Learning & Development

Science-Backed Tips for HR Leaders: How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Like a Priority

A recession is coming, and many leaders are rethinking their current HR strategies to stay afloat. While many technology giants have resorted to mass layoffs, Apple has taken a people-first, long-lasting approach: investment in its HR program. After all, a satisfied workforce is a successful workforce.

Understanding the importance of the employee experience, Apple has welcomed its very first chief people officer (CPO), Carol Surface, as of March 2023. The new CPO will be in charge of effectively overhauling Apple’s longstanding HR program and accommodating the needs of the company’s 150,000-plus employees. While this is no small task, Achievers Workforce Institute (AWI) recently revealed some “must-know” tips for Apple—and any other organization seeking to prioritize its HR program. Pulling from more than 5,000 people worldwide, Achievers revealed:

Employee Choice Fuels Flexibility

Leaders must investigate what flexibility means to their workforce and create an environment where every employee feels heard and acknowledged. The definition of flexibility has changed, and even historically “flexible” workplaces like Apple need to get on board with the future of it. The recent AWI study showed those who can work the way they prefer report higher engagement, belonging, and job commitment than those whose employers spell out specific policies for on-site, remote, or hybrid work. This figure makes a strong case for workforce fluidity! Whether employees need to occasionally sign on late to attend a therapy session or log off early to pick up their children, leaders must offer—and accept—a wide range of work styles to keep employees happily on the payroll. 

To embrace flexibility, organizations can adopt a persona-based work model to appeal to each unique segment of the workforce. For example, at Achievers, instead of having companywide expectations, leaders let employees choose from one of four personas that determine their work habits: in office, hybrid, remote by choice, or remote. By following a persona-based model, businesses can better understand and adapt to employees’ typical working behavior while meeting the diverse needs of each workplace persona. When leaders pave the way for employee choice, strong performance, trust, and employee loyalty will quickly follow. 

Connection Outweighs Compensation

As we enter a recession, many businesses are proceeding with caution when it comes to budgets. First, I applaud Apple for investing in the CPO role during this time; it’s an important signal that people ARE a priority amid volatility. But due to the uncertainty, many companies are throwing their cash into only the “must-haves” to keep the business running, making it difficult to offer head-turning salaries.

Fortunately, AWI revealed compensation is not king for employees, and with strong leadership, getting paid top dollar isn’t an unwavering priority. The data revealed 79% of employees would rather stay at a job where they feel supported, cared for, and valued as opposed to feeling not-so-appreciated and making 30% more. So, Apple, while it may seem tempting to adjust pay, look under the hood first and focus on how your organization is actually making your people feel. 

Where this becomes a real problem is when organizations don’t see connections as a “must-have” rather than an already baked part of the cultural fabric and one that will be sustained with low-investment or status quo actions. This isn’t the case, as connection requires continual nurturing. In fact, AWI data shows the top drivers of connection are receiving meaningful recognition, seeing action taken on feedback, receiving better flexibility, and having initiatives to support well-being. So, if organizations don’t continue to nurture these activities, they’ll be left behind, given that employees with a strong sense of connection are 19% less likely to job hunt.

And who is most often left behind in the connection journey? Psst, Apple, watch out because it’s the remote workforce, whose connection is no longer built at the watercooler. Today, leaders need to drive workplace belonging with well-thought-out initiatives. For example, leaders can encourage employees to send “welcome cards” to new hires, making team members feel supported from day 1. Or, businesses can embrace employee pairing solutions to introduce employees to like-minded coworkers, creating meaningful, long-lasting workplace bonds. While teambuilding activities can trigger some “eye rolls” from top performers, they serve a critical purpose—so much so that AWI found that workplace belonging is the biggest predictor of employee engagement, enthusiasm, commitment, and productivity. Real, authentic connections are good for business results and, simultaneously, great for employees’ souls—a (low-cost) win-win. 

Recognition Drives Retention 

Many top performers are taking on additional responsibilities to keep their businesses on track amid turnover and layoffs. With budgets tight, throwing extra cash at high achievers may not be an option. So, what are the alternatives? AWI research reveals recognition is a protective factor against turnover. Those who are never recognized are more likely to job hunt, while those who say their company values recognition are half as likely to actively job seek. Replacing top talent is expensive and time-consuming, diverting leaders from focusing on what really matters amid volatility: business results.

Apple is known for using data to make decisions and for supporting actions that create deep and meaningful change. Its HR team should look no further than recognition, which is often a multiplier impact, one that creates a chain reaction. According to AWI, those who are regularly recognized by their managers are more likely to recognize others. Given that managers often have many balls in the air, it’s natural for recognition to fall off their radar, making a case for organizations to adopt employee nudging. Nudging can serve as a real-time coach via their day-to-day technology, reminding them they forgot to recognize a colleague or team member, for example. With 61% of employees having one foot out the door, these simple reminders may be what’s needed to get employees reengaged and recommitted. 

In times of turmoil, businesses either sink or swim. Those that are highly reactionary will fall down in the long term, while those that take their time to instill meaningful changes will come out stronger on the other side. Companies, like Apple, that are rethinking outdated strategies and prioritizing people are well positioned to overcome challenges unscathed alongside a loyal, highly productive workforce. It’s time to be the change.

Hannah Yardley is a Talent Leader with over 20 years of experience consulting with a variety of global organizations in the areas of talent strategy, operational excellence, and cultural transformations. As the CHRO at Achievers, her mandate is to empower employee success through employee engagement, organizational effectiveness, organization development, and talent strategy. She is keen on making the world a better place through irresistible employee experiences and leading-edge people and product development.

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