Starting A Great Retention
Strategies for Keeping and Attracting the Best and Brightest Talent
Vast numbers of employees reporting burnout and wishing to leave, record-level quit rates, and millions of unfilled positions have led to concerning new terms, such as “The Great Resignation” or “The Great Reshuffle” and for Baby Boomer employees who’ve had enough – “The Great Retirement.” However, for most business leaders, it is becoming a “Great Headache.” We live in a time of “greats,” and they are generally not too good. In addition, we see firsthand high levels of career unhappiness across multiple generations. So, as employees continue to leave in record numbers and leaders worry about keeping their best and brightest while bringing others on board to fill gaps and continue their growth, how do we begin to get a handle on this and start a “Great Retention”?
Of course, the pandemic is often seen as the root cause. After all, entire industries and labor pools have been affected (i.e., travel and hospitality), and some are seemingly changed forever due to the last 18 months. However, many of these challenges were already underway well before the pandemic – skills shortages, “war for talent,” record low unemployment, demographic shifts, generational attitudes concerning work, technology, and more. The pandemic has simply accelerated many of these changes.
As business leaders, how do we move our own companies from a “Great Resignation” to a “Great Retention”? How do we change from the reactive mindset of the last 18 months to a more proactive approach designed to not only attract great candidates but to keep your best and brightest employees from seeking greener pastures elsewhere? In our discussions with clients and candidates, there are three “Cs” to pay attention to in the ever-changing employment landscape: culture, communication, and capital (the human form). Spoiler alert – although important, “Compensation” is not one of them.
When talking with candidates, we typically ask what is prompting them to seek a new opportunity? Far and away, the number one answer is culture. They report no empathy, understanding, work/life balance, and how their company handled the challenges of the pandemic has them looking to leave. In fact, according to a recent PI People Management Report, nearly 50% of employees are considering striking out for something new. Moreover, this trend is primarily driven by those earlier in their careers – 49% of millennials and 56% of Gen Zers are looking to leave their current positions.
As we dig further into cultural challenges, we find a significant disconnect between company leaders and their employees in perceptions versus reality. For example, research from Human Resource Executive finds that 84% of CEOs believe empathetic organizations get stronger business results. On the flip side: 83% of employees would consider leaving their job to join a more empathetic employer. A case in point, we spoke to a candidate recently who was deeply insulted by his company leadership. He stated that the company went to a hybrid work schedule, usually a positive. “However, when they presented the plan, it was office days on Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays because the boss said he didn’t want anyone taking 4-day weekends. They don’t get it – we have been working harder than ever, the company’s growth has been exploding, and he flat out accused us of being lazy. I’m burning out, working more overtime and weekends than ever, and more than a few of my team said, ‘I’m outta here.’ It is never enough.” Sadly – a true disconnect and a wasted motivational opportunity.
Since the pandemic started, people who work from home across all generations are logging an average of two more hours of work per day. According to a recent Finery Report survey, 83% report working overtime was the norm, and 70% regularly work on the weekends. Pandemic burnout, resetting priorities, and a need for work-life balance are real. However, it also creates opportunities for companies with cultures that better address it through more flexible work schedules and letting employees have choices, setting clear work-life boundaries (fostering the need for a life outside of work), and increasing support. According to the Adobe survey, 78% of millennials and 74% of Gen Zers would switch jobs for a better work-life balance, even if offered the same compensation.
Communication: Talk or They’ll Walk
Working from home and hybrid work arrangements, while showing increased productivity, also make the employee feel less seen, heard, and valued. Our strategic partner, 15Five, a leader in employee engagement and management software, has just released their 2020 Workplace Report, and while there is no quick fix, a solution is emerging – frequent one-on-one meetings. When managers regularly communicate through ongoing one-on-one meetings, especially in WFH and hybrid environments, they increase their effectiveness as managers and their teams and company overall. The results are staggering:
- 82% of employees with weekly one-on-ones say they’re getting the support they need during the pandemic from their managers.
- 78% of employees state that weekly one-on-ones provide the necessary feedback they need to improve performance.
- 71% express more trust in their leaders, 72% feel more comfortable bringing up issues, and 73% are more motivated to go above and beyond in their role.
- Importantly, 1.4x are more likely to say they are currently looking for a new job with monthly or less frequent one-on-ones instead of weekly.
Regular communication helps bridge the gap. Consider the outside pressures your employees have been under the last (18) months. It is no wonder that “burnout” is often cited as the reason for leaving a company or manager – they are losing the feeling of connectedness to their manager, team, and company. Staying up to date with an employee through weekly meetings helps managers understand how their people handle their work and where they need more support and guidance. The message– Talk, or they will walk. Communicate with your people frequently and one-on-one.
Human Capital Investment
Another casualty of the last 18 months has been learning and development (L&D) programs – only 29% of organizations have clear development plans for their employees. In addition, 50% of employees say they are dissatisfied with L&D opportunities in their own companies. During the pandemic, investment and focus have been on making hybrid and WFH work for their people. However, without continued L&D, many employees leave because they seek these opportunities at other companies or are learning and upskilling independently.
We need to invest in our people and future growth. That starts with a mindset of developing our employees and their skillsets instead of simply replacing them – especially since the replacements are not to be found or would find a lack of L&D unattractive. According to Kristy McCann Flynn, an Organization Development Expert in her recent article The Reason Behind the Great Resignation That No One is Talking About, “Antiquated approaches and overpriced software solutions aren’t the magic bullets employers believe them to be. Companies may have gotten by with these in the past, but in today’s competitive hiring environment, they simply don’t cut it. As a result, employees are jumping ship.” The solution? Ask your people what they are looking for and what would make them more productive and successful, provide professional coaching and mentorship programs, and ditch the “one size fits all” approach for more personalized L&D. According to McCann Flynn, “Organizations are now in a critically short window of opportunity where they can opt to either offer learning and development that actually works or watch employees go elsewhere.”
No question, the pandemic has made many tough jobs even more challenging – especially that of a manager. It can be challenging for Gen Xer and Baby Boomer leaders for whom terms like “work-life balance” and “burnout” may have been seen in the past as weaknesses, but they are real and affecting everyone regardless of generation. Starting a Great Retention at your company starts with a people-focused approach to culture, communication, and continued investment in your human capital. First, examine your culture – is this how you would want to be treated if you were the employee? Are we offering our people the flexibility, choices, work-life boundaries, and support that increases engagement and retention – or by lacking in these areas, will they run for the exits? Second, are we regularly communicating with our people, improving connection, and listening? Lastly, are we increasing our investment in L&D, which will not only increase engagement and retention but will bring a measurable return in increased productivity and growth? Once leaders can positively answer these questions, then their own “Great Retention” can begin and continue well after the pandemic has faded into history.