The past two years have been a rollercoaster for HR leaders. From the furloughs and layoffs of 2020 to the “Great Resignation” that began in 2021, it’s no surprise that hiring and retention are top of mind. Companies have entered 2022 with a growing number of open roles, a candidate-driven market with drained talent pools, talent reshuffling, and fear of losing top employees as we continue to navigate COVID-19.
But all hope is not lost. Now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to reevaluate and reinvent what “good” company culture looks like – and create environments that attract and retain top talent.
There are several strategies companies can explore – including offering competitive compensation packages, which we will dive into in more detail in an upcoming article. Beyond compensation, here are a few of the most highly impactful retention strategies to help you create a moat for preserving your company’s most valuable asset – its people.
Create Meaningful Work
Professionals are presented with a lot of options in the job market these days, so they can be more discerning in what opportunities they take.
A great way to attract and retain top talent is to highlight how your company creates impactful and meaningful work. This does not solely mean your work has to be environmentally or socially driven. It can also mean you are positively impacting your industry, and your customers and their employees.
From the first interview through to an employee’s last day, companies must clearly articulate their mission and vision, outline how they plan to deliver on that purpose, and how individual goals map to company goals. To do this, you must:
- Elevate purpose. Ensure that employees understand how the impact of their roles ties back to your company’s mission and goals. You can amplify this by highlighting the successes of all company’s constituents (i.e., customers, employees, and shareholders). Examples include submitting company work for industry awards or garnering testimonials from customers that highlight how your company enabled their success.
- Create a sense of community. This can be done through social events (e.g., happy hours, sports leagues, dinners), charitable endeavors, and employee resource groups – to name a few examples.
- Create emotional buy-in from Day 1. Design effective onboarding programming to ensure employees feel welcomed. Include the history of the company, mission, and vision. Build personal attachment through buddies, “get to know you” coffee chats, and lunches. Give employees the information they need to do their job including how each department interacts and operates, and provide access to asynchronous repositories of information on how things run at the company for employees to reference.
- Demonstrate a path for growth. First, understand why the employee has chosen your company and what their objectives are for this job. -link and label how you can help them achieve these objectives while at your company.
Build expectations on performance and showcase career progression frameworks, consider internal mobility to expand skill sets, offer a professional-development stipend, and build ongoing learning and development modules/curriculum (outsourced or in-house).
Prioritize Mental Health and Wellbeing
Landscape-scale crises create mass-scale trauma responses.
A recent report from Mind Share Partners highlighted that many professionals identified mental health as a key driver of attrition – 68% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Zers have left roles for mental health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily.
To combat this, leaders must intentionally invest in addressing mental health challenges at work. Today’s workforce expects and needs a sustainable and mentally healthy workplace. While initiatives can help, a true culture change is needed to create a lasting impact.
How do you do this?
- Lead with compassion. While leaders like to spend time focusing on the business and solving problems, they need to focus on effective leadership first, if they want to retain employees. Leaders need to understand the “whole” employee: Where does work fit into their life? What motivates them (e.g., promotions, money, work/life balance)? Leaders should then nurture employees based on their specific drivers.
- It is also paramount to demonstrate highly visible and caring leadership in general. People no longer tolerate compassionless leaders. This means providing realistic assessments of challenges facing the business and its people and demonstrating empathy. It’s not business as usual for many, so acknowledge and create space for people to navigate the challenges we are collectively facing.
- Upskill your managers. Train leaders, managers, and employees on how to navigate mental health at work, including how to have difficult conversations and create supportive work environments.
- Reestablish boundaries. Hybrid and remote environments have propelled always-on, asynchronous communications (e.g., Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, text). In many ways, this has further blurred the lines between work and life as communications more readily seep into after hours. Teaching employees how to prioritize and focus, and then modeling that behavior yourself is the best way to 1) ensure continued productivity, and 2) prevent burnout and protect your employees’ mental wellbeing.
- Establish policies and practices that support mental wellness. Policies offering days off for mental health, programming on ways to manage mental health (e.g., yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, burnout prevention), and mental health specific benefits (e.g., access to apps such as Calm, Eden Health, and Alma, increasing mental health benefits coverage) are all ways to support your employees’ wellbeing.
- Beyond general mental health policies, you should also revisit your caregiving and LOA policies. The pandemic has placed a lot of extra stress on caregivers, so a thoughtful set of programs can help alleviate some of these pain points and give caregivers peace of mind. Policies can include subsidizing daycare and giving more paid time off/caregiver leave (i.e., for parents of pre-school-aged children who are still dealing with COVID quarantines) while making it clear it won’t be held against your employees professionally. You can also offer a 1–2-day cushion in between the care and return to work to prevent burnout.
