How to retain the restless workforce

As the pandemic eases, workers have a new perspective and are choosing to leave their jobs in record numbers

Girl Walking Looking at Window
When offices reopen in our soon-to-be post-pandemic world, there’s a chance they could still be mostly empty.

So predicts Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, who says a “Great Resignation” is coming that could see as many as half our workforce quit their jobs in the months to come.

And it’s not just the young who are restless.

The numbers range from 35% of Canadian workers surveyed by Leger to 54% of Gen Z employees surveyed through Microsoft who say they will quit. A survey of workers in the U.K. and Ireland put the number at 38% and a similar U.S. survey found 26% of workers are planning to leave their current job over the next few months.

What’s driving all those itchy feet?

Variety is the spice of life, and after 16 months of doing much the same thing day after day (aka Blursday), it’s no surprise many people want more spice—new experiences, refreshed scenery and new skills. Canadians are taking up hobbies (beyond sourdough bread-baking), renovating their homes and moving to new cities.

This desire for change extends beyond our personal to our work lives, too. Employees have said rather than returning to “normal,” they’re seeking new learning opportunities, stretch assignments, new job titles and more work/life flexibility. They’re also leaving stressful jobs behind and gravitating toward roles that offer greater balance, working for compassionate, supportive employers who have their health and wellness in mind. “Work life integration” is the new buzz.

Employers, how can you prevent those feet from marching?

To retain your workforce, here are five things you can do:

  1. Be caring: Keep in mind the great toll the pandemic has taken on nearly everyone. According to a recent national work-from-home survey, 80% of workers reported feeling worn out at the end of the day. Show that you care by enabling employees to recharge, connecting with them on a personal level (even if it’s over video), and clearly communicating in advance what the plan is. Part of the stress of returning to work is not knowing what to expect. Now might be the time to over-communicate, to ensure everyone is prepared.

Pro tips:

  • At Altis, we’re connecting remote staff through coffee chats and speed lunches, pairing new hires with a buddy and offering fun team competitions. And as we onboard new hires, we group them together so they have an automatic cohort of people they can get to know. We also set up casual virtual meetings between the CEO and all new hires.
  • Consider refreshed benefits with more choice: One of the most-requested changes from employees throughout the pandemic is a redo of the traditional benefits package. Rather than things like free food and dry cleaning, they’d like more help balancing work and life, and want to see that you care about their mental health. For example, consider offering senior and childcare subsidies, expanded mental health support, mat leave top-ups, unpaid sabbaticals and extra vacation days.
  • Prioritize skills development: Employees who have been stuck at home may feel stuck in their current job, too. According to a survey by Prudential in the U.S., of those who are interested in leaving their jobs post-pandemic, a full 80% of them said they were concerned about career growth and more than half said they sought skills training on their own during the pandemic.

Excellent managers will always scan the horizon for new skills development opportunities for their employees, helping them stay engaged and feel less “stuck.”

Pro tips:

  • Offer stretch assignments – projects employees can do on the side that enable them to learn new skills and grow.
    • Be specific and open about courses available, and then help employees sign up.
    • Help staff see they have career development possibilities. At Altis, we’ve developed a robust career path guide that supports the career development and growth of our employees at all levels.
  • Be proactive: Open the conversation about the changes employees desire by conducting “stay interviews” at regular intervals—candid one-on-one meetings between leaders and employees to learn what’s important to the employee and gather their feedback on how your company can better engage them. These conversations demonstrate to team members that their leader cares about them and wants them to stay and grow with the organization.
  • Be flexible: While recent surveys indicate increasing numbers of Canadian workers would prefer a hybrid work model (a mix of remote and in-office work), not every role can be performed from home. Regardless of whether your employees are home-based or in the office, there are ways to offer greater flexibility to everyone.

Pro tips:

  • Allow for flexible schedules: Regardless of work location, allow staff to work core hours and then have greater flexibility in the off hours to tend to family, take courses, etc. If this means they miss meetings, provide a recording or detailed notes of the session to keep them in the loop. And if you’re considering a hybrid model, with in-office and home-based staff, you may want to try using an app to help schedule both types of workers (for example, Envoy and Smarten Spaces).
  • Offer 9-in-10 days: At Altis, we’re offering a “9-in-10” arrangement, where employees have greater flexibility every tenth day to take care of life stuff.

Employees, what can you do before looking elsewhere?

Changing companies can be stressful, and like the old adage says, the grass is not always greener. Before taking the leap, why not consider adjustments you can make while at your current company? Here are some tips:

  • Speak with your employer: You might be surprised to learn of new career development opportunities—or possibly an entirely new role within the company. Ask about other departments and new accountabilities to allow for your career growth.
  • Ask for what’s possible for personal change: You might want to take time off to take a course or do other types of work for a period of time. Rejuvenating yourself may be key – and your organization may very well support you.
  • Examine your mindset: To energize your mind, rather than seeking a new role, ask your employer about taking a sabbatical or confirm what flex-time options are available to take a recreational class, get more exercise, reconnect with family etc.
  • Pause before you leap: Don’t take the first offer that comes your way unless it’s so incredibly stellar, you can’t resist. Take the time to make a list of your needs and assess how the new offer and your current role line up. Speak with trusted advisors, HR professionals and close friends to seek input on what may be best for you. After all, a post-pandemic career has to reflect your total needs.

While the data is pointing to a mass resignation and a restless workforce, it’s also possible that we need to take a deep breath and carve out the future we seek – in life, career, family, health, hobbies, travel, love and everything else. The key is trying to ensure our total life is geared toward keeping ourselves healthy and engaged as we transition back to what the future will be.  

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