By: Rachel Heisterkamp
You’ve likely heard stories and read articles on the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on employment – in March and April of 2020, when the pandemic first took hold in the U.S., more than twice as many jobs were lost as with our last major economic recession between 2007 and 2009. It seemed that the market was becoming more and more hopeless for candidates or employees due to the strain on businesses, the economy, and much more. Now, fast forwarding to over a year later, the job market has turned around in a number of ways. Some industries have hit their stride and are moving toward new expansion and growth, while others, such as retail (in the face of a new eCommerce surge), are still in a decline. And, in this new phase of pandemic-era employment, it seems the job market isn’t the same hopeless environment for employees on the lookout for new opportunities. According to McKinsey, over 15 million US workers (and counting) have quit their jobs since April 2021. Now, we’re inside of a crucial moment when prioritizing employee retention is one of the most impactful steps you can take to keep your business moving forward, and the best way to tackle it isn’t about increased pay or more perks – it’s about connection, motivation, and engagement.
Keeping your top talent is not only a boost to your business performance, in the long-term, employees are the foundation of your company culture. And, losing an employee is expensive – it costs 33% of a worker’s annual salary to replace them – and the time for a new employee to ramp up to full project capacity adds more strain. Keeping your high performers also leads to more great employees down the road; aside from building a culture of high performance, your existing workforce is the perfect pool to solicit referrals for open roles, encouraging stellar culture fits, reducing recruitment costs, and boosting overall employee engagement.
Developing a strategy to improve retention, in other words, is the best way to move the needle forward on your business – your people, after all, are the engine your company runs on. Organizations that steadily retain employees, whether in times of worker shortage or an economic bounce-back, will stand the best chance of succeeding and carrying on with great results. Here are a few ways to use motivation and engagement to improve employee retention:
1. Enable people leaders to manage effectively
People managers have a huge impact on the way employees view their role and their connection to the company; which means the actions of your team leaders can make or break your employees’ decision to stay or to leave. In fact, at minimum, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement – and the strength of your leaders can often correlate to your company’s retention rates. How invested an employee feels in their company is very much tied to the health of their relationship with their manager; which means the better and smoother that connection is, the more likely your employees will stick around for the long-term.
Performance management can be a key retention tool. Equipping your managers with resources, support, and leadership tools could be the best way to also let employees know how much the company values them. Resources like 1:1 checklists, conversation guides, performance review templates, and more are an easy lift with a major impact – and could drive every manager-employee interaction to be better and better.
Keeping your top performers in mind, make sure your people leaders know the best ways to manage the stars of their team, so that these highly-valuable employees feel as though they have plenty of room and paths for development – to make further impact at the company.
2. Listen (closely) to employee feedback – then act on it
Now more than ever, people are craving the human aspects of work. And this doesn’t just come down to socialization – it’s about empathy, compassion, and communication. If an employee doesn’t feel connected to their workplace, they’re more likely to take the next opportunity – driving this sense of connection is a key step in boosting employee retention. Soliciting feedback and fostering a two-way conversation between employees and employers is the best way to make sure workers know their opinions are deeply important, and that they have a say in what happens at the organization. This tangible stake in the company can ultimately lead to a sense of long-term investment, which is why 48% of employees say that if leadership asked for their feedback (and acted on it,) it would help to reduce voluntary turnover.
Asking for feedback from employees in any form – whether a simple 5-minute survey after a new launch, a quick follow-up question in a manager 1-on-1, or a long-form questionnaire on their overall satisfaction with the company – demonstrates empathy and compassion. But the biggest indicator that their opinion matters is whether your communications managers or leadership team also circles back on that feedback, to connect with employees on why something was or was not implemented, and let them know they’ve been heard.
3. Demonstrate ongoing, clear investment in your employees
When employees are consistently not offered opportunities to grow their skills or try something new, they’re more likely to feel a sense of burnout and start looking for a new role. Very often, employees leave their jobs because they don’t feel challenged. While managers can help with this on a task-based or day-to-day level, your employees likely crave something more long-term or structural in terms of paths of opportunity:
- Does your organization have a clear job-leveling structure?
- Has leadership asked each manager to develop a competency matrix?
- Have you enacted a job-shadowing program, so that employees have the chance to explore other roles at the company?
- Do you offer clear pathways or reimbursements to certifications or other skill-building programs?
Feeling a sense of burnout has a lot to do with feeling as though there are very few options for growth or change. Creating a culture of career moves within the organization can make it an easy choice for employees looking for growth or change and still feel supported by and connected to your company. Remember, when introducing any new program to your workforce, your new benefits are only as good as the communications strategy you use to launch them. Make sure you have a plan to reach every worker with new perks or updated information so everyone’s aligned and connected.
Employee turnover is inevitable – to an extent – but for the most common reasons employees tend to leave an organization, there are significant and tangible steps you can take to retain your best performing people. In these strange times, it’s more important now than ever that you make a plan for stronger retention. Even in the best of times, employee retention and motivation is a driver for business success – it’s fantastic for the company culture, but also results in great referrals for new roles, lower recruitment costs, and less change to deal with for your teams. Your support for people managers on the front lines, solicitation of meaningful feedback, and clear investment in employee growth and development are all impactful ways to reinforce how valuable your people are to your business.
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