Whether you’re part of are a small business or an enterprise of global proportions, employee retention has likely been a 2021 concern for you. My own small business, with under 20 employees, has not been immune to it either. Over six weeks, three employees tendered their resignations. Truthfully, I was devastated. I run what I think is an awesome company. I have not been offered negative feedback of any depth from a population that tends to offer their viewpoints on many areas regularly (I swear I mean that positively!). We share; we chat; we laugh; and we support. It’s as healthy as I know a company can be, and yet, three people resigned.
And while the resignations were offered with solace and disappointment (even a tear or two), the primary motivator was cash. Cold hard cash. Like coins clinking in a can for Lucy in a Peanuts comic strip, it was hard for my team to ignore. I had this wonderful environment. There were support structures all around. We worked hard to invest in people. We cheered on and recognized individual contributors. And yet, was cash king?
How COVID-19 changed employee expectations
In the wake of COVID-19 and its aftereffects, businesses have been quickly trying to come to grips with what it will mean to be viable. Did it have to be just about the money? Maybe. The cry from most HR professionals and influencers was for flexibility. “Let people continue to work from home!” The simplicity of permanence may be overstated in such a declaration. As the pandemic forced governmental mandates, businesses had to pivot or die. It may not have been ideal to have individuals work from home, but in order to stay alive, companies did it. And kudos to them for doing so.
But is that a permanent answer? It could be. Without knowing each company’s needs – production output requirements, clientele commitments, communication structures – it is difficult to make such a grand and sweeping retention request. Further, what about those roles where working from home is not possible? Having a surgeon perform a heart procedure via Zoom is not realistic. Or ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant and being told to log in to Teams to “experience” the meal would be disappointing. We need people to work on the manufacturing line, in the kitchens, in the ICU, and constructing new homes and buildings. Retention cannot be solely based upon a work-from-home strategy.
Retention moving forward
The answer lies in getting back to core considerations. Perhaps start with a joint assessment handling both the employee-centric needs and desires for getting work done along with production/performance considerations. Hearing from staff who want to work from home four days per week while having to make 150 pizzas per day to meet orders and to cover expenses is incongruous. Of course, an employee survey is not the sole answer to retention. Don’t you remember the desperate plea for casual Fridays and how that would keep people happy in your organization? Have you looked at your retention numbers based solely on that?
Practically, I should note, our organization is on a hybrid schedule. Most staff come into the office one to three days per week and work from home the rest of the time (there are staff that have never come into the office since they started with our company). The work from home momentum was a wave that staff had been traveling successfully. For at least two of the three who resigned, their new work schedule had them returning to a business site/office five days per week. If it was all about remote work, then those roles should not have been appealing.
Where leadership adds value
Assess work to be done as well as how work gets done. They both have validity and there is a path that meets both sides as best as possible. That is where leadership can add real value. Crafting the messaging to the team; introducing the process and the hows, the whys, and the plan, is a worthwhile effort and helps align the organization’s expectations to those of its people. No one should be able to honestly say they didn’t feel heard; listen, assess, measure, evaluate, synthesize, and present.
Lastly, don’t be surprised that your employees are being called by recruiters. When offers are coming in at 40% over current compensation level (for the same role!), it’s hard for anyone not to listen. Instead of trying to figure out how to stop the team from taking those calls, prepare them.
There are some reading this with their hearts in a panic. You’re not allowing people to leave by being open about any calls they’re getting; you’re demonstrating that your organization is confident, communicative, and collaborative. Employee recognition isn’t just about thanking someone for a job well done; it’s also about trusting people to be professional and thoughtful. You are recognizing that each person has value. Of course other organizations find that appealing. Why wouldn’t they want your wonderful staff to join their team?
For one employee who has left my organization, we’ve already discussed a boomerang potential. What’s that? In about a year, we’re going to see how much he’s learned elsewhere and if he can bring that back to our organization. Retention doesn’t have to mean 20 years of consistent employment. It can mean 10 years of employment over 20 years where new learnings and training come back to benefit the organization. Knowing the door is open – free from any fruitless bitterness or “ineligible for rehire” nonsense – makes him an advocate for others to join our organization. He is a champion still.
Does money matter? Yes. Does workplace flexibility matter? Yes. Does recognition matter? Yes. They all matter – and then some. Assessing the full picture yields the most likely path for success in employee retention, but it may not be the kind of path you were originally thinking. And that’s OK.
About the AuthorMore Content by John Baldino