March 15, 2021

Worried About Employee Retention in the Post-Pandemic Era? You Really Should Be.

Economic upheaval tends to make employees skittish. When all around us businesses are shutting their doors and slashing their staff sizes, the people lucky enough to keep their jobs often balk at the prospect of making a move. Who’s to say that company courting you now won’t go under next month? The devil you know is always better, after all.

But a handful of recent reports suggest the tumult of the COVID-19 pandemic may actually be having the opposite effect. Instead of scared them into staying, the pandemic may be motivating employees to take that leap of faith into a brand new role.

Much has been made of the fact that the mass layoffs and furloughs of 2020 eroded candidates’ power, turning the job market tables in employers’ favor. If that’s truly the case, candidates don’t seem to have gotten the memo.

If you’re resting on your laurels — assuming it should be easy to retain your top talent in a still-shaky job market — it’s time to reconsider.

Candidates Are Overwhelmingly Open to New Opportunities

In our latest Recruiter Index report, our monthly survey of recruiters and HR/talent acquisition specialists, more than half of recruiters (53 percent) said candidates are “moderately” or “very” open to new opportunities. Only 1.4 percent said candidates were not open to hearing about new roles.

And what are these candidates looking for? Thirty-nine percent of the recruiters we surveyed said remote work is the most prominent concern for candidates. Compensation followed in second place, with 27 percent of recruiters reporting that candidates value salary above all else.

While candidate openness to new roles may come as a surprise to some of us, their infatuation with remote work certainly shouldn’t. The pandemic taught many of us that remote work is not only feasible but preferable to life in a cubicle (or one of those wildly distracting open-office floorplans).

While some employers are eager to bring everyone back in the office, they might want to reconsider. Employees really like remote work — and they’re not afraid to leave if you won’t let them continue working remotely. In fact, according to a survey from beqom, 77 percent of employees would consider switching jobs if another company offered them the ability to work remotely after COVID.

If retention’s not motivation enough, consider the logistical challenges of bringing employees back to work. According to a recent Glassdoor survey, 70 percent of workers feel vaccines should be required before returning to the office, but nearly 24 percent don’t plan to get vaccinated. There’s a potentially disastrous culture clash waiting to happen — and you could totally avoid it by continuing to allow remote work. Plus, think of the money you’ll save on incentivizing employees to get vaccinated.

Check out the latest issue of Magazine for more career advice and recruiting trends:

They’re Not All Itching to Leave

I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture here, to make you think every one of your employees is ready to bolt. In fact, there’s a solid chance your company has done a great job keeping your workers safe and happy.

In a year when so much was on the line and so many companies had to make difficult choices, a surprising number of employees feel their companies have done right by them. In recent research from Topia, 28 percent of employees said their companies had given them an “exceptional” employee experience over the course of the last year. That might seem low, but compare it to Topia’s previous survey, when only 17 percent of employees said the same.

But again: Employers can’t rest on their laurels. Seventy-two percent of employees still feel there’s some room for improvement. And what might they be looking for? According to Topia’s report, the key components of an “exceptional” employee experience include:

• Growth opportunities (cited by 53 percent of surveyed employees)
• Having the right tech (40 percent)
• Being empowered and entrusted (50 percent)
• Flexibility of work location (39 percent)
• Amazing office space and perks (16 percent)

Note how low in-office accoutrements rank in that list. Note, too, that Topia’s research largely conforms with the Recruiter Index in terms of what would make employees jump ship. When evaluating new opportunities, employees told Topia they’re mainly concerned with higher pay (important to 66 percent of surveyed employees) and flexibility/remote work (important to 55 percent of employees).

What Do You Stand For?

So, if you want to keep your best employees on staff, you need to give them a little flexibility and pay them what they’re worth. You also need a backbone.

That last piece of advice comes courtesy of a Gartner survey, according to which a whopping 68 percent of employees would leave their current jobs to work at a company that takes a stronger stance on social issues. Moreover, those employees whose companies already have strong stances are twice as likely to be satisfied in their jobs.

The preoccupation with corporate moral compasses is a logical outcome of the past year. People saw the lengths to which some companies went to support their workers during the pandemic, the racial justice movements of the summer of 2020, the storming of the US Capitol in early January — the list goes on. People also saw how badly some organizations dropped the ball. The bar has been set pretty high, and today’s employees would rather work for companies that take a stand.

What makes the pandemic different from every other economic crisis? Maybe the all-encompassing awfulness of 2020 taught us what matters most in life. Maybe it taught us never to take tomorrow for granted. Maybe “carpe diem” is the philosophical order of the day.

It’s hard to say for sure. What we can say is that you have the best shot at retaining your employees if you:

  1. Pay them well
  2. Offer flexibility
  3. Take a stand for social justice

Sure, you don’t have to do these things. You could count on an iffy labor market to keep your employees in their chairs. Just don’t be shocked if people start leaving in droves — because plenty of companies already tick all three of those boxes.

Read more in Retention

Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of