Retention — the ability of companies to keep their employees from quitting their jobs — suffered a devastating blow during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the USA alone, nearly 4 million people quit their jobs during April 2021; by November 2021, that number soared to a record 4.5 million.1 In the wake of this mass exodus of employees, dubbed “the Great Resignation,” how can organizations reduce turnover and keep their employees working?
First, it’s helpful to understand why employees stay. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management2 identified the five leading factors that keep employees happy and satisfied with their jobs:
- Respectful treatment of all employees at all levels
- Compensation/pay, overall
- Trust between employees and senior management
- Job security
Opportunities to use [their] skills and abilities in [their] work
To retain top employees in 2022 and beyond, employers must implement effective employee retention strategies that support the five factors listed above (and other crucial areas). Instead of trying to retain employees by doing the bare minimum (such as offering more compensation opportunities with tenure), successful employee retention strategies focus on multiple areas of the work experience and take steps that are proven to combat high turnover rates and keep employees longer. They explore why employees are leaving the organization (e.g., unhappiness with advancement changes, decreased engagement, dissatisfaction with the work, negative experiences with a manager or coworker, toxic workplace culture) and actively work to address those reasons.
No single strategy can guarantee that employees will choose to stay longer with the organization. But combining modern leadership principles with focused drivers of retention will not only help reduce the turnover rate, but also increase the organization’s productivity. The following seven strategies can be especially effective at improving the employee experience and making employees want to stay.
Immerse employees in the culture
Large businesses and small businesses alike continually find that company culture is a significant contributor to how employees feel and whether they are satisfied with their jobs, with one survey of 615,000 Glassdoor users finding that the top predictors of employee satisfaction are “culture and values of the organization.”3 Building an organizational culture in which employees can thrive can do more to help employees want to stay than almost any other factor. Instead of just educating new hires about their health benefits and 401k plans, HR leaders should introduce new team members to the workplace culture and let them know how that culture will help them prosper throughout their careers at the organization.
Focus on making connections
When companies have a work environment in which employees form strong connections with their teams, leaders, and organizations, those employees are likely to stay longer (even as much as six or more years, according to one study4). Leaders can encourage greater connection by focusing on efforts such as team building, holding regular one-to-one meetings, and connecting employees’ work to the purpose of the organization. They can also check in frequently with employees and trigger meaningful conversations.
Recognize and appreciate employees
It’s no secret that employee recognition plays a significant role in keeping employees happy and motivated to stay with the organization, and stronger connections result “when recognition for great work and extra effort is a consistent part of everyday culture.”5 This is most effectively done through a formal program that allows employees to use peer-to-peer recognition applications and other tools to appreciate their colleagues’ great work as it happens. Employee appreciation works best when it is a constant, integrated element of the organization’s culture and personalized to fit each employee. Most importantly, it should always connect employees to purpose, accomplishment, and one another.
Provide ongoing training opportunities
By offering opportunities for professional development, organizations demonstrate their commitment to employees’ long-term career paths. Such opportunities can include company training programs, tuition support for college courses or degrees, participation in trade shows, software certification, and even mentoring. Another option is to “design development into everyday experience” and “build learning and advancement right into people’s roles,” as illustrated by this example:
One organization started a program they called “Walk in their shoes,” intended to strengthen connections between employees from different parts of the organization. It consisted of weekly peer-mentoring sessions between people in adjacent functions that regularly worked together. The HR executive from that company told me, “Our initial intention was to make sure cross-functional collaboration remained strong despite remote work. What we hadn’t planned on was how much people would learn in the process, changing how people perform their own jobs, and opening lateral career paths we hadn’t considered.” Building on the unexpected success, they now offer job shadowing of higher-level jobs and training programs taught by those who’ve completed rotations. It’s become a regular part of the company’s career-development efforts.6
Provide work-life balance
Elevating the well-being of workers and creating a healthy work-life balance can make a significant difference in how employees feel about job satisfaction in their place of work. Factors that can lead to burnout include “decreased work/life balance, feeling like work has a negative effect on health, or a decreased sense of belonging,” and with “40 percent of employees…experiencing moderate-to-severe burnout,” it’s clearly a problem that companies need to address.7 One solution is to help employees create clear boundaries between work and home life, especially when they are working remotely.
Offer the freedom to work remotely
There’s no question that the increased ability of workers to work remotely has contributed to the scale of the Great Resignation. To accommodate the need for employees to isolate during the pandemic, employers had to offer more flexible work and make new policies on remote work or hybrid work. At the same time, though, increased freedom to engage in remote work or hybrid work has actually improved employee experiences and engagement.8
Deliver peak experiences
These big, impactful events build lasting connections and lead to greater employee satisfaction in the workplace. Some examples of peak experiences include leading a big project, receiving company-wide recognition for making a significant contribution, or getting a chance to apply skills and knowledge in new ways. “When an organization meets an employee’s needs of autonomy, connection, and mastery,” the employee experience is dramatically improved.9At the same time, leaders who act as mentors, advocate for employee development, and connect employees to meaningful opportunities help employees (and themselves) feel a greater sense of purpose, accomplishment, and connection with each other, which in turn can lead to greater employee morale and feelings of success.
Create retention strategies that fit
The most successful employee retention strategies address the reasons why people are leaving. HR retention strategies that are the best for retention at one organization may not be the best strategies at another. (For example, improving compensation and benefits is likely to have the most impact in organizations that lag behind their competitors in those areas but might not be feasible in companies that already pay highly.) The best, most generally useful approach is to focus on strengthening and reinforcing workplace culture, then to implement strategies that will provide the kinds of employee experiences (including meaningful work and regular recognition) that people want.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2022. “Number of Quits at All-time High in November 2021.” BLS website, January 6, www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/number-of-quits-at-all-time-high-in-november-2021.htm.
2SHRM. 2017. “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement: The Doors of Opportunity Are Open.” SHRM website, www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/2017-Employee-Job-Satisfaction-and-Engagement-Executive-Summary.pdf.
3Patrick Wong. 2017. “Does More Money Change What We Value at Work?” Glassdoor website, January 17, www.glassdoor.com/research/more-money-change-value-at-work.
4O.C. Tanner Institute. 2022. “Rethink: 2022 Global Culture Report.” O.C. Tanner website, www.octanner.com/content/dam/oc-tanner/images/v2/culture-report/2022/home/INT-GCR2022.pdf.
6Ron Carucci. 2021. “To Retain Employees, Give Them a Sense of Purpose and Community.” Harvard Business Review website, October 11, hbr.org/2021/10/to-retain-employees-give-them-a-sense-of-purpose-and-community.
7O.C. Tanner Institute. 2020. “Experience: 2020 Global Culture Report.” O.C. Tanner website, www.octanner.com/content/dam/oc-tanner/documents/white-papers/2019/INT-GCR2020-12.pdf.
8O.C. Tanner Institute. 2022.