Created by The Atlantic’s marketing team and paid for by PwC
Re:think Original / PwC
Why Employee Empowerment Is Likely the Future of Work
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Flexible Work
Professional Development
Employee Wellbeing
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Successful organizations invest in their employees. But as those employees' needs and expectations change, PwC is working to meet that shift with flexible, personalized career paths–creating a blueprint for empowering people going forward.

Illustrations by YUKAI DU

S uccessful organizations likely understand the value of investing in their people. but the nature of that investment is changing.

Just ask Yolanda Seals-Coffield. As Chief People Officer at PwC, one aspect of Seals-Coffield’s job is to think about how employees can thrive inside and outside of work. While that’s important for any organization, for PwC US, a professional services firm with roughly 65,000 people, it’s crucial.

“We’re only as good as the people who work with us and for us,” she says. “Having great people with the right skills to deliver for our clients is our chief priority.”

In recent years, Seals-Coffield has found what employees need from their jobs has shifted. They’re reassessing where and how they want to work—and what they want to work on. They’re gravitating toward organizations that allow them to make time for their personal commitments, take care of their own well-being, and match their values to their assignments. They want employers to support their ongoing growth and development, too.

“Historically, large segments of our people join us at the entry level, as auditors, for example, and spend their entire careers in that space.” Seals-Coffield says. “More recently, we’re seeing a growing base of people who want different experiences. They come into organizations like ours and say, ‘Well, I don’t want you to put me in a box. I want to have more personalization and more agency around how I grow and develop.’”

How can companies meet these new expectations, and compete in the global race for talent? By giving people the tools they need to personalize their experiences across their individual career journeys.

“Employees don’t want to be a widget in the factory,” says Paul Griggs, PwC Vice Chair and My+ Sponsor. “They want some degree of control.”

To that end, PwC is making a tremendous investment and implementing changes across its enterprise to create a new people experience called My+. Rooted in 18 months of research, specialist input, and employee feedback, My+ is designed to change the work experience in many areas, including the following:

Flexibility and well-being

Seals-Coffield’s work schedule used to be predictable: Five days a week, she commuted from her home to PwC’s Manhattan office. But when the COVID-19 pandemic began to surge, Seals-Coffield found herself figuring out how to work from a home office, alongside her husband and children. She wasn’t the only one—for people whose jobs could be done remotely, telework soared during the pandemic. Today, hybrid arrangements in which employees split work time between home and office have become much more common.

“We learned that we could still do our jobs really well in a different environment,” Seals-Coffield says. “So if I’m someone who has worked that way for the past two years, I start to think, ‘I’ve got more agency around how I juggle what I need in my personal life with what I need in my professional life.’”

In 2021, PwC became the first major professional services firm to offer and formalize the option to work virtually to its 40,000 client service employees. With My+, the firm is building and expanding on that flexibility, providing opportunities for people to work from a variety of locations, adopt reduced schedules, and take leaves of absence.

The goal, Seals-Coffield says, is to leverage one of the major lessons of the pandemic: that employees can thrive when their careers can be personalized. Many studies have found that remote and hybrid workers are happier and more productive than employees who lack flexibility.

“A big part of the way we think about flexibility and well-being is meeting our people where they are,” she says. “And that’s not static—whether I’m a new parent, getting involved in a community project, or looking after an aging parent, what I need in my life is likely to change year over year. So we want to create an experience where our people can continue to grow, contribute, and develop in the firm and still manage those things.”

Learning and development

Over the last two years, the so-called Great Resignation saw 38 percent of working adults in the US change jobs. Predictably, better pay was the top reason for switching, but better professional opportunities ranked as a close second. For Griggs, this isn’t surprising. He works with the firm’s clients on growth, innovation, and internal process transformation—in other words, helping them meet or exceed their goals and achieve success.

Like Seals-Coffield, Griggs saw a shift across the business world and inside PwC. More than ever, people were open to and seeking change. “Through external research and interviews with our own employees and partners, we found that, fundamentally, what encourages people to be productive is feeling engaged,” he says. “It’s seeing opportunities.”

