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How top companies attract and retain talent in the Great Resignation

How can you attract and retain talent in a world where much of the workforce is eager to quit?

Amy Rigby

Gone are the days when free snacks and gym memberships were desirable company perks that helped employees stick around. Today’s workers are battered and bruised from a year and a half of a pandemic that brought uncertainty, danger and hardship.

So how can you attract and retain top talent in a post-pandemic world? Below, we’ll outline 11 strategies along with examples of companies successfully using them. But first, let’s go over the dreaded “Great Resignation” and what it could mean for your organization.

Statistics about the Great Resignation

Many are calling the mass exodus of employees in 2021 “the Great Resignation.” Just how true is it? Here are some statistics:

  • A record high of about 4 million American employees quit their jobs in April 2021. That's about 2.8% of the employee workforce in the U.S. And while that may not seem like much, that's the highest rate since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking this metric in 2000. [1] [2]
  • 41% of employees worldwide are thinking about quitting their job in 2021. [3]
  • 38% of UK and Ireland employees are planning to quit their jobs in the next six to 12 months. [4]
  • 48% of the American workforce is eyeing new jobs. [5]

How do you retain talent in a post-pandemic world? 11 strategies

1. Improve training for your people managers 

As Gallup research has shown, people managers are an influential factor when it comes to employee engagement. Gallup calls the manager the “most effective interrupter” of the “self-defeating cycle” of new hires joining a low-engagement team and then leaving shortly after.

Just as employees quit bad bosses, they stay because of good ones. Gallup found that it takes more than a 20% pay raise for an engaged employee to leave a manager that engages them, but it takes almost nothing for a disengaged employee to be lured by a different company.

If you want to attract and retain talent, your managers must reflect the 12 elements of employee engagement outlined by Gallup, including communicating clearly what's expected of each team member, equipping them with the resources to do their work right and recognizing and praising them for the good work they do.

2. Know your values—and stick to them

Robert Half research in 2021 found that nearly one-third of professionals said the pandemic changed their perspective, and now, they only want to work with employers whose values align with their own. Further, 71% of employees would leave a company if there’s a lack of value alignment.

The first step in attracting and retaining talent, then, is to define your company values and express them clearly to your employees and potential job candidates. Consider running focus groups within your organization, finalizing a set of core values, and publishing them on your company’s about page so interested candidates can know what you stand for before they apply.

The second step, though, is the most important: Implement a set of behaviors that show you really mean it when you say something is a value. 

Given the new emphasis on personal values, organizations must define company values and stick to them if they want to attract and retain talent. Lip service no longer cuts it. A real strategy for living out those company values must be in place. After the trauma of the pandemic and racial justice reckoning, employees are more discerning of organizations’ reactions to world events and want to work for an employer that stands by what they stand for. 

3. Foot the bill for remote work costs

Working from home full-time means rising internet and electricity bills. Should employers foot the bill? Some already do. In 2020, HubSpot introduced a $1,000 remote work stipend to offset work-from-home costs brought on by the pandemic. Boston-based tech company Reggora offers employees a $500 remote work stipend. Shopify provides its employees with an internet allowance. 

Given that employers often save money by switching to a remote workforce (no more rent to pay, for example), it makes sense to pass on some of the savings to their employees by assisting with work-from-home bills.

4. Offer flexible and hybrid work

With 29% of Americans saying they’d rather quit their job than be forced back into the office, it’s clear that employees have come to treasure remote work. Because of this, employers must learn ways to incorporate it into their workplace: hence, hybrid work. As offices reopen, many companies are giving their employees a choice when it comes to how and where they’d like to work.

Etsy, for example, is offering its employees three options, as it announced on its blog in July 2021:

  1. Flex (in the office two or more days per week and working remotely the rest of the time)
  2. Fully remote 
  3. Fully office-based

“Where we feel most productive and ‘in flow’ varies from person to person,” writes Raina Moskowitz, Etsy’s Chief Operations, Strategy and People Officer, “so we’re updating our policies to meet the needs of both our teams and our business.”

5. Try a four-day workweek 

In August 2020, software company Elephant Ventures compressed its workweek into four days. What started as a two-month experiment to prevent employee burnout has now become a permanent fixture for this software company. 

So can a four-day workweek (and a 10-hour workday) really give you a competitive edge when it comes to attracting talent?

"[Shorter work weeks] absolutely help us win the recruiting battles that you engage in to win top talent and absolutely is a retention benefit," Elephant Ventures founder Art Shectman told CNN. "Once you are adjusted to it, it's hard to go to another schedule."

