For months, Canadian employers have been creaking under the strain of a labour crunch.

Finding top talent has always been one of leaders’ most pressing issues and there has often been a shortage of talent for key roles. In addition, Canada — as a whole, in my opinion — has never fully unlocked the skills of its population. Women and ethnic minorities, suffering under structural disadvantages, often don’t see their skills fully utilized and, although Canada welcomes hundreds of thousands of newcomers each year, only a fraction of these new Canadians are able to find work quickly in their chosen field. Mix in soaring demand for talent and you have a recipe for a labour shortage.

Here’s the bad news: this trend is likely to continue into the new year. There’s a strong sense that this talent shortage will be with us for a while. Although what’s been dubbed the Great Resignation is more significant in the U.S. than in Canada, many high-performing employees know they have more options than before — and are more likely to take advantage of them.

Read: Employers enhancing meaningful benefits offerings to attract, keep top talent

Here’s the good news: there are things human resources leaders can do to ensure they keep the people they have and attract the people they want. They can start by taking a hard look at their overall employee value proposition to ensure it isn’t static or generic. It must be personal, flexible and — above all — recognize employees as whole people.

Keeping employees

To retain employees in this environment, HR leaders must sharpen their value proposition and show workers they have their back and care for them as individual and whole people. There are cost-effective ways to do just that.

1. Being flexible: Flexibility is increasingly a core part of the employee value proposition. Workers want it and, going forward, companies that don’t offer flexible working arrangements will be at a disadvantage when it comes to recruitment and retention. Of course, flexibility can be more than just remote work; it includes working hours, working location, the kind of work offered and job sharing. A company that keeps its employees is an employer that offers them the ability to learn, grow and do new, different and challenging things.

Read: Remote, hybrid or in-office work? Marketing agency lets staff decide

2. Investing in benefits that address specific employee needs: An abundance of benefits are available and yet, not all benefits are a fit for every employee. But for employees who need specific support given individual circumstances, they are lifesavers.

One example is navigation services. Navigating elder care is an unfamiliar world for some employees. If a worker has an aging parent who suffers an injury or is struggling to live alone, navigating options is quite a burden. Employer-sponsored benefits can make all the difference for these individuals. Few employees will need this particular benefit, but those who do, they really appreciate it and its availability demonstrates that their employer has their back. There’s a suite of benefits like this, available at cost-effective rates. And digital benefits portals can help build awareness and engagement of these offerings and ultimately improve employee retention.

3. Reduce stress and invest in mental health: The coronavirus pandemic, with its economic and physical dislocations, has increased stress for many people, including at work. Benefits that reduce stress — both at work and at home — can help employees feel cared for. That means employers should stay flexible and extend coronavirus emergency leave and caregiver support programs to continue beyond the end of the pandemic.

Read: Mental health declining for 23% of employees since start of pandemic: survey

It also means providing access to experts and mental-health services. Proper mental-health support services recognize a range of stresses and conditions, from mild anxiety to substance abuse to self-harm — and enable a range of interventions. During the pandemic, parents were forced to adapt to new schooling situations, alongside remote working. At Mercer Canada, we recognized this group needed dedicated support, so we offered sessions with child psychologists and expert advice to parents with children exhibiting signs of stress.

Attracting employees

Retention is only one part of the equation for employers. For organizations looking to hire, HR leaders need to consider what modern job-seekers are looking for and then assess how their organization delivers it.

Workers today expect their employers to align with their values. In 2022, employers will need to especially consider the values of the youngest generation in the workplace — generation Z. While many employees of all generations care about diversity, equity and inclusion, gen-Z workers consider strong DEI credentials table stakes. Given a choice between many employers, they’ll pass over those that are insufficiently committed to DEI, which makes DEI the right thing to do, the smart thing to do and necessary for attracting talent in a hot market.

Read: Working for organization that values DEI issues important for 71% of employees: survey

But strong commitments aren’t enough. To truly demonstrate to job seekers that an organization’s values align with those of potential employees, definitive action is required. It starts with employers committing to measurement that’s complemented by accountability at all levels of leadership so that leaders can prove that the organization means what it says by pointing to actions.

The complete package

There’s no getting around it: the labour market is now more competitive and likely will be in 2022 and beyond. By taking a look at total rewards packages and providing employees with the flexibility they need, employers can both attract and keep top talent next year and in the post-pandemic years yet to come.