10 Employer lessons from award-winning organisations02.09.21
Director of Employee Wellbeing
It’s safe to say that when we look back on the evolution of the world of work, the year 2020 will be a significant one. From huge leaps in virtual workplaces and flexible working, to creating a new kind of employer-employee relationship, 2020 challenged employers more than ever before.
During this time, I have been involved as a judge and chair for five global employer awards; meaning I’ve read thousands of entries from organisations wanting to be recognised for the way they have run their businesses and supported their employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Looking across the variety of entries, I’ve noticed many similar patterns which may be of interest for other organisations as we look ahead to 2022 and beyond. Here are ten things I learned from the entries I’ve read:
1. Most organisations saw their priority as keeping their people safe.
Overwhelmingly, most employers put their people first when the pandemic hit. They helped them to work from whatever location they felt was safest, they provided financial support, and employee wellbeing was taken seriously. There was a very definite shift in employers’ attitudes to how they support their people, and many businesses increased funding and focus to do that.
2. Flexible working patterns have been embraced and proved a success. A hybrid future is most definitely the future for most of us.
Across the world, even in regions where home working is difficult, remote working was embraced by millions. While it continues to be hotly debated, from the evidence I’ve seen, a hybrid working model is benefitting employers and employees equally. There was also a marked increase in how we trust our people; with more and more organisations experimenting with unlimited annual leave, reduced working hours/days and embracing more flexible working in all its guises.
3. Many employers made a commitment up front that they would do whatever they could to make sure people didn’t lose their jobs.
The most heart-warming stories came from those businesses who pledged to do whatever they could to keep people in work. Leaders took pay cuts, dividends were foregone, costs were cut – all to make sure people could keep working. The good stuff came alive, and employers realised (perhaps more than ever) that their people were the key to their recovery and post-pandemic success.
4. Mental health support became normal.
Even in countries that historically had poor societal attitudes to mental health, employers picked up where governments didn’t. There was a generational shift from CEOs and leaders in their attitudes to mental health. While the pandemic might have accelerated the fight against mental health stigma, it also exacerbated the issue. Employers must understand the long-term impact this mental health crisis will have on their people, and consider how they address this going forward. A redesign of how we measure productivity, set expectations and recognise effort are common denominators in winning organisations.
5. Black Lives Matter made a difference to the workplace.
The murder of George Floyd started a movement in the workplace that has made a difference. Many organisations realised they weren’t doing enough to combat racism in the workplace and provide truly equal opportunities, so invested more money and time in creating safer and more diverse workplaces. For lots of employers, it wasn’t a reaction to a global event, but more a permanent change in how they attract, retain, and create supportive and encouraging environments for black employees. I have never seen so much commitment to diversity and inclusion – especially in areas where it hasn’t traditionally been considered, like reward and benefits. There is clearly a long journey ahead, but from what I’ve seen, we have turned a corner.
6. Employees were encouraged to share, to speak up, and be closer to each other.
Social wellbeing – which we at Benefex call ‘Community wellbeing’ – became a vital part of the employee experience. We needed other people around us at work, especially while we were physically removed from the people in our lives. We needed to form bonds with each other, to trust and empathise with each other more. This meant we began to place a higher value on building social capital in the workplace. Where this was facilitated by the employer, their people were more resilient, less stressed, more collaborative and showed higher engagement.
7. Employee voice has never been so loud or listened to.
Everywhere, employees were asked what they needed and how they felt more than ever before. Employee sentiment was taken seriously, and for many organisations, swift positive action followed. We cared about what our people thought, and we listened intently. There was a move away from singular annual surveys to more regular pulse checking. Most importantly, this feedback was truly valued, and impacted change.
8. Employers trusted their people more than ever.
Award-winning organisations didn’t just trust people to work from home, they gave them permission to own their wellbeing. They allowed them to take breaks when they needed, to go outside for a walk in the middle of the day, to have video call free days – we trusted them to do what they needed to do to be in the physical and mental place for work. And this autonomy meant employees became more productive. The ‘command and control’ style of leadership was a big differentiator between those organisations which soared to success together, or fell apart.
9. Industry benchmarks mean nothing; the race is long and – at the end – it’s only with yourself.
Of course benchmarks serve a purpose, but they must be treated as a guide, not a prescription. During Covid-19, some employers had mental health targets of getting wellbeing scores higher than their industry or competitors, but when the industry benchmark is low, this does nothing to support those employees who really need help. The best employers are committed to giving their employees an exceptional employee experience and treating everyone as an individual rather than a statistic. They prioritise supporting their people over benchmarks, and aren’t swayed by the activities of others.
10. There is a direct correlation between an award-winning and successful organisation and how they treat their people.
While judging employer awards, I saw the same thing among every single winner: the organisation had unreservedly put the employee at the centre. By focussing on what their people needed and wanted during the pandemic, these organisations invested in belonging, employee wellbeing, safety and collaboration – a move which often resulted in organisations who not just survived, but thrived, during the pandemic. Employee centred businesses do better and did better during the pandemic.
The pandemic clearly changed a lot of employer attitudes. People were more conscious of their wellbeing. We shined a light on inequality. Employees became closer to their loved ones, and time spent at home was a blessing for millions. Children worldwide reported feeling closer to their parents, and for employees, this was a change they didn’t want to stop. As awards season approaches, we are seeing that those organisations who noticed these things, and embraced trust and flexibility, are the consistent winners.
Gethin is a psychology graduate who has been helping some of the world’s largest organisations to improve their employee experience and wellbeing for almost two decades. The last 9 years have been spent working as part of the senior leadership team here at Benefex. As a frequent writer and keynote speaker on employee experience and employee wellbeing, Gethin has been featured in The Guardian, The Huffington Post and The Financial Times as well as major HR, Reward and Pensions publications. Gethin is also a founding member of the Engage for Success Wellbeing Thought Action Group, is listed on the Employee Engagement Powerlist and is one of the world’s Top 1010 Employee Engagement Influencers.
In 2018, Gethin published his first book – the award winning HR bestseller ‘A World of Good: Lessons From Around the World in Improving the Employee Experience’, which has gone on to inspire HR and Reward teams at some of the world’s best-known brands.