“The Great Resignation” is coming…and for some, it might already be here. Coined by Anthony Klotz, a Texas A&M University associate management professor who has studied the exits of hundreds of workers, The Great Resignation — Klotz told Bloomberg Businessweek — was his prediction that many more people who had hung onto their jobs during the pandemic because of uncertainty are now readying themselves to quit.
The facts are:
42% of current remote workers say if their employer doesn’t continue to offer remote work options long-term, they’ll look for a job at a company that does.
A majority of people in an Accenture survey said a hybrid work model, where they’re able to work remotely 25-75% percent of the time, is optimal.
63% of Gen Z workers are most interested in working in a hybrid setting.
3.6 million Americans quit their jobs in May, and there’s one job opening for every unemployed worker — this coming on the heels of April’s 20-year record high, where just shy of 4 million workers left their jobs.
In fact, according to the ASU COVID-19 Workplace Commons Survey of nearly 1,200 US and UK companies across 24 different sectors, the number one most challenging issue companies are facing regarding bringing employees back to the physical workplace is ’employees not wanting to return’ — this challenge outranking employee safety concerns and the cost of making facilities safe.
The Great Escape: Why Quit Rates are High
While some are calling it The Great Resignation, perhaps a more apt description might be The Great Escape.
Surveys show that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of employees are planning to look for a new job post-pandemic. Some of that is normal churn — professionals simply looking for new career challenges — that is unusually clustered because of employees’ reluctance to leave positions during last year’s uncertainty. Others are searching for different reasons, such as concerns about their company’s post-pandemic policies or changes in workplace dynamics over the past year of remote work — and the transition back to in-office working arrangements.
As pandemic life recedes in the U.S., people are leaving their jobs in search of more money, more flexibility, and more happiness. Many are rethinking what work means to them, how they are valued, and how they spend their time. Some, particularly those who work in lower wage jobs at restaurants, are leaving for better pay. Others may have worked in jobs that weren’t a good fit but were waiting out the pandemic before they quit. And still some workers are leaving positions because they fear returning to an unsafe workplace, amid calls to return to the physical workplace.
More than 740,000 people who quit in April worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes jobs in hotels, bars and restaurants, theme parks and other entertainment venues.
The great migration to remote work in the pandemic also had a profound impact on how people think about when and where they want to work.
“Work has changed. The way we think about time and space has changed,” says Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of the book Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding From Anywhere. Workers now crave the flexibility given to them in the pandemic — which had previously been unattainable, she says.
One study revealed that a stunning 87 percent of professionals who worked remotely during the pandemic would like to continue the practice at least one day per week — and if their companies don’t let them, 42 percent are willing to leave their jobs. That’s on par with the nearly 70 percent of respondents to the ASU COVID-19 Workplace Commons Survey who indicated their ideal future work environment as either hybrid or fully virtual.
Work is no longer just about paying the bills. For many, it’s about achieving a work-life balance, finding opportunities to grow, hone skills, and the flexibility to work on a variety of projects — within and across their teams — from anywhere. With the uptick in quit rates, businesses and HR pros might be wondering how to retain and re-engage employees, make them feel valued, and stay competitive in the booming job market.
To help, we compiled some of the best employee retention tips along with what research shows to be key pre-quitting behaviors for which to keep an eye out.
Signs Your Employees Might Be Ready to Quit
To help managers and companies identify employees at risk of quitting, professors and researchers, Timothy Gardner from Utah State University and Peter Hom from Arizona State University, investigated this very question and uncovered a set of behavioral changes exhibited by employees. What they dubbed pre-quitting behaviors, these are strong predictors of voluntary quits in the 12 months after they are observed by managers.
Over the course of a multi-phase study of surveying of managers and employees who quit, they were able to identify the following pre-quitting behaviors:
Their work productivity decreased more than usual.
They acted less like a team player than usual.
They had been doing the minimum amount of work more frequently than usual.
They had been less interested in pleasing their manager than usual.
They had been less willing to commit to long-term timelines than usual.
They exhibited a negative change in attitude.
They exhibited less effort and work motivation than usual.
They exhibited less focus on job related matters than usual.
They expressed dissatisfaction with their current job more frequently than usual.
They expressed dissatisfaction with their supervisor more frequently than usual.
They left early/took more PTO than usual.
They lost enthusiasm for the mission of the organization.
They showed less interest in working with customers than usual.
Top Tips & Strategies for Retaining Employees
What should you do when someone you or one of your people leaders manages is exhibiting these behaviors?
Focus on retaining star employees in the short-term. Typically, organizations handle a turnover problem with large-scale interventions to improve departmental or firm-level commitment, job satisfaction, and job engagement. These strategies may work, but they take time to design and implement. Thinking in terms of the turnover risk of specific employees allows you to invest your time and resources into those employees who create the most value and are actually at risk of leaving.
