Talent retention has always been important. Now, as employers struggle with high attrition rates thanks to the lasting impact of the Great Resignation, boosting talent retention is quickly becoming a main focus and a main concern.
There’s no doubt we’re in an employee’s job market. It’s the companies that work to both attract and retain top talent that are primed to weather the storm and even come out stronger.
In this article, we explore talent retention in our ‘new normal’. We also review 13 strategies employers can and should enact to reduce their turnover rate.
We’re drawing on insights from OfficeSpace Software Senior People Operations Manager Taylor Graves. Taylor helped steer our widely distributed workforce through a period of rapid growth, as well as through the pandemic and our return to the office.
Taylor is well-versed in managing people and space in a constantly evolving hybrid workplace. Expect helpful insights into how to give your best employees what they need now and well into the future.
Lessons learned from office reopenings
Just because the Great Resignation isn’t making headlines like it used to, don’t assume that the days of high turnover are behind us.
According to the very latest comprehensive research, 41% of workers are currently looking or plan to look for a new job as we move into the second half of 2022.
Moreover, more than half of those new job seekers will be looking for hybrid or remote positions.
Companies in the tech sector have proven especially susceptible to high attrition rates. But the reality is that any company that isn’t working to improve employee satisfaction could easily find themselves on the chopping block.
“The Great Resignation to me was about calling out crappy employers on their BS,” says Taylor. “We have always been treating our people right here, and so we did not see this mass exodus of people saying enough is enough, we’re out.”
Of course, given increasing demands for both more hybrid and more flexible work arrangements, many companies are now codifying their hybrid policies.
But while implementing hybrid initiatives is an important first step, it is not enough to boost talent retention alone.
Instead, smart companies are enlisting both human resources and facilities management services teams to create a workplace experience that inspires people to do their best work—and to want to keep doing it for the foreseeable future.
“The challenge is finding ways to make the in-office experience valuable for employees and keeping things within a reasonable budget, while also giving people freedom to live and work where they want. We want to make the office experience appealing for employees to come in when they want to, but we also don’t want to pressure anyone to come in if they don’t want to.”Taylor Graves, OfficeSpace Senior People Operations Manager
“The challenge is finding ways to make the in-office experience valuable for employees and keeping things within a reasonable budget, while also giving people freedom to live and work where they want. We want to make the office experience appealing for employees to come in when they want to, but we also don’t want to pressure anyone to come in if they don’t want to.”
Of course, some amount of turnover is to be expected.
That’s why Taylor stresses the importance of understanding the difference between good turnover and bad turnover.
Namely, if an employee is no longer a good fit for the team, and they themselves recognize this and opt to leave, then in many ways this can be considered regular (and even positive) turnover.
It’s when you’re losing people who you’d really like to stay that talent retention becomes a bigger concern.
“With the cost of replacing a single employee amounting to anywhere from a half to two times their annual salary, taking proactive steps to improve talent retention can save companies time and money down the line.”Samantha McLaren, LinkedIn
“With the cost of replacing a single employee amounting to anywhere from a half to two times their annual salary, taking proactive steps to improve talent retention can save companies time and money down the line.”
Of course, losing good employees is expensive in both the short and long term. But attrition affects a lot more than the straightforward bottom line.
“There’s something beautiful about having a team who have a lot of shared experiences that they’ve built over the course of multiple years working together,” says Taylor.
This type of shared experience is invaluable.
“Even if somebody is willing to stick around and train their replacement, it’s nearly impossible to download years of organizational knowledge,” he says. “So if you can avoid losing that knowledge, your organization will only be stronger over time.”
You can’t always stop the poaching. But you can slow down the people on your team looking on their own to leave.Grayson Williams, as told to CIO
You can’t always stop the poaching. But you can slow down the people on your team looking on their own to leave.
As we’ll explore next, the following talent retention strategies can help you keep your best employees… And therefore your organizational knowledge, too.
Talent retention often comes down to job satisfaction, and job satisfaction often comes down to employee experience and engagement.
Namely, high employee engagement is linked with both higher productivity and lower turnover.
Meanwhile, according to Gallup, the number of actively disengaged employees has been rising—a challenge to talent retention efforts, since 74% of disengaged employees are actively looking for new positions (or are at least open to them).
