In the Age of the Great Resignation, You Can’t Retain Employees Unless You Invest in Them

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s driving a groundswell of people leaving their jobs in what’s known as the Great Resignation, the Turnover Tsunami, or the Great COVID Job Turn.

These mass resignations place strain on companies. For example, in the retail sector alone, a May 2021 report from Korn Ferry found 94 percent of employers were struggling to fill vacancies. Many companies are now offering signing bonuses and higher wages for new employees in a desperate attempt to find capable workers.

Amid the storm of resignations, it can be all too easy for employers to overlook all the employees who haven’t budged. But HR and leadership teams must identify and support those individuals remaining steadfast in their roles. It’s more efficient and cheaper to retain quality employees than to hire and train new ones who might only stay for a short period. If companies take the right steps, they might slow down or even reverse the Turnover Tsunami.

Why Are People Leaving?

Many employers have shifted back to on-premises work in 2021, implementing either fully in-office or hybrid structures. But, after a year and a half working from home, millions of workers have grown used to having flexibility, no commutes, and more time to spend with loved ones.

Remote work afforded many employees a higher quality of life. The only things they see coming from a return to the office are cubicles, more in-person meetings, and a lot of bureaucracy. Rather than go back to work, these employees are quitting their jobs and looking for employers where they’ll be able to maintain the flexibility they’re accustomed to. Some workers, tired of juggling jobs, caregiving, and the pandemic, are bowing out of the workforce altogether.

Opening Pathways to Growth

Employers can mitigate much of the turnover if they talk openly with employees about their needs and then take action to meet those needs. One of the most common needs employees feel isn’t being met? Professional development.

In a study reported by Harvard Business Review, researchers found that people are twice as likely to put in extra effort at work and stay with their employer when they feel their company’s promotion practices are equitable and fair. These companies also saw higher growth, more innovation, and more productivity.

When companies actively promote the right people based on merit, it builds a culture of equity and transparency. The company illustrates that it recognizes and rewards potential, and this recognition will convince many employees to stay on board for the long haul.

HR and talent acquisition teams, along with company leaders, should make sure that promotion and professional growth paths are highly visible to both incoming and current staff members. Information about how to attain promotions and the benefits of higher-level positions should be readily available to all employees.

Professional development for employees should start at onboarding. A survey from Glassdoor found direct correlations between onboarding and retention, noting that employees were 18 times more likely to be highly committed to their organizations if they felt their onboarding experiences were “highly effective.” Onboarding should be a streamlined experience that answers employees’ questions while making them feel included and respected, regardless of whether they work in the office or remotely.

Reduce Turnover by Investing in People

For a small software company employing 40 people, it’s probably impossible to directly compete with Oracle or Salesforce on salaries and benefits. While retaining top staff does require paying top workers fair, above-market rates, smaller employers can make up for comparatively lower salaries by build cultures that invest in people.

Building such a culture starts with an honest assessment to determine whether an employer is actively pushing people away through its policies and processes. Today’s employees desire time, personal health, and family interactions over sheer money and power. Employers will need to adopt policies that fit this new dynamic, or else they’ll keep losing top talent to the organizations that are meeting employees where they are.

It’s never too late to start investing in your employees. In fact, asking a departing employee what they hope to do next in their job can even prompt a discussion about creating a new role for them internally. Even if they don’t accept the offer, this creates an opportunity to promote another employee to fill their role.

Whatever happens, once an employee has decided to move on, it’s best to wish them well. This shouldn’t be a contentious ending, but an opportunity for HR to gain some insights into helping employees feel motivated and valued moving forward. After all, employee happiness is the core factor in employee retention and company growth.

Raynie Andrewsen is the head of quality control for KnowledgeCity.

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Raynie Andrewsen is the head of quality control for KnowledgeCity, a leading eLearning provider. She oversees the development and review of KnowledgeCity's course content. Raynie embraces the company mission to make quality skills training accessible to everyone and looks for opportunities for the company to get involved in its community. She studied English and media analysis at Arizona State University and previously worked as a journalist and editor.