Employers have enjoyed a substantial advantage in the labor market since the Great Recession began nearly seven years ago. At the peak of unemployment in 2009, there were roughly five unemployed workers per job opening, creating a buyer’s market in which businesses could afford to skimp on programs aimed at motivating and retaining workers. Of course employees would continue showing up for work; no one else was hiring.
Those days are over. Today, there are just two workers for every opening and the unemployment rate dropped in January to its lowest point in six years. Workers are feeling increasingly empowered to pursue opportunities that meet their personal and professional needs. We have entered the Year of the Employee. The burden is now on corporations to keep pace by developing creative solutions that cultivate healthy, productive and loyal employees.
Yet, investing in workers’ quality of life is unfamiliar territory for many businesses. An important part of our work at Sodexo is helping organizations create an environment where their employees can thrive. With nearly 420,000 employees around the world, we have plenty of practice. These experiences – combined with new research from the 2015 Sodexo Workplace Trends Report – have helped us identify three areas that will be vital for employers who want to attract and retain talent in a competitive market.
Finding the Right Balance
The dramatic shift in workforce composition and family structure over the past several decades has translated into greater conflicts between work and family responsibilities. Achieving work-life balance is critical to reducing stress, absenteeism, and avoiding more severe symptoms, such as sleep disturbances and depression.
To recruit and keep top talent, it is incumbent upon employers to establish family-friendly programs and a culture that encourages workers to take advantage of them. For some businesses, that means creating pre-tax spending accounts for child care, or providing on-site care services. For others, it is a flexible work schedule that allows for telecommuting, compressed work weeks and parental leave.
But these programs are only as supportive as the office culture allows. Training programs that coach managers to explicitly support family-friendly policies, and establish clear and consistent criteria for how they should be used, will elevate the effectiveness of existing programs and make an office more attractive to current and potential employees.
Harnessing the Power of Mindfulness
Emotional and physical wellness are surprisingly strong predictors of work performance, and sedentary office lifestyles coupled with workplace stress are costing taxpayers and businesses billions in medical expenses and lost productivity. Researchers are testing a number of employee wellness programs to measure their effect on workers’ health, and a handful has produced promising results.
The Mindfulness at Work program, for instance, measured the attitudes of employees who attend a meeting on mindfulness just once a week for 55 minutes for 12 weeks. The study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, found the program reduced participants’ perceived stress by 36 percent, decreased sleep disturbances by 29 percent, and cut reported pain levels by more than one third.
These results are a small but promising step toward addressing the challenge of chronic diseases and helping people live healthier and more productive lives. Employers have an opportunity to express their dedication to their workers’ wellness by experimenting with their own programs and measuring their success in improving employees’ emotional and physical health.
Listening to Employees
Thanks to social media and unfiltered sharing, developing a happy and engaged workforce is both a productivity challenge and a public relations issue. Our perceptions of companies are increasingly determined by feedback from employees and customers on sites such as Glassdoor.com and Yelp, and less specific platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These services provide the public with real-time ratings and reviews that can be shared instantly by anyone with a cell signal or internet connection. They also provide employees with unprecedented influence on corporate reputations.
An organization’s approach to workers’ health and wellbeing, and its transparency in responding to internal and external feedback, is becoming a leading indicator of a businesses’ public image. There is obviously great risk in attracting the internet’s unique brand of scorn, but there is also an opportunity for value. Research cited in the Workplace Trends Report found that while just 20 percent of people say they believe a company’s claim about itself, roughly 75 percent say positive reviews make them trust a business more. The significance of a positive online reputation is more lucrative than ever before.
The theme we are constantly confronted with in managing our own workforce, and helping our clients manage theirs, is that investing in workers’ quality of life yields long-term dividends. But more than that, supporting employees is the right thing to do. How strong is your organization’s commitment to employees’ wellbeing? In the Year of the Employee, it’s time to take a closer look.
Michael Norris is chief operating officer of Sodexo, the world’s 18th largest employer with operations in 80 countries and nearly 420,000 employees worldwide. He is responsible for North American operations at 6,000 client sites in the U.S. and Canada.