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Workday users pitch employee retention strategies at event

At a Workday event, business, HR and technology leaders highlighted flexible work, purpose-driven corporate missions and virtual reality as useful hiring and retention strategies.

HR managers and technology leaders described their employee retention strategies, hiring initiatives and engagement tools at Workday's Conversations for a Changing World conference on Tuesday. They cited flexible hiring practices, technologies such as virtual reality and climate initiatives as especially helpful.

The retention risk created by "The Great Resignation," a moniker that describes the explosive rise in voluntary quits, is spurring new approaches in HR.

"The pandemic has caused a lot of people to reevaluate their life choices," said Leena Nair, chief human resources officer at Unilever, a consumer products firm based in London. The last 18 months "have given people time to pause, reflect, rethink what they want to do," she said.

Unilever's employee retention strategies include new flexible work options, Nair said during the virtual event. The firm employs approximately 150,000 globally.

"People want greater flexibility than what they have experienced in the past," she said. One program the firm has started rolling out is called U-Work, a hybrid of contract work and permanent employment. It is designed for workers who want to work less than 12 months a year, but it provides more stability and benefits than contract work.

"I do think the way we can stay ahead of this is [by] creating the flexible options that people are looking for," Nair said.

Zero emissions helps GM recruit

In January, General Motors Co. announced it would sell only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035, an objective that turned out to be attractive to job applicants, said Mary Barra, chair and CEO of GM in Detroit.

The zero-emissions goal "has really caused people who aren't at the company to say, 'I want to be part of that mission,'" Barra said at the conference. "We actually saw [job] applications to the company go up."

Barra said the company developed a "work appropriately" approach to flexible work. "We're holding everyone accountable to be where they can to do their best work."

The retention strategy gives employees opportunities to work from home, Barra said. "We tried to really be flexible and listen to our employees," she said.

Remote work retains employees

The City of Largo, Fla., allows employees who can work from home to do so. The decision to continue to support a work-from-home policy has resulted in some changes, said Joseph Gauthier, an IT project manager for the city.

Managers decide "who needs to come to the office." Gauthier said the city removed his office desk, and in its place created "hotel cubes" or workspaces that multiple employees can use.

[Employees] can still have the experience of being in an office and connecting with others in a virtual setting.
Penelope PrettCIO, Accenture

Gauthier said remote work is an employee retention strategy for the city, enabling it to keep employees who relocate out of state.

Virtual reality in HR

According to Penelope Prett, CIO of business consultancy Accenture, virtual reality (VR) technology has become "another channel for connecting with our employees."

Accenture is creating "digital twins" or virtual representations of its office spaces, Prett said. Although employees aren't using the office because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they "can still have the experience of being in an office and connecting with others in a virtual setting."

Apart from VR, Prett also argued that low-code development could help with diversity and inclusion hiring strategies.

The most important thing is to "lower the barriers for new participants in technology careers," Prett said. "Very specifically, low-code technologies take less time to master," and get workers "more productive sooner than we otherwise might be able to do so."

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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