IBM – The Great Shift What Employees Expect from a Post-COVID Workplace with Elizebeth Varghese

Elizebeth Varghese IBMOn today’s show, we have Elizebeth on from IBM, a rather large company in our space. They’ve done some wonderful research that we’re going to get into. The title for the show is, “The Great Shift: What employees expect from a post-COVID workplace.”

What I love about this, and what I love about this discussion, in particular, is it’s based on research, and it’s talking about employees. What are the growing expectations based on the last year and a half or so? What have we learned and how does that change the expectations for candidates?

A link to the study by IBM: What employees expect in 2021.

Listening time: 32 minutes


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William 0:33
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. So today we have Elizebeth on from IBM, a rather large company in our space, and they’ve done some wonderful research that we’re going to get into. The title for the show is, “the Great Shift,” What employees expect from a post-COVID workplace.

What I love about this, and what I love about this discussion, in particular, is A, it’s based on research, which is nice. B, it’s talking about employees. What are the expectations, the growing expectations based on the last, you know, a year and a half or so? What have we learned? And, how does that change the expectations for candidates?

So why don’t we jump right into it? Elizebeth, would you do us a favor and the audience a favor and introduce both yourself, IBM, and we’ll do the top line of the research as well, introduce the research.

Elizebeth 1:37
Wonderful. Thank you, William. And I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for having me join your show. So my name is Elizebeth Varghese, and I lead IBM talent and HR transformation strategy consulting work. So basically, I partner with CEOs and business leaders, and C suite owners to really help transform the people agenda and the HR agenda by applying technology and employment strategies.

The technology, you know, could be blockchain, robotics, AI, anything else that’s, you know, emerging technologies. And in the work that we do, you know, we really operate at the intersection of people and technology, and you said to humanity, in all the work that we do, and what we’re finding through that process, and really, over the past 20 years. I’ve been doing this work for over the 100 years IBM is doing this work, are that employee needs and expectations and the demands they make of employers do change over time.

And some of them have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which I know we’re going to talk about today. So I’m delighted to be here and talk about the fun work and exciting trends we’re seeing.

William 2:43
Awesome. So let’s, we’ll start with methodology because people always curious is when we do research, we talk about research. So we’ll talk about the methodology for 30 seconds, but then I want to then ask you, okay, things that you validated, like kind of what you thought, you know, when you got the responses back, you’re like, Yeah, that makes sense. And the opposite of that, when you look to the response, you’re like, Hmm, what is that get there? You know, what, what, you know, things that shocked you, or things that kind of maybe came out of nowhere, so methodology, and then things that both validated kind of things that you already knew are kind of obvious, if you will, and things that shocked you?

Elizebeth 3:26
Sure, sure. So in terms of, you know, just methodology for the study we just did, and you know, you can have a link to it. Shortly, we talk to over 14,000 people from over nine countries. Now, how did we do this? Right, so we have the IBM Institute for business value, which for decades has been doing research, working with industry, working with organizations around the world, to process data, and even see the meaning in some of these trends that we’ve been seeing.

So the IBV study is really the basis for a lot of the data we’ll be discussing today. I’ll also be talking about the HR 3.0 study that my team did, you know, with the IBV, the Institute of business value, and through that, we had surveyed C suite leaders over 2000 last year, and come up with trends around in what employers are seeking, and how employers and HR organizations need to provide that back to them. So those are kind of the two studies that I’ll be referencing.

William 4:28
Okay, so and then, and then things that validated. Things that you already kind of when you went into the study, you’re like, Yeah, that makes sense.

Elizebeth 4:37
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, because, you know, we’ve been on this journey around skills and putting employees at the heart of all the disruption that I think all of us have been observing over the past decade. So if I kind of reflect upon, you know, what have I been talking and working on for the past decade, a lot of it has been around these themes of, you know, skills transformation, and what employees are seeking.

