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5 retention strategies for combatting the Great Resignation

Peter Corless
Peter Corless is executive vice president of enterprise development at HCM software company OnShift.

The “Great Resignation” is showing no signs of stopping. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, 4.4 million people have quit their jobs in September–a record high. We’ve never seen resignations at this pace before, and with more and more Americans leaving to explore new career paths or take a pay jump, rethinking retention strategies needs to be a primary focus for HR departments in 2022.

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The key to successful retention is truly understanding what employees value the most when it comes to their workplace environment and then acting on it. It’s imperative that we get creative with retention strategies and cater to the needs and wants of today’s workforce. Here are five ways HR leaders should rethink retention strategies for the coming year.

1. Consider flexible work schedules
The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly changed the way we work forever and highlighted that flexible work environments are here to stay, as people are opening themselves up to new opportunities more than ever before. Having schedules that cater to the employee first–whether it’s a salaried worker whose position now allows them to work fully or partially remote or an hourly worker who has more control of their schedule–is a non-negotiable for current employees and candidates. Make no mistake, if employees can’t get flexibility from you, they’ll seek it elsewhere.

This is especially true for hourly employees. According to OnShift’s Employee Perspectives survey of more than 2,800 frontline workers, 25% cited a flexible work schedule as a top perk. Many employees in service industries have multiple jobs, are continuing their education or tending to family responsibilities. Put the employee’s schedule first by working with employees directly to craft a schedule that works best for them and your organization. Consider adopting technology that easily enables employees to view their schedule and swap or pick up shifts from their mobile device.

See also: 2 keys to stopping the ‘Great Resignation’? Flexibility and trust

Flexible schedules should not be limited to hourly service workers. HR leadership needs to connect with salaried workers who may work a traditional “nine-to-five” schedule to determine if that model still works for them. Simply adjusting someone’s schedule by an hour so they can drive their child to school can go a long way in terms of employee happiness. It shows employees that their personal lives are just as valued as their job. This retention strategy should also include regularly touching base to ensure that, as an employee’s situation evolves, their schedule can evolve as well.

2. Develop career paths and structured growth opportunities

Millennials and Gen Z make up the bulk of the workforce. Today’s HR leaders need to understand what makes these groups tick to successfully recruit and retain them, particularly as they are the most likely generations to look for a new position within the next year–making them a key target for recruiting.

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Employees of these generations are eager to work at organizations where they have professional development opportunities. A key retention strategy should include developing clear career paths and mentorship programs. This not only helps your organization remain competitive to job seekers but also allows for succession plans for aging leadership.

Make sure that you understand candidates’ career goals during their initial interviews and continue this dialogue into their employment. It’s important that candidates and employees know that their personal career goals are prioritized, as this will increase engagement and prove they are supported in their growth. Managers should have regular discussions about career goals and seek opportunities for employees that align with their goals. This could include cross-training programs to expand individuals’ skill sets or establishing mentorship programs with an experienced leader within the organization.

HR managers should also utilize technology to maintain records of performance milestones, changes in preferences and development timelines, which can also make it more likely that these tasks more likely to be followed through on.

3. Implement thoughtful employee rewards and recognition
Employees are your organization’s most vital asset so it’s imperative that they feel valued. Organizations need to prioritize strong, fair and unbiased rewards and recognition programs that encourage a job well done. HR technology is an asset in the recognition toolbox. Employee engagement software can allow leaders to track employee behaviors that align with their goals. Consider establishing a rewards program that recognizes positive behaviors and awards employees who reach milestone anniversaries or do things like clock in on time or work consecutive shifts without a call-off. Objective criteria such as these are fairer and provide more value than a subjective “employee of the month” award.

Related: Employers falling short in employee recognition, rewards

It’s important to look past the initial costs of rewards programs and think about how much turnover is truly costing your organization. A Gallup Workplace survey notes that the cost to replace an employee is one-half to two times their annual salary. Rewards programs don’t need to be excessively costly either. Even a simple email to staff thanking them for their achievements and sending a gift card can go a long way. Additionally, HR professionals should consider redirecting funds to their current employees by replacing sign-on bonuses with recruitment, referral and retention bonuses.

4. Prioritize and amplify mental health and employee assistance programs
Countless employees worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and faced the challenge of balancing both personal priorities and work responsibilities during a turbulent time. In response, this placed a focus on what organizations are doing to ensure employees feel supported. HR departments need to make sure there’s a communication plan in place so employees are aware of any employee assistance programs or mental health resources available to them. It’s important to not only invest in these types of programs but encourage an open dialogue on topics like mental health and financial wellness. Consider offering educational sessions to discuss these resources and answer questions. Also, think creatively about what employees may want or need and go beyond the “perks.” For example, implementing technology that allows employees to access earned wages ahead of pay day can go a long way toward supporting their quality of life.

5. Keep two-way communication lines open
Transparent communication among staff and management needed to increase during the pandemic. HR professionals, in particular, were tasked with constantly communicating safety, policy and business updates. This level of communication is now the expectation, which provides a great opportunity to build a stronger company culture. Ensure your HR department maintains processes that encourage open and honest communication. This can include anything from satisfaction surveys on a regular cadence to establishing open office hours for any questions or concerns.

By creating opportunities to provide more frequent and even anonymous feedback, employers can glean much-needed information about how their programs are resonating.

The new normal

We’re past the days of office snacks and cool game rooms as a key recruiting and retention tactic. Organizations need to shift from a work-life mindset to a life-work mindset and place a greater focus on employee-centric retention strategies, particularly in this cut-throat labor market. Listening to people and implementing these five strategies that make them feel valued is key to driving long-term retention.