Insight

People first: CEOs’ shifting views on the postpandemic workforce

Keeping people inspired and productive in a hybrid working environment

Lisa Massman

Lisa Massman

Principal, Human Capital Advisory Leader, KPMG US

+1 213-955-1524



For some time, organizations have been shaping their workforces to meet a highly volatile business environment, where customers can switch easily, and markets emerge—and disappear—at breathtaking speed.

Employees have also become more demanding, increasingly expecting a fulfilling workplace that matches their values and ambitions.

COVID-19 has magnified these challenges, with issues such as remote working, mental health, diversity and inclusion, and corporate purpose taking on far greater urgency.

As they strive to create a superior employee value proposition, companies must find a way to address these concerns or risk a widening talent gap.

To find out how the world’s leading organizations are going about this task, KPMG recently surveyed 500 CEOs from large companies around the world (including 140 from the U.S.) for our 2021 Global CEO Outlook, Pulse version.

The world is my talent pool

Since COVID-19 took hold, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of American workers have undergone a job search, interviews, and onboarding with new employers—all without setting foot in an office.

Some may have joined organizations outside the U.S., while conversely, U.S. firms may also have recruited people from other parts of the nation and, indeed, the globe. After all, if location is no hindrance, why not look further afield, especially when domestic talent is in short supply and demanding higher salaries?

Thirty-seven percent of the survey respondents intend to hold more virtual interviews, and it’s quite likely that many of these will be with candidates who don’t live close to the offices and don’t intend to relocate.

Healthy, happy, and productive

The pandemic has heightened awareness of workplace stress, compounded by other major societal phenomena. In response, almost two-thirds of U.S. CEOs (64 percent) say they’re going to dedicate more resources to mental health and well-being in the coming years.

For years we’ve been talking about work-life balance. Now it’s time to really take action and ensure people don’t succumb to burnout or other mental health problems. This might mean providing formal or informal counseling or offering time off to recharge and recuperate.

Tools for the job

There’s almost unanimous agreement that, technology wise, the sudden and huge shift to remote working has gone more smoothly than we might have expected.

Just over half of the CEOs taking part in the survey reckon their company will return to a “normal” course of business in Fall or Winter 2021—and a fifth say their business has changed forever.

As the U.S. economy looks forward to a hybrid working week combining home, office, and flexible workspaces, how can we maintain an environment that keeps people enthused and productive?

With the workforce composition extending to full-time and part-time employees, contractors, “gig” economy workers, and other third parties, it’s vital to have the kind of cutting-edge, collaborative tools that help every worker to be creative and productive, regardless of their role or location.

Equally important are technologies that play a growing role in online/virtual learning, as organizations continually upskill employees.

Consequently, 53 percent of the U.S. CEOs in the survey plan to increase their organization’s use of digital collaboration and communication tools. If employers can’t offer a high-quality collaboration experience, it won’t just impact effectiveness; they may also struggle to engage and retain the best people.

Diversity enriches us all

The pandemic arrived at a time of growing awareness of racial and gender discrimination, as exemplified in the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.

U.S. CEOs acknowledge that there’s a lot more to be done in tackling a lack of diversity in the workplace. Fifty-eight percent of the survey participants say diversity and inclusion has moved much too slowly in the business world, and 96 percent are determined to continue to scrutinize their own company’s diversity performance.

Diversity isn’t only about doing the right thing; it’s also good for business and can support organizations’ efforts to win the battle for talent. At a time of acute skill shortages across many areas, a more diverse workforce can help organizations access much-needed capabilities, as well as bringing “outside-in” thinking, which can boost innovation and creativity.

As employee, customer, and public expectations of companies continue to rise, CEOs must demonstrate deeper levels of commitment and accountability to the workforce, placing employee experience at the center of their strategy.

Reflecting on our purpose

The pandemic has seen a renewed commitment to corporate citizenship, to pursue profit with purpose.

An overwhelming 99 percent of U.S. CEOs say they feel a stronger emotional connection to their purpose since the pandemic began, while 94 percent aim to increase their focus on the “social” element of their ESG (environmental, social and governance) agenda.

Workers are increasingly attracted to companies that live their purpose by matching words with deeds.

Such organizations recognize that what’s good for customers, employees, and communities is also good for shareholders.

In shaping their future workforces, companies must match capabilities to fast-changing markets. By offering a meaningful employee experience, which takes account of employees’ emotional, aspirational, and technological needs, businesses can become a magnet for talent and creativity.

To learn more about KPMG Human Capital Advisory, visit here.