How To Retain Employees In Uncertain Times

Anthony Rotoli is the CEO of Terra Dotta, a leader in global education engagement solutions.

Managing an organization and its people through times of change has always been a key tenet of successful business leadership. As with most things these past two years, the pandemic has only exacerbated the need for leaders to be agile while also effectively managing and growing a company. The combination of the pandemic roller coaster and a tight labor market means we have even more work cut out for us.

Throughout 2020, businesses waded through shock and uncertainty, with the most successful organizations moving beyond reaction and becoming innovative. Last year, we anticipated a return to “normal.” But as time passed, we realized the familiar world we craved wasn’t coming back immediately, so our attention turned to managing, and helping our people manage, in a state of flux.

As we settle into 2022, rather than waiting for a return to a pre-2020 normal, it is time to focus on the future and determine how to help our people — and by extension, our organization — thrive in today’s unpredictable environment. 

Employment woes are not a new problem.

Even before the pandemic, employers struggled to recruit talent. But with increased remote and hybrid work options, today’s employee demographics and priorities have changed, and more people than ever are considering new career options. 

Whether it’s difficulty hiring, keeping employees or placing the right person with the right skills in the right job, businesses across the globe are struggling with manpower. Many employees don’t feel valued, and organizations must change that to succeed. But rather than focus on the negative aspects of the Great Resignation, focus on what you’re doing to keep employees with you and how you can work together to craft these challenges into opportunities. Here are some questions leaders should be asking themselves.

1. Are you paying people in accordance with market rates? Money may not be the only thing employees consider in a job change, but it matters. If you’re not sure how competitive your company is regarding pay, conduct a market analysis and set pay ranges for each position. If the research shows that you’re out of range, go back to the team and rebalance salaries according to role and performance to meet market expectations. 

2. What do you offer beyond salary? Employees at all company levels want to grow their professional and personal skills. They want flexibility and benefits. They want to feel connected to the company’s purpose and their colleagues. They want to feel like they matter. So offer upskilling and advancement, with career pathing for all positions. Provide a career stratification program that clarifies what certifications or experience employees need to advance. Offer benefits that are relevant to your employees’ needs. Try to incorporate as much flexibility and autonomy in every position as possible. Help employees understand how their job ties into the bigger organizational picture.

3. What is your company culture? Beyond the tangibles, like salary and benefits, your organization’s culture influences how closely employees are tied to the company. Maintaining a company culture requires effort, especially for companies with employees working both remotely and in the office. Encourage responsible in-person collaboration when possible. Employee expectations of the work environment have changed, and if they’re coming into the office, they don’t want a day full of Zoom calls that could have been conducted from home. Consider making work the place for town halls and brainstorming meetings. Fill the refrigerator with goodies, provide lunch or offer other incentives that make the office a place people want to be. And be sure to celebrate wins, both big and small, to bring the team and organization together.

4. How well are you and your team demonstrating strong leadership skills? The last few years have been uncharted territory for us too. It’s been critical to fight FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). With the frequently shifting nature of the pandemic, the timeline to manage and make decisions is shrinking. Instead of six- or 12-month plans, we need 30-, 60 and 90-day plans to adapt to changes quickly. At the same time, we need to define rules and protocols for the current environment. That may mean employees have to be vaccinated or wear masks in common areas or that all employees return to the office. These may be difficult decisions, and it is essential that we clearly communicate them to employees, explaining the why and showing empathy along the way.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that we need to value employees. And that can’t be done with words alone. It is time to secure the board of directors’ buy-in, flex appropriate leadership skills and demonstrate that value in all aspects of the employee experience. With consistent, authentic effort, we can maintain employees’ trust and show why our work environment is one where they can thrive and one where they want to stay.

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