What is the secret to growth? In the current economic conditions, answering this age-old question has never been more important for enterprises. Excitingly, new answers are emerging.

A landmark global research study by Accenture found that by meeting workers’ human needs across six dimensions (financial, emotional & mental, relational, physical, purposeful and employable) businesses can unlock their people’s potential, bolster trust and increase business performance — even in times of crisis or amid weak GDP growth. 

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According to the research, a staggering 64% of work potential can be attributed to these six “net better off” dimensions.

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Here in Latin America, prior to COVID-19 much of this potential was going to waste. Figures from before the pandemic revealed a significant perception gap between the workforce and employers. For example, whereas 72% of the Brazilian workforce said they believed that their employer bears responsibility for helping them become net better off, only 25% of the Brazilian C-Suite felt the same.

Since COVID-19, it’s likely that these figures will have changed. Certainly, at a global level, the number of employers claiming responsibility for the holistic wellbeing of the workforce increased from 35% to 50%, and my discussions with clients in the region suggests that something similar has happened here.

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The impact of COVID

Indeed, given that business in Latin America is traditionally more relationship-driven than other parts of the world, the effect of COVID-19 may have been stronger. Our companies here have always thrived on face-to-face contact, and HR processes have been adapted to an environment of presenteeism. COVID-19 has forced us all to adapt, and for many busines leaders that has demanded new approaches to managing a distributed workforce.

This change will outlast the pandemic. Even when it’s possible to return to some sort of normality, many businesses will continue with a hybrid approach to work, mixing physical and virtual elements. This is simply because they have seen first-hand that you can work from home effectively, while still maintaining those all-important human relationships.

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Technology has enabled the technical aspect of connecting people in virtual environments, but in many firms, HR has taken the lead in building the experience around the human needs of workers.

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Many firms in the region have adopted practices that meet the six dimensions of net better off, such as buying more comfortable chairs for home workers, paying for faster home internet connections and providing virtual activities to help boost mental wellness. Combined, efforts like these can make a huge difference on the wellbeing – and productivity – of workers.  

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Gender equality at work

The pandemic will also likely lead to changes in the workplace gender equality. This is something that is currently of great concern for many women. The Consumer Pulse, a recent Accenture survey, found that women are more concerned than men about being able to advance in their careers while working from home.

Over the long-term, however, my hope is that structural changes to the way we work will benefit women – particularly working mothers. 

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COVID-19 has taught many employers that people can work from anywhere and at any time. The nine-to-five is being replaced by more flexible working days, better suited to people’s needs.

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Given that women in Latin America still perform a disproportionately high amount of unpaid work at home, such as childcare, this change will help women integrate their work and home lives in a way that suits them. Conversely, we can also hope that more flexibility around work will help men take on a greater share of unpaid home duties. Businesses will benefit from this change as they will be able to access a broader pool of talent.

Speaking as a working mother, I can say from my own experience that the net better off approach works. I’ve been with Accenture for more than 20 years, a company that really understands that you get the best from people if you take account of their needs as individuals. In my case, that meant supporting me during my maternity leave and recognizing my contribution to the company in the whole, rather than at any one specific moment – after all, I was promoted to MD shortly after returning from maternity leave. The company has also been supportive of flexible working patterns, so I have been able to manage bringing up three children without compromising on my dedication to my work.

Accenture’s research reveals the benefits to businesses of caring about their people holistically. The pandemic, meanwhile, has brought home the humanitarian element of the same. Employers across Latin America are beginning to realize they have a responsibility to their people as people and not just as workers. And that’s a great thing for their workers, their business and our communities.

See more on Workforce.

Patricia Feliciano

Managing Director, Talent & Organizational / Human Potential, Latin America Lead

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