Employee Turnover Is on the Rise. Here’s How to Make Them Stay.

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If organizations thought employee engagement was a challenge before the pandemic, they’ve now seen what economic turbulence can do to company culture. Disrupted work/life balance, companywide disconnects, and rising rates of disengagement are just a few of the hurdles HR leaders and their organizations face in the post-pandemic world.

Engagement initially rose during the pandemic, thanks to newfound flexibility and perhaps even fear of job loss. But it plummeted back to pre-COVID levels as the pandemic wore on and burnout spread. Today, when we’re long past the knee-jerk reactions of March 2020 and organizations have had time to listen and respond to employee needs, many workers want to leave their jobs. With the threat of exceptionally high turnover looming this year, have organizations done enough to make their employees feel heard, valued, and recognized?

According to the Achievers “2021 Employee Engagement and Retention Report,” the answer is no. Only one in five employees describe themselves as very engaged. The number of employees who describe themselves as disengaged or completely disengaged increased to 24 percent in 2021, a 10 percent increase over last year. More than half (52 percent) of employees are planning to job hunt this year, a major increase from 2020 when just 35 percent of employees planned to leave their jobs.

What will it take for leaders to create engagement, drive retention, and ultimately save their own workforces?

The Growing Importance of Real Work/Life Balance

After a year of predominantly remote work, it’s concerning to see a 17-point increase in the number of employees who plan to job hunt this year. Many are now searching for better compensation and benefits (36 percent) and more work/life balance (25 percent), indicating their current employers may have neglected these things during the pandemic.

While money will always be a motivator, employees’ pursuit of a better work/life balance undoubtedly comes from the burnout more than a third of employees currently feel, according to a report from MetLife. Additionally, employees are concerned that managers doubt their productivity while working from home, leading to a large number of employees spending more hours online. In fact, more than 40 percent of employees are working longer hours simply to negate the illusion of being unproductive, according to the Achievers “Engagement and Retention Report.”

Many employers assumed that remote work would organically improve work/life balance by eliminating commutes and increasing time spent at home, but this has simply not been the case. As employers now see, drawing boundaries between work life and home life is challenging when working remotely, and consistently working longer hours simply isn’t a sustainable practice.

Employees Are Tired of Providing Feedback With No Change

While up to three in five organizations have solicited feedback from their employees on the employee experience, work preferences post-pandemic, and company culture, many companies aren’t acting on this feedback. Nearly one in five (18 percent) employees say their employer never does anything with their feedback.

This is particularly concerning as it pertains to company culture, with many employees reporting their connections to their companies have dwindled over the last 12 months. Nearly half of employees say they feel less connected to their company or colleagues than in the past. Beyond that, 42 percent agree that company culture has declined since the onset of the pandemic.

As the “2020 Culture Report” from Achievers notes, company culture is a strong predictor of engagement. If organizations want to retain talent, they must take action on employee feedback to create environments that foster employee connections.

Recognition: A Key Driver of Engagement and Retention

According to the “2020 Culture Report,” two in five employees don’t feel appreciated for the work they’ve done during the pandemic, even though 85 percent of employees say they work harder when they receive recognition. Not surprisingly, frequent recognition had a direct correlation with improved engagement: The more recently an employee was recognized, the higher their engagement was likely to be, and the less likely they were to be job hunting. For recognition to work, it should align with the following five pillars:

  1. Frequent: Monthly at a minimum
  2. Public: Shared with the team or company
  3. Timely: Occurs shortly after the event being recognized
  4. Specific: Details why the recognition is deserved
  5. Values-based: Recognized behaviors should support company values

By creating a culture of recognition, organizations are not only further engaging employees, but they are creating an attractive workplace culture for new employees. According to Achievers’ research, 80 percent of employees say a strong recognition culture makes a company an attractive employer.

Make a Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

In the “Engagement and Retention Report,” more than half (52 percent) of employees said they would be more engaged if their employer improved efforts to enhance and support diversity and inclusion. Organizations that celebrate and support differences between people foster a sense of belonging among employees. That nurtures engagement, which in turn improves performance at work. What’s more, diverse workforces are also more profitable: Inclusive teams can improve performance by up to 30 percent, according to Gartner.

If promoting diversity and inclusion within your organization isn’t a priority, it should be. Every company should be working to create workplaces where every employee feels welcome, included, and accepted. After all, according to Glassdoor, 67 percent of job seekers consider diversity and inclusion important factors when evaluating job opportunities.

As we approach a post-pandemic world and revert back to a candidate’s job market, it’s critical employers are armed with the tools they need to keep employees engaged in order to retain top talent. Employers can set themselves up for success by placing a heavy focus on work/life balance, acting on employee feedback, building a culture of recognition, and nurturing a sense of belonging through a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Dr. Natalie Baumgartner is chief workforce scientist at the Achievers Workforce Institute.

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By Dr. Natalie Baumgartner