Improving Talent Retention Through a People-Centric Experience

Town Hall Insights
UK & Ireland CHRO Community

Stuart Cheesman


O.C. Tanner


Ben Bengougam




Helen Cook

Chief People Officer



Jennifer Tippin

Group Chief People & Transformation Officer

NatWest Group

MARCH 28, 2024

Workplaces are changing far more quickly than we are accustomed to. Lingering aftershocks from recent macroeconomic and geopolitical events—think the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit—have shifted familiar foundations of workplace culture and employee experience (EX). A lack of resources and fierce competition for talent has exacerbated these changes, impacting both leaders and employees. Today’s people and contracts are different, and we need to create new workplace cultures that embrace these changes and are relevant to current employees.

CHROs in our UK & Ireland CHRO Community met recently to discuss strategies for attracting and retaining talent by encouraging people-centric experiences and empowering employees with a greater sense of fulfilment in their roles.

Stuart Cheesman, Strategist at O.C. Tanner, moderated the discussion. Executive panellists were Ben Bengougam, SVP HR EMEA at Hilton, Helen Cook, Chief People Officer at Finastra, and Jennifer Tippin, Group Chief People & Transformation Officer at NatWest Group.

They discussed three topics:

  1. Leading with practical empathy, both virtually and in person.

Talent is a business’ greatest asset, yet one panellist suggested that leadership sometimes focuses too much on process and policy and not enough on empathy. Panellists agreed that we sometimes consider human-centred kindness and vulnerability a weakness instead of one of the most important leadership characteristics. It’s critical to have trust and connection with your wider workforce and to define purpose and value, applying that in every action, such as coaching and training. 

While it’s important to consider policy, it’s also essential to practise discretion and humanity when employees are sick or in crisis, they agreed. More than one CHRO mentioned their company has employees in Israel, and all agreed it’s about showing care and empathy more than following policy, whether you’re discussing food, clothes, community, or other support. 

One panellist said you can teach empathetic leadership, and that it starts with self-awareness. In addition to leadership principles and the significance of showing vulnerability, which can change people’s perceptions of empathy and self-awareness, half the curriculum should be about understanding oneself better. One panellist said that top-down-driven changes don’t make as much sense now because people have little tolerance and patience for it these days. Instead, it’s about treating them as individuals. Another small example is when everyone is on a first-name basis, they agreed. It’s a small but powerful move.

A panellist said that we know from research that when there is empathetic leadership, employees are more likely to be satisfied in their jobs and more willing to take risks and help others. They are less likely to report evidence of burnout, stress, and anxiety. Evidence shows, they said, that when you invest in helping leaders tune in to people, employees are more likely to stay with the company long-term.

  1. Enabling flexibility while balancing resiliency and productivity and optimising technology.

The panellists agreed that keeping the EX at the forefront is critical. They discussed the idea of having a workplace culture of “nimble resiliency” for when an organisation sees a lot of change and suddenly needs employees to be flexible. One discussed making changes only after asking customers and stakeholders about values, running experiments, and gathering lots of workforce data and input about designing new experiences and propositions, rather than HR doing it without any input. One panellist said their company now encourages such an end-to-end journey model around any change.

That makes changes more relevant, results in higher levels of engagement, and means new ways are much more likely to “stick.” It puts employees at the heart of the EX, while introducing new technology and different ways of working and allowing collaboration with customers and other communities. Panellists agreed that today’s different generations have different EX expectations.

  1. Supporting the 80% of employees who feel underseen and undervalued.

Panellists agreed that leaders must understand and act upon the fact that most employees (80%) feel unseen and undervalued. They said that you set the scene for employees’ futures and sense of belonging from the point of onboarding, specifically regarding what promises the company makes, which come through leaders’ values and expectations. One CHRO said it’s about making sure an employee can have an upward-moving career at the company if they want.

You can also ensure your employees feel seen and valued by doing surveys, talking with them, and listening to what you hear. Then, you can work on your learning and development curriculum to include details about aspirations so team members feel the company cares and knows what they can achieve with the company. It’s worth noting that more desk-based employees (52%) feel they have positive experiences with leadership than deskless workers (36%).

CHROs can continue the discussion on talent retention strategies and other key HR topics by applying to join a community of C-level peers. Or, if you are already a member of an Evanta CHRO community, sign in to MyEvanta to register for your upcoming community programs.

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