The same survey found only 30% of engaged employees had wandering eyes.
“If people don’t feel connected with their teams, it’s easier for eyes to wander to other companies,” warns Taylor. “If you’re only worried about the money and the work, it’s easy to just go to a different employer and try things over there. But if you’re spending time with your teammates in person, you might end up valuing those relationships more and be less inclined to leave them for seemingly greener pastures.”
So when working through the following 13 talent retention strategies, think about what your employees need to have a better hybrid workplace experience overall.
Employees are adults, and they want to be treated as such. That’s why a variety of workplace strategies are springing up. These strategies give employees more control over when and where they work.
“If you can provide that variety, throughout your floor and throughout your building, that’s where you really start to foster game-changing productivity and innovation,” says workplace strategist Angie Earlywine, Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield.
That said, it’s easy to think that introducing hybrid work is the same thing as introducing more autonomy. But the two are not necessarily the same. This is thanks in large part to one of the biggest challenges of hybrid working. In-person collaboration can be difficult to coordinate when people are coming into the office on different days.
“If I go into the office and there are people but none of them are on my team, I don’t gain anything besides a commute,” Matthew, a frustrated hybrid employee, tells Vox. Like many of his cohorts, Matthew would be open to using the office occasionally for collaboration. But this collaboration can only happen when everyone is in the physical work environment at the same time.
So Matthew is part of a growing batch of workers now resisting mandated, post-COVID return-to-the-office plans from their companies. This resistance is due in large part to a common strategy from employers: mandating hybrid work schedules for their employees.
In short, to ensure everyone is in the office on the same day, many companies are now mandating ‘in-office’ days for their teams. For example, it’s common for companies to expect employees to come in Tuesday through Thursday, while working remotely on Mondays and Fridays.
While this strategy may work for some organizations, it does present some challenges.
First, if everyone is still coming into the office on the same day, then space requirements likely won’t change. In other words, reducing the size of your real estate portfolio (a goal now for many organizations) will likely be out.
Second, and more important when it comes to employee talent retention, this also takes away autonomy from workers.
We know that workplace experience scores jump from just 45% to an incredible 74% when employees have the freedom to set the hybrid schedule that works for them.
And new research shows that employees who are unsatisfied with their current level of flexibility in terms of when and where they work are three times more likely to say they will ‘definitely’ look for a new job in the next year.
“That’s a significant finding that shouldn’t be ignored,” says Angie. “Hybrid workers that figure out what their best routine is will be more successful. We know that workplace experience suffers when they are told a specific schedule to follow for in-office time. This is versus having the freedom and choice to select on their own.”
So the better answer to this challenge may be to give team members more visibility into how everyone else is using the office. They can choose the optimal days to come into the office, based on what colleagues they’d like to spend more time with. This is while also creating their own flexible schedule that helps them be both productive and happy.
To accomplish this, employees need a visual directory that shows them who’s in the office on any given day. This way, they can better schedule their in-office days for the collaboration they need.
Finally, note that giving employees this level of autonomy and control is important for employee morale. But it’s just the beginning.
Autonomy is about more than where you work. It’s also about letting employees own their work, prioritizing their workload as they see fit.
This means employers ultimately need to trust their people. Even when they’re not able to physically peek over their shoulder to see what they’re up to.
“Authentic choice matters,” says Angie. “Give people complete trust and choice to go where their work takes them.
As we’ll cover next, this can include exploring new flexible work arrangements that give employees more control over their work.
While all generations in the workplace want more flexibility, it’s now make-or-break for younger employees; Millennials are twice as likely to quit due to inflexible working arrangements as their Baby Boomer counterparts.
Just as much as employees want autonomy today, they also want flexibility. So creating a more flexible work culture is always a smart strategy.
Meanwhile, many people wrongly equate ‘hybrid working’ with ‘flexible working.’ Hybrid work certainly can be flexible, and it can certainly facilitate flexible work. But like we’ve covered, it’s not inherently flexible, especially when employees don’t have any control over their schedules.
So beyond more autonomy over when and where they work, companies may also explore flexible work strategies that give employees more control over how they work when they’re in the office.
Specifically, many companies are exploring new work environment types that give employees more flexibility in the office. Agile working, activity-based working, and office neighborhoods are all proving to be effective ways to reimagine the office with employee engagement in mind.