And I think what we saw is with the pandemic, it was kind of magnification of those needs and exacerbation of all of those challenges. So for example, you know, years, a couple of years ago when I used to talk to organizations about skills and what organizations are looking for. One of the data points that I recollect strongly because I do have young children, I have a middle schooler, and when she finishes college and enters the workforce, 65% of the jobs that, you know, she will looking for will be jobs that haven’t been created today, right.

So that level of disruption around what’s happening in the business, the implication on work, the implication on skills is significant. Similarly, you know, we’re probably found that over the past couple of years, over a third of the skills or capabilities that are critical for business in organizations like blockchain, cybersecurity, those were really not required or evident to the, you know, organizational base five years ago, so that has significantly changed.

And we’re also finding that this pace of acceleration is going to change. So those data points, which are, you know, kind of referenceable points we consider over the past decade, have really come to the forefront with what happened with the pandemic, this past year. For example, you’re just, when you think about the skills, the business disruption to work, the skills continuum, you know, I open I talk to CEOs, often I say, Hey, good strategy is great. But let’s decode your strategy into work and skills. And you know, what is strategy? Right?

It’s nothing but shifting the work you’re doing, you were doing one thing, and now you’re doing something else. And in order to make that shift happen, you have to translate that into the new work and the skills. So less than 50% of the CEOs we’ve talked to, to these studies, but actually, 41% of the CEOs said that they have the skills they need. So basically, most of them don’t have the skills they need to execute on their strategy. So they’re acknowledging that right. So that skills gap that the trend that we’ve been observing for the past few years, has only gotten worse, or you know, magnified over this past year.

So that was kind of one hypothesis or epiphany, so to speak, that it was just kind of highlighted, again, based on this process. The other I think, interesting data point, which I have to say, I wish it was not a surprise. But it really was not a surprise, is the fact that there was quite a bit of a disconnect between what leaders and employees believed is happening to address these gaps around, you know, skill enhancement, right. So for example, we found that 74% of executives felt that they were actually helping their employees get the skills they needed to execute on this new strategy. But only 38% of employees actually said that was happening. So 74% of leaders think they’re doing it. But you know, when you talk to employees, they’re saying, that’s not happening. Right.

So unfortunately, that is the truth. It’s something I wish I didn’t have to see. But I think that’s consistent with what we’ve seen. And then I think the other data point, you know, just around the disconnect here was that, you know, we did find out and I’ll talk about this a little bit later is that supporting the physical and emotional well being of their workforce, especially now has always been important. In the pandemic, it’s really come to the forefront, right. And we found that 80% of employers were saying they were doing it, but only 46% of employees actually felt that support. So again, a disconnect in terms of organizational perceptions of how they’re managing through something that needs to be addressed. That’s front and center for employees, and then what employees actually perceive in our process.

William 8:41
A lot. First of all, it’s been both of those, it’s half. So what the perception is, versus what the reality is, our perception, I guess, from from from employees is about half on both those let me ask you a question about skills. Do, do you think you know, post-COVID? How do, I guess candidates at this point? Because they’re not employees, but maybe even employees?

How do they express or how do they communicate what they want to learn? And how do you see organizations trying to figure out what they should learn and in putting on putting them on learning paths?

Elizebeth 9:20
Yeah, that’s a great question there, William, honestly, because I think that is at the heart and the crux of everything organizations have to do. So you know, when you reflect upon the aspect of you know, what is strategy, it’s nothing but the decoding into new work and skills, right? So if you, you know, accept that premise, which I think most CEOs do when I speak to them. What that then anchors back to is to the point you’re making, right? What is it then that we seek in our population of employees we’re trying to bring on board and what is it that we seek or seek to create in developing the employees we already have? And then how do we make that happen? Right?

So what we’re finding is that, you know, organizations are struggling with this basic construct itself, because it’s a complex environment. The skills. The audio, the taxonomy, that, you know, most organizations used historically have gotten much more complicated, whether it’s technology, or it is soft skills, or even within your specific functions like HR, right, the skill mix has become much more complex.

