Company leaders everywhere are nervous about the dreaded “R” word. No, we’re not talking about reopening, or even a potential recession brought on by a pandemic that just won’t go away. Instead, leadership teams are worried about retention, specifically the Great Resignation: the mass, voluntary exodus from the workforce that is predicted to happen over the next six months. Surveys from both Microsoft and Gallup predict between 40-50% of the workforce are actively searching for new opportunities and/or are already considering quitting their current roles.
Why So Much Discontent?
When the pandemic started, many organizations became so concerned with weathering the storm, they focused their human resources strategies on cut-backs, layoffs, and hiring freezes just to endure any slumps. They were so centered on staying in business, they didn’t think about maintaining the retention programs that would ensure their employees would want to stay with them if the business did survive. Add to that a workforce that quickly became used to working from home, often during the hours that suited them and their families best.
Now that the economy seems to have stabilized, many company leaders are scrambling to introduce (or re-introduce) retention programs to keep their employees put. Job satisfaction during challenging times is typically low — employees are overworked, and under-loved, and expected to “hang in there” without the promise of a raise, promotion or even extra vacation days until the company rebounds. Yet, most people will stay with their current employers until the situation resolves. Once the outlook improves, however, employees may feel safe to start looking.
What You Can Do
If your organization hasn’t seen employees leave yet — or even heard of people complaining, don’t assume you are safe. Just because employees are quiet, doesn’t mean they are happy. It is imperative that organizations act now to protect their most valuable assets. Don’t wait for people to start leaving before you put programs in place to entice them to stay. While leadership may be hesitant to pour money into non-essential initiatives, retention programs are a sound investment. Nothing can offset the gains made by fledgling companies like a mass exodus of staff. Here’s how you can institute effective retention strategies:
Identify key players
Look around the organization and identify your strongest employees. Include those that are critical to your current success and those that will be the leaders of tomorrow. Who has shown fortitude and persistence during the last 18 months? Which employees continue to hit their sales numbers or complete their projects in spite of the challenges thrown at them? Who inspires their peers or teams to do better? And, who does your organization need to get you where you want to go over the next several years?
Engage these employees
Start a dialog with the people you identified immediately. This is not the time to play coy. Be honest about why you want them, and how you see their roles fitting into the company’s future. This is also the time to ask them to discuss their short- and long-term career goals.
What do your star employees need from the organization to be happy and successful? What will satisfy them in their jobs, careers, and lives? Each person’s need and requests will most likely be different — and they don’t always require monetary compensation. A manager who is approaching retirement with two mortgages and three kids in college may ask for a raise. But others may need more time-off, professional development, or help with their weighty workload to be happy on the job.
A clear result of the pandemic is that more people are able to successfully work remotely. This has lead to a huge surge in employees not wanting to return to the office full time. Companies that insist on their workforce returning to the office are being short sighted and will lose their talent to more progressive thinking organizations. Whether offering a hybrid model or allowing employees to set their own schedules, offering flexibility will be key to retaining employees who have found that being in an office from 9-5 isn’t right for them.
Develop a tailored strategy
One size does not fit all in successful retention programs. Once you’ve heard what your employees need from you, work to accommodate those requests. If members of a high-performing team are feeling overworked, look to hire an assistant. If a parent is having difficulty balancing his work and home life, work with him to help alleviate that struggle. Leaving early one afternoon a week to coach Little League may do wonders for his job outlook (especially if the company also sponsors the team!). Another employee may want to give back through charitable work by serving weekly lunch at a local shelter. The organization should work with that person to make sure he or she is able to give back while feeling supported at work.
Include employees in the business direction and strategy
Another way to engage employees is to include them in the company’s growth plan by sharing the leadership team’s goals and vision, and asking for their input. By sharing the company’s vision and direction and asking for feedback, leadership shows employees that they have trust in them. And since the organization has invested in them, they will feel more invested in their employer. People will also have more buy-in about the business strategy if they have a voice in where the company is going, and in turn will feel more loyalty towards the organization.
Communicate early and often
Retention activities must not end after the initial conversation and action – this is an ongoing endeavor. Check back in with employees and continue to “take their temperature” to gauge the program’s success. Schedule routine sessions for feedback and fine-tuning your retention strategies.
Despite the pandemic, the economy has proved resilient and the hiring market is strong. Make sure to establish individualized retention programs that will assure that your most valuable assets are ready and willing to move the organization forward.
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