Here's how to be a winner in the war for talent - Alison Gilson

As the entrepreneur Richard Branson famously said: “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

For any business owner it would be difficult to miss the war for talent that is raging. It’s a phenomenon across almost all industries, with the legal sector being no exception.

So how do businesses mitigate against this and stand out as top employers? The short answer is by becoming more employee-centric and committing to create a better employee experience.

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Employee experience is a broad, catch-all term to describe the interactions an employee has at work and with their workplace. It can cover benefits, location of work, hours, career development and opportunities, how ‘space’ is used at home and at work.

Alison Gilson is partner and head of Edinburgh office, Shoosmiths LLP
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Let’s not forget pay. If businesses want to stand out and attract the best talent, they need to approach all these issues with flexibility and well-researched information about what employee experience looks like in their respective markets.

On the other hand, one big challenge for employers is navigating how to support what can be up to four generations in the workplace with seemingly different needs.

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For baby boomers, the priority could be preparing for retirement and ensuring long-term financial security. Generation X and Millennials might have to juggle caring for relatives or children and have large financial outlays such as supporting children in higher education or getting themselves on or moving up the property ladder. Generation Z seems to have a growing concern for social issues, is generally more transient, and very focused on career development.

This is a wide spectrum of personal circumstances for employers to support and the need for flexibility is critical to getting this right. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that by viewing people as individuals with distinctive needs and by introducing hybrid working in combination, we have the opportunity to support all generations effectively in the workplace.

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Approaching work with an ‘output, not occupancy’ mindset crystallises the trust employers put in their employees. This in turn enhances employee empowerment and helps to reduce pressures on employees trying to fit their lives around a rigid work framework. It is my experience that this can all be achieved in a way that can also better benefit clients.

The people director at Shoosmiths, Eleanor Tanner, tells us it is relatively easy to divide employers into those that had a ‘good pandemic’ – from the perspective of employee experience and engagement – and those that didn’t. Those that did, provided their employees with choices about how they could perform at work, creating an individual experience with supportive management. This might include flexibility around working hours or patterns or extra time off. Employers who took this approach during the pandemic might have also ‘upped their game’ in terms of organised activities and check-ins and provided a range of educational and informative sessions on different topics. Eleanor tells us that those who made the effort to think of their people as individuals saw employee engagement grow.

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Conversely, those who adopted more of a ‘one size fits all’ approach saw engagement wane and began to experience retention issues, casualties of ‘the great resignation’.

It’s important that employers don’t forget about learnings from the pandemic and slip back into old ways. These takeaways are valuable in winning the war for talent. From personal experience, when individuals are empowered to perform at their best, as collective teams they flourish. Colleagues have told me they feel fulfilled at being able to manage their personal and professional time.

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The key to winning the war for talent is by delivering it effectively through well-rounded managers who can support, coach and develop team members as individuals. Investing in managers by up-skilling them to put the employee experience into practice is key for all businesses. The message from leadership needs to also be clear that creating an exceptional employee experience is a top priority.

To conclude, being bold with employee experience is something businesses of all sizes should not shy away from if they are intent on winning the war for talent. Employers’ knowledge about what good employee experience looks like within the markets they operate is also key. Giving employees the means to be symbiotically effective in the workplace and at home will encourage retention and attract new talent.

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Alison Gilson is partner and head of Edinburgh office, Shoosmiths LLP

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