The meaning of work has been evolving for decades, but the last year has propelled us forward. Some worry about the “great resignation,” but this is actually an extraordinary opportunity. Employers who understand what’s changing and how to meet rising expectations are in a strong position to recruit, retain and staff for the success of their organizations.

Smart, future-focused organizations are creating a people-first strategy. That means being open to new ways of meeting talent, creating a meaningful culture and considering different types of workplace models. The following are five key areas employers should consider today and in the future.

1. Establish a clear purpose/mission and values. People want to work for organizations that share their values — and act accordingly. Clearly knowing and communicating who your organization is, why it exists and what it stands for helps you attract like-minded people who want the same things and are aligned on how to get there. More than ever, people want to work in an organization that allows them to contribute to something greater than themselves and make a difference for the world. A clear purpose/mission and values are essential to creating a people-first organization, and now is the time to assess and update them for the future.

2. Earn trust through transparency. Trust has plummeted across institutions such as government, healthcare and the media. Organizations have an opportunity and the responsibility to step up and earn people’s trust through honesty, transparency and vulnerability. Employers can build trust by consistently being who they say they are, staying open to feedback and being willing to adjust if they fall out of alignment with their purpose/mission and values. The companies that can do these things authentically will earn meaningful relationships with employees, partners, customers and communities. They will also be in the best position to attract and keep talent.

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3. Embrace flexibility. The data shows that employees are as effective, if not more effective, when given flexibility to work remotely, and that the majority (41% in fact) prefer to continue working that way. Individuals want flexibility, but they also want to be around other people. Organizations need to achieve both by allowing for flexible work but also bringing people together for onboarding, training, celebrations and other in-person events that can be helpful. People-first businesses consider what’s best for the business, as well as employee preference, to meet people where they’re at in a variety of ways, including schedules, communication preferences and approach to work. When this happens, everyone is willing to lean in and create the best solution. And for employers, this shift opens a national market for high-impact talent and companies to find each other — a true win-win.

4. Authentically activate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Meaningful work is at the center of personal and professional decisions. People want to work in teams with diverse strengths and perspectives. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer finds 86% of survey respondents expect CEOs to speak publicly on DEI/social issues. Businesses need to define, communicate and activate their DEI commitments and think differently about whom they invite into their organizations to create a diverse team and inclusive workplace. True change requires clear action steps and measurable progress designed to break down barriers. A strong record of following through on DEI commitments will demonstrate credibility.

5. Create an agile workforce. A recent report notes that 46% of the average organization’s workforce is now considered contingent. An employee-driven market is creating new requirements, and we need to pay attention to what is changing.  Like it or not, the way we work today will change in the fall and likely again in the winter as we find our new norms. People have options and are thinking differently about how work fits into their life versus fitting life into their work. Companies willing to embrace the benefits of an agile, flexible workforce are best able to accommodate ever-changing business and marketplace needs.

People-first organizations are best positioned to create the meaningful work opportunities that lead to better business outcomes, improved work-life balance and fulfilling careers. If you look closely, change and optimism are in the air. And there’s never been a better time for employers to do something extraordinary and capture this unique opportunity.

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