So it’s becoming really hard for organizations to make that decoding of strategy into skills in a thorough and thoughtful way. And in a practical way, that can then be woven into their HR processes. So a lot of the work that we’ve been doing is actually helping that translation of strategy into work into skills, and really helping CIOs, for example, as they’re rationalizing their application portfolio, or their technology strategy to say, okay, that’s a great technology strategy. Now, let’s talk about what that means for the people you have supporting those applications. What’s you know, your containerizing? Your technology? How does that impact learning curriculum that your employees need to possess or you know, have access to?

So when you think about that construct and taking that into the recruitment process, we’re finding that you know, AI is a big help in explaining that and making that visible, uncovering those requirements to candidates when I kind of started the sourcing process, right. So once you decode your strategy, and you have your skills, taxonomy, or your framework, which you know, is valid and support your strategy, you know, you take that into your recruitment process. And what we’re finding there is that, you know, as I said, AI helps by opening the aperture by using language processing to read resumes, by matching people to the skills that are required by decoding what people use in the resume to what an organization might use to define a particular skill set.

And I think equally importantly, what we’re also observing is because skills have become very complex etiology is very complex. It’s, you know, multiple parameters together into a particular requirement for a job. We’re also using AI to map out those adjacencies of skills. So you know, even if you’re not somebody who has blockchain expertise, do you have skills that are adjacent that might lend yourself to becoming a better practitioner of blockchain or learned blockchain more easily? That skill adjacency is, you know, a big part of what we’re doing to the recruitment process. And then, you know, I’ll transition into what’s happening on the internal talent marketplace. But let me just pause there because I love this topic.

William 12:41
Me too. And no one’s got it all figured out. That’s the beauty of this, is the moment that you think you have it figured out, candidates and employees want something different from you. When you, when you looked at the research. We’ll go, we’ll move to some of the things that really kind of, I say, shock, that’s probably not the right word. But just things that you didn’t expect, when you looked at the research, because we came out of a really chaotic, period. It’s still kind of chaotic. But what are some of the things that are just top of the list that really kind of, you know, when you looked at it, you kind of tilted your head to the right, a little bit?

Elizebeth 13:18
Yeah, so you know, I thought it was very interesting kinda, William, but it was the amount of job mobility that happened last year and is going to continue to happen. So we found that there was about 33% of, you know, Gen Z-ers and 25% of millennials, basically, were looking at, you know, shifting, shifting their jobs. Right. And that was interesting. So actually, maybe if I back up for a second, when we surveyed, you know, through the study, we found that one in five employees had reported switching employers last year, and they basically shifted what they were doing, right, so 20% of the people were doing something different than they did in 2020. And not just that, another 25%, one in four of the people we surveyed, were planning to switch in 2021. Based, and you know, the reasons for them citing those changes, was they were seeking more flexible work schedules, which was honestly not a surprise.

Nor the fact that they were, you know, looking for more support for their well-being. That was not a surprise, but the fact that so many people in a fairly dynamic or challenging business environment, were willing to make that switch. Right, was a very interesting fact. I and the fact that you know, that it wasn’t just the millennials, it was Gen Z’s also were a big proportion of this. So the implication of that which was once surprising, as much as important was the fact that you know, employers really need to find a way to retain young talent. So you need to get you to have those digital natives in your organization.

If you’re all going to switch out and seek something else, you better give them what they need within the organization. And I think the other thing that, you know, we, we found, which I thought was interesting that, you know, when we asked them, hey, what do you think employers should really offer to engage employees, workers placed work life balance and career advancement at the top. Work-life balance was actually 51%. That was the top factor that they were seeking, which, again, is not surprising. And, you know, similar with the career advancement, I think we’ve heard quite a bit, but they also placed employee ethics and value was fairly high.

