Employee retention is beginning to matter a lot more to many businesses.
We saw this as the Great Resignation swept the US last year, with millions of unfilled job openings and reportedly more than four million workers who quit their jobs – both significantly higher than in recent decades. It’s perhaps not surprising that the rates were high in hospitality and retail, areas that had been quick to lay staff off when the pandemic lockdowns started.
It seems that the pandemic has caused many workers to rethink priorities, or take the leap to different career paths. There are reports of some sectors losing more than one quarter of their employees and some industrial plants failing to retain any staff beyond a year.
While at first, economists and business reporters said Canadians were too prudent to leave work en masse, it seems that the Great Resignation is now gaining momentum in Canada and globally.
The Financial Post recently reported that while only 15 percent of Canadian workers quit their jobs in 2021, many more are thinking about it this year. More than 50 percent of generation Z and millennials indicated they might quit their current positions this year. Granted, that’s not the same as having left, but it does speak to a mindset.
Why do good employees leave?
Well, many folks have said they want more flexibility in the workplace. They’re simply not willing to let employers dictate the terms (especially now that the pandemic busted many remote work myths).
It’s not about bigger paycheques and status. The things that motivate people, particularly when times are tough globally, are not usually money and titles. Sure, those can help, but we’ve seen folks during the pandemic really double-down on things we’ve always said were important. Things like having a say in their own success, contributing tangibly to the organization, being respected, feeling engaged and empowered – and that their personal and organizational values align, learning on the job and being supported with training, working collaboratively with others and having at least one friend at work.
Departures can also be a sign that there aren’t opportunities at the moment. It’s time to assess whether internal staff feel left out of opportunities. Is there a bottleneck in progression in the organization? (In other words, a huge middle layer but small executive layer?) This is why it’s important to have an effective system for succession planning. Do you have a plan? Is it well communicated to staff (both those on it and those not yet on it)? Are people content with the culture but moving for experience? That can be good, if they come back some day with more skills and competencies.
It’s a red flag if you’re facing an exodus of employees. If people are leaving unexpectedly, or in droves, or your best people are resigning, then it may indicate there’s something wrong and you’ll want to find out what. Are there signs people are overworked and overwhelmed? That high performers don’t play nice with others? Exit interviews can help but if there is a real problem, they often don’t provide what you need because the people leaving typically distrust that leaders really care why they’re leaving. If you’re experiencing “bad departures” of top talent or large numbers quitting, then it’s often helpful to not only interview those exiting but interview those left behind. Those who stay might not be willing to disclose how they’re feeling but a good technique to find out what’s on their minds is to ask them what the reason others are leaving might be.
It’s essential to determine why staff are leaving. Is it something about the company culture that needs to be fixed? Or is it about opportunities? People moving on isn’t always a bad thing if they aren’t able to get what they need right now but they’re otherwise happy with the culture of the organization. Sometimes even a lateral move can offer challenge and experience. Moving on can mean an opportunity for them to grow and come back. Don’t lose touch with them.
Employee retention strategies
There are many ways to attract and retain top talent. These include:
- Offering what you may think of as perks (and employees may think of as needs). Think beyond a competitive salary. People are looking for flexible work schedules, remote work opportunities, bonuses for going above and beyond, profit sharing, retirement plans and RRSP matching, extra paid time off and topping up parental leave.
- Supporting health & wellness. Now more than ever, people want to feel their mental and physical health is important. More and more employers are offering enhanced and expanded extended health benefits (we heard one major employer increased counselling benefits from $500 to $2000 per year), Employee Assistance Programs and stress management sessions. Additionally, employers are reimbursing staff for fitness memberships.
- Communicating clearly. Not just sharing information, but leading transparently. When leaders communicate openly and honestly, it builds trust and strengthens teams. It’s particularly critical when you need to manage change.
- Valuing ongoing education and professional development. Employers who invest in developing skills and talents demonstrate they value team members. Providing paid time off to attend in-person or virtual education and paying for or reimbursing tuition will reap dividends. When upskilling is part of succession planning, future leaders, managers and supervisors are given opportunities to learn new competencies and take on projects that build their capacity (Pro tip: Request our Padraig succession planning guide).
- Providing Leadership Learning opportunities. Making room for education, on the job learning and professional development are important but leadership development is a particularly essential subset of learning that you must provide. Very few people who step into managerial and leadership roles feel prepared, and many don’t succeed. That’s devastating to them, the people they’re leading and the organization’s bottom-line. Providing ongoing leadership development shows you consider managing staff to be of critical importance, it shows those being led that the organization wants to support them with good leadership and it shows those who are leading that you support them growing into their roles. As well, it builds a culture of everyone taking ownership.
- Providing mentorship opportunities. We often think of mentoring for new or junior employees, which is important because pairing someone new with an experienced team member can build a good foundation and strong relationships. Consider, too, the benefits of offering peer learning opportunities to managers and leaders.
All of these employee retention strategies go a long way toward building a company culture that thrives and retains top talent.
When you think of employee retention, what have you observed? What signs do you see that people are unhappy or overworked? What employee retention strategies could be opportunities for your organization?