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Employees Now Have the Upper Hand. How Should Companies Respond? Adapting to the employee point of view can help companies retain top talent.

By Erika Lance

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There is no debate that organizations now find themselves in an employees' market. In September, a record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs. There's much debate over the reasons for the mass exodus, with pundits pointing to everything from pandemic-related health concerns, to problems finding caregivers for young children and aging parents, to a heightened awakening to the importance of mental health and more.

Despite the debate, one foundational aspect of employee relations remains true: Employees demand to be recognized and rewarded for the contributions they make. When they're not, it's not surprising that the grass may look greener at another company — or at home.

But what recognition and reward "feels like" is really in the eyes and minds of employees.

Sometimes — in fact, much of the time — employers, managers and even HR leaders may get it wrong. There's often a disconnect between what employees believe is important and what companies believe is important.

When companies act on what they think rather than what employees want, the odds are good that turnover will remain high — especially in this labor climate.

It's not so much about the money

This has been true for some time, but it bears repeating: It's not always about the money. Of course, employees care about a hefty paycheck and generous healthcare benefits, but they also want a work/life balance, perks and considerations related to their family and caregiver needs and even benefits for their pets.

Especially in this emerging post-pandemic environment, employees care about the flexibility to work from home or a vacation destination (so-called workation destinations).

Most importantly, they want the freedom to make these decisions rather than being required to bend to the will of their employers and succumb to a wide range of policies and rules that are frankly becoming more nonsensical. We all have learned since 2020 that yes, employees can work productively from home, and yes they can — for the most part — work where and when they want to while still meeting their organization's goals and objectives.

Related: How to Stamp Out Employee Burnout

It's about finding meaning

Now more than ever workers today care more about the environment, politics and our highly divided society. Consequently, they care about how an organization can support all of it.

It's a sentiment that has been widely accepted and to some degree, eagerly adopted by companies of all stripes. If you haven't yet heard the acronym ESG, you likely soon will. ESG stands for environmental, social and governance and is defined as a set of standards relative to how companies operate in ways that are supportive and sustaining of the planet and the people who live on it.

The "S" in social is where it may hit home the most for HR leaders as they struggle to create and sustain an environment and business culture that draws and retains employees who will demonstrate loyalty, commitment and, ultimately, productivity and innovation.

Companies, though, can't simply talk the talk — they have to walk the walk. They can't just pay lip service to the importance of ESG; they have to demonstrate through their words and actions that they are committed to making decisions that protect the environment and take important social issues and concerns — like environmental justice, equality and the right to quality healthcare — into account.

Related: The Growth of Sustainable Investing

Seeing through the same lens

So how can you ensure that you're seeing through the same eyes as your employees? Organizations, their leaders and HR practitioners need to:

  • Not only build a diverse workforce but capitalize on that diversity through inclusion, through seeking and listening to the perspectives of employees with a wide range of viewpoints and backgrounds.
  • Be open-minded to what may sometimes seem to be "illogical" or "unbusinesslike" needs, and even demands, of various segments of the workforce — like the burgeoning Gen Z contingent.
  • Create a culture where employees feel free to speak up without censure or retribution. In fact, the C-suite may learn something surprising from these open, honest feedback sessions covering the good, the bad and the ugly.

But, lest this all begins to feel a little bit too touchy-feely and not enough bottom-line focused, consider this: Even the SEC has highlighted the fact that ESG risks can have negative impacts on organizational resilience — and ROI.

What steps are you taking to get on the same page as your employees?

Related: How to Create an Empowered Workplace

Erika Lance

Chief HR Officer

Erika Lance is chief human resources officer for KnowBe4, the world’s largest security-awareness-training and simulated-phishing platform.

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