Is it time agencies started treating employees as customers?
As part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into The New Customer Experience Economy, we talk to companies adopting a servant leadership approach where employees are treated like customers, there to be served. Could this be the answer to combating talent loss amid the great resignation?
Can servant leadership help firms tackle the great resignation? / Adobe Stock
Servant leadership follows the philosophy that companies should focus on the growth and wellbeing of their employees. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, many agencies and large firms utilized perks and packages to draw in the best talent, but following the pandemic many have had to dig deep to ensure workers feel prioritized.
M&C Saatchi managing director Jodie Fullagar says that servant leadership forms a large part of the agency’s recruitment ethos. “We have a mission statement that, we only employ brilliant people who do brilliant work and are brilliant to work with. But that ‘brilliant to work with’ is not only a characteristic of our people, but a standard of our culture and leadership.”
So what does servant leadership look like at M&C Saatchi? “It means we invest significant time and resources into ensuring our people thrive, and it means we attract and develop the best talent.”
At LinkedIn, vice-president of talent acquisition Jennifer Shappley says talent is the recruitment platform’s “number one priority”.
“While everyone’s leadership style is different, you’ll find at LinkedIn that much of our work really leans into the idea of servant leadership, where everything we do is with the goal of putting the team first, operating with trust and ensuring they have the support and resources they need, even as early as the initial recruiting phases.”
Employees need opportunities to grow
In practice, leaders say this can look like providing opportunities for growth and learning, as well as reassuring employees there is room for advancement.
M&C Saatchi recently launched its ‘Step Up’ program, a commitment to making passions more equitable by helping brands step up to make culture more inclusive and play a positive and authentic role in society.
“With offerings like Step Up, we recruit and retain people who are passionate about and committed to building purpose-driven work and therefore deeply invested in the work they are doing,” says Fullagar. ”It is when employees values and priorities match up with those of the agency that we get to the best work and retain the best talent because people will always be most invested in causes they care passionately about.”
Shappley agrees that the promise of advancement is crucial to locking in the best talent: “Through an external survey, we know that 37% of employees are looking for some sort of transformation in their career, whether they are exploring new possibilities, looking for a new job or looking for a new role within their company,” she explains.
She says employees need to feel invested in, whether through educational, networking or mentorship opportunities. “At LinkedIn, for example, we hosted an Internal Career Month to empower employees to take advantage of career opportunities within the company and learn new skills that might be beneficial to their careers.”
Data is key...
When it comes to being flexible and listening to employee’s needs, Shappley says data is essential, especially as firms navigate the new world of hybrid working. “Understanding that one approach doesn’t fit all is our foundation. From that we get to create custom and equitable experiences that meet the unique needs of our workforce.
“Early on in the pandemic, we asked employees the simple question: ’how are you?’ Through the feedback, we found that burnout was a major source of stress. As a result, we created LiftUp!, an initiative designed to support employees and managers during this extended work from home period, including mental health resources, meeting-free days and creating surprise and delight moments such as an all-company week off.”
...but so is policy
When thinking of key policies, packages and benefits that can help retain talent, Shappley says it’s crucial to keep in mind that, due to the ever-changing landscape, the “employer-employee social contract is being rewritten”. And, she says, ”the worker is holding the pen”.
She explains that policies around flexible working and mental health can help employers see significant boosts in employee satisfaction as well recruitment upticks. “LinkedIn data shows that when employees are satisfied with their company’s time and location flexibility, they are 2.6x more likely to report being happy and 2.1x more likely to recommend working at the company.
“If employees feel cared for at work, they are 3.2x more likely to be happy at work and 3.7x more likely to recommend their company as a place to work.”
Shappley concludes that this will also be crucial to securing the best talent from the upcoming generation of workers, with Gen Z in particular increasingly looking for companies to invest in their needs.
According to LinkedIn data, 66% of Gen Z say they’d like to see more investment in mental health and wellness to improve company culture and 77% say they engage with companies posting about flexibility on LinkedIn (compared with 30% of Millennials, for example). For Shappley, this data highlights a major generational gap in needs and desires surrounding company culture.
For more on The New Customer Experience Economy, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.