Five ways to boost employee retention

17 October 2022

Rowena Millward

Rowena Millward is an author, and career and life coach. Her whitepaper ‘Blended: The post COVID rules on how we work, lead and live’ can be found here.

At a time of high change and job insecurity, more people than ever are resigning. Rowena Millward provides five essential tips that will help business leaders improve staff retention.

The Great Resignation was one of the biggest after-shocks of COVID-19. While during the early days of COVID-19, employees were grateful to keep their job, in the post-pandemic era, the market has seen a massive growth in resignations, known as ‘the Great Resignation’.

Statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that for the year ending February 2022, 9.5 per cent of employed people changed jobs. Among professionals, including financial planners, this was a massive 22 per cent, despite the overall market retrenchment rate at 1.5 per cent being the lowest on record.

It seems contradictory that at a time of high change and job insecurity, more people than ever are resigning. So what is behind this trend? What are people really looking for?

Lockdown created a mindset shift – at scale

One of the biggest mindset shifts came from the disruption of our pre-pandemic lives. Between juggling work, families, inevitable curve-balls and everyday life, there was little time to stop and consider what it is that people actually want.

Lockdown led to people asking questions such as: “Am I satisfied with my life choices? Do I have the right balance for me across work, family and life? Is this what I really want?”

Adding to this were high levels of burnout, with a 2021 study reporting 77 per cent of employees in Australia and New Zealand experienced burnout at least once in the prior 12 months, adding to the conviction that their life choices were not right.

So, the burning platform for change was there and more people responded by resigning, but do people really know what they want? And do licensees and employers really know how to help?

Before we can answer that, we need to recognise the seismic shift in how people perceive work, and how they are motivated pre and post-pandemic.

The new employee motivation

While engagement is still the accepted measure of employee health today, the needs of employees and their expectations have evolved.

The pre-pandemic model of engagement as the driver of motivation set the employer up as responsible. Inherent in this model was the reality that work and life were largely separate, and that most work happened in a controlled office environment. Employers focused on how benefits, skills development and career progression would engage and motivate employees. In that environment, employees positively responded to engagement initiatives.

However, post-pandemic, the focus and ownership has shifted. Employee motivation is based on work and career as part of a whole life approach. They are more than willing to be responsible for outcomes, but not how they deliver them – they want individual flexibility on how they do that. They expect employers to empower them (not just engage them), as they look to navigate their whole life, not just their career. If employers choose not to support them, then there are plenty of different options to consider – new jobs within their current industry or even new careers outside of it.

To summarise using an old expression, ‘people are now working to live, rather than living to work’.

So, what can leaders do to improve retention?

Flexibility within a framework and a whole life approach is required to meet an individual’s and an organisation’s needs. By helping employees define and then implement work by design, you will empower them and build commitment and loyalty.

Here are five ways of doing this:

  1. Providing employees with education that empowers them in identifying what is important across their life. Work is part, but so is family, community and personal growth. For example, what are their personal values and priorities in the next 12 months? How can work support their personal goals? Is the culture inclusive, allowing the whole person to thrive?
  2. Ensure your workplace has the right technology and culture to empower hybrid work. Flexibility is an expectation, but a major pain point is ensuring flexible working is easy to implement, so employees are still set up for success. Talking about it, but not empowering it, will create frustration and be seen as disingenuous.
  3. Provide leaders with the education and tools to enable them to have the right conversations with their team. If an employee resigns without any prior conversation, then this is a sure sign that managers are not encouraging employees to have the right conversations, and upskilling is required.
  4. Ensure the voice of the employee is visible and actioned. In a high change environment, qualitative feedback will be more valuable, as your previous engagement surveys may not be asking the right questions for now.
  5. Engage team members to co-create solutions. The future blueprint will require flexibility within a framework. Make them part of the future solution by collaborating on how their needs, and the business’s needs, can be met.

You need to answer the question

While the pandemic created the question ‘What do I want in my life?’, employees don’t necessarily know the answer. Don’t hide from this question, help them answer it and empower them to live it.

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