That was actually number three now. Not that this surprises me. Because I do think our global workforce has become much more cognizant of meaning and purpose and the role of leadership and providing that for them. And the expectation that, you know, with this permeable work-life barrier, you have to find, find meaning and purpose, and you kind of see that in your in your work. But I didn’t have that that was interesting, that that was, you know, so high on the list, even in times like this, or, or maybe because we’re in times like this.

William 16:13
So one of the things with the, I think the switching, I’m shocked by that too. B, I think the numbers low. I’ve seen the number in a couple of different studies. And I just you know, talking to practitioners, you know, pretty much every day, I get the feel from them that they people have stuck in a job. Stayed in a job kind of hunkered down while all this is going on. And the very moment that things kind of free up that, you know, they’re going to be looking. Or their job will be needed somewhere else. And so there’s going to be a lot of switching post-COVID. So, A, I want to get your take on that. But you know, bullets up there. What do you do? What do you when you look at that, but because you did research, there’s a lot of people answered your survey, and you talk to people all the time too. What do you think that really is going to kind of play out post-COVID?

Elizebeth 17:13
So I do think that you know, I think the point you’re making, right, I think we’ve seen some of those studies and articles, the floodgates are gonna open and, you know, people are gonna leave and, and I think some of this data kind of validates that right? What it also validates is that the younger population, the Gen Z is and the millennials are going to, you know, do a lot of that job hopping.

So that’s going to be a challenge for organizations. Really looking at, you know, infusing those digital natives into their organizations, and doing things differently than they’ve done before. So I think that is something that, you know, we are going to see more of, and as a consequence of these expectations of work life balance, and more meaning, I think they’re going to find, we’re already finding that, you know, a greater demand on how organizations engage, how they’re providing authenticity, and, you know, purpose and meaning, and transparency through the work.

So it’s providing that through the work and in the work. So you can create meaning create a connection to the greater purpose of the enterprise, which I think needs to happen. But then employees also need to see that in how they’re being selected for promotions, how they’re gaining skills, how they’re being compensated. So I think that thread of transparency and authenticity and personalization is going to be increasingly critical in how the work is done, how employees are treated, not just from the touchy-feely, you know, the soft stuff, but in the very practical processes and data and, you know, procedures that organizations follow.

William 18:50
Love that. So, two or three things that just come from, do you feel like candidates and or employees are going to judge the companies that they work for or will work for based on what they did during COVID?

Elizebeth 19:08
I absolutely think that’s the case. I do think there is a generational difference. And you know, as I said, with the job-hopping, right, I think different people at different stages of their life seek different things. We know that from a practical basis, right? It’s I do think there’s going to be some differences based on that. But organization organizations are finding that the employment brand or the employer brand that you know, they’re creating for attraction, or retention does need to encompass all of these variables.

Around purpose around social responsibility, around authenticity and authenticity in Career Mobility, around personalization, and learning to ensure that people really trust and believe that the enterprise is being transparent with you know, with what they’re doing with their time and investments. So, absolutely, I definitely see that evaluation being much more thoughtful and comprehensive one that, you know, is an outcome of what’s happened to the pandemic.

William 20:13
I can see that being a question that candidates especially You’re right, I think generationally, but even maybe not, we’ll see how it kinda plays out. But, but I can see that being a question in the recruiting process from candidates like, Okay, tell me, tell me about COVID. How did you know what on how do you go? You know, what, you know, tell me a story, I can see that I can see candidates asking this, you nailed it on skills? How are you going to make the better? You know, what are you you know, mobility? How are you? You know, what’s next, I can see those types of things.

Like also see it, this is probably, again, generational, but we’ll see how it plays out. You touched on it just a little bit, but it’s, you know, your company’s focus on diversity and inclusion, you know, like, What are you? What are you doing? You know, what’s actually, you know, not, not tell me a story, but it’s like, what are the action? You know, what are you? What are you actually doing, I can see those types of questions coming up. More on the candidate side, and also employees. How about yourself?

