Everyone knows the world is getting smaller - that's been true since the invention of the locomotive and the telephone - but with nonstop airline flights and social media reaching more and more remote corners of the Earth, can employers turn the globe's shrinking size to their advantage without ceding too much control? America still has the world's largest economy, and U.S. companies can largely recruit at will from all six inhabited continents, but retaining employees in such a globalized climate is an entirely different animal.
Frederik Ballon, PeopleFluent's director of sales and operation for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Dr. Nazneen Razi, one of the co-authors of "Winning with Transglobal Leadership: How to Find and Develop Top Global Talent to Build World-Class Organizations," tell EBN that flexibility is key to any new business model's success. Ballon, who works with people commuting both ways across the Atlantic, warns not to be seduced by what many are calling a jobless recovery into believing they can cherry-pick top talent.
"Talented individuals are still employed and are maybe more reluctant to leave their job for an adventure elsewhere, so that might create a bit of a lack of mobility on the labor market," Ballon says, "but it wouldn't necessarily be an employer's market, quite the opposite: Employers might need to prove even more that the position they have to offer is attractive."
Opportunity in crisis
Still, Ballon says, "there has historically been sort of a brain drain from Europe toward the United States" as "bright, young Europeans" come to America for education and stay for employment, and that isn't going away.
"Now I think with the crisis, especially countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy to an extent, Greece, where unemployment tends to be rather high, we are seeing people more and more willing or actively looking to leave these countries," he says. "I think that definitely opens some opportunities for U.S. employers to really direct some top talent from these countries. Second opportunity in terms of the crisis or slow recovery is that European governments will often be willing, or have programs in place even, to attract investors into their country."
Razi, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for the Health Care Service Corporation, which operates Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans in Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, says "the world is becoming quite different," and employers must adapt to survive.
"It's smaller," Razi says. "And one of the things that's created a challenge for us is that the world is transparent. We are in a global fishbowl."
That fishbowl effect alters retention in paradigm-shifting ways. If employees crave universal health care, they know where to get it. If they want an English-speaking boss but a Mediterranean-adjacent office, a quick Google search can find that too.
Razi says that based on her experience and research there are five "survival imperatives" for dealing with the "tsunami of change and complexity" washing over the workplace. The first, and possibly most important, "is evolved leadership attributes. We need a new form of leadership."
Successful leaders today, Razi says, must provide employees with "a powerful purpose." Workers need to know they're striving toward more than just money, and good executives know how to provide that.
"The second [imperative attribute] is team connectivity. We all know that individual genius is fragile, compared to the wisdom of teams," she says, adding that "integrating ideas across boundaries" is a win-win scenario.
"Having a global footprint as an organization really enhances your ability to offer employees something to get them to stay in the company," Ballon says. "So it basically opens your ability to retain your employees by giving them an international perspective. ... I talk to applicants for a variety of roles quite regularly, and the ability to have an international career, to work in the international arena, is probably one of the most often-cited reasons why people want to come and work for PeopleFluent. So it's something that opens doors to opportunities to retain people rather than pose challenges."
Not that there aren't challenges, Ballon hastens to add. "The different legislative context in different countries" can get quite complex, but international work has always been complicated. These days, increasingly, it's also essential. Twenty-first century firms must know how to roll with the punches in different environments, which leads to Razi's next maxim:
"The third one is flexibility - pragmatic flexibility," Razi says, explaining that "the ability to flex based on changes happening in your environment is crucial.
The fourth is what Razi calls "receptive responsiveness," meaning leaders must possess "a high degree of sensitivity [and an ability] to work with intuition and with fact," she explains.
And finally, Razi points to "talent orientation" as a leadership must. "All of the executives that we talk to say that they take personal interest in their people, that they did not leave that to HR, that they were the one who made sure that their top talent was attended to, that they were involved in succession planning."
Ballon says "people are definitely seeing careers much more as a transition of different roles, different types of employers." If employers are going to retain workers, they're going to have to meet different needs. In the future, Ballon believes, flexible modes of employment are going be the norm. Older workers with certain skill sets and expertise will come back on reduced schedules, or in consultant or advisory roles. Younger workers will be given more opportunity for philanthropic leave that allows them to explore and be adventurous while accruing valuable skills and contacts overseas.
Retention not purely a financial matter
The future of retention could be a highly flexible strategy that meets employee needs across all age groups and across all oceans. Retention "doesn't have to be a purely financial matter," Ballon says, and of course it never has been.
"Creativity, really, is the key," Ballon adds. "That's the underlying thought beneath all of this. Sure, compensation is important. Of course, you need to take into account legislative context. Those are all factors that come into play, but companies need to have a clear objective: Create tenure, create a career, invent a future through mobility and a career path.
"That needs to be your goal, I would say. How you create tenure: No. 1, creativity - it needs to be tailored to individual goals and objectives. Going forward, the biggest change from whatever HR created 10 or 20 years ago, it's going to have an individual, made-to-measure fit to the individual's desires. That's what's new about the question in 2013."
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