Exit sign hanging over a staircase.

HR Leaders Share Their Employee Retention Strategies Amid the Great Resignation

September 02, 2021 Leadership
By Dom Nicastro

The quit rate for US jobs isn’t slowing down in this so-called Great Resignation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reported in its latest research the “quits level” and rate in June increased to 3.9 million (239,000 more quits) and 2.7 percent, respectively. 

If you’re an HR leader, this is time for a Super Bowl performance in terms of the employee-retention game: the Tom Brady kind of performance and not the Scott Norwood kind.

“Change is inevitable. If the past year and a half taught us anything it’s that the world around us can change overnight,” said Valerie Junger, chief people officer at Quantcast. “HR leaders should be an advocate for the company’s employees, both present and future. It’s vital to a company’s leadership to take a high-level view of what type of organization it wants to build in the years to come and understand how that ties back to hiring, training and retaining employees today. Talent is the number one asset of any company, and ensuring that everyone from hiring managers to recruiters and training teams understands the value of investing in employees is key to a company’s longevity.”

Getting a ‘Emotional Response’ From Employees

Naturally, the challenge is how do you get there. HR leaders are operating amid a still-growing quit rate, varying employee desires about where and how they work and a pandemic that’s not over by a long shot, even with a global vaccination rollout program in play for several months. So, what’s the playbook for HR leaders in this environment when it comes to employee-retention strategies?

For Junger, some specific priorities for employee retention include:

  • Balancing requests for flexibility, while also keeping in mind the requirements of the business.
  • Fostering an environment and culture which allow employees to interact with each other in an “unscripted” manner.
  • Fostering a virtual environment that helps employees feel even more connected than before, by increasing the cadence of all-hands meetings and keeping employees connected and informed about company updates while navigating challenging times, both personally and due to pressures on the economy.
  • Creating an environment that gets an emotional response from your people and binds them to you for the long term.
  • Investing time and dedication into issues that matter to employees such as global, DE&I initiatives.

“There is no amount of Zoom calls or in-person options that can compensate for bad company culture,” Junger said. “The companies that hadn’t taken a purposeful approach to culture pre-pandemic have struggled in the past year. Without close bonds, compassion and trust between colleagues and teams, it’s almost impossible for productivity levels to be consistent when in-person teams are suddenly separated because of the implications of the pandemic.”

Related Article: How Your Company Can Avoid the Great Resignation

Feeding the Trust Meter

Trust is the key factor that encourages and motivates people to enjoy their work and form a lasting bond, according to Patrice Williams, HR manager for Vuram. One of his company’s guiding principles is “Freedom with Responsibility.” It’s an environment where people are trusted as individuals and can enjoy flexibility.

“The very fact of not having any monitoring tools at Vuram despite the prolonged remote working environment is a perfect example,” Williams said. “When people are free to work, explore and innovate with responsibility, it encourages them to grow and advance along with the organization.”

As an HR leader, Williams is also placing great emphasis on communication. Anyone can approach anyone, including the CEO. “The freedom to share ideas and feedback makes Vuram a melting pot of workable ideas,” he said. “We implement the best ideas and include every Vuramite — that’s how we refer to our people — in making decisions.”

Leadership is constantly rolling out surveys on latest initiatives to capture the thoughts of employees through Pulse Checks, which “reflect the honest thoughts that help gauge the effectiveness of the subject in question,” Williams said. “Additionally, one-on-one meetings act as a space for redressing any grievances faced at work.”

Why Are So Many Leaving Their Jobs?

Knowing why employees are leaving is important in crafting retention strategies. Junger noted a common theme for departing employees is many are reevaluating their priorities in the midst of the pandemic. Examples of this include wanting to spend more time with their families, moving to a lower-cost area or gaining access to more flexibility with virtual work.

“After over a year of stress and worry, employees want the companies they work for to share their same values and priorities,” Junger said. That’s where an HR leader must “ensure an open line of communication with employees to foster trust and visibility into your staff’s priorities,” she added. “If someone wants to work remotely 100% of the time and they’ve exhibited the ability to do so productively, it’s important to promote that sense of autonomy. For those who want to come into the office, and it’s safe to do so, it will be critical to ensure mental health is at the forefront, whether that be company-wide days off or spreading awareness about different wellness benefits available to them.”

Related Article: 3 Ways to Put More Control in the Hands of Remote Employees

Mental Health Days

In recognition of the importance of mental health and wellbeing during the past year, the global teams at Quantcast have taken company-wide mental health days in order to recharge and spend time with their loved ones. “The added benefit of taking a day off together ensures emails and Slack stay quiet while we recharge and people will not come back to a pile of projects waiting for them,” Junger said. “In addition, Quantcast offers wellbeing resources for employees." These include access to digital mental wellbeing platforms Headspace and Ginger.io and fitness app Aaptiv.

Another strategy to consider, especially during the pandemic, is to create opportunities for people to connect through online events, mentoring programs and other programs that foster collaboration even in a remote environment, according to Junger. “Collaboration while working remotely has been where we have invested a lot of our time,” she said. “At the end of the day, employees want to feel supported, trusted, and given the opportunity of autonomy, all of which require a foundation of empathy.”

‘Bounce Forward’ Approach

Amy Rossi, chief people officer for Expel, said her teams are focused on helping employees “bounce forward.” This approach supports finding new ways of working that align with each employees’ values and needs. It includes four components: improving connections, recognizing the need for change, encouraging time away and supporting alternative or hybrid ways of working.

Here’s how that works in practice:

Connections: “For connection, we’re having team ‘touchdowns’ where we will gather for a few days with people local to the office and those who live outside of the area, provided that people feel comfortable meeting,” Rossi said. “These moments will help us build stronger relationships with one another — capturing that ‘in person’ time while not requiring anyone to return to a schedule they might not be fully comfortable with.”

Time away: To encourage vacations, Rossi said the HR teams are considering creating a photo wall in the office so people can share all of the great places they can now visit, Rossi said. They may also create a new Slack channel as well, encouraging employees to share photos with our colleagues across the country.

Flexibility: The teams at Expel always had flexibility in where and when they work, according to Rossi. By the end of the year, the company expects that nearly 50% of employees will be fully remote. “This desire for flexibility will continue as people create new routines and work styles,” Rossi said. “We’ll be helping people build these new work patterns that benefit them and their families.”

Happy Quitters Are Better Than the Alternative

HR leaders like Rossi are also trying to be more realistic given the current Great Resignation Era. You can’t retain every employee, but you can try to at least make them friends of the company upon departure.

“It’s our goal to first try and provide the growth experiences people need here at Expel, but when we can’t deliver on this growth, we also help people transition to what’s next for them outside of Expel,” Rossi said. “We also know that right now people are craving some type of change. It’s hard to open LinkedIn and not see an article or post about the #greatresignation or #greatreshuffle as people reconsider where and how to work. Our people are feeling this need for change, too, and we’re transparently talking about it, recognizing it and helping people choreograph the next steps in their career journeys.”

People appreciate this transparency, Rossi said, and support and leave as promoters of Expel. And they remain connected to the company, just in a new way.

“We’ve learned when we can open up more transparent dialogue about career growth and the need for change it benefits the person, our teams, and our company,” Rossi said. “We may be able to uncover opportunities at Expel they were not aware of, and if we can’t find a new opportunity then we may be able to help make it happen somewhere else. Opening up dialogue also improves the transition plans when people leave giving time for documentation, hiring and celebrations. More planned departures equals less stress.”

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