Elizebeth 21:16
Yeah, I think that’s, that’s a great point. And, you know, I think the practical manifestation in the work that we’ve been doing, right, because if you think about inclusion, of belonging, and you know, and diversity and all the work that’s been done, and there’s been a lot of work done over the past few decades, but increasingly, you know, we’re expecting to see a practical manifestation of that, in the way processes get done.

The data is showing us that right, that you have to look at what the data says around mobility around learning. So, you know, candidates and and employees who are in the organization and are, you know, looking at evaluating options. The questions they ask are related specifically, to how they’re engaging and how they’re participating in the organization. Right. So, obviously, the larger more, you know, the bigger questions right around, inclusion and diversity and belonging are being asked.

And I think, equally important, and actually more difficult to solve, are the questions that are being asked around? How are you ensuring that Career Mobility opportunities are equally accessible to everybody in the organization? How are you ensuring that learning opportunities are personalized and equally available without being nominated? But you know, how is that being linked to your individual personalized career? goals?

And I think employees and especially Gen Z and millennials, are interested in understanding the tactical aspects of that, right. And but I think organizations are basically having to answer that by thinking about things like internal talent marketplaces or thinking about personalized learning curriculum that can be delivered entirely online, based on a consumption basis based on the demand from the employee base, which is then linked to their chosen career paths or their preferred career paths.

So I do think you’re absolutely right. And I think it’s also taking all of those big questions on diversity and inclusion, belonging, and then translating that into the practical ways in which processes within the organization need to play out.

William 23:27
I love it. Okay, three quick things left. One is because of your transformation background, what advice or best practices do you give to your HR colleagues in terms of monitoring? What expectations are? Like? How do they keep? How do they keep an alignment? Because everybody, every company is different, every you know, all that stuff? But like, how do they keep up with what their employee particular employee base what they want from him or need from them?

Elizebeth 24:01
You know that is a really important point. Because when you think about execution on strategy, right, so when I’m talking to CEOs about their strategy and their talent strategy, how do you know it’s working? Right? It knows when you’re not working when the market shows you. But you also know it’s working when your employees tell you that those shifts have been made.

So for strategy validation for that feedback loop, it’s absolutely critical to have what you’re describing, right? Well in that ongoing, transparent discussion, to understand employee sentiment, or to understand how the new programs and policies you’re establishing and implementing are addressing those needs. So supercritical in complete violent agreement, right, and we are seeing that in the market.

So how to make that happen is, I think, where technology can actually play a huge and significant and really transformational enabling role. We’re finding that and we’ve actually found this over almost a decade. Now, in our own work within the IBM enterprise Corporation, as we’ve used AI and collaboration tools to really help people engage in on a virtual basis, right, so whether it’s using AI for building a talent marketplace where people can engage and collaborate, virtually, provide feedback and you know, share information around how they feel about the processes and programs and their own learning paths. I mean, that’s just one example.

You know, there are also lots of things that IBM, for example, we looked at, you know, even the design of some of our programs, using AI platforms will be redesigned our performance management system a few years ago, program a few years ago, we had used virtual jams, people collaborating virtually around the world, using those social platforms internally, to provide input, provide feedback and participate in the process.

And, you know, also listening into what people are talking about internal programs in a very ethical and principled way. But there’s, you know, IBM, for example, does not read emails, but we do when there is a social platform that, you know, employees are engaging, you know, we’re trying to understand what they feel about certain programs and policies, because that’s communicated to them and in the design of it, so that we can use that to tweak things.

So I think those kinds of approaches are really going to be more important, especially as you’re moving to a much more virtual approach to work at a much more risk requiring of engagement and authenticity for all organizations.

William 26:37
I love it. Okay, is the same similar advice? Based on all of your both the research and your experience? What, what can HR leaders do to prep? For post COVID? Like, what can they be doing now? Other than hiring IBM got stated and covered, but outside of that, what like, what can they What? What can what’s your advice to them right now?

