Skip navigation

3 Ways To Win The COVID War On Talent


DATE: 11 October, 2021

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few months, you’ll no doubt have noticed the perfect talent storm that COVID has created. 

As a result, HR teams have been run off their feet over the past 12 months. Working relatively reactively on ways to retain their existing people and attract talent for newly created roles. All the while managing new employee changes, such as home office ergonomics and wellbeing as a result of COVID.

What’s the plan?

When COVID hit, only a handful of organisations were ready to switch off the lights and leave their CBD offices. Many simply hadn’t set up flexible work strategies, support systems, or implemented the tech to empower their teams to work remotely during pre-COVID times. Furthermore, there is a significant amount of work still to do beyond the tech, to support cultural change in the years ahead and create new sustainable flexible work models that meet both employee and business needs. Currently, it’s not clear what a ‘good plan' looks like and many organizations are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach and as a result losing disillusioned employees to competitors. 

Now that we’ve all got over the work from home and flexible working ‘trust issues’, with many workers preferring to quit than return to the office. It’s worth getting some clear data on the workplace attributes that will keep your current employees and attract new talent in your industry.

Despite evidence to the contrary, COVID is not and should not be considered a flexible work strategy. 

It’s worth reminding ourselves that COVID has simply accelerated the future of work in ways we could never have imagined possible two years ago.

 Having a plan or a ‘true north’ that considers the future needs of your people will be pivotal to survive this current talent war. In addition to this, what has surfaced very clearly during COVID is that diversity and inclusion is a key ingredient to any workplace strategy. 

Perhaps the hardest hit in the workforce have been women and parents who make up 40% of the workforce in Australia. The pressure to juggle work, along with care responsibilities, housework and homeschooling have led many female employees to resign in frustration. New research from Deloitte global outlines the ‘confluence of events’ and pressures taking many to breaking point. The good news is that the research also showed that given the right support and culture, women were retained.

The importance of ethics and purpose

Since the COVID pandemic, it’s no secret that employees are rethinking many parts of their lives, especially their jobs. As work-life has become ‘home life’ there is no longer a nice compartmentalised separation between the two. Being part of an organisation that has clear values and a worthwhile purpose has become more important than ever.

Andrew Yates the newly appointed CEO for KPMG Australia recognises that over 40 percent of KPMG’s roughly 8000 full-time staff are younger than 30 and this generation want to align with the values of where they work.

I think they want to know more about who we (KPMG) are. …they want to know that we are an organisation that has strong values and lives those values, is transparent and is doing the right thing,” he commented in the Australian Financial Review last week.

The younger generation is more selective about the brands they associate with, from ethical clothing to where they work. With Environmental, social, and corporate governance becoming a major theme in our workplaces, part of any workplace strategy should reflect what you’re doing to be sustainable and reduce your carbon footprint.

Flexible work 2.0

As most organisations know all too well, employees have enjoyed the benefits of flexible working with the benefits of time-saving, the reduction in the monotony of the everyday commute, and more time for family or exercise. The key question being asked by employees right now is ‘will my employer expect me to go back to the office in the new normal?’

In a recent McKinsey survey of over 1,600 employees, researchers found about one in three workers back in an office stated that returning to in-person work negatively impacted their mental health. 

Now that we’ve proven that it isn’t necessary to come into the office and flexible working isn’t the differentiator it once was — how can you differentiate your flexible work offering? Where are the gaps? If people can’t work from home and the office is too far, what support can you offer? What do your employees actually value in the flexible work framework you currently have?

As I’ve explored previously, thus far there is no ‘Work from Home’ support package that goes beyond supplying basic office furniture, no benchmarking around what good looks like and only a handful of organisations are offering energy compensation packages for all those extra heating and cooling bills. 

Matthew Clugston, BHP’s Future Ways of Working Lead, agrees with the sentiment that it’s a risk to mandate employees returning to the office. 

“To get great outcomes there needs to be a respectful conversation about time in the office, balancing the needs of the organisation, the team and the individual.”

Providing greater autonomy and trust puts employees in the driver's seat where they choose the right conditions to deliver on your company's goals.

The cost of dithering without a plan or not being clear on what your organisation stands for will make it hard to compete for talent.

*Please note the views shared are my personal views and not those of KPMG. I am the co-founder of 3two, along with my business partner Kerstin Wahlqvist. Our dream is to change the future of work for good by providing a network of workspaces for your people, so they are supported to do their best work from anywhere.