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‘The great resignation’: How HR can keep top talent

Has your inbox been inundated with resignations over the past few months? If so, you’re not alone; so many other organizations are in the same boat.

Analysts are already calling it ‘the great resignation’ – with 26–40% of mid-career staff expected to leave their jobs this year – but why are employees suddenly leaving en masse?

What is the great resignation?

The great resignation is the name economists and analysts have given to a post-pandemic surge of people leaving their jobs.

41% were thinking of quitting their jobs, according to one survey. In reality, it means that over one-in-three of your colleagues are considering a move. That’s huge.

However, the reality of people actually upping and leaving is slightly different, with around 5% of employees are leaving since the start of the pandemic – but that’s still one-in-20 employees quitting.

It suggests we’re not out of the woods yet and people will likely continue to hand in their notices, so HR teams need to look at how they can retain their top talent and introduce initiatives that will make them want to stay, now.

Why are people leaving in droves?

It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that’s caused ‘the great resignation’ – it’s likely to be several factors, and many related to the pandemic.

After the few years we’ve had, more people than ever are suffering from burnout. Internet searches of the term ‘burnout’, the exhaustion employees feel from being swamped in work or the stress as a result, were rapidly increasing, suggesting employees are becoming aware than ever of how their employment is impacting their lives.

Another reason is that the pandemic has convinced many people to re-assess their priorities in life. 74% of employees expect remote work to become standard, so many employees are likely to be looking for jobs that offer more flexibility if their employers are requiring them to go back into the office full-time. Many others have made the decision to take a career break or have a fresh start somewhere new.

There’s never a good time to sit back and let your best talent leave, but organizations are being tested to their limit to keep hold of their employees. It’s up to HR and People teams, along with other business leaders, to think carefully about how they can retain employees and start taking action now.

Here are our top six ways HR and People teams can stem the exodus.

  1. Keep an eye on your People data and analytics for signs of churn

Firstly, keep your eye on the numbers.

A staggering 62% of HR leaders say they’re not able to use data to spot trends and make business-related predictions, but forward-looking metrics can predict who are a flight risk, what affect this could have if they leave, including impact on your business operations and the bottom line.

From this, your HR and People team can then understand where the problems could arise and make contingency plans to make sure that it has a minimal effect on the business.

Look at creating an interactive dashboards with your HR and People system to closely monitor the trends that really matter to your organization.

  1. Find out what your employees want from their workplace

Don’t guess what your employees want from their employer in this new world of work, ask them with things like pulse surveys and ‘always listening’ surveys.

This goes back to our point on the data. By asking the questions you need answers to, you’ll have the data to support your decision-making and as a result, you should find it much easier to make decisions that benefit your workforce and allow them to feel that they’re shaping the organization as it changes.

  1. Encourage a healthy work-life balance

If burnout really is the main reason employees are looking for greener pastures, don’t ignore it – you have the power to do something about it.

Burnout is directly correlated with employee turnover – in other words, the best way to stop employees leaving is to make sure they are not suffering from burnout and support their wellbeing, and if they are suffering from burnout, put initiatives in place to support them so they get a healthy work-life balance.

Some of the most popular ways to improve work-life balance and wellbeing during this new era of work include implementing meeting-free hours during the working day; mandating all employees take their designated holiday time; hosting online tea-breaks; encouraging staff to take lunchbreaks and start and finish on time – and, of course, looking at remote and flexible working.

At the heart of preventing burnout is also ensuring teams are well resourced, objectives are realistic and managers supportive. A lot of this comes from the tone and culture set by senior leaders in the business, so this is one thing to be very aware of. Think about ways to encourage managers to be mindful of when they send emails, what hours they expect employees to work, and their role in supporting a healthy work-life balance. This comes right from the top.

You may also want to consider giving employees extra holiday days or an early finish on a Friday, with the implication that they use this time to help them maintain a healthy work-life balance.

  1. Provide plenty of development opportunities

One of the many business areas that has been disrupted by the pandemic is career progression. 46% of workers were ‘sheltering’ during the pandemic, the idea of staying in a job because you feel you have to for your own job security,  which meant career progression had dropped down the agenda.

21% also said that the pandemic had had a direct impact on their career progression. Therefore, a big part of the reason we are seeing a career-switching bubble is because people will be looking to make up for lost time.

Talk to your employees about their progression. How can the company support them to be even better? What do they want from their career in one-, three-, and five-years’ time? Are there any internal positions they can take to move into a position they want?

If you can offer employees the career progression and opportunities they seek, it may stop them from walking out the door.

  1. Benchmark your benefits against other organizations

Ultimately, employees want to be happy in their job – but it’s important to recognize the role their rewards package plays in that, too. In a competitive job market, pay and benefits could prove the deciding factor when it comes to employee retention. Now is the time, therefore, to take stock of what your company offers and compare it to your competitors.

Try scouring your competitors’ job postings to learn more about the kinds of perks and benefits they have on offer. Remember: with many employees now working remotely, you will probably need to think ‘outside the office’ when it comes to choosing new employee benefits.

It’s also important to focus on what really matters. Employees don’t see ping-pong tables and Friday drinks after work as perks. It’s time to really consider what your employees need to make their jobs easier and their lives more enriched for working where they do – consider benefits such as childcare support, longer holiday entitlement and more investment in development and skills training.

  1. Carefully consider your policies around ways of working

The rules around your office will have changed over the last few years. If you’re encouraging your employees to start making the move back into the office, monitor how comfortable they feel with this decision and make sure your policies reflect your stance, so everyone is clear on where they stand.

For example, if your policy mandates employees to maintain social distancing and wear masks in and around the office, will your employees feel comfortable returning? Will they still think it’s too early?  You’ll also want to consider if they’ll find a move back to the office useful. It might be less helpful to return to the office if, for example, your meeting rooms then aren’t big enough to use due to social distancing. These are all factors you need to consider.

Ultimately, your employees will want to feel that they’re being heard and taken care of, so your policies should reflect this in a sensitive and carefully considered way.

Employees come and go, but make sure they’re leaving for the right reasons

People leaving jobs is a fact of life. Whether for better pay, employee benefits, a new role or progression in their current career, or simply the opportunity to try something new, sometimes the lure of a new role is simply too strong.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that pretty much the whole world is feeling the pressure, and understandably so – we have all been through a rollercoaster the last couple of years, which is clearly contributing to how many employees feel about their jobs.

So, the time for HR and People teams to act and do something about this is now. Empathize with your employees. Help them to feel reassured. Then implement policies, procedures and initiatives that will make them feel valued.

If they do leave, be safe in the knowledge you’ve done the best you can to retain them, and for those who decide to go, don’t lose contact with them. With so much movement in the job market, you never know – employees who leave today may find themselves ready to come back to your organization in the future.

Understanding your people through data is key to a great workplace. Download Sage’s research report, HR in the moment: Impact through insights today to find out how other HR leaders are using their People data today.