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Louise Lutgens, managing director of talent innovation and strategic investments at KPMG, says that employers are at risk of losing female talent should other opportunities come knocking.Tijana Martin

Are you ready for an exodus? Women are feeling a lot less loyal to their employers than they were before.

Six out of 10 Canadian women are less committed to their workplace today than they were prior to the pandemic, according to a recent survey by KPMG in Canada.

While only 28 per cent of women surveyed said they are actively looking for new jobs, employers are at risk of losing female talent should other opportunities come knocking, says Louise Lutgens, managing director of talent innovation and strategic investments at KPMG.

“I think women will choose with their feet,” Ms. Lutgens says. “Whether women are actively looking for a new job or not, employers need to realize loyalty is not a given.”

So how can employers engender more loyalty and stave off a women-led talent exodus?

While it may seem counter-intuitive, the KPMG data shows that giving more freedom to employees could be key to winning their loyalty.

Flexibility in where and when work happens

While people of all types have experienced shifts in priorities through the pandemic, women in particular are reassessing their work lives, says Ms. Lutgens. The complexity of managing work commitments with personal commitments and having to be increasingly productive in less-than-ideal circumstances has created a disconnect, leading many women to rethink what matters to them.

In March, KPMG surveyed 1,000 Canadian women across a broad swath of industries, at all stages of their careers. Work-life balance was identified as the most important consideration at every stage, notes Ms. Lutgens, becoming increasingly important as women progress in their careers.

“Nearly 40 per cent of mid-career women identified work-life balance as the most important consideration,” she says. Compensation, flexible work arrangements and purposeful work were ranked second, third and fourth.

In order to help women achieve better work-life balance, employers should be looking at more flexible work arrangements, says Ms. Lutgens. Seven in ten respondents in the survey said they would prefer to work on-site 2-3 days per week.

“We’ve all proven through the pandemic that we can work remotely and be equally productive, so continuing to give women that flexibility in their work environment is paramount,” Ms. Lutgens says.

Employers should endeavour to build an environment “anchored in trust and focused on delivery of outcomes, versus time in a chair.”

Flexibility is not only about where women work – on-site or at home – but the hours and days they work, Ms. Lutgens notes. Women want flexibility to meet work commitments alongside their commitments to children, elder parents and the myriad other responsibilities they may have.

Organizations may want to consider tailored solutions for employees that are customizable depending on their individual situations and needs, she says. That customization could extend to the benefits an organization provides for its employees.

“Employees may need more emphasis on certain benefits that matter more at different points in their careers, and [employers] may want to make sure that people have options [with] more tailored offerings that meet those needs,” Ms. Lutgens says.

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Silvia Gonzalez-Zamora, partner and national inclusion and diversity practice leader at KPMG, says that the first step employers need to take to renew waning loyalty is to listen to their employees.Tijana Martin

Work hard, play hard

The survey indicated that the most important factor keeping women loyal to their employers is more time off. Almost three-quarters of respondents say the ability to take additional or extended time off is something they will look for in a new job.

That’s something KPMG is prioritizing for their own employees, notes Ms. Lutgens. In addition to vacation allocations, each KPMG employee has 50 personal care hours they can use as needed. The company also has a “Summer Splash” program that gives all employees Fridays off throughout July and August, as well as additional time off between Christmas and New Year’s.

Silvia Gonzalez-Zamora, partner and national inclusion and diversity practice leader at KPMG, points out that it’s important to adapt policies to the individuality of what work-life balance means to each employee.

“Work-life balance is very different for every one of us,” she says.

There can be a misconception that single or younger women who are in the early stages of their careers are happy to work longer hours and need less time off. But Ms. Gonzalez-Zamora notes that women are burning out at all stages of their work lives. “We don’t just need balance because we have children or elders at home,” she says. “We see in the poll that we need time off even if we are single.”

Avoiding attrition in a tight talent market

The cost of losing employee loyalty can be very high for employers, Ms. Gonzalez-Zamora says, especially in the current competitive talent market. “People are able to find other jobs,” she says.

“Through the pandemic, we saw people burning out. We saw people not feeling included in the decision-making. We saw many women asking, ‘What is the purpose of me working here?’ All these great moments of reflection are really making people question if they’re with the right employer.”

There are ways employers can renew waning loyalty, says Ms. Gonzalez-Zamora. First and foremost, employers need to listen. Focus groups, surveys and engagement with female staff can tell an employer what the women in their organization want and will help them feel heard in the workplace.

But it’s essential that employers follow up that listening with real action, she says.

“For example, employers [will be] seen as performative if they say they’re going to be more flexible and then ask everyone to come back to the office without recognizing individual needs. It is about listening, committing and then doing what you are [being] asked to do.”

In this talent-driven labour market, there is a very different balance in the “social contract” between workers and employers than there has been in the past, Ms. Gonzalez-Zamora says. Employers need to provide more freedom and flexibility for the women in their workforce, regardless of their stage of life, and keep an open dialogue to ensure they are being responsive as the employees’ needs change and evolve.

“Employers can avoid the risks of attrition and really pull towards retention if they have open, real and candid conversations with women in their workforce, as well as current and next generation female leaders,” she says.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with KPMG. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.