ITL #475 Championing our workforce: six ways to build a people-first industry1 year, 6 months ago
For the sake of employee wellbeing, we must create work environments that make people feel seen, heard and recognised. By Nitin Mantri.
Employees can either be a brand’s most influential evangelists or devastating critics. This has always been true, but the pandemic has intensified this principle by fundamentally changing the relationship many employees have with their livelihoods, and many are opting not to return to jobs where they felt overworked, underpaid, or disrespected.
Mental health has emerged as one of the key subjects in discussions around employee welfare. And really, we’d be foolhardy to ignore this much-needed conversation. Look at what’s happening to those who have done that. They are bearing the brunt of the Great Resignation and the subsequent Great Reshuffle.
If covid-19 has taught us anything, it is the importance of human vulnerability and the need to invest more in the human aspects of work. According to our latest Brands in Motion report, “The Bravery Mandate,” employee wellbeing is the most important issue that needs to be addressed by employers. And employees have been rated as the group leaders need to communicate with the most (over customers, shareholders, and the media).
Employees are tired. Period. They demand more autonomy and flexibility at work. Others want a renewed sense of purpose, and many crave interpersonal connections with their colleagues. In short, they want to feel valued by their organisations. So, unless we champion the welfare of our workforce and appreciate the value of their contribution, we stand to lose what lies at the very heart of our work—our people.
The task for organisations is not simply to attract and maintain talent, but to ensure that the people who work for them feel good about the company, their contributions and the brand’s larger purpose—and that they tell their friends. To do that we must prioritise creating work environments that make them feel seen, heard, and recognised. Here are a few ways to address the industry’s talent problem:
Flexibility is key to our success
Consider these facts that I learned at the ICCO Global Summit 2021:
- Flexible and remote working is more important than financial benefit
- Flexible working has gone up 91% this year (for men and women) in PR
- Remote working has gone up 20% in one year.
In 2022 and beyond, we must make it our purpose to rebuild a company culture that has employee engagement, growth, and welfare at its core. To do that we must move with the times and find a middle ground, starting with embracing the hybrid work model with new openness. Surveys have shown that many employees would like to continue remote work, while some want to return to work in an office. Flexibility is the key here. Hybrid models will differ from office to office. Regardless of how it is executed, organisations must exercise empathy and listen to employees’ feedback and then incorporate them in their decision-making.
Help employees cope with mental health issues
The pandemic has exacerbated people’s mental health problems, and it is our responsibility to equip our employees with tools and resources to protect their mental health. This can be done in the following ways:
- Conduct regular employer surveys to detect and understand current mental health problems in the organization. During the pandemic, my organization had conducted several surveys which had specific questions on mental health that helped us gauge the problems faced by our people.
- Drive awareness and action on mental health by encouraging people to openly talk about mental health and back up that talk with action. For example, my firm launched a #WECare initiative, a couple of years back, to protect people’s mental and physical health. As part of this programme, we host webinars with mental health experts and encourage our people to discuss their problems.
- Make mental health services more accessible to employees. Again, I will give another example from my firm. We launched an Employee Assistance Program to provide counselling services to employees. The programme includes a Mental Well-Being Support Helpline and free access to professionally crafted resources such as open webinars, reading material, to name a few.
- Strive for work-life balance. I know that sounds impossible in the PR industry, but whenever possible we have to push back on unrealistic demands and deadlines.
Revamp higher education courses
The curriculums of most post-graduate courses in public relations and communications are caught in a time warp. PR firms are not just looking at post grads with good communications skills. What we want is highly skilled people who understand the client’s business – right from HR to finance to supply chain to marketing to business operations to reputation management to technology – and are ready to jump in and take on work at the level we expect.
What is required is a concerted effort by all PR consultancies and bodies to create a dedicated investment environment. Each one of us can contribute in addressing this problem in their own way. Senior leaders in my organisation, including me, devote time each week to teach in communications colleges. Explore what you can do and get started now.
Look outside PR
With new technology, clients are becoming more demanding, and consultancies are integrating roles. This has increased the demand for different types of skills like analytics (data mining), design and creative, production, digital marketing (not social), social impact, regulatory, etc. It’s not possible to find candidates who can do it all. To tackle this shortage, consultancies need to hire from outside the PR industry. But herein lies another challenge: how many consultancies seek talent from outside their comfort zone? A fraction of them, maybe.
According to the 2021 World PR Report, the industry continues to source talent from rival agencies, followed by journalism and graduate programmes. High salary expectations, lack of interest from potential recruits, and lack of transferable skills were some of the reasons given by agency heads for not hiring people from outside the industry. I concede that consultancies are fighting for budgets from clients and given the PR investment earmarked by organisations, it is difficult to hire highly skilled candidates from other industries. But we must begin somewhere. If a PR firm makes the investment in talent and that talent can generate revenue, then the wheel will turn
Upskilling and more upskilling
Upskilling is the need of the hour. We need to train our people so that they have the right skills and expertise to succeed in an increasingly digitised world. Research has shown that the current workforce, comprising mostly Millennials and Gen Z, want opportunities to add new skills and growth opportunities. The more engaged and valued they feel the more likely that they will stay on. They will also talk positively about their employers on social media and give word-of-mouth recommendations to fellow professionals, which will attract good quality talent.
Further, good candidates want to be associated with companies who provide not only challenging and innovative work, but also development opportunities. If you build a reputation of being a good employer, you will automatically attract skilled people.
The ground reality is different though. If we look at the number of top firms investing in upskilling the existing talent pool, we will see a dismal performance across the board. Most organisations don’t earmark a fraction of their revenues towards upskilling and those who do, don’t have a follow up process to make sure upskilling is happening at regular intervals. This gap needs to be addressed. The servicing industry can be maddening, and clients are demanding, but if we do not invest time in upskilling our people, very soon we will be left with people who are do not have the capability to navigate the new world of work.
Make a difference – work with purpose
Young people want to be work for companies that are authentic with their values and contribute to making the world a better place to live in.
The Bravery Mandate has shown that Gen Z and millennial respondents had a greater desire to hear brands speak out on societal issues than older generations. Income inequality and climate change were rated as two of the top issues for respondents. They are demanding real action on extremely difficult topics—superficial statements or one-off projects aren’t sufficient.
So, not only should we help brands build purposeful business, but PR firms must also use their ability to engage and influence to generate awareness about social/racial/environmental issues that they care about. Senior executives should also look to their staff when considering which issues to focus on. Eighty-seven percent of respondents in the WE survey said organisations have a moral obligation to engage with societal issues when it impacts their employees.
The bottom line
Just as consumers are voting with their wallets, many employees are voting with their feet. Before we try to save the world, we must ensure our own organisation is in order. Purpose must start at home.
Nitin Mantri, Group CEO, Avian WE.mail the author
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