August 25, 2021

Reducing Turnover During a Pandemic

By Simone Putnam, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Partner-in-Charge, Managed Human Resources

Reducing Turnover During a Pandemic Managed Human Resources Services

It’s been almost 18 months since many employees began working remotely due to the pandemic. While the threat seemed to wane with the rollout of the vaccine, the Delta variant has forced some organizations to delay their return to the office. The new variant has also required employers to take a stance on whether or not to require the COVID-19 vaccine either as a condition for employment or a condition for returning to the office. How do these decisions impact employee morale and, consequently, employee turnover?

For the past several months, we have seen a surprising number of employees make job changes. Part of the allure of switching jobs during the pandemic is that more companies are hiring fully remote employees, thereby providing people with an opportunity to work for a company in another part of the country without relocating. Other companies are requiring their teams to return to the office. Some employees who would rather continue a remote arrangement, have reflected on what gives their lives meaning and concluded their current career path is not it.

So how does an employer keep employees in light of new competition from remote working environments and personal life choices? Even if you offer a fully remote option, the allure of new opportunities not available pre-pandemic may be too attractive for some employees to pass up. And as an employer, you can’t argue with someone’s personal decision to choose a different life path. So what strategies can employers use to hold onto their most valuable asset?

“Stay” interviews are a great tool to understand what initially brought employees to your organization and what entices them to remain. You may be surprised by what you find. The range of responses will likely vary greatly. Job satisfaction can be tied to any number of considerations: compensation; the organization’s mission, product, or service; collegial working relationships; sense of accomplishment; value of expertise/work product; recognition and respect; relationship with the immediate supervisor; benefits…the factors are as individual as each of your employees.

Once you have this information, how do you use it for retention?

Understanding the factors that are important to your team allows you to develop a workplace culture that supports employees and supervisors in realizing the greatest possible job satisfaction. Adjusting your culture to support this initiative will require flexibility and adaptability. Supervisors who prefer to supervise in-person may have to learn new skills to be effective at supervising employees remotely. Organizations that may not be competitive in the benefits space may need to allocate additional financial resources.

Workload is one of the most common reasons we have heard employees cite as a motivation for switching jobs over the past year. This can quickly become a downward spiral. If you are lean staffed to begin with, one team member’s departure can significantly impact the workload of other team members. If you are unable to fill the vacant position quickly, you run the risk of other team members leaving because of the additional workload.

Even as many employees state they prefer to work remotely rather than at their organization’s office, some fully remote employees with increased workload report feeling isolated and disconnected. There seems to be more of a “we’re in this together” mentality when you have officemates you can talk to face-to-face about your workload challenges. Psychologically, this important outlet allows employees to “let off steam” and keep going. When separated physically, employees can lose part of the comradery that helps with managing workload stress. Something as simple as a smile from a colleague you see in the hallway can affect your mood and energy level.

It may take organizations a while to find the right balance. Although many employees say they want to work fully remote, others are less satisfied with this arrangement, and this has resulted in job changes. Had these team members been in the office with colleagues, they might have chosen to stay.

There will always be reasons that employees leave based on factors completely beyond an employer’s control. The best thing an employer can do is to address the retention factors within their control and trust that for every employee who leaves, a new valued team member is waiting for an opportunity to join their team.