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5 ways to engage workers, limit departures in the ‘turnover tsunami’

Kim Cassady
Kim Cassady is chief talent officer for Cornerstone.

An epic game of employee musical chairs is unfolding across industries as workers are voluntarily leaving their jobs in record numbers. Twenty-five percent of workers say they expect to leave their job this year, according to a recent survey from Prudential. In April alone, nearly four million people quit their jobs: the most on record. As a result, companies across industries are scrambling to deal with this so-called “turnover tsunami.”

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The truth is, today’s workers are much more likely to change jobs every few years than people in decades past. Millennials, in particular, are known for job-hopping, Gallup polls show, and the pandemic has created the right conditions–from an end to hiring freezes, to employees realizing they have more options and people who were waiting to leave until the landscape stabilized–for a larger-than-usual exodus.

Related: Fearing the Great Resignation? Focus on your people

While it can be hard to see employees leave, this wave of turnover isn’t all bad news for companies–or workers. Often, what job hoppers seek from new opportunities–community, career development and a sense that their work is valued–can actually be found at their current job.

To avoid a wave of turnover this fall, companies and HR leaders need to be thinking about how to create spaces for employees to connect, help them better understand their path to grow and advance and show them that you value their contributions. But how do you do that in today’s hybrid or remote working environments? Here are five ideas to help increase employee engagement and promote a rewarding working environment:

  1. Create connection beyond work.

Over the past year, our teams at Cornerstone have looked to community-building tools, such as Workplace by Facebook and Slack, to create spaces for everyone from parents to music lovers to Peloton owners (I’m all three of those things!) to connect outside their work. The human connections people develop with their teams or leaders can often be the foundation for satisfaction in the workplace. If people don’t feel a sense of connection or engagement with their coworkers and bosses, they are likely to look for that elsewhere.

  1. Tap into “cultural champions.”

You can also look directly to employees to come up with new ways to connect. Every organization has “cultural champions,” and by tapping into them, you help employees create authentic new “platforms” for social interactions outside of work. At Cornerstone, rather than just organize what we think employees want, we’ve given employees the reins (and resources) to establish their own activities and groups–be it exercise and wellness or books, movies or art. These platforms don’t need to be facilitated by HR or leadership, you can provide the resources to help employees “get together” on their own terms, for a more organic connection.

  1. Empower high-potential employees.

While no one likes to see a great employee go, the current turnover trend also presents an opportunity to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to internal mobility. A whopping 93% of workers say they would stay at a company longer if it demonstrates investment in their careers.

So use a departure to demonstrate your trust in a high-potential employee and develop them to fill that role: giving them a new project, new responsibilities or even a promotion and raise. Promoting with a purpose can create a strong new foundation for a team if it’s done with intention and transparency. In creating a clear path for internal mobility, employees can see what job openings will become available, and the skills that will be required to fill those roles–making them more likely to see an investment in their own career development that will keep them around.

  1. Mix up projects for more balance.

After months of working from home, even employees who enjoy remote work are susceptible to boredom. While giving employees more paid time off or a break from screens might seem like an easy fix, it doesn’t change the inherent factors contributing to mental exhaustion in the first place. Instead, try giving employees avenues to try new projects or learn new skills. At Cornerstone, we’ve started having leaders post internal “gigs”–roles or projects like you might find on a jobs board–that people can apply to in order to try their hand at something else and gain new skills outside of their regular team or function.

  1. Consistently sell the company’s mission.

Periods of turnover can actually provide an opportunity to reinforce why many people love working there and want to stay. Companies can lean into their strongest voices to showcase more of their mission, values and vision to all employees. Using our platforms like Workplace, at Cornerstone, we have been sharing letters from our senior team describing why they continue to work at the company. These letters have empowered other workers across roles to share their sense of purpose, joy or meaning they find in their work–and even prompted more workers to come forward and express why they love working here.

Every person has a tipping point. To keep employees engaged companies need to double down on the things that are most meaningful to employees. The upcoming weeks are crucial, as many employees are set to resume their job search as summer vacations have ended. Companies should use this time to lean in by bringing together connections, careers and compensation to let them know why they should be there. Through thinking more deeply about employees’ relationship to work today, you can stop leaving employees high and dry about their development and value–and you won’t have to worry about getting buried in a turnover tsunami.