Workplaces need to be flexible to win escalating war for talent, HR experts tell Ottawa audience

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Employers need to offer more flexible work environments as the global “war for talent” ramps up in the wake of the pandemic, Ottawa HR experts said during a virtual conference on Tuesday.

Executive coach Karen Brownrigg told the audience that the most successful workplaces will be those that understand the “ebb and flow” of the hybrid work world and tailor jobs to fit employees’ individual skills and lifestyles. 

That could mean offering more flexible hours or rewriting job descriptions to match a worker’s strengths, the founder and CEO of iHR Advisory Services said during a virtual roundtable at the Talent Summit hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade.

“There is no roadmap for this,” Brownrigg said. “It is a purely customized approach.” 

As the shift to remote work has accelerated over the past 18 months, it’s become more important than ever for employers to communicate with staff in a “clear, authentic way” that makes them feel like they’re part of a team with a well-articulated vision, added Andrea Greenhous, president of Ottawa’s Vision2Voice Communications. 

"(Employees) want purpose and meaning in their work. Organizations don’t always communicate what that purpose is."

Today’s employees “want purpose and meaning in their work,” Greenhous said. “Organizations don’t always communicate what that purpose is.”

Executive adviser Sophia Leong told the virtual audience the pandemic has fast-tracked technological changes that require workers to constantly upgrade their skills.

The most successful employees will be self-starters who take charge of their own career development, she noted – particularly in a remote environment where they’re often separated from their colleagues.

“Don’t create excuses why you can’t be efficient or effective,” said Leong, who works for the University of Ottawa. “(The pandemic) really punctuated the need to really make sure that you’re managing your career. You constantly have to be learning.”

Ottawa’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, lauded local employers for prioritizing workers’ health during the past 18 months through initiatives such as providing rapid COVID-19 test kits and hosting mobile vaccination clinics.

But she noted many studies show that most workplace wellness programs still ignore employees’ mental health. 

Etches urged employers to encourage workers to seek support from Ottawa Public Health and other agencies if they need it. She also suggested other strategies for managing employees’ mental health, such as promoting positive ways of coping with stress – including limiting alcohol consumption – while “celebrating successes where people are looking after each other.”

“Really, we should be treating mental health like we treat physical health,” she said.