In 2019, we find ourselves with the lowest unemployment rate since 1969. As it drops below 4%, we also bear witness to a stock market and economy currently on a bull run. Despite the bullish economic conditions, HR professionals find themselves left with a talent pool firmly positioned in a “bear market”. The reality of a strong economy with low unemployment is that businesses begin to grow, so there’s an increased demand for talent but unfortunately a shallow pool to fish from.

With a running record of low unemployment numbers, companies are having a tough time finding the right workers. Despite this talent drought, top executives in companies across the U.S. are yelling “Feed Me Seymore,” turning HR offices into little shops of horrors. The reality is 66% of US companies have plans to expand in 2019. These expectations place a palpable strain on HR professionals, as they struggle to find talent to fill positions in a “candidate-driven” market with an unemployed to job openings ratio that fell below 1:1 at the end of 2018. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

With 73% of job seekers today only passively looking for a job, HR departments have to find creative ways to ensure their organization stands out in a crowded room. And it’s equally important to ensure your talent wants to stay.

Currently, the average employee tenure for all occupations in the U.S. is 4.2 years, and millennials often find themselves looking for new employment every 3.5 years.

Why should you care? Because by 2025, 75% of the global workforce will consist of millennials. Work-life balance is one of the major considerations millennials contend with prior to selecting a new employer.

So, here are four ways to create a modern leave policy that will attract talent and encourage them to stick around!

1. Dump Out-Of-The-Box Leave Polices

The goal for an organization is to stand out. However, you’ll face challenges differentiating your company if your leave policies mimic that of your top four competitors. Also, recruits find company brand to be an important factor in making a decision on their employment. Adopting the leave policy of your competition because “it worked for them” is as bad as pushing forward with an antediluvian policy that is rigid and unattractive.

What is your company’s mission? How do you currently engage with your people? What matters most to your current workforce? As you attract new talent, you mustn’t forget to dance with the guy/gal who brought you. You don’t want to alienate your current talent while in pursuit of a new talent pool (most likely) made up of millennials.

Try not to view building a unique policy as an insurmountable challenge. Instead, view it as an opportunity to clearly show your company’s values and what differentiates you from your competitors.

2. Flexibility Shouldn’t Be A Stretch

There was a time where flexible work was considered a nice perk. Flexible work opportunities have become a necessity in the attempt to attract top talent, improve retention, and improve company brand.

LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends Report indicates one of the top initiatives shaping the future of HR is flexible work. The report states, “One thing that nearly all workforce segments agree on is the growing importance of adaptive work schedules. Fifty-four percent of employees said managing their work/life balance is one of the top five things their company can do to help them thrive at work.” This is a sharp increase from 26% of employees in 2017.

The truth is, without a flexible work policy that allows for employees to work remotely, you’ll rarely find yourself in contention from a benefits standpoint. It’s common for the idea of flexible work to elicit a strong response from naysayers. To assuage those concerned, we’ll quickly address a few commonly expressed myths.

Flexibility Mean Less Productivity

Several studies have shown flexible work schedules tend to decrease stress and improve work/life balance and employee well-being. All three of these aspects are known to improve productivity. Personal concerns such as child care, transportation, and personal ailments become less stressful with flexible work options. It allows your employees to ensure that everything is alright on the home front. Simple piece of mind allows your employees to focus on their work tasks without distractions drawing their attention.

Flexibility Just Means Working from Home

Let’s reiterate this: stay away from out-of-the-box polices. Flexible work can mean many things. Several organizations have seen unimaginable productivity and cultural growth by making their flexible-work policies, get this…… “flexible!”

A look at two company examples should quickly illustrate how a true flexible work policy could be incredibly appealing compared to the competition.

Company A:

Rebecca works 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Her organization provides her with a flexible work benefit by allowing for her to work from home one day per week. She is required to work the same hours at home as she does when she’s in the office.

Company B:

Stephanie works 40 hours per week. She’s required to spend 16 hours in the office and attend the weekly team meeting. Her other 24 hours can be spent working anywhere she’d like:  home, in the office, the back of a camel in the Arabian Desert…… or Starbucks. Her daily schedule is based on meetings, projects, and tasks but she isn’t constrained to working the same hours every day.