Assuming these strategies are backed up with good desk booking and office neighborhood software, they can introduce more flexibility while creating more productivity and innovation in the workplace.
And these strategies can be further enhanced when leaders have workplace reports and analytics. Analytics can help them understand how employees are interacting with the spaces they have. These types of metrics can help employees, while also pointing to areas where space utilization can be improved.
For the modern workforce, an engaging work environment is a fundamental expectation, a baseline requirement.Jim Harter and Annamarie Mann, Gallup Workplace
For the modern workforce, an engaging work environment is a fundamental expectation, a baseline requirement.
Like we mentioned, flexible work strategies (and all employee retention strategies, for that matter), need to be supported with the right technology. If employees are ultimately going to be in control of their work days, they’re going to need tools to manage themselves well.
We know that employees are 230% more engaged and 85% more likely to have intent to stay beyond three years when they have the right technology. And, according to Brad Anderson and Seth Patton writing in the Harvard Business Review, “there is a range of downstream benefits that come from implementing the right technology in the workplace, including fostering a culture of inclusion, enabling organizations to adapt, and retaining top talent.”
Of course, the operative word here is ‘right.’ Given the smorgasbord of collaboration technology that has sprung up in response to the pandemic, companies may struggle to figure out what their team really needs.
Each company will have their own bespoke tech requirements, and, ideally, a digital workspace that is already serving their people. Beyond this, to maximize the hybrid workplace experience (and keep employees sticking around), they’ll need to help employees in two key areas.
First, employees need technology that lessens the administrative burden of scheduling themselves. Yes—they want more control over their work. But they’re not looking to become their own HR managers.
Therefore, employees need a variety of tools to make life easier:
Second, hybrid employees in particular need technology that helps turn the office into a better collaboration space. Specifically, they need tools that provide more visibility into the workplace.
Remember Matthew, our disaffected hybrid worker who resents taking the time to commute to the office, only to find himself still working alone? His problems would have been solved if he had a way to see who was going to be in the office ahead of time.
“Do you really want to book a desk if you’re going to be the only person in the office?” asks Taylor. “If you want people to take advantage of the in-office experience and get a chance to mingle with other employees face-to-face, it’s important for them to know who it is they’re actually going to be mingling with. If you’re forced to just wing it and hope for the best, you might opt to stay home again instead.”
To meet this challenge, OfficeSpace created two invaluable tools:
Providing these tools is a simple yet powerful collaboration strategy in the workplace. Armed with this technology, employees can not only make sure they’re coming in when the right colleagues are coming in, but even make sure they’re sitting close together.
“Reservation technology has multifaceted benefits to help employees find new ways to be strategic—that’s what it’s all about,” says Angie. “Instead of just showing up for the day, how are you going to be more targeted and strategic, to allow the best work to flourish?”
Finally, note that to be most useful, all these tools should be accessible via desktop or mobile app. In other words, employees should be able to easily access them, wherever they are.
If you start looking into instances of burnout in the workplace, you’re going to find some alarming statistics.
For example, according to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, 54% of employees feel overworked. That’s closely followed by 39% who feel exhausted.
So it’s not surprising that in Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index, employees are prioritizing work-life balance like never before. In fact, work-life balance tied personal wellbeing or mental health concerns as the main reason people quit their jobs.
“Work is only a part of life. It shouldn’t be your whole life or the only thing you care about,” one team lead in professional services told the report. This mirrors a new sentiment that’s widely shared. The pandemic forced so many of us to reevaluate our lives and what really matters.
So when looking to improve your employee talent retention, also look at how well your people are able to achieve work-life balance. Do they constantly work more than eight hours a day? Can they switch their hours when life throws them a curveball? Can they leave for appointments without pushback from management? These are all essential elements of having a good work-life balance that are easy for leadership to overlook.
There’s a simple solution for any company looking to improve their employee retention rate… Ask your employees what you can do better. Employee engagement can jump from 45% to 61% when you regularly solicit feedback.
Of course, this strategy only works when leadership actually listens to what employees have to say.