There are many ways to invest in and re-engage employees you fear may be looking for greener pastures: pay increases, promotions, and special projects are just a few.
One technique is to use what are called stay interviews. A stay interview is an interview conducted with current employees to assess their job satisfaction as well as why employees are “staying” with your company. During a stay interview, you may ask your employees several questions with the goal of learning both what makes your company a good place to work, as well as what may need improvement to increase employee retention.
Instead of conducting only exit interviews — which are great for learning what caused good employees to quit — stay interviews provide an opportunity to grab hold of the good before it goes. Conduct regular one-on-one interviews with current high-performing employees to learn what keeps them working in your organization and what could be changed to keep them from straying.
Hire Selectively & Promote from the Start
Hiring who you like is no longer sufficient. You have to dig deeper and find the kind of fit that can last. But how? For many, the answer lies in psychometrics.
When you infuse psychometric assessment into your interviews, you’ll be able to uncover a candidate’s behavioral strengths and weaknesses as well as their ability to adjust to situations at work. You’ll identify their key motivators or values, as well as uncover the kind of work that energize them.
“The kinds of questions you choose to ask your candidates matters. Interviews alone are notoriously poor at predicting culture add or role success. To reduce subjective bias during the interview process, we draw from a candidate’s own behaviors, motivators, and work energizers — their talent profile — to highlight the most important gaps and alignments when compared to the predetermined ideal candidate,” says Kerry Leidich, Co-founder of Humantelligence.
“From there, we generate focused questions to ask, along with interpretation guidelines, so you can quickly gain a deeper understanding of how a candidate will contribute to the team’s culture and perform in the role. We all know that great talent isn’t available for long. By using the right psychometrics in your interview process, you can increase the confidence of your hiring recommendations.”
Executive search consultant and professional recruiter Juan Betancourt adds, “Resumes, LinkedIn, and educational backgrounds only tell some of the story. Besides being self reported, they are limited to only showing past experiences — whereas psychometrics are concerned with psychological measurement, and can more easily reveal a person’s fuller potential when it comes to situational behavior, actions, results, communication, and motivations — now and in the future.”
When you assess this kind of emotional intelligence right alongside cognitive abilities, you’ll also find yourself removing unconscious biases and engaging in a more inclusive approach to evaluating candidates — all of which can help you predict greater success in the role.
Once your new employees are hired, you have to onboard right. Once onboarded, how often do they meet with mentors who aren’t their supervisors for guidance? For many employers, onboarding doesn’t extend past the first week or two of employment. Establishing a mentorship program can create a stronger organizational identity and reduce quit rates. At minimum, you should have a rock solid onboarding program for all workers, including remote employees, that focuses on building interpersonal relationships and potential mentor matches.
Employees benefit from mentorship because they see they are valued and supported. It’s a key component of employee retention. Organizations need to invest in the growth and ongoing education of their leadership teams at every level. Having a mentor from day one, someone they can go to who isn’t their supervisor and ask questions about the job, makes the individual feel more connected and less scared by the prospect of a new career with new chores and responsibilities.
One of the key reasons employees seek new opportunities is when they feel that there is nowhere else to go within the business, whether it’s pay or position. Kathryn McDavid, CEO of Editor’s Pick, says, “We’ve decided to instill a consistent schedule of possible pay raises in order to incentivize team members to go above and beyond with their responsibilities. Every quarter, we have in-depth employee performance reviews, and based on how well someone has hit their expectations, they’ll get a raise.”
Invest in Continuous Improvement
In research of North American and European workers from Lighthouse Research & Advisory found, 88 percent of employees would stay at a job if they had career and growth opportunities ahead, but more than 60 percent have left a job in the past because they didn’t see any way to advance.
Though most employers offer employees the proper training during the onboarding process, a large majority do not continue to offer resources to keep their abilities up to date. And when it comes to professional development, not many companies have an official program in place at all. There are clear differences between training and professional development. Training helps fill in the gaps, whereas development is focused more on the future and career path of an employee.
Even though upskilling initiatives have been a major focus by many companies even before the pandemic, we’ve seen a significant rise in investment by employers in this area. For example, Mastercard is upskilling their staff to compete with start-ups, encouraging them to develop new skills through the learning platform Degreed.
Steve Boucher, VP of Global Talent Development at Mastercard, has said, “in order to remain competitive, we had to embrace new technologies and expand. To do this, Mastercard’s company culture would have to evolve to accelerate innovation and pivot product development towards developing digital technology offerings.”
