What a difference a global pandemic makes. Workplaces used to buzz with life in physical locations. Meeting facilities and conference rooms were booked weeks or even months out. Business travel was part of the everyday norm. Organizations focused on meeting business goals, and people leaders focused on coaching their employees to achieve their next personal best.
And then in an instant it all changed.
There went the playbooks with all the workplace norms as we knew them, and many top performers disappeared right along with them as well. While it remains to be seen what parts of the old normal will return, if anything, all we can bet on for the foreseeable future is that everything is completely different now.
No one in the labor market has been immune from the fallout of the Great Resignation or Turnover Tsunami as it’s been called. If you’re a people leader in a large corporation, small business, government sector, or nonprofit, you are likely still feeling the aftershocks while you assess the damage, sift through the shards, and begin gluing the workplace pieces back together only to discover the old pieces aren’t quite fitting the same way as they used to.
Yes, more people have recently left their jobs in record numbers and, yes, in the lower paying sectors may continue to do so, and we continue to read they are never coming back. To an extent that is true. Those pushing retirement prior to the pandemic decided to do so early. Some of your former employees are retraining for new careers. Many have started their own businesses as record numbers of applications for LLCs and sole proprietorships have been filed. Some are looking to enter higher-paying industries, and others have simply dropped out of work in search of more meaningful purpose and fulfillment, at least until the money runs out.
But in the middle of this Great Resignation, we’re also starting to see something else brewing. It’s looking more like a Great Reemergence or maybe a Great Reset or a Greater Reshuffling. Dare we say there may be some actual hope among all the dismal labor shortage statistics? There’s even some chatter about the coming Great Rebound where the top talent who once fled to greener pastures have since decided there’s no place like home and want to come back.
People will return to work, just not with the same mindset they had when they left. For many employees the pandemic struck a nerve about the fragility of life and prompted a renewed sense of purpose and clarity. Work is now only one of the many puzzle pieces that must appropriately fit into the overall picture they define as “life.”
The companies that understand this renewing of the mind that’s occurring and are willing to put the processes in place to support it will be the winners in attracting and keeping the top talent that’s waiting to land. So get ready to welcome them and jump on rebuilding a workplace that will continue to attract and keep your best people going forward.
If your talent has stayed with you through these past several months, now is certainly the time to make sure you’re doing everything in your power to keep them. If you’ve lost top performers, rest assured there’s plenty of talent still out there looking, but they are taking their time and being intentional about their next employment move.
As the dust continues to settle, we will see many positive changes and outcomes resulting in stronger, more authentic, and productive work environments. Employees are returning with different expectations. How we successfully engage with them will be different, and keeping them will certainly take a different approach.
One of the most important concepts to grasp upfront is the emphasis employees are placing on the need for organizations to care for them as human beings. We are hearing a lot on this topic lately and will continue to do so as mental wellness and taking a holistic view of employees as people is now becoming one of the basic tenets in today’s workplace. Simply put, the old physical has become the new psychological. Employees no longer place as much value on physical perks as they did in the past. Free food, Ping-Pong tables, and gym memberships have been traded for non-negotiables such as respect, appreciation, and mental care.
Another keyword emerging strongly in this new workplace is balance. Employees are on a mission for work-life balance. They are regularly assessing this balance and will weigh in on their desire to stay with a job by asking themselves three key questions:
What is it costing me physically and psychologically to succeed at this job? (Requirements)
What am I tangibly getting in return for doing this job? (Rewards)
How appreciated, trusted, and valued do I feel on this job? (Respect)
Picture a teeter-totter–type scale. On one side of the scale sits the Requirements weight. On the other side sit the Rewards and Respect weights. If the combined weight of the Rewards and Respect at least meets the weight of the Requirements, the scale will balance.
If the Requirements weight is heavier than the combined Rewards and Respect weights, the scale will not balance and end up tilting under the weight of the Requirements. Employees with a balanced scale will likely stay. Those whose scale is collapsing under the Requirements weight will likely leave. Simple as that. Yes, but not so fast.
The three weights can be calibrated to create balance, but because each employee is unique, the heaviness factor they assign to the individual components within each of the weights will vary. For example, the Requirements may include a necessity to make a one-hour commute. The thought of this might be torturous for one employee but for another may be a welcomed chance to decompress and listen to a complete podcast without interruption. Therefore, it’s crucial that people leaders have ongoing conversations with their employees—especially with the top talent they want to protect and keep—to determine what will impact the balance of their scale and ways it can be calibrated as needed to get it back in balance as soon as possible.
Turnover is not always a negative outcome to be avoided at all costs. Those employees who were not suitable hires or deteriorated into nonperformers with no desire to improve need to be gone. But when it comes to keeping your best people, that’s a different story, and you want to do everything in your power to do so. The bad news about employee retention is that it’s tricky because it deals with employees who also happen to be people, and people can be complex.
The comforting news about employee retention is that because it deals with people, we know for a fact that all people have basic needs in common and that’s an effective place to start. While specific solutions for meeting those needs may differ for each individual, the fact remains that the types of needs humans have will always remain constant.
I don’t know about you, but any constant in this workplace right now is a welcomed data point when it comes to cracking the employee retention code.
Merrylue Martin is the author of The Big Quit Survival Guide. The book describes how to retain your best people, how to wow the best new hires and deal with the challenges of remote and hybrid workers, and gives you access over 30 printable Survival Tactics to immediately act upon!