At the start of the pandemic, great uncertainty and rolling lockdowns resulted in massive layoffs and furloughs. But a year-and-a-half into the pandemic, we started to see employees—those still left standing after those massive layoffs—leaving the workforce in droves. Some took early retirement or sabbaticals, while others left without another job to go to.
Voluntary attrition increased by almost 800,000 in the U.S. over the past year, with nearly three per cent of the U.S. workforce resigning in October alone, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The reasons? Experts cite a combination of factors, from burnout to lack of childcare to health concerns over contracting COVID-19. For many, it was also a matter of reassessing their goals and what matters most in life.
The Great Reshuffle
That’s led to the Great Reshuffle. In some cases, they’re making lateral moves, whether for higher pay, better benefits or more work-life balance. In other cases, they’re taking advantage of the Great Resignation to climb up the corporate ladder—or to start over in an entirely new career or new industry that offers better job security, higher pay or more balance.
Employers have noticed. Nearly a quarter of employers in a recent McKinsey survey believe they’re holding onto more low-performing talent now than a year ago. And, as the McKinsey survey points out, this is likely to persist—and even—if companies don’t understand or address what’s going on, putting the business at risk.
“Moreover, because many employers are handling the situation similarly—failing to invest in a more fulfilling employee experience and failing to meet new demands for autonomy and flexibility at work—some employees are deliberately choosing to withdraw entirely from traditional forms of full-time employment,” say the authors of the McKinsey report.
And those who are satisfied with their job? They might leave, too. McKinsey found that as more employers offer location-agnostic or remote-work options to top talent, employees may “start second-guessing their commitment to the companies where they now work,” according to the McKinsey report, especially if those companies mishandle (or don’t offer) a hybrid work solution.
The Great Retention
Coinciding with the Great Reshuffle is the Great Retention, where employers are trying to figure out how to retain their top talent. Finding new talent takes a lot more time (and money) than retaining employees you already have, but during the Great Reshuffle these retention strategies need to be taken up a notch.
Address burnout: The first step is to address burnout, according to recommendations by the World Economic Forum. “Well-being challenges and deficits have increased, and the very nature of the pandemic has strained some social support and coping mechanisms at work,” according to WEF, which recommends employers create “multiple avenues that address these challenges head-on to retain their people.” That could mean providing more paid time off, subsidizing child care or providing mental health supports.
Invest in employees: It also means investing in the talent you already have and building new skill sets, which could involve reskilling, upskilling or redeploying employees. This not only helps to build in-house capabilities but, according to WEF, it also “shows employees that their development and advancement matter and they are essential to the company’s future.” Some companies, for example, conduct “retention” interviews, asking employees what could make them stay or leave a particular job or company.
Provide a flexible work environment: Some employees will want to continue working remotely, at least part of the time, in a post-pandemic world. And this could drive their decision to stay or leave. Indeed, a Robert Half survey found that one in three professionals working from home would look for a new job if they were required to return to the office full-time. If employers haven’t already considered this, they should start planning how they can offer more flexible work environments for retention purposes, such as flex-time or partial telecommuting.
Create hybrid workplaces: The future of work is hybrid, and employers “should be prepared to reimagine a hybrid, work-from-anywhere future. Organizations that don’t may run the risk of significant retention, engagement, and talent acquisition challenges,” according to the authors of a thought leadership article by Deloitte. That means re-architecting the workplace to support both synchronous on-site and remote work, according to the authors. “A well-designed digital workplace puts workers at the center. It connects them with who and what they need when they need it to perform their best at work—regardless of location, device, or time zone.”
Building a hybrid workforce
Getting hybrid “right” isn’t easy. While we’ve figured out how to keep business running remotely during a pandemic, new challenges will arise in a post-pandemic world. Who gets to work from home and how often? Will they have a desk at the office? How will remote workers feel like part of the team? Not getting the right balance could negatively impact both culture and collaboration.
This will require “braiding” the digital and physical experiences, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. Remote colleagues could feel frustrated and less engaged if they’re unable to fully participate with their colleagues back at the office, particularly with brainstorming and creative work, “which often use analog whiteboards or other physical products that are difficult for people on the other side of the camera to fully experience,” says HBR. “The solution is to integrate physical spaces and technology with three key concepts in mind: equity, engagement, and ease.”
That means equipping employees with the technology they need to collaborate, both in the office and at home—from the latest cloud-based unified communications and collaboration tools to network technologies like SD-WAN that make access fast, secure and reliable. It also means considering emerging approaches to collaboration that could involve anything from virtual reality to the metaverse.
While technology isn’t the be-all-end-all, it should be considered an essential component of your retention strategy as you build out a flexible, hybrid work environment for the future of work.
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The Great Retention: How to refocus your office on employees.
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