It’s Time for the Great Retention

It’s Time for the Great Retention | Kathleen Duffy | Recruitment Expert

It’s Time for the Great Retention

Smart Strategies to Ensure that Your Top Employees Choose to Stay

The “Great Resignation.” The “Turnover Tsunami.” The names are sober, but they reflect a challenging reality. Over the past several months, large numbers of Americans have chosen to leave their jobs; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a staggering four million workers resigned in July alone.

The numbers are highest for mid-career employees, precisely the skilled talent that most organizations want to retain. It’s particularly noticeable among women, many of whose ability to work has been impacted by COVID, hybrid in-person and remote schooling policies, and family care obligations. Nearly every industry has been affected, but there are especially worrying reports of skeleton workforces in retail, tourism, hospitality, sports, and entertainment. Healthcare providers are struggling to retain workers, and childcare facilities are challenged by the inability to both find staff and to keep them, adding to the pressures on working parents.

In my conversations with HR professionals, I’m frequently asked how to respond to this “turnover tsunami.” It’s clear that organizations need a careful strategy, not simply to identify the best talent for an opportunity, but to prevent those opportunities from arising in the first place.

The good news is that there are solutions—critical steps you can implement to protect your organization from a potential “Great Resignation” with a well-designed plan for a “Great Retention.”

Customize your benefits

Savvy companies know that, in a competitive hiring market, they need to reimagine their employee benefits package, from an annual salary and signing bonus to full college tuition, additional time off, remote work, and other perks. Some of our clients are customizing benefits, including one client that changed its vacation policy to four weeks from one week to attract candidates for hard-to-fill positions.

One area that many organizations overlook is benefits connected to employee financial wellness. You may want to look beyond retirement plans and life insurance to provide emergency savings accounts (such as payroll advances) or to offer one-on-one financial planning or coaching sessions with a financial expert.

Since October is the time when many organizations are negotiating their benefits for next year, if you are a hiring leader, now is a great time for a thoughtful conversation with a recruitment expert. Find out if your company’s benefits are strong enough to attract—and retain—the best talent. Recruiters are in a position to know what your competition might be offering, and what matters to the strongest candidates.

Gather data to identify who is leaving. Is turnover higher than normal in certain roles? Are resignations impacting your commitment to a diverse workforce? If family obligations are a factor, determine whether work schedules, roles, and responsibilities can be adapted, or opportunities for remote work reinstated.

Stay interviews

It should not take a significant number of resignations for you to ask your star employees what they need to stay motivated and feel valued. Don’t wait for the exit interview to discover what might have persuaded your employees to stay. There’s a time and a place for informal conversations between managers and their teams, but I’m recommending something more structured and thoughtful—a strategic “stay interview.” Smaller organizations and nonprofits may choose to do this across the board, but for larger organizations, you’ll want to focus on the jobs that matter and the individuals who perform.

I recently spoke with Dr. John Sullivan, the HR thought leader who specializes in strategic talent management solutions. John pioneered the concept of stay interviews 20 years ago, and they’ve never been more relevant.

We agreed that leaders need to spend less time focusing on why good talent leaves and more on identifying why the best contributors stay. The decision to resign often happens because of a single bad event. The solution—the barrier against that unpredictable bad event—lies in reinforcing the sticky factors that keep people in place. Knowledge is power—you want to know what your best employees like about working for your organization and take action to keep those factors strong.

John recommends a five-step plan for an effective stay interview:

  1. Show appreciation: Start by thanking the employee for their contribution. (“You have made a significant difference to our success this year.”)
  2. Get specific: Demonstrate that you recognize precisely what they do by mentioning a specific project or accomplishment that has been critical.
  3. Make it clear: Tell them that you want them to stay.
  4. Identify the sticky factors: Ask them why they stay—find out what they like about working for your organization.
  5. Reinforce the positive: Follow up the interview by taking action to keep those sticky factors strong.

I recommend that leaders encourage managers to schedule these stay interviews quarterly, with follow-up questions during regular one-on-ones. In my experience, sticky factors change over time. Becoming a parent, a move triggering a change in commuting options or travel time, a need for more paid leave or tuition reimbursement… one thing all of us have learned over the past 18 months is that external factors beyond our control can suddenly impact what we need to work effectively.

This is an especially helpful strategy for nonprofits or organizations where financial resources have been stretched as a result of the pandemic. Offering raises, or increasing benefits must be done across the board. But responding specifically to the factors that matter most to your key contributors enables a personalized, targeted approach. It provides an opportunity to express your appreciation, and to identify what your top talent values in your organization. It’s a much more cost-effective solution than sweeping changes to benefits policies.

Don’t wait until your top talent resigns to find out why they are leaving. Start with your most vital talent, the individuals you don’t want to replace, and those in positions that have proved challenging to fill. Ask them why they choose to stay and use that knowledge to make smart, strategic actions to demonstrate that you value their contribution.