Workplace Attrition vs. Attraction: How Companies Can Retain Talent During “The Great Resignation”

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By Jill Whalen Helms

Senior Vice President of Human Resources

Employees are leaving their jobs in unprecedented numbers. Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that four million Americans quit their jobs in July alone—leading many to peg this trend as “The Great Resignation.”

It seems like almost every day, I have a conversation with a colleague or read an article about the challenge of attracting and retaining talent in today’s employment market. A workforce survey conducted by McKinsey further accentuated this ongoing challenge for organizations. Of the nearly 5,800 respondents, 40 percent stated that they are at least “somewhat likely” to leave their current job within the next three to six months.  Additionally, 36 percent of respondents that had left their employer did so without having a new job in hand.

So why are so many employees suddenly resigning from their jobs—even without new opportunities lined up? What can businesses do to better retain their talent without losing them to a competitor? Here are some strategies that HR professionals and managers can utilize to prepare for—and hopefully avoid—the turnover wave.

Understand what matters to employees

To effectively retain talent, companies must first understand the reason(s) why workers are choosing to stay or choosing to quit. Organizations must realize that workers are leaving for more than just better compensation—they want to bring their authentic selves to work, experience a sense of belonging, feel appreciated for their contributions, and have a connection to their colleagues

According to McKinsey, some of the most prevalent causes of attrition during the pandemic include:

  • Not valued by their manager
  • Not valued by their organization
  • Failed to find a sense of belonging at work (which was particularly true for non-white or multiracial employees)

Employees are pursuing employment opportunities where they can feel more welcomed and valued. Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace where employees can perform their best work will improve your ability to attract and retain talent.

Interested in developing a plan to promote inclusion and belonging for all employees? Learn more about gender nonconformity in the workplace.

Ask for feedback and take action

For HR professionals and executives, company culture is often at the top of their list of things that need continual refinement and improvement. Something as important as understanding how an organization’s employees perceive their company takes not just time, but considerable effort.

Leaders need to both listen and take action. When employee engagement surveys are conducted, results are often not shared effectively—and action plans are not developed in a timely manner. Employees are left wondering, “Why should I even bother to provide my input?”

If your organization is conducting an employee engagement survey, be sure to transparently share both positive feedback and areas of opportunity to improve with your workforce. After communicating this information, create action plans around the findings. Managers need to take an active role in the communication of survey results and action planning, as this is not strictly an HR initiative; rather, it is a leadership initiative.

It is imperative for leaders to meet with their teams and create action plans that can be implemented in the near future, preferably within 90 days. Ask employees to identify items that are within their control, such as changes to the format of team meetings, attending a DEI webinar together, or finding ways to volunteer in the community.  Taking action communicates to employees that their feedback matters.

Suffering from employee engagement problems while working remotely? Check out these creative strategies to keep your workers motivated while working from home.

Provide flexibility

Throughout the pandemic, millions of organizations shifted to a remote work model.  While some companies have remained fully remote, others have moved to a hybrid structure or even launched a large-scale effort to get employees back in the office.

While there are certainly advantages to in-person work, employers must be mindful that many employees have seen the benefits of remote work and desire to work remotely at least part of the time. In the study conducted by McKinsey, 87 percent of workers that accepted a new position in other cities did not need to relocate and were allowed to work remotely. This is a clear indication that the recruitment and employment market is changing to better align with candidates’ wants and needs.

Many employees report they are more productive when working remotely and have come to value the increased work-life balance. Whether they are caring for young children, elderly parents, or squirrelly pets, work-from-home setups enable workers to more effectively balance their personal and professional responsibilities.

When examining McKinsey’s survey results, many workers reported feeling undervalued and underappreciated in their roles. Allowing workers to provide input about return-to-office plans creates buy-in and could provide valuable information that your company may not have originally considered. Rather than making rash decisions that could very well backfire, it would benefit your organization to engage your employees and solicit input on return to office planning.

Read how your company can avoid office fireworks by properly navigating return-to-work decisions.

Summary

The past eighteen months have been a time of unprecedented change in the work environment. During this time, many employees have reassessed their personal and professional priorities. The road warrior has come to appreciate time home with their family, while two-hour commutes have been replaced by workout routines or family dinners.

Developing a more intimate understanding of what matters most to your employees is no longer a “nice to have.” Rather, this has become an organizational requirement to attract and retain high-performing talent. Companies that take the time to truly understand their employees will have a significant strategic advantage over their competitors. And those that don’t? Well, they might lose out on hiring the high-quality talent their business needs to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

Looking for more ways to mitigate employee turnover? Acara’s Shannon Callahan presents five strategies to help fight the turnover wave and retain top talent.

Battling attrition? Need help with recruiting?

Learn how large businesses are handling employee COVID-19 vaccinations.

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