Elizebeth 27:09
So I think the important thing for I mean, autonomy backup, I think HR leaders who have made it through the pandemic, right, they have found that their jobs are really important. And that, you know, on March 15, when you know, people had to go home or work from home, it was HR that was called on, right, so they have lived through that fire already.

So they know, I think in literally every instance, I’ve spoken with clients or spoken with, you know, they’re quite cognizant of the magnification of their role, and the intersectionality of the role between facilities and real estate, for example, right within it, everything on cybersecurity and working virtually, within between, you know, social responsibility, and our inclusion.

In addition to everything else they’ve done, right, some of those points I mentioned, that become magnified, they were always linkages for CSR was but they become magnified. So, based on all of that, what we’re seeing theaters really need to do is one, they have to take a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving, you know, the problems are more complex, so they have to be multidisciplinary.

The second part of it is using technology as much as possible to help mitigate some of these issues. We believe in VR, we’ve always believed that technology, especially now good technology can do anything strategy imagines, right? If you seek to do a technology can make it happen for you at this point. So HR leaders really need to embrace the potential of technology to help address those needs for employees and leadership.

And then the third and final point is being very cognizant about the fact that employees have very real expectations. They tell their stories internally and outside of the organization. And you need to be listening to those stories, you need to be keeping your pulse, you know, on what employees really feel about your programs. Because if you don’t provide forums and ways for them to feed that back to you and engage with them, they will be on Glassdoor, they will be on walls telling your stories, right?

So it’s really important for HR leaders to be kind of cognizant of that permeability of the work-life balance, the expectations that employees have. And the fact that you know what they don’t say here, they can say outside of the organization and you you want to be ahead of that conversation.

William 29:38
I love it. And this is a simple one before we roll out, as it relates to the hybrid workforce, your workplace of the future. Do you think that models will shake out? This is probably five years after COVID but do you think models will shake out to where there are just a few hybrid models? Or is it just going to be a free for all? And company by company, industry by industry are likely to be thousands of variations of a hybrid work workforce and workplace model?

Elizebeth 30:11
I believe that as we’re coming out of the pandemic, and you know, based on everything we’ve just talked about, organizations are going to have to come up with bespoke models, right. And those bespoke models are not just going to be based on their own, you know, place in the industry, their life cycle, you know, what they’re doing, or their challenges, but this talk to their individual employees.

So that level of, you know, hybrid working, that one person may seek may be different than what somebody else is willing to accept. So, we are definitely, you know, seeing that, and I’m expecting that, you know, personally as somebody that’s in the space, or just this as an example, to give you a story, right.

You know, I have clients who were in the financial or in the financial services sector, and I think we all know that you know, there was never any trading that happened outside of the trading floor, right. Cybersecurity reasons and regulatory reasons. But come March 15. Right, monitors were shipped home to wherever they are, and people have been trading out of their patios, and, you know, their bedrooms and in their living rooms. So that shift happened.

And I think we are hearing from employees who are saying, Listen, I, I knew this could be done. I knew they didn’t want to do it. But clearly, they can, and they will do it if they have to. And you know what, I like that. I think.

So, I think organizations are going to have to respond to those kinds of requirements or needs. The fact that you know, like, they don’t feel the need to take the 5 am train to be at their trading desk at 7 am.

William 31:49
I am in violent agreement. I love the way you phrased that. Okay, so we’re going to link out to the research. A, thank you so much. I know you’re super busy. So thank you for coming on the show.

Also, thank you for doing research like this, because I think it helps people navigate all the chaos that will come. And lastly, I want to come on and do, or I would like for you to come on and do a show once you have the other research live. So we can talk about that too. So anytime we can talk about research and talk about things, I think that’d be great. Thank you so much, Elizebeth, for your time.

Elizebeth 32:31
Thank you. This was delightful, was so much fun.

William 32:33
Thank you. And thanks for everyone for listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.


The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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