With the new year comes fresh thinking and new perspectives from the trendsetters in the world. HR and talent analysts are predicting, almost universally, that 2021 will be the year of employee wellness. With COVID-19 and work-from-home removing any lingering separation between work and life, the well-being of our employees is crucial to the well-being of our businesses. At the same time, we know that organizations must become more agile, in their thinking and in the skills their people have, in order to manage an increasingly unknown future.
The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2021 study found that companies that were ‘very prepared’ for the COVID-19 pandemic were twice as likely to recognize the importance of organizing work to facilitate rapid decision-making and nearly three times more ready to leverage worker adaptability and mobility to navigate future disruptions. If agility means better performance, how can we prepare our people to have the resilience to be agile, adjust to change quickly and innovate through this next unpredictable year?
Our proposed solution: make 2021 the year you focus on the career wellness of your employees. Most organizations consider wellness to be two-dimensional and focused on physical and mental health. Career wellness is an important third dimension that affects the other two and is defined as a program provided by organizations to help employees proactively manage their careers and their corresponding skill sets. Employees whose skills are future-focused and aligned to the needs of the business are better positioned to help guide the company through unpredictable times ahead.
When employee skills become outdated, problems are solved in old ways using old methodologies, which rarely lead to new, fresh solutions. Like health wellness, the priority for career wellness is prevention – in this case, the prevention of antiquated skills. Career wellness helps employees change their habits and behaviors to adopt a continuous learning mindset. While employees may currently think they’re doing well by simply putting their heads down, doing their jobs and answering emails in a timely fashion, employees with fresh skills are proactively thinking of ways to see what else they can solve – and this becomes their habit.
align employee skills with business needs
Career wellness is important for both employees and for the organization to thrive. Employees can create security for themselves and weave their evolving skills into their own safety net by aligning their skills with the future needs of the market. According to the World Economic Forum, 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025 as technology adoption increases. The pandemic has only accelerated the need for employees to learn new skills.
Employees who begin to adopt this adaptive mindset can get ahead of change and continue to bring value to their organizations, reducing the risk of their redundancy and keeping themselves employable. In their book The Adaptation Advantage, Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley say that employees’ relationship to work is no longer a single ‘monolithic’ career based on a single dose of early learning and experiences used throughout their career. Instead, careers are being defined as a constant state of learning and adaptation as new technologies and data change the status quo.
support individuals’ long-term employability
For organizations, providing employees with tools to keep themselves employable is a natural extension of their increasing focus on the employee experience. Many believe it is the company’s responsibility to keep people employable, whether they’re working for their current employer or are facing a career transition due to restructuring. In a blog post from August 2020, Randstad RiseSmart president and general manager, Dan Davenport, called providing tools for talent mobility a ‘moral and business imperative,’ citing the desire by most CEOs to see their employees succeed.
Many organizations took this approach in early 2020 as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard and fast. Unlike the recession of 2008–2009, when layoffs were one of the first ways companies cut costs, in 2020, many companies made public pledges to delay layoffs for as long as possible. While employees knew their jobs were at risk of elimination, these organizations did their best to supply employees with tools to upskill, learn and reskill, enabling them to increase their employability while working in their current roles. When many of these companies were eventually forced to downsize at the end of the year, employees were more prepared, better positioning them to secure new roles faster than if they hadn’t been given the opportunity for learning and career wellness.
Given the widespread impact of the pandemic, effectively positioning impacted employees to land new roles outside the organization is also the right thing to do from a corporate responsibility standpoint, as broad economic recovery will require helping millions of individuals make successful career transitions. Organizations that prioritize the career wellness of their employees during these challenging times will be employers of choice in the future and perceived positively by current and prospective customers – helping drive long-term business success.
create a more inclusive workplace
Inclusivity and social equity have risen to the top of the list of issues companies wish to address in 2021. A recent CEO survey from Fortune and Deloitte found that 96% of CEOs agree diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a strategic priority and focus for them in 2021. Additionally, 90% of CEOs surveyed indicated they will support DEI efforts through investment in talent recruitment, development, advancement and retention over the next 12 months.
The year 2020 challenged us to embrace fresh approaches and diverse opinions, which are crucial to innovation. If the impacts of 2020 weren’t already bad enough, the problem of equity in the workplace has increased this past year. According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace study, one in four women have considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workplace during the past year, largely due to the challenges of caregiving during the pandemic. These are not women just leaving their jobs but leaving the workplace altogether. Outside the workplace, these women face little opportunity to keep their skills fresh and face accelerating the antiquation of their skills. When the time comes to return to the workforce, these women will be even further behind from a skills and career growth standpoint. Rather than risk female employees leaving the workforce, many organizations are offering flexible scheduling or the opportunity to take on longer term projects and stretch assignments – which enable these employees to build their skill sets and remain relevant in the workforce.
By democratizing learning across the organization, companies can support career wellness, be inclusive and help address inequality in the workplace. And while the issues of diversity and equity are complex, a good place to start is to provide everybody with equal opportunity to learn and remain relevant – whether this is through internal project teams and gig work or more formal reskilling and upskilling opportunities. This also enables companies to solve problems in new ways by including new voices in the Zoom – while so many teams are working remotely – and identifying other ways for employees to gain visibility across the organization.
related content: what your organization can do now to support women in the workplace.
encourage learning in the flow of work
Recognizing the needs for both employees and organizations to stay relevant, how can we address career wellness, especially at a time when burnout is high and time is short? The answer: integrate career wellness and upskilling into the flow of work. Josh Bersin introduced the idea of the integrating learning into the flow of work in 2018 in response to trends of HR technology providing bite-size, micro-learning that happened in formats not exclusive to learning. We know employees learn in many ways, including formal and on-the-job learning. Internal gigs or project teams have become an important means of learning, especially during the pandemic, as companies have needed to quickly pull and tap into new skills from their workforce, regardless of job descriptions.
In their book The Inside Gig, Edie Goldberg and Kelly Steven-Waiss say that in today’s unpredictable business climate, offering employees the opportunity to continuously learn and grow within your organization but outside their job descriptions can help you uncover hidden skills in the workforce and improve retention. Allowing and encouraging your employees to contribute outside of their job descriptions to internal gigs will help them learn within the flow of work, enabling learning and business problem solving to happen simultaneously. When it comes to learning tools, bite-sized tools like simple assessments and microlearning are crucial to breaking through the business shifts employees are currently experiencing. In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the ‘aggregation of marginal gains,’ meaning that small, positive behavior changes can make a big impact over time. Simply providing employees with easy-to-digest tools can help lead to big improvements in their career wellness.
prepare for the year ahead
As we begin this year with a fresh start, let’s look to the best practices of the most admired workplaces and make employee wellness a focus, including the important concept of career wellness. This can provide employees with greater security in their roles, allowing their higher thinking to emerge and helping us tap into their talents, including yet-to-be discovered ones, in new ways. Taking this multi-dimensional view of wellness also helps organizations create a culture that cultivates growth for employees and enables innovation.
Our invitation to you: assess your organization’s preparedness to take on career wellness by assessing your readiness for talent mobility. Take one small action to make marginal gains. These gains will add up over time, moving us closer to a world where employees will increasingly bring value to their organizations and organizations will bring value to employees through ongoing learning opportunities.