How directors can support the shifting American workforce


Tips for keeping your people aligned with your strategy


The American workplace was shocked into uncharted territory in 2020 when COVID-19 shut down the global economy. Since then, changes to the workforce have been constant and, as a result, the impact of the emerging hybrid work model remains uncertain.


Grant Thornton LLP asked 5,000 American workers for their thoughts on their jobs, their employers and their work environment in our 2023 State of Work in America survey. The following top takeaways can help boards and senior leaders ensure the company’s strategies are aligned with the wants and needs of today’s dynamic workforce.

Margaret Belden

“Boards play a critical role in ensuring talent strategies are sound and comprehensive.”

Margaret Belden

Grant Thornton Director, People and Organization


“Talent management is a dynamic and pressing concern for organizations as hybrid 2.0 takes shape, and mental health, career development and retaining talent permeate leadership agendas,” said Margaret Belden, a Director in Grant Thornton’s People and Organization practice. “Boards play a critical role in ensuring talent strategies are sound and comprehensive in securing the talent needed to meet the organization’s goals and priorities. Talent management is the new ‘due diligence’ required to evaluate leaders and business performance.”





A good benefits package is growing in importance  


Why are employees staying with a company? It’s the benefits, according to 38% of survey respondents, a significant jump from last year.


The vast majority (74%) of respondents are well-informed about what their benefits packages include and 63% say the benefits meet their needs. But they also provide insight for improvement: Fewer than half see their benefits as unique and different from what they would expect from other potential employers.


It’s not surprising that the survey shows that well-being has become important as the lines between work and life have blurred, staffing challenges persist, and economic conditions permeate organizational leaders’ challenges. Financial stress and mental health are primary concerns among employees. More than half (53%) of respondents say mental/emotional stress has contributed to burnout.  



What can boards do?


  • Verify that management is evaluating options to realign benefit offerings and spend. Benefits have different values to employees at varying stages of their lives so verify that the research to learn what is most relevant and meaningful is done, and that the preferences are incorporated into the benefit offerings.
  • Verify that the company’s benefits include a focus on mental health benefits in the overall package. This may include evaluating whether leadership is demonstrating its commitment to improving the lives of the company’s employees.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of management’s reporting on how the rewards and benefits package effectively positions the organization to attract, retain and address employee satisfaction and engagement. Are they surveying employees, looking at emerging and best practices and offerings in the space of benefit offerings and making them meaningful to individuals? Is it increasing their competitiveness?



Job security, burnout are key concerns 


Less than half of the respondents to Grant Thornton’s State of Work in America survey say they have seen positive change and action in response to employee surveys. Boards can play a role in encouraging improved communication so employees know their feedback is heard and acted upon. 

Job security is a rising priority, but it’s not necessarily enough to retain employees who feel undervalued and burned out. The people shortage is taking its toll on employees. Survey respondents report that burnout is caused by mental and emotional stress, heavy workloads and long hours, which often are unappreciated or uncompensated. Companies experiencing staff shortages may be caught in a loop where their employees are increasingly disincentivized or demotivated, making them consider other jobs and creating more vacancies when they leave. And with an unemployment rate of just 3.4% in April 2023, there are jobs out there that usually come with a pay hike. More than three-fourths (78%) of respondents received a pay boost of at least 10% when changing jobs.  



What can boards do?


  • Find out how management helps employees understand their value. Encourage leadership to ensure that employees know they are regarded as priority stakeholders in the organization.
  • Receive regular reports on employee retention across the organization and in specific locations or departments if that level of detail is needed. Stay aware of workforce trends.
  • Support management in validating that valued employees, especially those experiencing increased workloads, receive compensation and opportunities aligned with their contributions.



Recruiting strategies may need to be adjusted


During the pandemic, companies embraced the remote work model on a large scale, and many found it worked very well for employees and the organization, especially when it created access to new talent sourcing channels when proximity to the office was not a prerequisite for accepting a job. In today’s environment where the trend to return to the office is both individual- and management-driven, companies may be rethinking their recruiting strategy.



What can boards do:


  • Ask for information on the current recruiting strategy and how it has been or should be adjusted now that in-person work no longer presents a health threat.
  • Encourage management to balance the pros and cons — remote work expands the field for talent and is critical for hard-to-fill or niche roles.
  • Understand how the shift to a virtual hiring process necessitated by the pandemic affected HR’s internal processes and recruiting success. Are there elements to retain that make the hiring process more efficient or enhance the company’s brand reputation?



Temper back-to-office requirements with flexibility  


The State of Work in America survey shows employees are more willing to return to the office, with just 16% saying they don’t want to work at the office at all, compared to 25% last year. They see the benefit of being better connected to their colleagues and leaders to foster working relationships, improve job performance and even their mental well-being.


But they have terms. More than half want to work at the office four or five days a week, and by a wide margin they want options such as flexible start and stop times, fewer days with longer hours, or the flexibility to choose when and where to work.  


The transition away from the full-time remote work blurs the lines between the personal and professional spheres. This creates a real balancing act for employers as they strive to take into account employee flexibility, required business demands and the impact to overall employee engagement and burnout. In large part, it is no longer a question of “if” the company will get on board with this trend. It is more a matter of “how” the company will successfully manage this new workforce model.



What can boards do?


Finding and retaining board members is an ever-evolving challenge for both public and private companies. People who possess the right blend of relevant experience and expertise, leadership skills, and commitment to be a corporate director are in demand. Companies can follow these approaches help determine the right compensation package:

  • Emphasis on attracting, retaining and motivating key talent for executive roles should extend to independent directors on the board as well. Give the process the same level of care and attention that goes into executive, including attractive compensation.
  • Thoroughly review independent director pay. Mounting economic headwinds present an important opportunity for boards to ensure their pay programs are both market competitive and aligned with changing organizational strategies. A thorough review of independent director pay, including an external market analysis, should provide comfort to companies that their board compensation strategy is well-calibrated to attract top leaders to serve them on the board of directors.
  • Evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of implementing any of the market trends outlined above. Would changes to equity vehicles, a more customized approach to pay mix, replacing meeting fees with committee retainers, or offering leadership premiums work for your company?





Board and audit committee insights