By Lauren Comander
As vice president of talent development at NBCUniversal, Daniel Zumbrunnen (MSHRM '06) loved the thrill of heading into his office at 30 Rock pre-pandemic. Would it be the day he ran into a late-night host in the elevator? "There was a certain energy and excitement about working at a media company," Zumbrunnen said. "There are fun and interesting things that happen at 30 Rock, and when you're working from your couch, that's not in existence for many employees anymore."
Recognizing this, the corporate communications team created a livestream series bringing the company's big names onboard to connect virtually with its farflung, now-remote employees. The 30-minute streams feature the likes of Andy Cohen, Andrea Mitchell and the head of Universal's film group. "This helps employees stay connected to the fact that they're working at an exciting media and entertainment organization," Zumbrunnen said. "It's also a great way for employees at all levels to keep up with what's happening across the company."
Online events like NBCUniversal's are among the creative tactics companies have turned to in an attempt to keep their employees engaged and happy, as well as showcase themselves to potential hires. After all, hiring and keeping employees during what has been coined the Great Resignation is no simple task. With record numbers of employees heading out the door, workers now hold the upper hand.
More than 47 million people quit their jobs last year. Of those, 4.3 million quit in December, down from November's all-time high but still near record levels, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of December, there were nearly two jobs for every person looking for one.
"My sense is that the labor markets will remain tight for the next year or two, or even longer," said Marc Weinstein, clinical professor of global leadership and management at FIU Business. "Companies that want to survive in this particular labor market need to do three things: create a reputation as being an employer of choice, create better entry-level jobs and look for talent where other people can't find it."
Money, money, money. Rewarding employees financially is a great way to earn a reputation as an employer of choice and, to be sure, the tight labor market combined with inflation has prompted companies to increase wages to keep their talent in-house. "To some extent, every organization will be involved with renegotiating with top performers," Weinstein said.
Matthew Arsenault (MAcc '03), executive vice president and chief financial officer at Baptist Health South Florida, has seen this at the healthcare giant even among new applicants. "Especially in today's environment, it is not unexpected that pay is part of the conversation in an interview," he said.
Companies that want to survive in this particular labor market need to do three things: create a reputation as being an employer of choice, create better entrylevel jobs and look for talent where other people can't find it.
And Maribel Diz (DBA '21, MSHRM '07), senior vice president of human resources for Visa, has noticed potential hires coming in well prepared to negotiate their salary, taking their playbook from – get this – TikTok tutorials. "Some people diss it, but I love it," Diz said. "It's a great source of information, and I need to be on there and know what's trending. We are dealing with very sophisticated candidates, and we as an organization need to pay the talent what they're worth."
Two years into the pandemic, employees have gotten used to no commutes and flexible schedules, asking why they should return to the cubicle after keeping their companies afloat from home for two years.
"There has been a sudden and unprecedented shift toward remote work," said Ravi Gajendran, an associate professor of global leadership and management at FIU Business who conducts research on remote work arrangements. "Employees are demanding more flexibility on an ongoing basis or they're [quitting], and employers are playing catch-up."
Some organizations have said their employees can remain remote permanently. Facebook turned remote work into a costsaving opportunity, telling its workforce that their pay would be scaled to where they live. Banks, meantime, said remote work would destroy their culture. "Most organizations fall in between, recognizing that at least some of their workforce needs more flexibility, at least part of the time," Gajendran said.
Companies that provide hybrid opportunities hold a competitive advantage over those who do not. "If you don't provide it, someone else will and you will lose your employee to them," Gajendran said.
At Visa, Diz said, the hybrid model is there to stay – but it's still being defined. When the company asks its workers to return to the office, it needs to be very compelling, she said. "We need to create experiences for them and show them the value of human connectivity, of having meetings in person," Diz said. "Let's make the community spirit meaningful for them to say, ‘it's worth it to drive down three times a week to be with my peers.' " Companies have an obligation to teach remote employees how to manage their day productively and train supervisors on how to provide clear guidance on what is expected and how to achieve it, Gajendran said. Meantime, in a world without face time at the water cooler, it is incumbent upon employees to stay organized and keep managers apprised of their work. "Make the invisible visible to the manager through conversations, Zoom calls, reports and email updates," he said.
Remote employees, experts agree, need to structure their lives so work doesn't become all-consuming. "Employees need to draw boundaries," Gajendran said. "How are they spending their commute time? Does it go 100% back to the organization, or does the employee do better in terms of their own physical and mental health?"
Whether remote or in person, workers have suffered a collective trauma over these past two years that makes mental health support a key ingredient to keeping employees on board and productive, experts agree.
At Visa, where the HR team has been rebranded the People Team, leaders are coached to pay attention to their employees' mental health. "Companies are over-investing in wellness activites, and winning companies are going to train leaders on how to embrace this new reality and how to care for your employees," Diz said. "Along with the leaders having to grapple with having to meet their objectives and goals, they have another layer of complexity. Before, it was, ‘Let's dive right in to start a meeting.' Now, it's ‘How are you doing? Tell me what's happening in your personal life.' That was unheard of, and now they have to shift their mindset and think, ‘How do I lead and retain these talents?'"
Baptist Health employees are not immune to the pandemic stressors afflicting healthcare workers nationwide, and the company, consistently ranked as one of the country's best to work for, sprang into action with free mental healthcare for its frontline workers.
Investing in leadership development and coaching is another essential ingredient for employee retention. Over the past year, NBCUniversal has engaged its managers for training on hot topics like building and maintaining an inclusive environment in a hybrid space.
"Employees leave their managers, not their companies," Zumbrunnen said. "The best way to retain your employees is to make sure you're engaged with them as their manager, focusing on their growth and investing in them and their careers. That is as important to their role as hitting whatever metrics they're measured against from a business perspective."
If managers aren't doing this, he said, it's a lot easier nowadays for employees to hop over to LinkedIn and search for opportunities, unencumbered by geographic restrictions. Baptist Health also invests heavily in leadership training. "It has paid great dividends in rentention and in the culture of the organization," Arsenault said.
Not only do companies need to keep employees from walking out the door, they have to bring them through the door in the first place. Companies need to create better entry-level opportunities, Weinstein said. "Companies think about wages, wages, wages, but employees will tolerate a lower starting wage if they feel like there's an opportunity to grow into a higher-wage job," he said.
We constantly focus on making sure we remove biases in our hiring process.
He predicts that the hospitality industry, with its low wages and few career advancement opportunities, will continue to struggle. A busboy at the Ritz-Carlton can now go work at an Amazon warehouse, where promotions and raises are in the mix.
Companies also need to abandon the old-school mindset of only hiring people whose prior experience matches the job description and recognize that skills are transferable, he said.
NBCUniversal is doing just that. "We constantly focus on making sure we remove biases in our hiring process," Zumbrunnen said. "Are those qualifications we are putting in job descriptions and advertisements really required? What is critical to have and what is nice to have that you can train people to have?"
As employers balance it all, rolling out the red carpet to attract and retain talent, they're finding their new playbook. Time will tell who, in the end, comes out on top.