“Creating a culture of engagement requires more than completing an annual employee survey and then leaving managers on their own, hoping they will learn something from the survey results that will change the way they manage,” say Jim Harter and Annamarie Mann in Gallup Workplace. “It requires an organization to take a close look at how critical engagement elements align with their performance development and human capital strategies.”
For example, beyond having an open door policy, Taylor and his team solicit employee feedback throughout the year. This is both through quarterly Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys and regular (and virtual) town halls.
“I want to act with employees’ best interest in mind, and what better way to do that than to ask people directly?” says Taylor.
Remember that employees don’t want to just feel heard. They want to actually be heard. HR needs to be ready to listen to all this feedback. And then they must be able to present it to leadership in a meaningful and actionable way.
“You need to be able to evaluate feedback from your pulse checks, make sure that you understand the ideal state for your team, and acknowledge that what worked for your team on month one of your return to office journey may differ six months down the road,” says Angie. “It’s okay if your approach to what works best for your team changes over time.”
Finally, it’s always critical to solicit feedback from departing employees with exit interviews as well.
Of course, soliciting employee feedback feeds into another critical issue when it comes to talent retention: company culture. 46% of employees say that a positive culture is “very important.”
In other words, a great company culture isn’t a workplace perk—it’s a necessity. According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index 2022, “the best leaders will create a culture that embraces flexibility and prioritizes employee wellbeing—understanding that this is a competitive advantage to build a thriving organization and drive long-term growth.”
Of course, staying culture-first is more challenging in a hybrid environment. It requires a mindset shift. It moves attention away from solely the in-person experience, to planning things around the hybrid/virtual environment first and foremost. For Taylor, that means spending more time and energy on things like virtual game time and happy hours, as well as mailing gifts so that people don’t feel left out just because they do remote work.
Taylor also stresses that communication is key when it comes to maintaining culture in hybrid offices.
“While it can be tiring to be on Zoom calls all the time, it’s important to have that visibility with the team,” he says. He also encourages people to keep their cameras on, so it feels more ‘real’ than just a blind conversation.
Having a fun work environment not only creates a happier and more engaged team, but it will also influence people to stick around.John Hall, Forbes
Having a fun work environment not only creates a happier and more engaged team, but it will also influence people to stick around.
A lot of company culture also comes down to good communication. Communication, transparency, and honesty are all incredibly important when it comes to employee engagement. To feel connected to their company, employees need insight into its goals, challenges, and strengths.
“It’s tough times out there,” says Taylor. “If you don’t reassure people that things are going to be ok, they’re going to worry.”
Thankfully, communication is much easier to maintain in a hybrid environment than it would have been even a year ago. This is thanks to new technologies and ideas about how to use them.
“We’re a Slack company first and foremost,” says Taylor. “Whether it’s messages in the general channel or reaching out to employees in more niche groups, the vast majority of my company-wide communications happen in Slack. I like to keep communications friendly and light whenever I can.”
Finally, note that good communication also means being clear and transparent about any new policies. This is especially true when it comes to new policies being developed around hybrid and flexible working.
Like Angie reminds us, “we’re a ‘show me the receipts’ dominated generation,” so it’s not surprising that employees are demanding to have any new plans codified in official policies.
Retention ultimately starts with onboarding, which should set expectations and the tone for the entire company right off the bat. The onboarding process is critical to how well connected an employee feels to their organization. Although it, too, is complicated by hybrid working.
“Get energy levels high and try to keep them there early on to help provide an awesome experience at the beginning of their tenure,” says Taylor.
New hires should always be made to feel like they are part of the team immediately. This, of course, is whether they’re working in the physical office or remotely. “You want to do the same things for your employees so everyone is starting at the same place with the same information,” says Taylor.
Beyond the necessary tools, new employees also need communication around things like knowing what each department does, how to book a vacation, and how to report sick days. Without this clear communication, they’re more likely to feel adrift—the opposite goal of any employee talent retention program.
Of course, onboarding is typically handled by the human resource management team. That said, managers also have a critical role to play when it comes to onboarding and overall employee experience for their direct reports.
We’ve all heard the saying: people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. It’s managers who help foster team bonds, sustain the culture, and help facilitate communication between employees and leadership. As such, having a good manager is critical to having a good employee experience.
And again, managing a remote and/or hybrid team will require different skills from managers than may have been required in the past. As such, all managers—even those with decades of experience—can benefit from training to help adapt to the ‘new normal.’
