I’m fascinated with workplace trends and trying to understand how they will impact our industry and our association. As I ponder these trends, I’m struck by the parallels to what people with intellectual and developmental disabilities need: choice and control over their lives, respect, a meaningful day and addressing loneliness.
Attracting and retaining direct support professionals has challenged providers for years – prompting the more entrepreneurial to try a variety of creative strategies. Has it given them a leg up in the current extra competitive marketplace for staff of all levels?
What do people want from their jobs? It seems pretty darn clear – flexibility in when they work. More autonomy. Determining where they work. And, as witnessed by the ‘Great Resignation,’ with whom and for what.
Understanding what employees want and what employers need stopped being an abstract exercise for most of us early in the pandemic and became even more concrete for me this year. The 2020 lockdown demonstrated our staff performed at a very high level working remotely and requiring people to return to the office seemed arbitrary and unnecessary. We told our staff that it was up to them and their supervisor to determine whether they needed to come into the office. Most were supported to work from home.
We just recently sold our long-time office condo and have another property under contract. We hadn’t planned to sell, but we only owned 2% of a very large office building, and there was great pressure to sell because the rest of the building was being converted to residential units.
I briefly considered going fully remote but rejected that option quickly. Our new office will only have four, maybe five private offices – the remainder of the space will be dedicated to “collaboration” areas.
We’re benefiting enormously by being flexible and hiring talent nationwide. And most of our locally based staff prefer a hybrid arrangement. We didn’t need the amount of space we once needed, and we use space differently. Figuring out how much space wasn’t easy, but we’re excited about where we landed.
However, I’m also painfully aware that what seems like the new normal today may be very different in five years.
There was a time in my life when I wanted to work from home. I had kids, they went to school during the day, but I could be there when they came home, simmer stews on the stove for dinner, keep up with laundry, even pull a few weeds during lunch. I loved it. Until I didn’t.
That’s when I wanted out of my home and into an office. I find far better work/life balance when I leave my home to go to work – I, like many, have trouble drawing boundaries when my environment doesn’t change. It was working alongside people – being part of a big work family – that I needed. I was lonely at home.
Ask people why they like to work from home and work/life balance comes up most frequently (pets also get frequent mentions). Some are ecstatic to avoid exhausting, sometimes dangerous and expensive commutes. Others love not having to put up with office chit-chat – they just want to do their job and keep their personal lives separate. Remote work supports that in spades. Are people happier? Lots are, without a doubt. But some, perhaps many, like me, will want to come back, and when that happens, will they be able to?
But that’s a question for tomorrow. Today we’re focused on continuing to calibrate how we work best together – how to not disadvantage those who are not in the office, while also not disadvantaging those who are. On a broader scale, we have an advantage over so many other potential competitors for our staff – our work, representing providers of disability services, matters.
We are currently engaged in a search for an Events Coordinator and Leadership Assistant. The caliber of candidates applying for the job is astonishing. Why? I think it’s because we offer flexibility, our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is on full display in our new hiring processes, and our work, representing this critical human services sector, resonates with people seeking more than financial reward from their employment.
And the key to keeping talented, committed staff? Of course, compensation matters, but it’s also more than that. I believe it has a lot to do with supporting employees to exercise choice and control over their environment in ways we never considered before the pandemic. That in turn fosters greater respect.
Underlining it all: I’m old fashioned, but I think in the end it’s about feeling good about what we do – knowing we have experienced a meaningful day. Why should it surprise any of us that what the people we support want and deserve, is the same as for anyone else?
Barbara Merrill is the CEO of ANCOR.
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