turning the great resignation into the great retention

Companies growing and hiring are facing some of their biggest challenges ever in finding and keeping good talent. For at least the past five years, we’ve faced an employee’s market when it comes to hiring. Even through the COVID-19 crisis, many organizations were still challenged with attracting talent with the right skills. In fact, according to Gartner’s 2021 HR Priorities Survey, 68% of HR leaders cited building critical skills and competencies as their number one priority in 2021.

Keeping, retaining and growing talent with the right skills is not only imperative to your workforce plan; it’s imperative to grow the business. At the same time, we’re facing what Texas A&M University professor Anthony Klotz coined ‘The Great Resignation,’ a time of high unintended turnover. Monster estimates that 95% of US workers are considering changing jobs this year. The BBC says that 38% of UK workers are planning to quit in the next six months to a year. Clearly, growing businesses cannot keep attracting talent through the front door only to see them exit out the back. Rather, companies must keep who they have. To solve this problem, let’s reframe it as potentially ’The Great Retention.’

related content: how top employers embrace redeployment and retention initiatives to engage employees and promote brand.

why employees are seeking new opportunities

Let’s start by digging into the reasons people are leaving or considering leaving. As the most acute crisis facing the world right now, the COVID-19 pandemic has created conditions in which many are reconsidering their options. Beginning at the lower levels of an employee’s hierarchy of needs, safety is a big concern for many employees. Many essential workers in healthcare, hospitality and education have faced increased risks as they were sent back to work earlier than others. And as companies consider returning their professional workers to offices, the population of concerned employees is growing. A recent survey from The Conference Board found that nearly one-third (31%) of workers that have been working remotely during the pandemic are not comfortable returning to the office.

Not only do employees face a risk of contracting the latest virus variant and bringing it home to potentially unvaccinated or high-risk family members, but they could also face retaliation from employers for voicing their concerns. While in the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new guidelines to protect workers who speak up about potential COVID-19 safety concerns, many front-line managers have yet to adjust and continue to create environments lacking both physical and psychological safety. Thus, workers are considering their options.

For others, the massive changes brought about by the pandemic have caused them to reflect on their personal priorities. For example, Anika has been a product manager with an Austin-based tech firm and has been identified as a high-potential employee. With the COVID-19 crisis, she was unable to see her parents in Denver for over a year and her children missed critical time with their grandparents. She and her spouse decided to relocate their family back to her hometown of Denver. She gave up a director title and full-time role to take on contract work so she could have more flexibility to help the family settle in – a price she was willing to pay to fit the life she wanted. During any time of disruption, people reconsider their personal priorities and often shift job roles or responsibilities to better suit their new vision of their lives.

Being asked to commute again and return to the office can create one of those inflection points. Companies like Apple, which invested heavily in a new campus shortly before COVID-19, have adopted a hybrid return to work model, though the return has been delayed as COVID-19 variants are spiking cases. For many family caretakers, especially women, working from home may be their only option as schools remain closed in some parts of the world or some choose to keep unvaccinated children at home. Many women globally have already been forced to leave the workforce, and employers requiring returns to the office may see many caretakers choose new employment. In some parts of the world, such as Japan, the work culture makes it very difficult to work outside of an office environment. ‘Officism’ or ‘presenteeism’ is built into the collaborative, interdependent work systems where team results are evaluated over individual contributions. Thus, most companies in Japan continue to require workers to be in the office.

related content: 4 ways impactful career coaching can support a smooth return to office.

adapting to the ‘era for employees’

These conditions, in conjunction with the unique, in-demand skills that many workers possess, has shifted power and choice to the employee. Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley recommends companies take a cooperative, not directive, approach with their employees. In her book Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere, Neely says, ‘We’re in an era where people have tasted a different way of working, a different way of connecting with the people they cohabitate with, a reduced level of stress from the reduction of commutes, saving more money.... This is the era for employees.’

In this ‘era for employees,’ what can companies do to prevent The Great Resignation and turn it around into The Great Retention?

In short, give employees opportunities. Opportunities to grow. To learn. To do new things. To take on new responsibilities. To make more money. To find more balance. To align their new priorities to meaningful work.

In many companies, those opportunities were provided because of rapid business model shifts during the past year and a half. We’ve collected many stories of pandemic-forced rapid redeployment, a fast retraining and movement of employees to accommodate new business models. For many companies and employees, a new awareness dawned: employees had transferrable skills and companies could use their talents in new ways.

related content: how rapid redeployment can help companies avoid layoffs and decrease costs.

