Kathryn Kaminsky is vice chair - US Trust Solutions co-leader at PwC US. Views are the author's own.
I have the privilege of meeting with CFOs regularly to talk through their businesses and discuss how they are managing change while also building trust, driving growth and preparing for the future. I love engaging in candid dialogue and collaborating with peers as I believe it drives some of the most strategic and creative thinking. Talent is top of mind for many CFOs lately; leaders are specifically strategizing how to best attract talent and redefining their office space to accommodate their people and approach to the “return-to-office”.
The focus on talent is critical because the economic landscape is more complex today than it has ever been before. In fact, we may be in the most significant workforce transformation of our time. Today, employees want an experience with elements of flexibility, development and benefits that meet their individual needs. Employers have to deliver a personalized experience or risk losing their people. CFOs are managing all of this while also combating inflationary pressures and an impending economic downturn — on top of meeting increasing stakeholder expectations and the pressure to drive growth and innovation. Talk about a challenge!
All of this shows the importance of attracting, retaining and developing top talent, so that a business is fit for growth and is able to lean into the changes ahead and thrive. Knowing that talent may be one of our most powerful assets, especially as we head into 2023, leaders are prioritizing their companies’ future around the workforce.
It's more than a mandate
What does the office workplace look like in 2023? Return-to-office is top of mind for CFOs and their leadership teams heading into the new year. In my conversations with CFOs, there is consensus that a complete return-to-office five days a week is no longer a realistic option. Across most of my discussions, companies do not plan on requiring employees to go into the office every single day in the new year (if ever!).
Today, and for the foreseeable future, many organizations are working in a hybrid setting. They are thinking less about mandates and more about how to create a valuable in-person experience that leans into collaboration and engagement among teams. Leadership teams should consider redesigning office spaces to create a setting that facilitates collaboration and creativity, while at the same time, reduces costs by minimizing their physical footprint.
This new, reimagined workplace creates a more attractive option for employees, and will likely drive more productivity. I found it interesting that in several of my conversations with CFOs, many noticed a demographic shift in workplace preferences. Leaders shared that their younger workforces are seeking more in-person opportunities, and so, creating an in-person experience may best help retain this group. This underscores the need to layer in personalization in any return-to-office plan rather than a one-size-fits all approach.
While many conversations about the workplace start with return-to-office, it's becoming increasingly clear there is no “going back” fully to how we worked before the pandemic. Continued change and evolution is afoot, and that could lead to more collaborative and flexible opportunities for all.
Managing the balancing act
While there’s a significant workforce transformation pushing leaders to reimagine where, how and when work gets done, it's also about balancing other external factors like inflation, a tight labor market and a looming economic downturn. For example, CFOs have shared that turnover is down (people tend to be more cautious about job changes with a potential recession on the horizon) and attrition rates seen during the “Great Resignation” have subsided. Yet, many CFOs still fear losing their people due to several factors, but particularly compensation.
New and existing talent is asking for more money given the tight labor market and record-breaking inflation levels. To keep their people, many CFOs are offering raises across the board at levels that are difficult to sustain. This could lead to employee dissatisfaction or retention issues down the line. CFOs are also feeling the burn of interest rates—long-term employees are leaving for pension payouts. At the end of day, CFOs have to balance planning for the future while also retaining talent today. I think this is one of many areas where CFOs will have to exercise agility in the next year.
CFOs have a lot on their minds, both from a long-term and short-term perspective. These leaders are navigating uncertain times with many factors stemming from workforce transformation, economic headwinds and demographic shifts in talent. While CFOs make every effort to drive business growth and strategy while protecting profitability, heading into 2023, talent remains at the top of their priorities. Because let’s face it—with a strong workforce, CFOs and businesses are more likely to be well-equipped to continue to innovate and drive growth while addressing the challenges ahead.