Alternatively, instead of condensing 40 hours into four days, you could do what Unilever is trying and simply knock off one day of the traditional workweek. That’s right, in a 12-month experiment, Unilever is paying its New Zealand employees for five days of work while they only work four.

“If we end up in a situation where the team is working four extended days then we miss the point of this,” Unilever New Zealand managing director Nick Bangs told Reuters. “We don’t want our team to have really long days, but to bring material change in the way they work.”

Whatever new model of workweek you decide on, the point isn’t to work less—it’s to optimize productivity and make the workplace more equitable. One day less a week committed to a job means one day less a week of having to commute. It also means one less day of paying for childcare, and one more day that can be dedicated to family. There’s no rule that says we all have to work 40-hour, five-day weeks. That’s just how it’s been traditionally. But if it’s not working, it’s worth changing it. 

6. Tackle burnout with extra paid time off

A December 2020 Spring Health study found that 76% of U.S. workers are experiencing burnout. With employee burnout on the rise, companies are getting creative in how they offer paid time off to team members who have endured more than a year of uncertainty and tragedy during the pandemic.

In June 2021, dating app Bumble closed its offices to give all of its staff members one week of paid time off to de-stress.

In summer 2021, Mozilla shut down for a Wellness Week, as did Hootsuite. And in August 2021, Nike also shut down its worldwide offices for a week to combat burnout.

7. Prioritize new wellbeing initiatives

For the 2021 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report, Wellable surveyed health insurance brokers to find out what companies are planning to do regarding health initiatives. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said their employer clients will be investing more into health and wellbeing programs in the coming year. The majority of respondents said employers would be spending less on the typical pre-pandemic perks like free healthy food and on-site fitness classes and more on wellbeing initiatives for mental health, stress management/resilience, and telemedicine.

An excellent example of this is Salesforce’s B-Well Together, a video series launched during the pandemic offering “wellbeing breaks” with guest speakers to help cultivate resilience. Sessions have included "Understanding Black Fatigue" with bestselling author Mary-Frances Winters, "The Secret Strengths of Introverts" with Quiet author Susan Cain and "How an Uncertain World Puts Mental Health in Perspective" with singer Jewel.

Top companies around the globe are using our free Vital Wellbeing coaching program with science-backed tools for boosting wellbeing in individuals and teams.

8. Normalize mental health days

Different from vacation or sick days, mental health days are paid time off for coping with things like stress over back-to-back deadlines or grief over a breakup—things that can impact work productivity just as much as a physical ailment. 

And if you’re worried that offering mental health days will increase absenteeism, think of it this way: Your employees are already taking mental health days (without saying so); they’re just calling them sick days. But for some, that feels deceptive and may even go against what your company policy defines as a “sick day.” That means that when people need to take time off because they’re overwhelmed, stressed out or feeling down, it’s compounded by the guilt and awkwardness they feel for having to “sneak around” the truth. 

You, as the employer, have the power to change the culture and de-stigmatize the important issue of mental health. By clearly outlining in company policy that mental health days are benefits available to your employees, you show that taking care of one’s body and mind is always a good thing.

Because as it stands, workers don’t feel supported enough in the mental health realm. A late 2020 McKinsey & Company survey found this disconnect between employers and employees: 65% of employers said they support mental health well or very well, while only 51% of employees agreed.

In Australia, “doona days” are becoming popular, according to reporting by The Irish Times. (“Doona” is an Australian English term for what's known in the U.S. or UK as a comforter or duvet.) Muesli company Carman's Kitchen provides its staff with two no-questions-asked doona days per year. It’s no wonder the company snagged the title of "Most outstanding practice (Employee wellbeing)" in the AFR Boss 2021 Best Places to Work

Additionally, you can take it a step further and draft a mental health policy, like content marketing agency Influence & Co. did. The company even shares its mental health policy publicly here

9. Provide paid parental leave

In countries like Sweden and Denmark, paid parental leave is mandated by federal law. 

In Sweden, both parents (if there are two) are entitled to 240 days each of paid leave when a child is born or adopted. In Denmark, parents get a total of 52 weeks of paid parental leave. 

For parents in countries like the United States, however, where the government does not recognize a legal right to paid time off for new moms and dads, parents are at the mercy of their employers—and are often disappointed.

A 2021 YouGov survey found that 68% of Americans believe companies should offer paid parental leave to both mothers and fathers. But only 55% of U.S. employers actually offer paid maternity leave, and even less (45%) offer paid paternity leave, according to a 2020 Paid Leave in America report.

