The War On Talent & The Role Of The COO

Amid an unprecedented global catastrophe, many workers had a chance to experience a totally different way of working. Some businesses thrived, while others quickly stopped, but what eventually became universally clear was that life would not simply revert to "normal". Even as COVID-19 evolves from a crisis state into something we must simply live with, its impact on our working lives continues to be felt around the world.

In early 2021, the media was ablaze with a new buzzword - "The Great Resignation". Employee churn had reached an all-time high, and businesses were suddenly struggling to find qualified and available talent. Initially thought to be just another temporary symptom of the global pandemic, it's become clear as we head deeper into 2022 that this problem is not going away anytime soon.

"The Retention Struggle"

As recruiters decry the "inactive" post-pandemic worker, they miss an opportunity to truly understand the reasons behind their retention struggles. While the pandemic may have kicked off the Great Resignation, its root causes go much deeper and further into the past. Many Millennial workers — the backbone of the global labour supply — began their careers during the 2008 financial crisis. In an era of austerity, Millennials were forced to work longer hours for less pay, just to sustain a standard of living below that of their parents. A significant portion of this generation was cut out of the housing market altogether, and the pandemic hit during a time when many were already struggling to stay afloat.

The subsequent switch to remote working revealed a few hard truths. Number one — a huge number of jobs could be carried out remotely with no loss in productivity. And number two — many low-paid workers were now considered essential. Delivery drivers, retail workers, nurses, carers, and childcare workers were placed in high demand. And yet, their wages had stayed below inflation for years, and work conditions remained as difficult as ever.

This incongruence and disconnect between upper management and life on the ground triggered the inevitable wave of mass resignations that is still being felt worldwide. Overworked and underpaid, forced to endure over a decade of stagnating wages and austerity, workers began to demand more.

Wave Goodbye To The 9 To 5

According to UK recruitment specialists, Hays, 45% of company directors believe that the era of the 9 to 5 job is over. Turbulent times can lead to progress and innovation, and these are key to surviving the war on talent. Workers have grown empowered to demand more, and by meeting their expectations, it’s easy to quickly obtain a competitive edge. Many businesses remain slow to adapt, creating an opportunity for forward-thinking business leaders to set a new standard for work-life culture in the post-pandemic world.

What many COOs don’t realise is that some of the changes that workers demand will also benefit their businesses in the long term. Remote work has opened the door to a global talent pool and can cut operational overheads dramatically. Data from the International Labour Organization reports that global productivity per hour during 2020 surged by 4.9%. According to Deloitte, 55% of workers believed that their remote working colleagues were just as productive, if not more, during lockdown than pre-pandemic. Relieved from the pain of long commutes and with fewer distractions, remote workers were not only happier but also better equipped to focus on completing their tasks.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that flexibility and agility are often the main cures for staffing woes. The majority of desk-based workers — 61% according to Deloitte — want to remain working at home. The pandemic showed us that even large corporations can change their decades-old routines and rapidly adjust to a new way of operating if they must. By approaching the situation with an open mind, COOs can discover new ways to optimise productivity and increase revenue, while adapting their workers’ environment. Modern technology allows for asynchronous working, which not only benefits employees but allows businesses to operate more easily in an increasingly globalised environment.

While it’s true that benefits and compensation may also need to be re-evaluated if businesses want to attract and retain skilled workers, this doesn’t mean that future profits will take an inevitable hit. Long term investment in talent, often leads to long term business success. Well-compensated workers, who enjoy a healthier work-life balance, are more likely to stay loyal to their employers and deliver their best work. Ultimately, high-staff turnover is likely to cost businesses more than increasing wages, so COOs will need to take the long view. The way we work has changed forever, and adaptation is key to survival.