For PwC, this was a lightbulb moment. As part of My+, the firm will provide additional leadership training and coaching, teaching trust, active listening, constructive feedback, and other interpersonal skills that can help employees be more engaged.

Working for a large firm that covers a wide range of business areas ranging from cybersecurity to auditing to communications, PwC employees looking to advance their careers and build out their skill sets may feel overwhelmed at the sheer number of options and opportunities to choose from. My+ aims to shift the career progression experience, making it more personalized. PwC’s internal technology platform will change how people move through the firm—whether that means matching their current interests and skills to new working opportunities, or exploring entirely new interests and skills.

“Imagine picking up your phone, and an app contains client and project opportunities, as well as available staff who are interested in the opportunities,” Griggs says. “It provides the nature of the work, the purpose of the project, the hours required, the industry involved, the skill set needed. And if you’re lacking [that skill set], here is a direct link to our learning assets to obtain this training or certificate.”

“All of this is in the palm of your hand.”

Personalized benefits

The pandemic was first and foremost a health crisis—and a stark reminder that businesses should not expect to be successful if they neglect the well-being of their people.

Before COVID, PwC offered its employees six free sessions with mental health professionals—a benefit that saw increased participation during the pandemic. In response, the firm doubled the number of sessions provided to 12, and increased the reimbursement amount for out-of-network mental health support from 70% to 90%.

Through My+, PwC is further evolving its benefits to support personal well-being at every stage of life. That means expanding parental leave for all parents from eight to 12 weeks. It also means introducing a concierge service to help people better understand their benefits and how they work, as well as help them determine what benefits can work for them during life events and challenges.

“The next stage in our evolution is to make our benefits experience even more personalized,” Seals-Coffield says. “How do we create a way for people to identify the types of benefits they need and take advantage of those and not the ones they don’t need, so that they are able to use their dollars more effectively?”

For PwC’s employees, this data-driven, tech-enabled, people-centered approach has already produced positive change in another area of well-being: downtime. Earlier this year, the firm added a second week-long, firmwide shutdown in the US —which means that twice a year, in July and December, their people in the US have an uninterrupted period to unplug and recharge. PwC also encourages employees to use their vacation days by utilizing technology that makes it easier to schedule time off, and the firm expects leaders to support that goal.

For Seals-Coffield, these changes reflect her own experience working during the pandemic.

“I actually did not know how to disconnect from my computer at night,” she says. “I did not know how to work in this world where my laptop was right in front of me all the time. So what we’re trying to do is drive this underlying culture shift around how we value rest and renewal.”

Connection and community

While the pandemic scrambled many previously-held assumptions about workplace culture, it did not lessen the importance of connection and community. To the contrary, social isolation measures were a powerful reminder that people derive happiness and purpose from their relationships at work.

To nurture those relationships, PwC plans to increase its investment in both its current employees and its alumni —the latter being a group of people who can carry the firm’s values into the wider business world. “The growth and development our experience provides benefits our employees and the firm, “Griggs says. “If you’re outside the firm and you speak highly of your time at PwC, you’re helping us attract talent. If you raise your hand in a meeting and say, ’someone call PwC, I know what they can do,’ you’re making potential clients more likely to bring us into a project.”

More than anything else, Seals-Coffield says, empowering people means listening to them. Organizations that actively and eagerly solicit their people’s thoughts and feedback—and follow-through on what they hear—will likely be well-positioned to adapt and succeed going forward.

“When we set out on this journey, we were really intentional about listening,” she says. “We asked our people to tell us where we need to be. Big, bold, creative scary ideas. Someone suggested that we buy a cruise ship and have work at sea.”

“We aren’t buying a cruise ship,” Seals-Coffield says with a laugh. “But our employees are the leading source of information about what works and what doesn’t. And they continue to be that. Listening is how you go back to the drawing board and create something new.”