As COVID began to lessen its grip on the U.S. this spring, many people spoke and wrote about “The Great Rehiring.” The storyline focused on how we would see the workforce come roaring back online with speed the country had never seen before. A few months into the push to re-open businesses nationwide and the story is not what most expected.
Re-hiring, hiring, and even retaining talent as COVID fades has been a struggle for most businesses. The culprit keeping people from work appears to be the very same one that facilitated work for so many people in the pandemic: remote work.
Remote or Goodbye
A May 2021 survey from Morning Consult, on behalf of Bloomberg News, found that 39% of all adults “would consider quitting their jobs if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work.” That same survey revealed those numbers to be even higher for Gen Z and millennials, 49% of whom said that they would consider leaving. Rather than “The Great Rehiring,” businesses are looking at a massive turnover challenge.
Informal interviews and surveys across the Employment Enterprises network of talent and client businesses are revealing the very same trend. Employees and job candidates have discovered a new way, and for many a better way, to work over the last year and a half. Employers, who expected workers to begin coming back, are finding themselves bombarded with requests from employees and candidates to remain remote. It’s a struggle that is beginning to impact workforce stability as turnover continues to rise.
The Powerful Pull of Remote
The draw of remote work is something businesses of all sizes are facing. Even global powerhouse Apple is sharing the struggle. After CEO Tim Cook announced a September return to Apple offices (three days per week) for all employees, 80 employees wrote an open letter asking him to reconsider. They explained that the flexibility and time they gained by working remotely gave them the chance to be their best as workers and people. According to those employees, it worked: “The last year has felt like we have truly been able to do the best work of our lives for the first time, unconstrained by the challenges that daily commutes to offices and in-person co-located offices themselves inevitably impose; all while still being able to take better care of ourselves and the people around us.”
From long commutes to safety concerns to the challenges of taking care of family members, workers and job seekers cite many reasons for wanting to maintain remote roles. For businesses, getting workers back in offices is about pushing teams past the pandemic stopgap mode of operation and getting back to ingenuity and innovation.
While many employees were productive at home in the pandemic, business leaders see the loss of team collaboration and problem solving as risks to business competitiveness and momentum. The pandemic put the world and many expectations on hold. With markets and opportunities revving up again, business leaders see unified, collaborative teams as key to that success and some level of in-person work as essential to that effort.
How to Stanch Turnover and Attract Talent
While some workers are going to insist on remote or nothing, there are strategies businesses can leverage to minimize turnover, retain the knowledge and experience of valued employees, and attract new talent. Here’s what’s working:
Conduct Check-ins & Surveys
Do you know what employees want when it comes to their work arrangements? Many businesses determined return-to-work policies without consulting their talent and the result was frustration and, for some, rising turnover. By checking in or surveying employees, a business can get a gauge of employee expectations and hopes while also demonstrating that the company values employee perspectives.
Surveys are also a great way to understand what employees are up against. For example, some employees may still be facing childcare issues because of how schools and daycare were impacted. This could indicate temporary challenges that will not keep employees remote indefinitely. Other employees may be looking for greater flexibility rather than expecting full-time remote. Surveys and check-ins from managers are an important way to gather that data. That intelligence can then serve as part of the foundation for building the go-forward workforce strategy.
Communicate Their Value & Management’s Interest
The competition for talent is strong as HR and recruiters well know. Business leaders should assume most employees have outside options and welcome discussions and negotiations on what can be done to keep good workers on staff.
Show employees that they are valued and encourage them to speak with their manager or other business leaders before considering leaving for another job. Rather than assuming the business has drawn a hard line on remote work, benefits, salary, or any other factor, employees can and should check in and explore options inside the business. While some will do it naturally, others might not be aware that discussions and negotiations are possible.
Leverage the Hybrid Remote Option
Many businesses are choosing to leverage the hybrid model for the near future to give employees a balance of remote work and in-person work. This balance of remote and in-person work offers the most logical compromise employers can offer today. And, it’s a way to remind employees of the value, fun and reward of working in-person with their talented colleagues.
Whether making hybrid remote a long-term option, a transitional phase, or a case-by-case opportunity, keeping this beloved work arrangement in some fashion not only increases retention, but it also is a talent magnet. Job seekers want to work for employers that recognize the importance of remote options. Even in a partial format, it is something employees are looking for.
Flexibility Is Key
Flexibility is something employees and job seekers have sought for decades, and the pandemic made that perk essential for so many people. As many employers are learning, changing that dynamic will take time. Acknowledging and addressing that need, whether through remote options, hybrid options, or other flexible opportunities, is essential to keeping turnover from becoming a serious problem and to keeping employees engaged and productive.