Now which company would you like to work for? I’m not sure how easy it is to make phone calls from the back of a camel but I’d love to find out!

Flexibility Destroys Teamwork

This may be the most commonly presented concern. While it’s an understandable belief that a decrease in physical time together could decrease teamwork, it’s mostly unfounded. Allowing employees more flexibility shows the company trusts in their abilities. Additionally, employees begin to trust each other more.

Surveys have shown with improved remote working tools and technology, employees working remotely actually communicate more rather than less. The lack of physical proximity instinctively causes employees to use work-chat applications, emails, quick phone calls, and video conferencing.

But no need to worry. For employers who understandably want to encourage more team involvement, there are several ways to do it successfully. Whether it’s team events, monthly team luncheons, company outings, or company retreats, there are ways to increase face to face interaction while supporting a flexible-work culture.

Flexible work isn’t a trend; rather, it’s becoming an expected benefit. Yoga has personally taught me we all have varying levels of flexibility (e.g. I’m about as flexible as driftwood) and that principle also holds true with businesses: You can implement a flexible-work policy that makes sense for your organization. However, without one, it will become more challenging over time to remain competitive in attracting and retaining top talent.

3. A Hashtag Goes a Long Way

Using social media has become an interesting approach to promoting the modern leave policies in more progressive organizations.

Employees enjoying unlimited PTO, mandatory vacation days, volunteer days, or paid sabbaticals (more on this later) have been asked to take a picture enjoying their time off and link their company to the post, for example, #empiresuite! Companies have been so encouraging, in fact, some even provide employees with an additional vacation day for posting a selfie while enjoying their leave benefits.

Before you storm the proverbial gates in outrage and demand an explanation why this helps grow company culture or promotes your business to potential top talent, stop sharpening your pitchforks and I’ll explain.

Several companies, like BambooHR, have successfully showcased their talent enjoying their progressive leave policies and company events. Whether it’s employees on individual vacations or company hosted events, when your current employees are willing to post about how they’re enjoying their time away from work and their gratitude for the company’s favorable policies, your company is catapulted into the highest regard with potential recruits. The talent of your recruitment team is irrelevant as they’ll never be as successful at delivering a resonating message of a quality work-life balance like your current employees.

In addition to the positive publicity, when your employees post while on their vacations or company events, you’re successfully leveraging their network and gaining exposure to their connections. Rules of socialization dictate your Rock Star employees are most likely friends with professionals who are also Rock Stars in their organizations. If they’re seeing the posts from your team, then you’re not only marketing to a general population, you’re potentially marketing to top performers.

4. Volunteers and Sabbaticals

While this benefit may not work for some organizations, several companies are giving employees a paid Volunteer Day or two so they can participate in volunteer opportunities.

AppDynamics gives its employees five paid volunteer days every year. They also have a community program called AppD Cares, which encourages its people to give back in ways most meaningful to them. TransUnion provides its U.S.-based employees with a Volunteer Time Off day each year to be used donating time outside of the office to a cause that matters to them.

A recent study from Mercer shows that “meaningful work” is a top value proposition for Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials alike.

Paid sabbaticals are another leave benefit becoming more common, regardless of industry. Sabbaticals are normally offered after employees have spent a certain amount of years with an organization. As mentioned before, time away from the office decreases stress and reduces the likelihood of employee burnout. Leadership in these companies feel it’s important to unplug. Employees are not allowed to engage in professional tasks during these sabbaticals,

At Epic, a healthcare software company, you’re eligible for a four-week paid sabbatical, every five years.  But Epic doesn’t stop there: if you choose to spend your sabbatical in a country you’ve never been to before, they’ll help fund the trip for you and a guest.

Keeping up with the desires of the workforce can be challenging to say the least. However, if you’re able to identify what benefits resonate with your current staff and potential recruits, you’ll spend less time worrying about attracting and retaining talent. By providing simple yet innovative solutions, you can clearly relay your concern for employee wellness, and improve overall employee satisfaction.

Remember, be thoughtful about the benefits you offer and fill in the gaps often overlooked by your competitors.