From the Blog

Fighting Employee Attrition in a Remote Working World

It may not be quite as bad as a breakup via Post-it note, but employees quitting over email isn’t good for anyone’s morale. Yet it’s quickly becoming a de facto part of employee attrition, as a remote workforce looks for the quickest way to rip the Band-Aid off.  

First impressions and last impressions count the most, and the way someone quits matters — not just for their own professional future, but to the colleagues who have to watch them go. Employees who work remotely won’t have to witness the dispiriting reality of a slow exit with a hastily packed box, but they will notice their colleagues’ chat icons disappearing and the emails that bounce back all of the sudden. And they’ll never forget the employees who make some noise on the way out of the company’s communication tools.

Reducing employee attrition when you can’t see and regularly engage in person with your team can be hard. Remote work may have been spurred on by a pandemic, but even with the recession COVID-19 has made it easier to go in many ways. People no longer need to worry about the length of their commute, for one thing. And it’s possible they no longer feel the same loyalty to their employer when they’re removed from the friendships and fringe benefits. 

If you want to avoid a resignation email in your inbox you need to engage your teams now, not when they’re spending their lunch breaks on job sites.

How to reduce attrition of employees with better communication

You can’t bring snacks to share with your remote workforce — but if that was your go-to for showing care when in the office, you might have bigger problems to contend with. 

Showing employees you care is exactly the same as showing anyone you care: Listen and talk openly and free of judgment. Engaged employees need to know what’s going on in an organization, that they contribute in a meaningful way and that they’re valued because of it. Those three things may seem simple, but they’re hard to do in the best of circumstances. A distributed workforce only makes it harder. 

If you want to avoid employees slinking away into new jobs without warning, you need to proactively reach out to them and give them ways to connect with each other. Communication should feel honest and unmonitored. The last thing you want is employees switching to text messages and other workarounds for fear of getting caught complaining. Complaints are natural, and should be just as much a respected part of communication as compliments and collaboration. 

Limeade Institute research shows that communicating with care is critical for organizations. When employees feel that information flows freely in their organization, they are:

  • 3x more likely to feel included
  • 3x more likely to feel connected
  • More than 3x more likely to feel valued
  • 4x more likely to feel like their organization cares

Communication can’t solve for employee happiness. But employee happiness can’t exist without communication. To fight employee attrition — especially the stealth attrition that can come with distributed employees — you have to start with strong communication. 

Turn technology into a tool for connecting — and disconnecting

That said, for each new communication tool you bring in, you need a plan for effectively managing communications. 

Technology allows us to work from anywhere at any time. Critical during a crisis, no doubt, but it can create a nightmare for work-life balance. Only a few months after COVID-19 forced remote work on many, employees were already complaining of more meetings and longer workdays. This added stress on top of new challenges to caretaking and physical and mental health. 

Organizational communication is critical, but getting the right amount of communication keeps employees from feeling overloaded and resentful. The same research that shows free flowing communication can improve employee experiences also shows that when employees feel that they receive adequate information, they are:

  • More than 2.5x less likely to feel burned out
  • More than 1.5x more likely to feel they have well-being in their life
  • Nearly 4.5x more likely to trust their organization

When employees get the communication they need from their employers — nothing more — it can powerfully impact the overall employee experience.

Anyone who’s woken up to the sound of notifications knows how stressful always-on technology can be. And anyone who’s found the perfect GIF for a conversation knows how quickly it can become a tool for connection. The organizations that retain employees are the ones who can make those tools available without making them omnipresent.  

Model the positive communication that improves employee retention

The best way to get employees to talk freely and feel secure turning off? Show them. The always-on manager may once have been a sign that your boss was working as hard as you are. Now for many employees, it’s a bar you’re expected to clear and proof of an ill-balanced workload at the same time. 

Managers need to take the time to engage with their employees. Check-ins should be regular and casual messages should happen throughout the day. If a manager can’t tell you what’s going on with any individual employee, at least in broad strokes, there’s a problem. And the employee should have some awareness of what’s happening in the manager’s life as well, proof that communication is moving both ways. Managers should also be the primary source for any major company news, both so they can build trust with their teams and so they can tailor the message to the particular realities of each employee.

And these messages? None of them should be coming outside of regular working hours. Perhaps your manager is juggling kids at home and does their best work in the evenings — that doesn’t mean it’s a great time to send out notifications to everyone on the team. Technology tools that allow you to schedule your messages and notifications will give everyone the flexibility they need to make their workdays work, without putting pressure on anyone to feel like their workdays should never end.  

Employee attrition doesn’t necessarily mean low employee morale

You want employees to change, grow and find new paths for themselves throughout their careers — that’s proof you have engaged, passionate people. So don’t look at employee turnover as the enemy. Instead, analyze the causes of attrition, and the ways people exit. 

If a much-loved colleague exists abruptly via a chilly email, or worse, a heated one, that is going to hurt employee morale. But it’s a cause for celebration if the same colleague happily moves onto a new role that’s a better personal fit. 

Even people with no ill-will toward the company can get caught up when colleagues are venting. However, when a company cares, everyone has a chance to celebrate the work their colleague did that helped them get to a new role. They see the reward of hard work and good relationships. They may miss the colleague, sure, but they’re unlikely to walk away thinking they should do the same.

Remember, the employee attrition rate is actually lower for remote workers

Many employees like to work from home, and almost all appreciate the flexibility that can come along with remote working. It’s not that your teleworking colleagues are more likely to quit, it’s just that you’re less likely to see it coming. 

That surprise attrition can be a particularly cruel blow to employee morale, and without any clear answers or understanding around why it’s happened, your team may turn to their own imaginations to fill in the gaps, furthering the problem. 

Preventing remote workers from quitting doesn’t take any extraordinary effort. It just takes attention, and the communication to show it’s there. It requires more proactive techniques with the right tools, and a willingness to put them into practice.