Offer Enhanced Flexibility
According to Charter, flexibility is the number one thing professionals want from their employers. This is no surprise given many have been working remotely successfully for nearly two years now.
When we think about flexibility, we immediately assume hybrid or remote work – but for many, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Whether you are hybrid, remote, or fully in the office, there are other ways to offer flexibility to your employees given the demand.
- Rethink when employees work together. Flexibility is about more than where you work; it’s also about when you work. In fact, a Future Forum survey found 76% of employees want flexibility in where they work, but an outstanding 93% noted they want flexibility when they work.
- For complex tasks that require teamwork, it’s impossible to provide complete flexibility when employees work. Instead, it’s important to identify working structures within teams that need to collaborate with each other to ensure schedules work for all team members.
- For unpredictable workflows, build in scheduled all-team collaboration days or certain days of the week where everyone works the same hours. Some companies have designated “no meetings” time blocks or are offering company-wide shutdown days throughout the year.
- Reevaluate who works together. Widely distributed teams may need to be broken up into smaller teams to improve flexibility and adaptability (and prevent the likelihood of social loafing).
- Enhance information-sharing. Leaders often underestimate how out-of-the-loop employees can feel, which can often be demotivating. This can be exacerbated when you are in a hybrid or remote work environment since people are often more isolated. That is why it’s critical to have a thoughtful communications strategy surrounding company news, policies, and initiatives, as well as in-person events to bring people together and create a sense of comradery and cohesion.
- Get creative with staffing. Skeletal teams can be a hotbed for burnout and attrition. Make sure there are solid capacity and hiring plans in place to understand where the holes and risks are, so you can keep the organization performing – even when understaffed. This includes forecasting your headcount needs 6 to 9 months in advance, creating a staffing model for your talent acquisition team, and identifying areas you can deprioritize until you fill critical roles. For more leverage, think about augmentation through third parties (consultants, temp staffing, and emerging staffing models).
- You can also create SWAT teams of your best people to address any critical projects. Consider rewarding employees who are bearing the extra weight until you can fulfill the capacity plan. Don’t assume that money is the reward everyone wants – you need to understand each individual employee’s motivations.
Build a Diverse, Equitable, Safe, and Inclusive Environment for Employees
Diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) has become a huge focus for companies given the state of the world. In fact, Lever’s State of DEI Report found that 51% of employers said they had formalized a DE&I strategy for their organizations.
Yet only 39% of these companies said they plan to measure the success of ongoing DEI initiatives. Without measures in place, it is extremely difficult to quantify the impact of their efforts, which can lead to a massive disconnect between what companies say they’re doing and how it is translated to their employee experience. This can make DE&I efforts seem disingenuous and erode trust.
So, what can be done to successfully build safe environments for employees?
- Don’t assume. A DE&I strategy for one company may not work for yours. Invest time in understanding your organization’s DE&I footprint and needs and then build a strategy (with an achievable set of goals) to support those aims.
- Make it a priority. DE&I must be a visible priority with accompanying OKRs and initiatives, the clear owner(s), and team alignment. Asking a team or a person to do this as a side project is not going to work. Give regular company updates on the efforts – this is where over-communication is key.
- Role-model behavior from the top. Make behavior and culture a critical component of setting expectations around performance and company values. Cultivating a safe work environment means taking risks, allowing room for failure, owning mistakes, and holding leadership accountable to continuously learn and improve. It also means if there isn’t learning, unlearning, or changing behavior, that there are consequences.
- Measure the impact and garner feedback. Collect information from your employees and open up dialogue (whether through a survey, an open-forum DE&I communication channel, and/or 1:1 meetings). You should also create forums – including anonymous opportunities – for employees to share feedback, report concerns, and escalate issues without fear of retaliation. Separately, you should examine your demographic make-up and attrition data to better quantify how your DE&I strategy is working in real-time.
Professionals today expect more from the companies they work for – a safe place to grow, an acknowledgment of their humanity and needs, and opportunities to participate in more meaningful work.
We may not know what lies ahead, but having these backbone elements in place can prevent haphazard fallout and minimize organizational debt.
This is a prime time to accept the evolution of what it means to work today and embrace the fluidity of what is going on around us. Co-acting with those dynamics can help you build an intentional set of talent strategies that are authentic to your company – and can inevitably create a better workplace overall.