remain cognizant of unique circumstances and contexts, how we foster a sense of community, how we keep our culture intact in this virtual world of work are questions that are becoming increasingly important for organizations. And, “It drives every day decisions at Microsoft,” shares Ira Gupta, Head of Human Resource, Microsoft India.”

Microsoft added mental health to their sick leave policy, renaming it the Sick & Mental Health Leave enabling employees to take time off for themselves or for a family member for mental wellness, similar to how they did for physical illness in the past. It also enabled additional time-off in the form of Wellbeing Days; a five-day paid leave in addition to the standard leave policy to encourage employees to focus on their wellbeing. 

For AkzoNobel India, Anushree Singh, Country HR Head shares, for the emerging hybrid work model the priority has been on the 3Cs – Connect, Communicate and Collaborate to empathetically engage stakeholders and maintain business continuity. The company has done it through AkzoNobel We Care Program which provided critical medical and health support to employees on the 4 pillars of Wellbeing, Medical Expense Reimbursement, Hospital Insurance & Life Insurance. “Our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) gave a platform to employees in distress to avail expert counselling on managing bereavement etc,” told Anushree. 

Evidently, organizations are becoming more sensitive about building workplaces that are inclusive, accessible, and committed to supporting employees to do their best work, agnostic of where they are working from.

Inclusion is the way forward for organizations to thrive 

Inclusion has taken on a whole new meaning with the juggling of personal and professional responsibilities. “In a regular office environment, everyone had access to the same technology, infrastructure, and space. Remote work changed that completely,” said Ira. 

She told us how for many of Microsoft’s employees, their homes may not have had the required infrastructure to enable an extended work from home arrangement. “In an effort to support employees in creating a conducive work environment at home we enabled the work from home buying program to support employees to procure work from home equipment for a more conducive and comfortable work from home experience,” It is not only Microsoft but many other companies who have helped their employees in setting up work systems from home. Inclusion at the end of the day is making everyone feel like they belong, acknowledging their diverse needs and challenges, and supporting them to perform their job with all necessary resources in place. It is also about creating a safe place to work.  

“Flexibility isn’t just about location, it’s about a series of arrangements to boost productivity while fostering inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Our belief is that this can greatly catalyse the best of innovations and ideas in a company,” shared Karam. 

Flexibility is not just about work from home

In the last one year, the employee value proposition has undergone major changes. In such a scenario, how does one really define flexibility? It is not just about the ability to work from anywhere. Flexibility also means creating a more personalized employee experience. It also means experimenting with job roles, exploring career transitions, and accelerating learning. Let’s take for instance, AkzoNobel India, the company has also taken a big jump from the traditional roles. Anushree shared, “By identifying fungible skill sets, we are providing exposure to our talent to different responsibilities. Our all new global tool - Project Marketplace empowers our employees to volunteer for exciting cross-functional global projects and get accelerated development opportunities.”

“Organizations should transform their culture, enable true flexible working with technology and processes, foster an environment of inclusiveness and empathy, and, of course, assume greater societal and environmental responsibility,” stated Shailesh Singla, Country Head & Senior Director, HCM Cloud, Oracle India.

As a solution, Shailesh suggested the flexibility should not only be limited to remote working options but should also include offering employees a variety of opportunities to constantly evolve. It is the employers ability and intent to make a concerted attempt to make tasks faster and easier for their employees while providing positive experiences that will reap them the benefits of greater employee satisfaction, engagement, performance and productivity. What could enable both organizations and employees to make the transition to the new world of work? Experts believe that technology will be a great enabler to both HR and business. 

Driving flexibility, wellness, and inclusion with tech

AI at Work study conducted by Oracle and Future Workplace, found that AI has changed the relationship between people and technology at work and is reshaping the role HR teams and managers need to play in attracting, retaining and developing talent. It showed how AI is becoming more prominent with 50 percent of workers currently using some form of AI at work compared to only 32 percent last year. Workers in China (77 percent) and India (78 percent) have adopted AI over 2X more than those in France (32 percent) and Japan (29 percent).

Even other companies are integrating aspects of flexibility, wellness, and inclusion. Ira from Microsoft shared, “Early in the pandemic, we realized the absolute importance of mental wellness during this time of deep change. We enabled resources ranging from webinars, workshops to curated content developed by experts on our wellness platform to support the mental and emotional well-being of employees and their families. We are also integrating wellbeing experiences into our products to help prioritize wellbeing for every employee.”

Technology can help meet the employee where they are and connect everyone in a digital workplace. With the help of digital solutions and a digital culture, organizations are becoming more sensitive about building workplaces that are inclusive, accessible, and committed to supporting employees to do their best work, agnostic of where they are working from. 

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Topics: Culture, #DigitalCultureReset

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