The great resignation, the great reckoning, and the great reconsideration - all names that have been used to describe the current trends of employees increasingly leaving their jobs in pursuit of more - more freedom, flexibility, and choice - to name a few. The reasons behind the ‘’turnover tsunami’’ are varied and complex; largely accelerated due to a global pandemic, which has engendered feelings of employee dissatisfaction and burnout. In a time of heightened resignation, it’s imperative that leaders and employers focus on strengthening retention strategies. Often, what employers think employees want is entirely different from what employees actually want. This incongruence of thought is what leads to resignation in the first place - and therefore, the root of the problem needs to be dealt with. As a Leadership Coach, I have heard both sides of the story - I have clients who are trying to retain their team members, and I also have clients who are contemplating resignation. Understanding the why behind high turnover rates is the first step to addressing the problem - followed by building on retention strategies accordingly. In this article, I will walk you through some retention strategies, as well as explain how talent development can also help with retention.
What Factors Have Contributed to The ‘’Turnover Tsunami’’?
2021 has seen people quitting their jobs at a record pace in what’s been dubbed the Great Resignation. A number of complex reasons are behind this mass exodus of the workforce. Let’s look at some of these reasons:
- Rising mental health concerns: The pandemic has left many people overwhelmed and burnt out. The seemingly never-ending ness of the pandemic, and the yo-yo effect of good news followed by bad news, are stressors that have worn people down. Many people have simply had enough - and feel unsupported by their employers. This is something I see again and again with my clients. In fact, a third of workers – managers and non-managers alike – said in an Inc.com Survey that they were considering changing companies for the sake of their mental health. Another client during our coaching session mentioned that she has lived alone throughout the pandemic and feels like she is slipping into depression with hardly any human contact. She is also concerned that her productivity has dropped drastically and so has her self-esteem.
- Burnout: This word “Burnout” instantly reminds me of a client who is a senior leader in a technology company. In every coaching session, she tells me that she is ready to resign, that she cannot take the stress anymore. Quite simply, she is burning out. With two small children and schools not opening in India, she is struggling greatly to balance work with her personal life. She does not have a lot of support from her organization - her workload, timelines, and expectations have not shifted at all - although her personal responsibilities have.
- A shift in mindset: The pandemic also elicited new workplace norms that embrace remote work and flexible schedules. Because of this, employees have had the opportunity to reassess their priorities and preferences. Organizations that have not adapted to these employee needs, are experiencing higher levels of turnover.
- Employers not understanding employee wants and needs: In recent times we have seen a reappraisal of employee wants and needs - employees are looking for workplaces that are meaningful, and offer far more support beyond a paycheck. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report, a staggering 93% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. Organizations that treat employees as ‘’cogs in a wheel’’ rather than humans who deserve nurturing and development - are also experiencing the effects of the turnover tsunami.
In the next section, I will discuss an antidote to the turnover tsunami: talent development.
What is Talent Development - And Why Should It Be Nurtured?
According to Capabilities for Talent Development: Shaping the Future of the Professional (ATD Press, 2020), talent development refers to the efforts that foster learning, employee engagement, talent management, and employee development to drive organizational performance, productivity, and results. It can be a driving force for organizational results by creating the processes, systems, and frameworks that advance training and development strategies, succession planning, and learning opportunities.
Talent development helps individuals to find their energy and focus on bringing their best selves to the workplace. It is critical that organizations nurture employee strengths - and employ such strengths in a team setting.
‘’When we think about talent development, we think about performance management; we think about goals—things at the individual level. And that’s not a terrible place to start. But real work always happens in collaboration; it always happens in combination; it always happens in teams.’’ Marcus Buckingham
Retention Strategies: What Actually Works?
Now that we have examined the why behind the resignation, it’s time to look at the “what” of an employee retention strategy - and how to execute upon this. Retention starts with thoroughly understanding employee needs.
Organizations that take the time to learn why - and act accordingly - will have an edge in retaining talent. Let's look at some well-crafted retention strategies:
- Take A Thorough, Data-Driven Approach to Understand Your Employee Needs
Organizations will not be able to execute effective retention strategies if they fail to understand employee needs. This is why it is critical to ask for employee feedback via measurable methods. Employers must take a data-driven approach to improve retention: data that will help determine not just how many people are resigning, but who exactly has the highest turnover risk (e.g. employee demographics), why people are leaving, and what actions can be put in place to prevent the turnover tsunami. Exploring metrics such as compensation, pay increases, tenure, performance, and training opportunities can help to identify trends and blind spots within your organization. To help discover demographic trends, organizations can conduct surveys that segment employees by categories such as gender, ethnicity, race, religion, location, job function, etc. to better understand how work experiences and retention rates differ across distinct employee populations. Whatever the employee concern or struggle may be, organizations must focus on addressing the root causes of the problem.
- Develop Tailored Retention Programs
Once the root causes of turnover have been identified, create highly customized programs aimed at correcting the specific issues that your workplace struggles with most. Employee retention programs can help you protect your most valuable assets: your people. High turnover rates cost time and money and indicate that your organization is not an environment in which employees can thrive. Your tailored retention program should include the following elements:
- Measure your turnover rate against industry benchmarks: Use the appropriate formulas and tools to calculate your employee turnover rate, compare it to your industry’s average and analyze your findings.
