As companies attempt to rehire and recover from the last two years, they’re all trying to comprehend why some of their talented employees are pursuing new opportunities that often don’t appear to be better (in terms of pay or advancement possibilities) than their current roles. To better understand this shift, organizations need to examine their work cultures closely. What underlying cultural issues exist? How can they be resolved quickly? What has changed in the last two years? To find answers to these questions, leaders should begin by exploring certain key areas.
Over the past two years, it has become clear that many jobs can be handled remotely. When the pandemic began, businesses had no choice but to change their practices in order to survive; many leaders who had adamantly insisted that employees needed to be in the office to be productive suddenly shifted to a new way of thinking. Two years later, as the world continue to navigate these uncertain times, more and more companies are demanding that their workers return to the office full time. At the same time, though, employees have become accustomed to working from home and having a better work-life balance (as well as saving money on transportation costs), and many are pushing back against calls to go back to the office. Leaders must now ask themselves if requiring employees to return to the office full time is necessary for success — and whether they are willing to insist on that if it means risking the loss of valuable talent to other organizations that viewing work differently and don’t have that same requirement.
Leaders should not take their employees’ trust for granted. It’s important to survey employees and measure their trust in leadership periodically — and then adjust practices and policies as needed. Even when leaders feel that they have their employees’ trust, they should never assume that employees think leadership has their best interests in mind when making decisions. Trust is never guaranteed and must be earned every day.
Everyone wants to feel valued, and a company’s failure to acknowledge someone’s work appropriately can be a deciding factor in their decision to leave the organization. Therefore, it’s vital that leaders and teammates appreciate each other and value each person’s contribution to the company. But employees are all individuals who each have their own (and different) ideas about how they want to be recognized. Some prefer one-on-one praise, whereas others might want public acknowledgement of their achievements. Whatever forms recognition takes, it must be given sincerely (employees will be quick to spot insincerity) and consistently.
Although everyone might be in the same storm, they’re not all in the same boat: each person has their own unique challenges and obstacles. Leaders should check in regularly with their employees to ensure that they are taking time off, balancing work and life appropriately, and not burning out. When trying to negotiate between making sure business needs are met while giving people the time off they need, leaders must consider how to handle situations in which several employees want to take time off simultaneously. Is it easier to cover for an employee for a day or a week while they take care of themselves, or preferable to fill the position if the employee leaves entirely? With employees across all industries more stressed and burned out than ever before, sometimes something as simple as encouraging an employee to take a vacation or at least a day or two off without guilt or repercussions can have a hugely positive impact on maintaining workers’ motivation and productivity.
Employees often cite lack of communication as a major source of their frustration. When leaders fail to send out organizational updates, share words of encouragement, offer feedback, or recognize team members’ accomplishments, employees can start to think that no one cares about or notices their contributions, which can lead to feelings of isolation. In addition, when employees feel left out of the loop, they may worry that the company isn’t doing well or that leadership is hiding valuable information. The adage “no news is good news” doesn’t hold true anymore: employees expect and value communication, because it could inform their decisions to stay (or leave).
Alignment to the Mission
Almost every organization has a mission statement. However, it’s often buried (and unnoticed) in the employee handbook or completely forgotten when workloads increase. Employees often don’t understand their companies’ mission statements, and those who do and demonstrate commitment to them often aren’t recognized for doing so. Having a clear mission statement — and communicating it regularly and prominently — can unite the organization and motivate employees to work together toward a common goal. Incorporating assessment of mission alignment in employee performance evaluations and recognition programs can further demonstrate the organization’s commitment to the mission and its overall importance. When employees believe in the company’s mission and overall goals, they are more likely to feel secure in their roles and stay with the organization.
It’s essential for leaders to engage in self-reflection about their own performance. Some key questions they should ask themselves include:
- Am I approachable?
- Am I kind and considerate to my employees?
- Do I consider the impact of my communications and actions?
- Am I a servant leader willing to help anyone?
Employees often take cues from their leaders and emulate their behavior. For example, if a leader sends out work e-mail on a Sunday or while on vacation, their employees are likely to assume that they are expected to do the same (even though this expectation does not exist). Because leaders bear responsibility for how their actions affect their employees, they also bear responsibility for how their actions play a role in losing those employees.
Employees choose to leave their organizations for a variety of reasons, and it’s impossible to predict all the factors that can influence such a decision. Even when a leader offers clear and effective communication, is flexible about employees’ life situations, and recognizes their contributions, for example, an employee might still choose to leave. By understanding the key reasons why an employee could look for different employment — and understanding their needs, values, and motivations — a leader can increase their chances of retaining valuable talent.