The Great Resignation: Retaining Employees in a Seller’s Market

Retaining Employees

Have you seen the real estate market lately? Homes are selling at a premium, sometimes with multiple offers above the asking price. To call it a seller’s market would be a huge understatement. In fact, sellers are able to dictate most any terms, up to and including taking their appliances with them since appliances are still hard to get.

Another unprecedented seller’s market is staffing. If you’ve tried to fill vacant positions recently you will find the sellers in this case are your employees and everyone else’s. Just as in the housing market, demand for quality personnel is far outstripping supply and many valued team members are heading for presumably greener pastures as employers rapidly revisit their strategies on retaining employees to avoid mass exodus.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index report that surveyed 31,000 workers around the globe. The study found that 41% of the global workforce are considering handing their resignation. 54% surveyed stated that they are overworked, and 39% are exhausted. These results speak to a significant percentage of the global workforce, employers must take notice and start opening up the conversation to retain top talent.

The term currently making the rounds is “The Great Resignation,” and while that may be overstating the case just a bit, there’s no doubt that workers are on the move. There’s currently a huge flurry of activity in recruiting as organizations struggle to find and retain top talent.

Why Employees are Leaving

What’s driving the migration? A number of factors, notes Lauren Elphick Kistner, Think’s Director of Strategic Hiring, but most are a direct result of the pandemic.

It wasn’t long ago, of course, that the combination of massive economic uncertainty and a sudden shift to a work-from-home (WFH) environment put a huge chill on the employment market. Jobs were lost and recruiters weren’t recruiting.

Now, as the economy recovers, more and more organizations are coming back from all that pivoting that kept them in survival mode last year. They’re growing again, and they need more good people in all those seats. Employees have choices, and that’s a truth at all levels from the front lines to upper management.

Further, Lauren notes, “The world around us changed.” And it especially changed for WFH employees who realized it’s no longer necessary to spend two hours per day trapped in a vehicle in order to do their jobs effectively. They have experienced a greater degree of personal freedom, and they’d like to keep it.

Reflecting on the trends she sees in her work for Think, Lauren says: “The companies having the most difficulty recruiting and retaining talent are the ones who are sort of stuck in the past.” This includes not only the firms insisting on a full return to the physical workplace, but those who haven’t crafted – or at least haven’t shared with their staffs – a long-term plan for work arrangements. Organizations committing to a permanent arrangement that allows some flexibility for their team members are simply more attractive to candidates and employees alike.

Your company undoubtedly wants to grow, and growth requires a solid foundation. That foundation is your key team members, and if you’re always plugging holes and playing musical chairs, growth will not be possible.

How Not to Retain an Employee

It’s always been much less costly to retain a team member than to recruit, hire and onboard a new one, and that’s more true than ever in the current environment. Worse, one or two key people heading for new opportunities often has the effect of spooking the herd, so to speak. Once the wildfire of a group exodus starts, it’s very hard to stop.

So the focus should be on retention, and here we’ll start with what not to do: in a word, micromanage.

Being a ‘hands on’ manager has a nice, roll-up-your-sleeves ring to it, but employees simply do not want to be baby-sat, whether in person or via endless Zoom check-ins. They’ve endured the massive uncertainty of the past 18 months and in many cases have been juggling work with child care and home-schooling. In short, they’re very low on patience, and a great way to exhaust what little remains is to constantly check up on them. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that we’ve hired good people who can be trusted to do their jobs without someone looking over their shoulders.

Best Practices for Retaining Team Members

Lauren points out that avoiding micromanagement does not mean ignoring your employees completely. Among the best things you can do to keep your finger on the pulse of employee engagement is simply to ask for their input on a regular basis.

Not sure about the best solution for a return to the office? Ask your team what they’d like to see happen. Even if you think they’re completely happy, give them a voice in what’s happening. The very act of being asked will make them feel more valuable.

Two important caveats here, though: In the interest of getting the most honest feedback, these interviews should be done by someone other than their direct manager. Someone in HR or even an outside consultant will be more likely to get the unvarnished truth as seen by your team members.

And once you have that feedback, you must act on it. Lauren notes that this is where the process breaks down for many organizations. If employees are asked for their feedback but never have the sense that anything has changed as a result, what was intended to boost engagement might fuel resentment instead.

Remember, even those happy employees you see outside your office window – or on your Zoom or Teams calls – have other voices in their ears, and those voices belong to recruiters. Give them a voice and act on their input … in other words, don’t wait for the exit interview to find out what’s wrong.

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