Over the past year, the future has felt rife with more questions than answers: How long will COVID-19 be a threat? When will we have a vaccine? What will the economic fallout be? For individuals: Will my family and friends be safe? Will I keep my job?
These questions won’t disappear, but it seems we’ve rounded a corner. The U.S. Department of Labor’s recent employment report showed job openings jumped to a two-year high in February, and the economy added 916,000 jobs in March (the most in seven months). Our economy is slowly recovering, but the pandemic has changed a lot. Today and moving forward, people need to feel their employers care, and companies can’t afford to miss opportunities to show it.
A Pandemic Paradigm Shift: Culture, Care and Employee Retention
As lockdowns lift and states enter new phases of reopening, hiring is starting to surge again. In a recent Reuters piece, Lead U.S. Economist at Oxford Economics, Lydia Boussour, put it this way: “Labor demand should continue to heat up as companies brace for a post-pandemic burst in pent-up demand.”
While demand is increasing, so is attrition: 3.4 million people voluntarily quit their jobs in February, up from 3.3 million from January. Limeade research during COVID-19 shows that well-being is suffering: 72% of employees say they’re burned out, compared to 42% last year. A new study by the Limeade Institute, “Employee Care: Defining the New Normal,” found that only 55% of employees surveyed felt like their organization cares about them, with only 16% strongly agreeing. It’s clear that we need to be doing more to support employees, but we can’t let up as the crisis subsides. If companies want to retain employees in a strengthening economy, care and culture need to come first.
How to Retain Employees in a New Culture-Focused Economy
The pandemic fundamentally changed the dynamics of employer-employee relationships. In today’s economy, care is the key to employee retention. Here’s how companies can create care-based cultures that keep employees on board.
1. Instead of investing in perks, commit to flexibility
Post-pandemic perks won’t be office snacks and gift card kudos. They’ll be employee-directed stipends for well-being, flex time for parents, work-from-anywhere policies (if possible), more generous PTO and more. We knew before COVID-19 that the tide was shifting among young people — now employees across all age groups have adapted to a different way of working. Retaining them means empowering their choices wherever you can.
2. To enhance culture, think small-scale for a big impact
Mandatory all-company meetings and events have their place, but they can also be long and overwhelming. Find milestones to celebrate in smaller groups. Dedicate channels in your employee experience platform to company wins or implement departmental meetings where people can offer their input on ideas and goals for the year ahead. Prioritize employee voices over large, top-down presentations.
3. Improve communication between managers and leadership
Limeade research revealed that 59% of managers say they’re working longer hours since the start of COVID-19. Managers are literally working overtime to help employees feel supported, and organizations depend on them to bolster employee well-being. Retaining employees across your company means making sure managers are in the know and supported. Create touch points between leaders and managers that offer insights on the business and show vulnerability. Let them vent, hear their concerns and act on their feedback.
4. If possible, ask employees about their preferences on returning to offices
This one is simple: Include employees in big decisions. Returning to the workplace remains a top concern for employees. However you do it, make sure to also communicate how you’ll analyze feedback for solutions that work for as many people as possible. If your employees have been working on-site during the pandemic, ask what additional efforts you can make so they feel safe and comfortable.
5. Implement and expand DEI efforts
Showing employees you care means celebrating their diversity and providing time and resources for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). You may have successful programs, in which case, consider how you can do more. The pandemic has exposed underserved groups such as family caregivers (those who care for loved ones) needing support. Showing that you see your employees in their identities as well as the realities of their day-to-day lives are both important components of any company’s DEI approach.