What many organizations seek now are systems to enable redeployment and internal mobility in a more planned, systemic way. In fact, according to our recent ‘2021 Guide to Severance & Workforce Transition,’ nearly 80% of HR leaders said they have formal redeployment programs in place to help workers find new roles internally and 88% of organizations encourage team members to apply to new roles internally.

encouraging internal mobility

If your organization has shifted its business model in the past year, chances are there are internal opportunities for your employees that they haven’t even considered. One company we know had to shift rapidly from in-person corporate training to online e-learning, creating both opportunities for instructional designers to learn online methodologies and new roles like e-learning content managers. Consider which new roles may be available in your company and make them transparent to your current employees. It’s also critical to recognize that your employees may need help identifying what they want more or less of in their careers. A Prudential study of employees considering leaving their jobs post-pandemic showed that 72% are rethinking their skill sets. Additionally, among employees planning to look for a new job in 2021, having ‘mobility opportunities’ is a top factor that would encourage them to stay.

related content: 3 ways to support an employee-first experience through internal career growth opportunities.

Your employees may also need a nudge in the right direction with data and insights on which skills have the brightest market outlook and which are a good fit based on their current skill sets. Adding human guidance in the form of an external career coach can help them apply these insights to their own career plans, aligning their interests and skills to the needs of the organization. Connecting the dots by providing these systems will help you have better visibility into your employees’ skills and interests and help your employees better identify those interests and align their work goals to their shifting life goals – as well as your broader business goals.

related content: employee skilling: future-proof your workforce with predictive insights and personalized career coaching.

rethink your talent acquisition strategy

Recognizing we’re in the ‘era of the employee,’ now is a good time to audit your own hiring practices, ensuring your talent acquisition process has adjusted to the employee’s market. Are your systems efficient for applicants to complete or are many abandoning during the application process? Are your applications adjusting to be as inclusive as possible? Our Randstad sister company, Monster, is in the process of eliminating fields on applications for gender in order to be more inclusive to applicants. Ask yourself if all steps and fields are necessary. Try walking through your own application system and looking for places to streamline and eliminate potential bias.

In addition to auditing your own talent acquisition processes, consider shifting from hiring people for a job to hiring them for their next two or three jobs. One company using RiseSmart’s Career Development program is leveraging it in the recruitment process, tapping into the need for new employees to have the opportunity to grow from their first day of employment at the company. Remember that in an employee’s market, the bar has been raised. Simply stating, ‘there are opportunities to grow here at Company X’ on your recruitment page may no longer be enough.

When it comes to internal hiring and mobility, for your diverse populations, ensure they have visibility and transparency into roles, and the opportunity to grow into those roles if desired. The best way to do this is to democratize opportunities for learning across the organization. According to our recent ‘Skilling Today’ global survey, while organizations see the value in reskilling and upskilling talent, with 72% making skilling opportunities continuously available for career development, 39% offered skilling and training opportunities to some, but not all, employees.

related content: randstad risesmart global survey reveals need for democratized skilling.

In the past, it may have been enough to provide these opportunities only to high-potential employees or high performers. However, as many studies have shown, traditional talent identification processes are biased toward those who are already in power. By offering development and internal networking opportunities to all employees, a more equitable system for growth can be created and hidden gems of talent can emerge from unexpected places. A culture that promotes democratized skilling is also one that send a clear signal that it embraces equity and inclusiveness. When an employee does decide to leave the organization, dig deep into why. According to our 2021 severance guide referenced above, almost a third (30%) of HR respondents said they don’t perform exit interviews. By adding this simple practice, you can better understand not only the factors that entered an employee’s decision to depart, but also the reasons why your diverse employees may be leaving, which may be different than those of the broader population.

consider letting them go

Inevitably, there will be situations where the skills and interests of the employee have deviated too far from the mission and vision of the organization. In some cases, reskilling can close those gaps. In others, employees may be better off exiting the organization to pursue new challenges outside the company. In a Fast Company article, ‘Why It’s Important to Embrace the Great Resignation and Let People Go,’ Stacy Epstein, CMO of Freshworks, advocates that ‘optimizing for employee happiness’ should be the top priority, even if it means the employee exits. That exit experience should be an extension of your positive employee experience because it is a part of your employee’s journey with your organization – and a reflection of your values and employer brand. Providing exiting employees with outplacement assistance can help them connect their skills and interests to what they could potentially learn in the next organization.

The time for changing your company to one that is part of The Great Retention is now. Doing nothing or hoping your old systems are good enough will risk your employer brand, making current and future hiring more difficult. Accept that it truly is the ‘era of the employee,’ as stated by Harvard Professor Tsedal Neely, and adjust your systems accordingly. Continuing to evolve and improve the employee experience will take investment of time and resources, one that is necessary to win in an employee’s market.

jeanne schad.

talent solutions and strategy practice leader

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