Nearly two years since the COVID-19 global pandemic sent the U.S. economy plunging to record lows, employee engagement and retention strategies are more important than ever.1, 2
Today’s companies are eager to return to business as usual following the tremendous number of furloughs and job losses of the past 19 months, but doing so during recent, unprecedented job exits and a resurgence in consumer demand will require the adoption of innovative working methods and safety protocols.3 To maintain full employee rosters, companies will also have to provide the agile, adaptive workplace sought after by today's workforce.4,5
Currently, markets still favor employees, just as they did pre-COVID. There remains a record number of job openings and a record number of employees quitting their positions.5 Paired with increased competition for top workers and increasing demand for productivity, businesses cannot act as though people are a replaceable commodity. The financial drain of hiring and training new employees and mitigating slowed production or output while the new hires catch up to speed, may not be worth it. So what can businesses and bosses do to keep their best employees around?
In general, good rules of thumb for employee retention strategies should involve some of these overarching themes: the freedom and opportunity for employees to make decisions, open communication across the company, and a culture that encourages growth both in and out of the workplace. But in this competitive market it’s not enough to just cover these bases, so let’s dig a little deeper and discover how to improve employee retention.
Provide Flexible, Safe Work Arrangements
Now is the perfect time to adapt workplaces so that they benefit your post-covid employees and companies simultaneously. Setting up safe work stations that are properly distanced to prevent COVID transmission, organizing a work rotation (so not all employees have to be in the office at the same time), establishing new safety protocols for worker health, and allowing employees to work from home are all fantastic options to “COVID-proof” existing work environments and save on office relocation costs.
Many employees have proven they can work remotely and can be just as productive, even through massive upheaval. These agile, adaptive employees now expect a certain amount of flexibility that they didn’t have before COVID. Consequently, it’s imperative for companies who want to be part of the recovery to allow for new hybrid and/or remote work options in order to retain their best employees, hire new ones, and stay ahead of competitors who will likely be offering these flexible job perks to top talent.6
Allow Them to Feel Involved
Allowing your employees to have ownership of and freedom in their work gives them the feeling they’re invested in that work, and by virtue, the company. You should also ask them for their feedback when changes are made that affect their work environments. Instead of putting a new system in place and retreating back behind the scenes, check in with your team members and ask them how they feel about the changes. Talk with employees as regularly as you can, and see what’s working or not working in their day-to-day schedules. Not only will this help you to make things run more smoothly, but it will make your employees feel like you’re invested in the quality of their work-life. If you want a happy workplace, you’ll absolutely need to keep your ear to the ground to hear rumblings of discontent before they become full-blown issues.7
Let Them Grow
It can be tempting to micromanage and not allow your employees to spread their wings. You may fear that if they become too good at their jobs, they may leave for bigger and better things.
However, by investing in their personal and professional growth, you’re showing you care about their holistic development. Try to get to know your employees, what they’re good at, what they’re interested in, and what areas they need to improve. From there, you can allow your employees to take on new assignments or tasks that will challenge them and expand their skills and knowledge.
You should also give them plenty of opportunities to expand their education, such as providing access to online training and skill-building courses or giving a stipend for attending conferences and networking events with speakers. It’s also good practice to hire from within whenever possible.8
By allowing your team members to own their work and demonstrating that their investment and personal output in the company is handsomely rewarded, you should see big dividends in the level of performance of your employees.
When people do come back to the office to work, it’s important to remember they’re just looking for a little respect when they come to their second home. Most people spend more time at work than they do at home, so why would they want to come to a place where they feel like they’re not valued or respected? Your employees may not remember what you said to them verbatim, but they’ll certainly remember the way you made them feel. So if you have to offer criticism, try and pair it with praise of something they do well. Be transparent and remember to keep open communication channels.9
It can also help to get to know employees on a personal level, even if that means spending time with them outside of work. It’s important to not view or treat people as though they’re robotic worker bees. Your employees are humans with feelings and lives outside of work. Getting to know them on a personal level allows you to form an actual bond with your team members; it also helps facilitate empathy, trust, connection, and belonging.10
Do you remember how it felt to get busy-work when you were in school? No one wants to feel that way as an adult in their job. You can avoid this by making sure the work you assign has meaning and purpose. To do this you’ll need to get to know your employees and what their interests, passions, and goals are. This will enable you to set short and long-term goals for your employees that they’ll feel passionate about accomplishing. Post-pandemic, each employee’s time on the job is especially important to value.
If employees come to you with ideas or pet projects that align with the company goals or strategy, allow them to work on those projects as long as they’re still able to complete their essential job duties. You can also create a learning environment in which they can lend their expertise to a cross-functional project, or gain the opportunity to pick up a new skill from a different department.
Remember To Be Accommodating
If you’re wondering how to improve employee retention, let them leave for a bit or allow them to work remotely for an extended period. Don’t be stingy with time away from the office when employees request it.
Many organizations will lump all of their paid time off together into one sum that includes sick days, vacation, and maternal/paternal leave. While it could be tempting to do this, be sure to give ample time off to your employees. You don’t want your employees stressing out for taking a sick day after they’ve booked a one-week vacation in advance.
The concept of flexibility should apply to the day-to-day workday as well. Remember, the energy and enthusiasm your employees bring to work is more important than the number of hours they’re clocking in. You should expect a high level of performance from your team, but you can’t expect them to function at 100% efficiency continuously. Allow them to take a breather between projects during the day, or work a few days a week remotely, and they’ll come back to their desks refreshed and ready to tackle the next project.11
Gain the Skills to Become an Empathetic Leader
Transitioning from a manager to a true and empathetic leader takes time, patience, and a willingness to change company culture where and when needed. With the above employee retention strategies as your building blocks, you should be able to make your team feel valued and committed to your organization.
If you’d like to become a more well-rounded leader who empowers employees to reach their full potential, consider how the online business programs from Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business could help you achieve that goal.
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/14/u-s-labor-market-inches-back-from-the-covid-19-shock-but-recovery-is-far-from-complete
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from gallup.com/workplace/285674/improve-employee-engagement-workplace.aspx#ite-285782
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/the-future-of-work-after-covid-19
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/9-future-of-work-trends-post-covid-19
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from brookings.edu/research/11-facts-on-the-economic-recovery-from-the-covid-19-pandemic/
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2021/04/12/4-changes-to-expect-in-the-post-covid-workplace/?sh=ae3f4db5542a
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/06/02/six-ways-to-build-employee-loyalty-post-pandemic/?sh=6cb6e0de906a
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from business.com/articles/why-employers-should-promote-from-within/
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from inc.com/marcel-schwantes/first-90-days-how-to-keep-your-best-employees-from-quitting.html
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2018/07/01/half-of-u-s-employees-are-actively-searching-for-a-new-job/#31fd171379c6
- Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/managingflexibleworkarrangements.aspx