For example, remote employees are going to be a lot more stressed if they feel like they always need to be available online. Or if they feel the need to ‘justify’ working from home by answering emails 24-7. So managers today need to have a trust-first mentality.
“There are best practices and nuances to managing a mixed and remote team,” says Angie. “Don’t assume managers don’t need training.”
Note that this training can be particularly important when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Namely, at least in the past, remote workers have been more likely to be passed up for promotions or given smaller raises, even when they’re just as productive as their in-office colleagues.
As we forge ahead in this new future of remote working, then, managers and organizations are going to have to figure out to ensure there’s parity between all workers. This is no matter how much physical face-time they get with the boss.
“Empowering managers to adapt to new employee expectations helps set businesses up for long-term success” Jared Spataro, CVP, Modern Work, Microsoft
“Empowering managers to adapt to new employee expectations helps set businesses up for long-term success”
Employees today are hungry for career development, and ‘upskilling’ is quickly becoming a buzzword thanks to employee demand. In fact, according to SHRM, employees are “more engaged when they believe that their employer is concerned about their growth and provides avenues to reach individual career goals while fulfilling the company’s mission.”
That means that employees need regular access to education, training, and development opportunities, which, thankfully, can often be provided virtually.
It’s also important to have a clear career path and/or laddering program that shows employees where their career can potentially go (and how to get there).
“Make sure employees are aware of available opportunities to grow and to expand their knowledge,” Wendy Duarte Duckrey, executive director of global technology recruiting at JPMorgan Chase, tells CIO. “Find out if they are getting the resources to add to and change their roles, to take on more and different responsibilities, to spearhead new projects, to experiment.”
Employees also need performance reviews to understand where there may be room for improvement or learning new skills. Yearly performance reviews are usually the standard for this reason.
Finally, mentorship is critical to employee experience and talent retention. So much so that a Randstad case study found that employees who were part of mentoring programs were 49% less likely to quit their jobs.
While this can be complicated in a hybrid environment, we’re all learning how to make better connections online. Having a desk booking option that allows mentor and mentee to ensure their in-office days align can also really help.
“If mentorship was vital pre-Covid, it’s taken on new importance in a remote-work setting, and companies would be remiss not to develop comprehensive programs as an integral part of their corporate culture.”Ania Smith, Forbes
“If mentorship was vital pre-Covid, it’s taken on new importance in a remote-work setting, and companies would be remiss not to develop comprehensive programs as an integral part of their corporate culture.”
Promoting health and wellness was critical to employee retention and satisfaction long before anyone had heard of COVID.
“Whether it’s benefits packages, time off policies, and just a general culture of respect and welcoming, we want people to feel comfortable here first and foremost.”Taylor Graves
“Whether it’s benefits packages, time off policies, and just a general culture of respect and welcoming, we want people to feel comfortable here first and foremost.”
When it comes to workplace wellbeing in our post-COVID reality, companies should also be aware that people may feel queasy about close interactions long before any restrictions have been lifted. For this reason, they may want to maintain social distancing (perhaps with the help of a social distancing planner) well into the foreseeable future.
Whether formally in company-wide meetings, shout-outs in Slack, or privately one-on-one, it’s important that employees know when they’re doing things right. Lack of recognition is a big driver of employee turnover. Plus, everyone just likes a pat on the back from time to time.
“Every company is going to have a handful of unsung heroes,” says Taylor. “We try our best to make sure that everyone gets their due!”
Last but certainly not least, it’s impossible to talk about talent retention without also talking about compensation. It goes without saying, it’s essential to offer appropriate compensation to employees. This is, of course, along with annual raises and/or performance based pay increases.
And while flexibility is likely the biggest perk a company can offer, there are many others they can consider. For example, the following are all ways to compensate employees beyond their base pay:
Think about your people and what might motivate them, and act accordingly. And never underestimate the value of a free lunch for people who come into the office!
Ultimately, it’s unlikely an organization will find one silver bullet to improve talent retention. Instead, taking a holistic approach and focusing on employee wellbeing and engagement overall is the best approach.
Not only will these strategies help you keep your top talent. They’ll also help you foster a more productive, engaging, and innovative work environment.
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