Workplace flexibility, a focus on employee experience and empathy are key for business leaders, says YPO's Xavier Mufraggi

As we emerge from the pandemic, the world’s business leaders now face a new set of challenges. Nearly two-thirds of our CEOs are positive about their 2023 outlook but are concerned about inflation, supply chain constraints and geopolitical instability resulting from international conflicts, according to a survey conducted by the Young Presidents Organisation (YPO) with 1,681 executives, representing 96 countries and 47 industries. Mental health, hybrid work and employee retention are other top-of-mind issues for chief executives in the year ahead.

It’s critical that business leaders identify how best to capitalise on today’s unique business environment. What we’ve found across the board is that, in response to the current context of fast-paced change and economic volatility, top executives globally are doubling down on the employee experience by redefining the workplace and investing in employee well-being and retention.

What else has the survey uncovered? Here are some of the key takeaways I found from my peers and my thoughts as we head into 2023:

Executives remain positive overall about business, but optimism is curbed by elevated economic uncertainty.

Even as the world opens up, chief executives in Asia are concerned about geopolitical issues (30 per cent) and the recession (30 per cent), more so than their counterparts in other regions. Inflation and the diminished supply for goods and services are seen as powerful obstacles to business in Asia, with business leaders around the world predicting average price increases of 11.1 per cent in 2023.

The year ahead definitely calls for resilience, along with agility and flexibility. This might mean safeguarding supply chains, identifying risks or staying open to change, such as concentrating more on domestic markets closer to home. The threat of having your business disrupted by new digital competitors persists, but instability will remain the most pressing issue—how do we invest wisely not knowing what lies ahead, while knowing that waiting it out isn’t an option?

Also key for business leaders in the year ahead is to diversify the people and perspectives around us. We have a tendency to surround ourselves with people from the same industry and background who may not feel comfortable challenging us, so we need to actively seek outside opinions and turn to trusted peers from other industries. Opportunities and threats may be obvious from an outside perspective removed from our day-to-day, while we ourselves are sometimes on autopilot.

Employers can attract top talent by focusing on key drivers of growth and enhancing the employee experience.

Despite the downturn in the global economy, prevailing trends such as the “Great Resignation” have led to an increased focus on making companies attractive places to work. To this end, YPO’s members employ diverse strategies including competitive compensation and bonuses (71 per cent) as well as flexible working hours (57 per cent) and a hybrid or remote work environment (53 per cent).

Significantly, when it comes to key growth drivers, communication to and amongst employees has seen the biggest jump over the last two years, with 59 per cent of chief executives reporting improvement. Along with increases in innovation, collaboration and diversity and inclusion efforts, CEOs in Asia Pacific reported higher percentages of employee engagement.

If you aim to hire and retain top talents in any position, your organisation needs to foster a positive, flexible and inclusive environment. Institute a formalised policy that focuses on internal promotions. I also recommend that executives avoid hiring talents (no matter how sought-after) who change companies every two years.

When I was with Club Med, we were able to continually set new performance records because of our unwavering focus on an inclusive environment that promoted internally whenever possible, even when the internal candidate had significantly less experience. Doing this ensures a diverse talent pool and boosts employee morale. In my last year as CEO of Club Med North America, the average age of our new resort general managers was 31. This group included two outstanding women who became general managers at the ages of 25 and 26. Within the industry, our overall employee engagement score was in the top 10 per cent.

Workplace settings have to stay flexible.

While non-traditional work arrangements such as hybrid and remote work are now commonplace, the definition of “workplace” continues to evolve in our post-pandemic world. Pre-pandemic, 82 per cent of executives reported their primary work setting as on-site. But in 2022, this dropped to 47 per cent. Globally, 40 per cent of respondents reported that hybrid work is here to stay as their permanent and primary work setting.

As a business leader, I personally favour on-site work. It allows me to connect with every team member effectively and sense the team’s energy, immediately sensing confidence or fear. It can be hard to gain people’s trust or share vulnerabilities without in-person connections. Having said that, at YPO, we have associates located worldwide so we have a variety of work arrangements. Like many of my colleagues, I also enjoy the flexibility of working from home. I might wake up at 6AM for a Zoom call but can also bring my daughters to school at 7:45AM and welcome them when they return in the afternoon. Considering these factors, I would conclude that a hybrid work arrangement is the best solution.

I plan to save on our office-related costs and instead spend it on team retreats and social budgets that international team members can use to meet colleagues living in their neighbourhood once a month. In addition, employees working close to the office should aim to come in twice a week on the same days. There should be no meetings scheduled from 12 to 2PM, and half the day should be focused on in-person meetings and building connections. In the future, I foresee that many companies may share an office, using it on alternate days.

Mental health support in the workplace continues to be very important.

More than two-thirds (78 per cent) of chief executives YPO surveyed have mental health on their priority list, while almost half (49 per cent) reported that they have or plan to implement a mental health policy. Creating a mentally well workplace is all about cultivating the right company culture in which staff feel empowered to share their concerns.

My top recommendation when it comes to mental health is to talk about it. It is not a taboo topic and engagement can dramatically impact your team’s engagement and performance. Proposing external hotlines is not enough—be open about sharing your own experiences. I have a family member who has struggled with significant mental issues for years and is still at risk. It was hard for me to talk about it when I was growing up, but now I am open to it. We are all human, and even CEOs burn out. Being honest about your own challenges goes a long way in helping your team to open up too.

It’s important that leaders demonstrate empathy as part of company culture. Transactional leadership—or a rigid top-down approach—has become outdated. Acknowledging our employees as individuals and respecting their needs and concerns when they share them will create meaningful bonds that can see you through the most difficult times.

Tatler Asia
Xavier Mufraggi, CEO of YPO
Above Xavier Mufraggi is the CEO of YPO. A dynamic professional with a strong background in strategic marketing, Mufraggi started his career at Kraft Foods/Mondelez before taking on the positions of CEO of Club Med resorts North America and CEO of Club Med Europe Middle East Africa markets. A sought-after speaker, he is widely recognised for his operational leadership, talent development, and digital and operational transformations.

This piece is part of a collaboration between Tatler Asia and Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO), a global leadership community of chief executives, which counts more than 30,000 members from 142 countries among its members.

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