They decided to use Degreed, offering personalized learning experiences, creating relevant pathways and helping employees connect to the content that is pertinent to them. Ninety-six percent of Mastercard’s workforce now regularly engages with learning through Degreed – which is testament to how effective and aligned it is with the business’ and individual goals.
Jabez Reuben, Owner at the Blueprints, adds, “These kinds of programs not only make the employees more efficient but also make them feel valued and invested in the company. We regularly hold learning events and workshops that are addressed by industry experts. According to a survey done by LinkedIn, 94 percent of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their professional development.”
Make Employee Mental Health & Wellbeing Priorities
While physical health has taken the center stage, mental health is now being acknowledged as every bit a crisis as well. Nearly 80% of employers surveyed for ASU’s COVID-19 Workplace Commons survey indicated that employee mental health has become a top priority for their company. Loneliness, depression and anxiety are present in every demographic. Work has been central to those challenges – too little work for some and too much work for others.
One of the best and easiest ways to improve employee retention is to make balance a non-negotiable. In a recent Indeed survey, over 50 percent of respondents are experiencing burnout this year. With remote work blurring the line between work life and home life, HR plays a key role in setting the expectation.
“We’ve handled quit rates by allowing for mental health days and a personal weekly round-up. The mental health days are just like paid sick leave: if you need a day to de-stress, you can take it. You can only do your best work when you feel your best, and this includes not just physical but also mental health,” says David Galownia, CEO at Slingshot.
Software giant, SAP recently launched a mental health day for its 102,000-plus employees to help them cope with the ongoing pandemic. SAP’s Mental Health Day—a company-sponsored holiday for all employees—is designed to help workers recharge, focus on themselves and their families, and disconnect from work.
Modernize Your Tech Stacks to Empower Collaboration
Another leading cause for resignation is poor interpersonal relationships at work. It’s important to give your employees the opportunity to thrive and do the job they were hired to do — instead of requiring them to spend valuable time figuring out how to work better with one another. This work can be exhausting, when there are easier, faster tech-enabled ways to do it.
This is where Culture-as-a-Service comes in — an often neglected component of an organization’s tech stack.
Imagine with just one click being able to see real-time tips and recommendations for communicating, motivating, and influencing colleagues. Imagine seeing this same information in aggregate for meeting groups. Imagine knowing who best to tap on for pre- or post-meeting action items, for helping leading certain initiatives while identifying those better suited to document or support, and who might benefit from a heads up on particular messages — all of which take into account your team members’ behaviors, motivators, and work energizers in an easy-to-understand way.
With this kind of technology, you’re leveraging emotional intelligence data and the often unknown and unnoticed insights about your team to establish more effective communication, working structures, and talent acquisition plans — which will help you scale or transform culture while re-engaging your teams and powering more effective collaboration = creating stronger relationships.
Foster a Culture Recognition
Make employee recognition a priority for all team members no matter where they work. The most successful businesses know that the more gratitude in a company, the more productive and engaged teams and the better it performs.
The data proves it, over and over again. Appreciation, gratitude, and recognition are integral to creating a positive employee experience. Workhuman’s Employee Experience Index with IBM Smarter Workforce Institute — based on a study of more than 23,000 workers — showed that when employees receive recognition for doing good work, 83 percent report a more positive employee experience. When workers don’t receive recognition, only 38 percent have a positive experience. Data from the Workhuman Analytics & Research Institute showed that retention and engagement rates are higher for employees who receive recognition, and even higher still for employees who both give and receive recognition.
Organizations adopt employee recognition programs to raise employee morale, attract and retain key employees, elevate productivity, increase competitiveness, revenues, and profitability, reduce employee stress, absenteeism and turnover, as well as improve customer service. In a SHRM/Globoforce survey, Using Recognition and Other Workplace Efforts to Engage Employees, 68 percent of HR professionals agreed that employee recognition has a positive impact on retention and 56 percent said such programs also help with recruitment. The results of recognition: morale goes up, employees create stronger social connections, and productivity increases.
In addition, employee recognition is the foundation for creating a culture of excellence – one that fosters appreciation and empowers individuals. It strengthens relationships and provides a clear purpose aligned to achievable goals. A culture of excellence allows business leaders to drive toward key goals like retention, culture, and employee happiness by connecting people and culture to shared purpose. For more ideas on how to enable a formal recognition program, download our 5 Strategies for Resetting Culture eBook.
As all HR pros know, the basic tenet of managing turnover is that everyone eventually leaves. It’s the “when” that is the mystery. So stay alert for pre-quitting behaviors and cues, continue to succession plan and design enterprise-wide employee retention and engagement strategies, as well as implement the tips above. While you’ll never fully quell turnover, the next resignation to hit your inbox should sting a whole lot less.
If you’re looking to retain and engage employees, measure, manage and hire for fit, and optimize team collaboration, we can help!