“Has the pandemic fundamentally changed the way employees think about work?”

That’s the question Professor Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources asked a group of top talent executives attending the Oct. 7 Indeed Leadership Connect roundtable. 

The answers were mixed: A slight majority said they believe the pandemic has changed the mindset of today’s workforce. But many indicated they weren’t yet sure. The responses indicate just how unique the current moment really is — and how much companies and executives need to think strategically and collaboratively about how to meet it. 

The starting point for the discussion was Cappelli’s recently published article for Indeed Leadership Connect, which explores the shifting mindset of today’s workforce and how employers can adapt, retain and attract top talent. 

“Hiring snapped back much faster than job seekers coming back into the workforce,” Cappelli explained. “That’s giving employees power.” 

Cappelli’s insights, coupled with Indeed data, ignited a lively discussion among the event’s participating talent leaders. They shared some of the challenges they face on the front lines of recruitment and retention, along with strategies for tackling them.

The Challenge: How to equip leaders for a successful return to office

“As humans, we want to go back to what's comfortable to us and that does not really exist anymore,” said Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Indeed, Paul E. Wolfe. Success requires finding entirely new ways to lead, which means optimizing engagement when employees are in the office, helping them maximize their time when they’re at home and finding ways to foster collaboration between these two groups. It also means being transparent about what you’re thinking, even if that means saying that plans are in progress with more information to come.

The Opportunity: Seize this moment to improve your organization’s culture

This moment of transition presents an opportunity to change the culture of the entire organization for the better, as Cappelli emphasized. The lessons from the pandemic — that employees do better with less micromanagement and more trust and support — can be carried forward. 

One way to do that is by re-onboarding everyone at the organization when returning to offices, as Wolfe mentioned. 

“This is also an ideal time to set new cultural norms,” he added. For example, to foster a sense of inclusion and belonging in a hybrid work environment, make it a practice that no meetings should be held in person unless all participants  can be physically present. 

The Challenge: How to give flexibility to employees in jobs that require on-site work

Many executives noted that those workers who have to be on site  express a need for flexibility, especially when they work alongside people who can do their jobs from home. 

“Our leadership capability is proving critical to our ability to deliver flexibility,” said the VP of HR. 

The Opportunity: Offer scheduling flexibility and other options

The search for backup child care increased 446% from before the pandemic to now, primarily among hourly wage workers, said Caroline Ferrarone, Senior Manager, US Marketing at Indeed. That points to an opportunity for employers regarding the kinds of benefits that would really help on-site workers. 

Some companies are also considering giving these workers more say over their schedules, like having some set shifts each week  and choosing when to work their remaining hours. 

The Challenge: How to recruit in today’s tight labor market

In many industries that urgently need workers, like healthcare, severe shortages are leaving thousands of roles unfilled. When companies implement COVID-19 vaccine requirements, they often have to lay off swaths of their workforce for noncompliance. Retention is also a challenge. With job openings across industries, many are leaving for what they see as better, safer, more flexible opportunities. 

The Opportunity: Think creatively about talent-attraction tactics

With no silver bullet, companies are being forced to get creative. One participant mentioned the use of "boomerang" campaigns, designed to motivate recently retired workers into picking up shifts for their former employers here and there.  

Another participant talked about partnering with nonprofits with expertise in wellness to help managers better support their people and provide comprehensive resources to all employees. 

Top takeaways: 

  • Tell employees what you’re thinking. Even if that means saying, “I don’t know,” err on the side of overcommunication to give your teams as much information as possible in a world of so many unknowns. 
  • Use this moment to change your organization for the better. The world has changed too much to go back to the way things were. Acknowledging that, and creating a new workplace culture around flexibility, trust and support will go a long way in attracting and retaining workers.
  • Create flexibility for workers who can’t be remote. Offer child care help, flexible shift schedules and other benefits that are truly valuable to this group.
  • Support, and lean on your HR peers. Talent executives are having to pioneer a new way of work without much data to help inform those decisions. Some of the event participants expressed feeling enormous pressure and noted that burnout across the industry is rampant. Leaders need to come together to share what’s working, develop best practices and support one another.

“The silver lining of the pandemic is that it has allowed us to take our foot off the gas and ask ourselves what is it that we want out of work,” Ferrarone said. Only by coming together can talent leaders successfully begin to understand, and respond to, the answer.

Want more expert and peer content like this? Apply for membership to Indeed’s Leadership Connect program here and learn more strategies, best practices and innovative solutions for tackling today’s workforce challenges.