How to Maximize Retention in the Changing Workplace
In our recent series about the Great Resignation, we explored how each generation is responding to ongoing changes in the workplace in the wake of the pandemic. This workplace trend does not show signs of slowing down. In fact, the most recent Gallup research shows that 48 percent of employees are considering a job change, which leaves employers scrambling to backfill open positions, in addition to hiring for new positions.
When the market for candidates, especially in technology, is so competitive, hiring efforts often become an all-consuming task. This singular focus makes it easy to forget about the people who choose to stay, inevitably leading to further turnover. To prevent this cyclical dilemma, a renewed focus on maximizing retention is critical.
The Resignation Cycle
A record 4.5 million private sector workers quit their jobs in November 2021, which is the highest number of monthly voluntary quits to date, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Further research suggests that many of these quits have occurred because of burnout and stress. Midway through the pandemic, a Microsoft survey reported that 54 percent of global workers were overworked, while another 39 percent were simply exhausted. Months later, this data still appears relevant. Towards the end of 2021 a survey from The Conference Board, a global nonprofit focused on business research, found that more than three quarters of U.S. workers were challenged by stress and burnout.
In addition, research from Gallup shows that 52 percent of exiting employees say their employers could have prevented them from leaving prior to submitting their resignation. However, with 10.6 million job openings in the market, it’s easy for leaders to become hyper-focused on backfilling positions that people have left, inadvertently making the employees who stay feel neglected and unheard. It is only a matter of time before they start looking for new opportunities, which perpetuates the resignation cycle.
Building a Retention Strategy
Social capital is one of the first elements to consider when addressing retention strategies. According to the Association for Talent Development, social capital can be defined as the beneficial bonds and cross-departmental interactions within a common network of people. Not only is social capital what makes people feel a sense of belonging to a group, but it is also a critical factor behind workplace innovation and productivity. Earlier in the pandemic, Harvard Business Review pointed out how social capital contributes to lower absenteeism, lower turnover, and better organizational performance. However, virtual work and social distancing have fragmented these bonds. When evaluating retention strategies, employers must recognize their employees’ need to feel connected again. Broadening and strengthening employee networks is essential, especially in remote and hybrid work models. To maximize interaction, collaboration, and connection, leaders may need to consider redesigning policies, work environments, and work schedules in a way that best supports their employees and maintains optimal levels of social capital.
Another key element behind retention is empathy. Gallup research shows that workers who have a manager willing to listen to their work-related problems are 62 percent less likely to burn out. The same report points out the significant impact of a caring manager. Unlike top executives, managers have a front-row seat to seeing and acknowledging their employees’ concerns and challenges. When managers respond to these situations with support and advocacy, their employees naturally feel more engaged in their work and with fellow team members. Additionally, an empathic ear gives managers direct insight into what individual workers need to perform at their best. For many, that is flexibility. For others, it is compensation, career growth, or recognition. There is no one-size-fits-all career path or environment for every employee, and only through an empathetic management approach can leaders determine what motivates people to stay for the long term.
Finally, a successful retention strategy is grounded in positive communication. Business leaders must work to understand the impact of their own words and actions. A Harvard Business Review article makes an interesting observation that is all too often overlooked: Many leaders unintentionally evoke uncertainty and fear within their workforce through the ways in which they communicate their own frustrations. For example, when something goes wrong or people leave, it is common for managers to express negative sentiments about the situation. However, shifting the focus to gratitude and recognition of the potential for positive outcomes can have a more motivating impact on employee morale. The important thing to realize is that people are always watching and listening, trying to interpret others’ behaviors and words. When employers understand the impact of their communication styles, they can be more intentional about making a positive impression, which in turn can improve retention.
Overcome the Great Resignation with a Stronger Retention Strategy
When employers are faced with record-high quit rates, it can be a challenge to shift their attention from hiring to retention. However, failing to prioritize retention strategies only serves to perpetuate high turnover, leaving employers stuck in a vicious cycle. Building a strong foundation of retention is essential in creating an engaged, productive workforce where team members are committed to staying for the long term. Regardless of your industry vertical, company size, or employee make-up, this foundation is built on social capital, empathy, and positive communication.