According to NBC News, some companies in the U.S. who offer great parental leave include:

  • Netflix offers a full year of paid time off to both mothers and fathers, and have the option to come back on a part-time basis during that if they wish.
  • Microsoft offers five months paid leave to mothers, and three months to fathers and adoptive parents.
  • KPMG offers 17 weeks of paid maternity leave, and four to six weeks for fathers. They also offer $6,000 for in vitro-fertilization and $20,000 per child for adoption subsidy. They also offer flexible working hours and formal backup care for children.
  • Snap offers 18-20 weeks for mothers at 100% of their pay, and fathers get eight weeks at 100% pay. They also help cover the costs of surrogacy and Fertility Preservation benefits. 
  • Deloitte offers 22 weeks for mothers and sixteen weeks for fathers. They also offer coaching programs to help parents balance their new responsibilities, plus flexible transitioning to full-time and extra financial support for childcare services once you do.

10. Promote work-life balance

In a survey published in April 2021, McKinsey & Company reported that employees' number one hope for the future is a better work-life balance, with 51% of respondents selecting this option.

However, Microsoft's 2021 Work Trend Index found that 20% of global employees surveyed said "their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance.” 
So how can you show that you care? In an increasingly remote work world, where the lines between work and personal life are blurred, it’s essential to communicate boundaries. In 2017, France implemented a "right to disconnect" law,  barring employees from working after hours. And even in countries where there are no laws regulating it, some companies have chosen to establish their own "right to disconnect'' policies. Vynamic has a company "zzzMail" policy where team members are asked to avoid sending emails after hours as well as on weekends and Vynamic holidays. 

It’s also vital to become aware of the indirect ways you might be encouraging overworking, even if you don’t mean to. For example, if your managers constantly praise employees who work long hours and take on extra projects, their behavior could imply that your company doesn’t actually value work-life balance.

11. Create policies that combat systemic inequality within your organization

Injustices that have existed for a long time within organizations and institutions, such as racism and sexism, came to the forefront in 2020. We saw how the burden of childcare and house chores fell on telecommuting mothers more than on telecommuting fathers. We saw how essential workers, most of whom are economically disadvantaged people and historically marginalized minorities, bore the brunt of Covid’s impact, as they did not have the privilege of staying home.

Now, more than ever, savvy job seekers are scrutinizing potential employers’ efforts to combat inequalities within their own organizations.

As an example, one way to support work-from-home moms is to consider helping to pay for the costs associated with caring for kids while working from home. During the pandemic, Salesforce extended its back-up child care program, reimbursing eligible employees for up to $100/day for up to five days per month for child care. 

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Why is attracting talent important?

Attracting and retaining talent is good for your business in so many ways. Here are just some:

  • It helps you maintain a competitive edge in your industry. As you can see from the data above, employees are more discerning than ever and are more willing to leave for greener pastures during this Great Resignation. By implementing strategies to attract and retain talent, you’ll have a competitive edge in your industry while others falter.
  • It reduces costs. The cost of replacing an employee is sky-high (the Work Institute estimates a price tag of $15,000 per U.S. worker!). If an employee quits, you’ve just lost that time and money that you invested into recruiting, interviewing, onboarding and training that employee. That’s why prevention is the best strategy: By defining what type of employee you want to attract and communicating what your company has to offer before you make the hire, you can better ensure that you hire the best person for the position and avoid losing them.
  • It reduces turnover. As stated above, it’s best for an employee to know what they’re getting into before accepting the job. If they find out that you misrepresented your company, they’ll feel disenchanted, disengaged and start looking for a job elsewhere. Reducing turnover should be a priority for every organization.
  • It improves company performance and productivity. Attracting talent is also about the bottom line: Happier, more engaged employees are likely to perform better. It’s in your best interest to win over the job candidates who are the most likely to thrive in your company’s culture.

What does it mean to attract top talent?

Attracting top talent can include practices such as:

  • Employer branding
  • Showcasing stories from top performers at your company
  • Highlighting DEI efforts
  • Updating job descriptions to have more inclusive language
  • Actively recruiting at job fairs and universities
  • Developing a leadership and mentorship program
  • Advertising the career development efforts of your company
  • Offering competitive pay and benefits

How will you attract and retain talent post-pandemic?

With the pandemic, economic instability and the Great Resignation, the war for talent intensifies. Employees around the world have become more aware of what they’re looking for in an employer, and thus, they have become more selective. As an employer, you must step up and implement strategies to attract and retain talent post-pandemic, or risk getting left behind.

By using the learnings of the surveys, studies and strategies mentioned above, you’ll have a competitive edge when it comes to ensuring you recruit, hire and keep the best people for the job.

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