In a previous blog I shared my experiences of being a judge of ‘The Thames Valleys Best Companies To Work For’ and explored what I thought made a great place to work, which in turn lead to better staff retention. In the current pandemic there could be a danger that employers become complacent regarding their staff believing that there will be a lack of opportunities for people to move to and that they should be ‘grateful to have a job’.
However, evidence from the 2008 crash would suggest otherwise. As the market recovered many of the professionals we were working with felt that their employers had lost sight of the support that they needed to stay motivated and be able to see career progression and consequently ‘valued’ members of staff were lost. This raises the question “what should we all be doing to ensure that we don’t exit the pandemic having lost our best members of staff?” Below I offer seven pieces of advice that should help.
Recognise Staff’s Efforts
With more people working from home and less face time it is very easy to miss the informal moments of recognition that would occur during a normal day. Do not forget to publically praise people, whether on a team Zoom call, via email or one-on-one. Showing appreciation is a major factor in keeping staff happy. More formalised ‘recognition schemes’ could be harder to keep going if they are costly, however, every effort should be made to maintain them if you can. You may need to change the level of reward or the qualifying criteria, but do not underestimate the effect that cancelling these things could have on the morale of your workforce.
One of the first things that often disappears in troubled economic times is training. However, this is usually a mistake. If, as a business, you have historically had a great reputation for your learning and development programme the consequences of placing it on hold will almost inevitably lead to demotivation or even resentment. Today’s professionals are the most demanding in terms of learning and skill enhancement and it is imperative to maintain the opportunity to learn and develop even if this can only be achieved on a reduced budget. It is worth exploring the option of virtual conferences, which are often free, online learning tools, scheduling training or ‘lunch and learns’ on zoom and encouraging your staff to look into any TedTalks etc. that are relevant.
Maintaining a beneficial work/life balance has always been a great retention tool. It is important not to assume that just because your staff still work from home some of the time satisfies the balance that they seek. Try and encourage that time is taken away from the screen and offer flexibility to the hours that are worked. If your staff are working from home it can be a struggle for them to feel the separation between home and workspace as they often will not have a dedicated work space at home. It is worth suggesting that they take time out to exercise and socialise and give them the flexibility they need. It will not only help your long term retention but also productivity in the short-term.
You may have lost your opportunity to communicate face-to-face but do not lose sight of the importance of communicating with your staff if you want to retain them beyond the pandemic. Communication can come in many forms. Make sure everyone understands what is going on with the company and be open about short-term objectives/goals. You can communicate this in the form of blogs, intranet posts, emails, zoom calls (in place of town hall meetings or department meetings) and of course one-on-one over the phone. Our recent survey suggested that many people who will be looking for work after the pandemic are doing so because they believe they were not communicated with consistently or openly over the past five months.
Ensure that the leaders in the business are both communicating the current business situation and articulating a vision for how to get through the pandemic and beyond. Long-term vision and specific goals and milestones help with long-term retention. It is also important that leaders do not lose sight of the values that they stand for. Losing sight of those values and failing to continue to be on message would suggest there was no substance to them in the first place. It will be more important than ever for leaders to stand up and demonstrate confidence and direction.
Employee Assistance Programs
Implementing or expanding on EAP programs will make a huge difference to employees within a business. This demonstrates that a company and its management really do care about the wellbeing of their staff. Our recent surveys suggest that businesses with strong EAP programs have staff that are far more engaged than those that did not.
Treat All Staff Well Even If They Are Exiting The Business
A sad consequence of the pandemic has been an increase in the number of people being made redundant. It is important to remember that although those you are making redundant will not have a place with you moving forwards, their colleagues (and often friends) will. You need to ensure that those leaving through redundancy leave on good terms, that they feel they have been treated well and with compassion. If this is not handled well then those left behind will become disengaged and ultimately it could lead to them leaving as well, even though you were keen to retain them.
Whether we are within a pandemic or outside of it the key to staff retention will remain roughly the same. Treat people well, show them appreciation, communicate regularly and openly and give them belief you are invested in their development and you have a far greater chance of retaining them for the long term. The other obvious upside of treating people in this way is that their productivity is likely to be improved in the short term – so a win win!
Written by Managing Director, Chris Goulding.