- Assess your work environment: Ensure that your work environment attracts, retains, and nourishes great people. Offering flexible work schedules, setting up a work from home policy, and encouraging a culture in which employees take time off are all factors that help retention.
- Foster recognition: employees want to receive recognition for their work when they actually do the work and not much later, otherwise they don’t feel valued. Simple praise will do wonders for your employees' motivation. Managers can use messaging apps like Slack (or other communication tools) to announce great results and give public credit to their team members’ achievements.
- Invest in Personal Development and Growth
Great employees are interested in growing and developing their careers - and organizations that foster this will reap the benefits of stronger retention rates. Development is no longer an optional perk or reserved for certain positions - it’s expected by today’s talent. However, with only 29 percent of organizations offering clear learning and development plans, many employees are set up to feel undervalued and underdeveloped. Development signals that the employer values their employees and are actively interested in their success. Here are four effective strategies for developing your talent - and keeping them learning and happy:
- Develop Life Skills: I am consciously choosing to call it life skills and not soft skills for these are skills that help employees organize their life and grow their careers. Relevant skills like leadership, communication, collaboration, networking, and time management are crucial for career success. A coaching client shared that he is struggling to make sense of his new role after promotion. He is now required to multi-task, collaborate with other functions and manage projects. He struggles with prioritization. Coaching is helping him break everything into small buckets and prioritize. While there are plenty of courses for developing these life skills, I would also urge companies to consider offering professional business coaching for longer-lasting growth and development.
- Offer Opportunities for Continuous Learning: The problem with employee learning is that employees are often offered long and tedious seminars, courses, and day courses - in which excess information is overloaded onto the employee. The trouble here is that the effectiveness of such courses is short-lived, and attention spans typically dwindle within the first few hours of learning. Instead, offer employees opportunities to learn incrementally. As mentioned above, professional business coaching can be a great asset to employee development - and the structure of meeting with a coach regularly can keep employees on track, without feeling overwhelmed with an overload of learning.
- Integrate Learning Into Employee Experience: Training and development should be an integral part of the employee experience. Rather than relegating learning to nothing more than a ‘must-do’ - organizations must take the time to weave the learning experience into the core function of the business.
Prioritize Work-Life Balance and Encourage Employees to Explore Their Hobbies
Work-life balance is a buzzword these days, but to really put action behind it, leaders must actively encourage it in their leadership practices. During a coaching session, a business leader shared a great idea with me. He tells his team to prepare a blackout period each day. During this time, employees do not need to show up for anyone. There’s an excel sheet for the blackout period time slots, and it could be anything - from yoga to childcare needs, to cooking - no questions asked. The leader who created this blackout schedule has been rewarded with 0% attrition throughout the covid pandemic- which just goes to show how important prioritizing work-life balance is.
Another piece of the retention puzzle is interestingly found in the exploration of hobbies outside of the workplace. The pandemic caused many people to take a step back from life as usual and explore their hobbies.
In a recent large workshop session, I brainstormed with managers on how to retain their teams. An interesting piece emerged: a lot of people are becoming more interested in hobbies, and more in touch with their identities outside of work. This is a new phenomenon for many - as our identities have so often been merged with our business cards. One person shared with me how she has developed a passion for cooking thanks to exotic recipes on youtube and feels like she can start a weekend food delivery business. She is considering resigning from her full-time job if her food business picks up. I asked her ‘’Do you hate your job?’’, and she replied to me ‘’No, I love my job, and if I can find a way to do both I would love to’’. I told her to speak to her manager about this, and the possibility of reducing her current workload. She immediately responded: ‘’He won’t listen to me’’. If the managers are open and supportive, an alternate source of income can co-exist with a job. Being unsupportive of people’s hobbies, passion projects, and alternate streams of income is not conducive to retention. In fact, it drives people away - who are unable to balance their work with their passions.
Be Flexible: Offer Hybrid Or Remote Work Opportunities Where Possible
Companies that offer hybrid or remote work opportunities have the upper hand when it comes to retaining employees. A coaching client shared an interesting story pertaining to this with me. He explained that none of his coworkers lived in the city in which they worked- because, throughout the pandemic, almost all employees went back to their villages or towns from the city. Recently, the company announced that the office has reopened and everyone must return full-time. Many have found roots in their towns or villages and are not keen to come back. I asked this client to reflect on the need for full-time office work, and to reflect on the positives of the last year and a half that he is happy about, and to reflect on what has been missed in terms of deliverables. I asked him to consider a hybrid model, and to look at the possibility of incentivization for 20% of staff who are willing to come back, and let 80% of staff be where they want to be. Companies that trust their teams to deliver, without necessarily needing a physical presence- will enjoy higher retention rates than those with an inflexible approach.
An increasingly high number of employees are resigning, or thinking about doing so. Organizations that take the time to learn why, act accordingly, and invest in talent development and effective retention programs will have a clear competitive advantage. Employees that do not feel appreciated or invested in - will ultimately become unhappy employees. And unhappy employees are those that are most likely to resign. The great resignation is real, but this unique moment of reshuffling presents massive opportunities. To seize it, organizations must take a step back, listen, learn, and make the changes that employees want.