Occupation: Chief People Officer, Arden University
"We've spent a lot of time making sure... leadership is really focused on empathy, compassion, emotional intelligence"
The pandemic’s impact on employment has been clear for anyone working in any industry globally. But experiences during Covid-19 have not been identical for all.
While employees worried about roles disappearing overnight and furloughs eventually leading to redundancies at the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, by 2021 businesses and employers were starting to recruit again.
According to Tracie Greenhalgh, who joined Arden University as chief people officer in January 2020, repercussions on future employment and staff recruitment will be long lasting.
“The pandemic had meant that a lot of people had really reviewed what they wanted, what their life really meant to them and what mattered,” she tells The PIE.
While that planted the seeds of the so-called great resignation, employees demanding better salaries and improved working conditions has made it “a lot harder for businesses to make a comeback”.
For example, she points to the 47 million Americans that left their job by the end of 2021 and the 47% of British workers have said that they are looking to change jobs over the next 12 months.
“Pay obviously is one of the critical reasons and the current job-to-job move is 3.2%, which is a record high. We’re starting to see a lot of people moving. The great resignation is not showing any signs of slowing down. It’s bedfellows now are also the great reshuffle where people are using the skill shortages to boost their bargaining power,” she elaborates.
Coming from the digital-first Arden University, Greenhalgh notes that “it’s been far easier to move into hybrid remote working because of the fact that we are a blended and a distance learning university”. Flexibility at work is one key aspect prospective employees are seeking, and yet, salaries remain vital.
“Salaries, from a global perspective, have been hiked up [in] that war for talent,” she states. “I have heard stories where employees are leaving a role paying £30,000 per year and walking into a new job paying £60,000, doing pretty much the same role.
“That is the reality of what life is like, particularly around technical and digital roles,” she explains. Greenhalgh is open that retention of “incredibly talented individuals” at the digital university has been a challenge, but reviewing salaries, benefits and ways of working has helped.
“Culture is more important than ever”
“It’s about really being progressive and looking at what else you need to do [to retain employees].
“Culture has come out as one of the top two elements of what people are looking for [when looking for work],” she highlights.
“Culture is more important than ever… What kind of business are people going to be working for? How progressive are they? How open and flexible are they? And where do they put people in terms of list of priority?
“The first question that people ask us when we’re recruiting is where is this role located? So now more than ever, people have those choices.”
Starting her own role months before Covid-19 halted normal life in the UK, Greenhalgh was tasked with enabling the university to become an agile, remote working institution.
“I was scratching my head at that point in terms of how might I make that happen? And then Covid happened, and it became far easier.”
Businesses expecting employees to be in the office five days a week are going to find people “vote with their feet”. It’s something that Arden recognised early on.
“Job satisfaction and personal development sits very high on the list of what people are looking for,” she said. Remote hybrid working is “something that organisations need to move towards” to provide people with that better work life balance.
And while employees have reconsidered what they want from their careers and what matters, so too have employers.
“We’ve grown exponentially over the last two years, and our values did not really resonate with who we were as an organisation,” she says of Arden.
For the institution it led to new values that centre around SPARK – standout, progressive, accessible resourceful and kindness – she explains. “[The senior leadership team, along with wider staff had] lots of rich discussion around what Arden was, where we wanted to be, what we wanted to be known for,” she says.
“People no longer want or see a basket of fruit as a perk. They want benefits that really means something. And so we’ve spent a lot of time looking at what we can do, what things that other organisations are doing and offering.”
Much of that links into mental health and wellbeing and providing that sought-after balance for employees.
” Last year we introduced ‘YourMindMatters’ where every colleague across our university has and will go through some form of mental health training, whether that is mental health first aid, whether it’s a championing, whether it’s awareness.
“Making sure that our people are equipped to look after themselves, each other and our students has been a critical component for us. And I think organisations in the new world, if they’re not putting mental health and physical wellbeing at the top of their priority list, as well as that flexibility, they will start to lose people.”
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development also found recently that over 50% of people that joined an organisation during lockdown left within the first 12 months, Greenhalgh continues.
“If you think about it, when you join an organisation ordinarily in the old world, you’d have gone into a business and you would have felt it’s beating heart, you would have understood the culture, you’d have met your line manager, you’d have had a look around, you’d have had that connection,” she posits.
Arden, for example, had over 300 people join during the pandemic, she details, adding, “It’s very difficult to get a sense of a culture when you’re behind a screen.”
One solution the university invested in was Enboarder, an online onboarding system that enables employers to connect to individuals as soon as they are hired.
“For the whole duration, we were connecting with our candidates, with our prospective hire and telling them information about Arden, about team mates, about what to expect, getting information from them,” she says. “And we’ve had some phenomenal feedback when people have joined because they have already felt connected to the business.
“We were really cognisant of the fact that we needed to liaise and connect with people in a deeper way”
“We were really cognisant of the fact that through the pandemic and beyond, we needed to liaise and connect with people in a deeper way.”
On top of this, a focus on how leaders connect with employees has “been really key as well”.
“We’ve spent a lot of time making sure… leadership is really focused on empathy, compassion, emotional intelligence.
“We see people less. We don’t know whether people are having a good day or not. So therefore, making sure that we are speaking with people and understanding what they need, not treating a team as a whole, but actually treating them as individuals. Everybody will have different needs. Everybody will be going through a different experience.”
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