People first

Employees are looking for more from their working lives and, as the autumn conference season showed, human resource and general management functions are seizing the opportunity to attract talent. Ruth Holmes reports.

Team of airborne skydivers in formation
The long-discussed trends of demographic change, digitisation and VUCA (the acronym that stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous circumstances) have become reality and they demand new approaches to talent management. Perks like concierge services and days off to celebrate birthdays, alongside competitive rewards and benefits, are no longer enough to attract and retain talent.
More features from Think Global People magazine Winter 2022/23 issue

Investing in people

Post-Covid, employers have a rich mix of options for recruiting and retaining employees with in-demand skills and experience. Staff can return to the office, including hybrid working, and take advantage of new rights to request flexible working from day one. Four-day working weeks are also possible.As the November conferences for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) showed, leading employers also recognise the underpinning role of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), environment, social and governance (ESG) and employer value propositions (EVP) in the people and performance equation, as employees seek purposeful organisations that act with integrity.How employers approach this evolving psychological contract will set the course for success in the coming decade. As broadcaster and journalist Robert Peston pointed out in his keynote in Manchester at the CIPD annual conference and exhibition, “The companies that do best are those that invest in difficult times in people, kit and operations. It’s a bit like Liverpool FC. It sees a downturn happening and can see the upturn coming. There’s always an opportunity.”Addressing the annual conference of the CBI in Birmingham, director-general Tony Danker also emphasised the importance of the talent agenda to UK wealth, identifying four barriers to growth. Danker’s core message to government was around immigration and skills, which feature in three of the barriers, alongside regulatory requirements.“Let’s be honest with people: our labour shortages are vast,” says Danker. “We have lost hundreds of thousands of people to economic inactivity post-Covid. And anyone who thinks they’ll all be back any day now is kidding themselves. Secondly, we don’t have enough Brits to go round for the vacancies that exist, and there’s a skills mismatch in any case. And third, believing automation can step in to do the job in most cases is unrealistic.”While governments spend the winter working out their position on the role of immigration in solving skills and productivity problems, 2022’s conference and report season showed many great examples of how businesses, GM and HR are seizing the moment that these times of challenge bring.

People-first approaches

The Covid-19 pandemic catapulted the human resources and general manager functions into the organisational spotlight. People issues are now resolutely top of the agenda. Alongside the CBI’s strong message to policymakers this autumn, Hays' Salary and Recruiting Trends Guide 2023 surveyed more than 13,000 employers. It found an unprecedented 93% now face skills shortages, with wage increases not enough to counteract the twin threats of the rising cost of living and the “great reconsideration”, the phrase used to describe how employees are reassessing the way they work post-Covid.Simon Winfield, managing director of Hays UK and Ireland, says: “It is a challenging time for employers as they compete to keep up with the rising cost of living for staff, economic uncertainty and an unrelenting battle for talent.“Although the right salary is crucial, I’d urge employers not to neglect other factors which will attract staff to work with you and, crucially, stay. This includes offering hybrid and flexible working, making sure career progression pathways are clear, and supporting the wellbeing of your workforce.”The CIPD conference highlighted the focus on flexibility and the fact it is a sellers’ market for talent. Data from recruitment website Indeed shows an uptick in people searching for jobs, but not urgently, suggesting they are looking for congruence of values alongside decent pay with their next employer.At the same time, there has been a 44% increase in jobs advertised since March 2020. This emphasises how hard employers are having to work to attract and retain talent. At international law firm Clifford Chance, the “pandemic was a reminder that we should all be evolving and engaging with our workforce,” says global marketing and brand lead Ebun Soyinka, in the CIPD session on building a successful employer brand. “It certainly escalated awareness of younger people being more than one thing – recognising and setting clear expectations about being multi-hyphenate.”

A focus on flexibility

Human resource and general manager functions have increased in visibility and influence due to greater recognition of diverse expectations and needs in the multigenerational workforce and the trend to more hybrid and flexible ways of working.The past few years have also exposed the value of a multidisciplinary approach when working out more flexible approaches to international assignments. The latest publication in Santa Fe’s award-winning Global Mobility Survey (GMS) series asked 11 multinational employers representing over 2 million employees in 24 countries how they are adapting to the new normal of
working from anywhere (WFA) and cross-border remote working (CBRW).The functions of business heads (28%), global mobility/HR (17%), HR directors (14%) and boards (10%) all take responsibility for approving CBRW across the sample. The responses highlight the level at which general managers and human resources report, even if they do not take the final decision.Santa Fe’s 2022/23 GMS report, Reshaping Global Mobility – Is it time to think outside the lines?, highlights both these trends: “Overwhelmingly, requests for this work arrangement are employee-driven by a return to their point of origination, extended families or lifestyle,” finds the report.This nexus of HR, GM and organisation development (OD) was the focus of Relocate Global Think Global People’s Future of Work Festival in June 2022. The festival also discussed two new studies from, KPMG which show how, alongside compliance and global risk management, top of mind for global mobility professionals are responsiveness to business needs, supporting talent management and controlling costs.“The pandemic proved a high level of flexibility was possible for most of the workforce. Employees like it and don’t want to give it back. If we want those employees to be comfortable and go on the assignments we want to send them on, then we need to be accommodating that need for flexibility,” says Marc Burrows, partner at KPMG International and head of global mobility services.In some industry sectors this more flexible approach to assignments brings added complexity and cost around risk management and compliance, which many employers are not financing by increasing headcount. This is driving more technology adoption, outsourcing and agile practices in global mobility functions. In addition, over the past year global mobility functions have been:
  • collaborating with human resources on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, talent planning, and workforce shaping
  • contributing to improved organisational ESG goals and practices
  • demonstrating to senior management there has been a significant return on investment for talent mobility spend.
“By taking this strategic approach, the global talent mobility function can be recognised as an indispensable partner to the business, playing a critical role in attracting, developing and retaining global talent,” says KPMG’s International’s Global Mobility Services report.

The challenges facing HR

KPMG’s latest Future of HR series, From Flux to Flow, asked 300 Chief HR Officers what their biggest challenges are. The top four priorities were improving employee experience, and strategic workforce planning (both 57%), improving the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce and building a talent marketplace (46%).The report highlights mini case studies from multinational “pathfinding” organisations Aegon, AIB, Albertsons, Aviva, bp, Genentech, Microsoft, Ocado Group, Salesforce, Starbucks, Tesco and Tevva. They are preparing for the future by developing their capabilities around areas including strategic flow, making purpose real and prioritising wellbeing.Echoing the message from the CIPD and CBI conferences that now is the time to innovate, KPMG’s report concludes that: “As employees go through Great Reconsideration, there is little time for HR to sit back and hope the company strategy will unfold, and that employees will be happy to keep turning up each day.”“Businesses must show even greater ingenuity,” says Tony Danker. “In the past two years you have shown more resilience, imagination, bravery and agility than ever. The bad news is you can’t take a break. Greater business ingenuity has to become the new normal.”For those in HR, the closing message from the 2022 CIPD conference was clear. “We are in this time of change, a time of incredible opportunity as well as challenge. What we do in the next three years will be judged more than what we have done in the past ten years. We have never had more influence,” says CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese.

Read more in the Winter 2022-23 issue

Related Articles