Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

Written by: Frazer Thouard is a partner with GatenbySanderson’s local government executive search practice
Published on: 29 Jul 2021

The economy is bouncing back. According to a recent Reuters report, tax data showed a 356,000 leap in employment from May to June, the largest increase since the beginning of the pandemic. The data also showed the fastest headline wage growth since records began back in the year 2000.

So, what does this mean for the sector? Talent pools will almost certainly diminish as competition for talent increases, and not just between councils. Place based strategies adopted across local government, housing, health and not-for-profit are resulting in greater joint working enabling the potential for more movement across sector. While this will bring benefits in terms of fresh perspectives and approaches, it does increasingly put a squeeze on talent in a market where we have seen increases of 50%+ in demand for some corporate roles this year alone.

Recruiting the right people will inevitably become more challenging; attracting the best talent will increasingly rely on anticipating what the market wants.

It will come as no surprise that, in the last 18 months, employee priorities have changed, mindsets shifted and expectations heightened. If your organisational messaging hasn’t aligned in the intervening period, you may well be slipping behind an expanded cross sector competition.

So, as the title of this article suggests, lets look at what employees really really want.

Clear vision

I’ve read and heard said many times that local government needs to redefine itself or change its narrative to attract talent from outside. I’m not sure that I agree with this. What I do believe is that each authority should be able to articulate a very clear, very concise vision that is unique to them, and has integrity. Employees chose to work for an organisation, not necessarily for a sector. Yes, they may be attracted to the sector, but they are committed to you as an employer.

It is simply not enough to promote what you have done or your achievements so far. As the Spice Girls very rightly say: ‘If you want my future, forget my past’. Employees want to know where you are going; why you are going there; and what part they can play in that journey. An ambitious vision that creates excitement and a buzz about your organisation is far more likely to engage aspiring future leaders than hanging your hat on former glories.

A lack of vision or a vision that fails to reflect the momentous societal shifts of the last 18 months understandably creates anxiousness, and anxiety rarely leads to successful recruitment.

Mental health and wellbeing

The Mental Health Foundation predicts that the negative mental health effects of the pandemic are likely to last much longer than its physical health impacts. While tangible data on this is difficult to find with studies ongoing, supporting current and new employees’ mental health and wellbeing has never been more important. And it has never been higher on the agenda, with candidates we speak to asking what support and non-financial benefits are in place more so now than ever before.

The questions to be asked are: What have you changed? What are you doing differently today to support current and future employees’ mental health that you were not doing before the pandemic? How easy is it for employees to access support? What are other employers doing that you aren’t?

Diversity

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development research on the psychological contract that employers have with employees shows that people want to work for employers with good employment practices, which includes recognising the importance of inclusion and diversity in recruiting and retaining skills and talent. A truly diverse workforce is shown to increase employee engagement and retention; employee satisfaction; customer orientation; and decision making.

Our candidates want to know the value clients put on creating a culture to attract, and retain, diverse talent. They want to know what steps our clients are taking to ensure under-representation is addressed at all levels in the organisation and what mechanisms exist to create a truly inclusive culture. These are minimum expectations.

Flexibility

According to McKinsey, 63% of employees want a hybrid or remote working arrangement with their employer, compared to just 38% before the pandemic. The reality of this, their survey suggests, is that most employees would seek three days a week working from home.

There are obvious benefits to this from a talent attraction point of view. Gone are the geographical boundaries that once constrained us with a reduced ‘on site’ need. Gone is the need for 100% of staff to have office space allocation. And the benefits to the employee are immeasurable; more time with family; more time with friends; and more time to spend on hobbies and activities leading to, for many, improved mental health and happiness.

At GatenbySanderson we work hard to identify and develop future-ready leaders; those that can lead through what is happening today and anticipate tomorrow as opposed to doing what has been done before. This is the talent that is in demand and hard to find. These are the future leaders that want to:

1. Understand your vision and the part they will play in your journey

2. Know what support is in place to develop their professional and personal wellbeing

3. Work for an organisation that truly values diversity, and all the values that a diverse workforce brings

4. Spend time enjoying life, as much as work

Knowing what employees want is just one side of this equation; knowing what we really really need to do in response is the other. 

Frazer Thouard is a partner with GatenbySanderson’s local government executive search practice