Organizations are facing a new dilemma when it comes to creating return-to-work policies. In the midst of what’s been dubbed the “Big Quit” or the “Great Resignation” companies are rightfully concerned with balancing their organizational needs without losing their employees in the process.
According to Harvard Business Review contributor, Sue Bingham, beyond setting realistic expectations, focusing on culture-enhancing policies can go a long way in retaining your workforce. “Companies that lend support to workers’ entire employee life experience—offering flexibility, building deeper employer–employee connections, and creating a shared purpose—see better employee well-being.”
Therefore, it’s essential for leaders to look at the specifics of what employees value and what truly makes a difference when it comes to workplace culture. Here are a few pieces of advice to keep in mind.
Prioritize psychological safety
It’s fair to say that stability is in short supply these days. Last year, The New York Times reported that Americans are suffering from record levels of mental distress. It’s a feeling that’s carried into 2021. Keep in mind that returning to office life can be an overwhelming experience for exhausted and burned out workers; which means clear, empathetic communication is more critical than ever.
At my internet company, we’ve created policies that prioritize mental well-being and we also communicate these regularly. What this looks like for us is doing what we can to remove stress by setting realistic expectations about workloads, and also recognizing what can slide if necessary.
“Employees who do not feel psychologically safe are more prone to error, and less likely to take risks, participate in healthy conflict, or grow in their roles,” writes Jon Christiansen for Harvard Business Review. “Contrarily, team members that feel psychologically safe are productive, innovative, and enjoy a sense of belonging.”
An Ipsos survey in partnership with the World Economic Forum looked at 12,500 employed people in 29 countries and found that a majority want flexible working to become the norm. Considering the increased demands of childcare or looking after elderly parents, it makes sense that people are making this their top priority.
“Employers have to prepare for a ‘next normal,'” says Harvard Business School faculty member, Joseph B. Fuller. “Employees are unlikely to return happily to a workplace driven by the ‘old deal,’ in which the employer sets standard rules of employment and the workforce acquiesces.”
“They will expect not only the right to determine the adequacy of workplace safety measures,” he adds, “but also expect employers to consider their individual circumstances, like caregiving obligations.”
To prevent turnover, leaders need to explore the barriers their workers are facing and learn how to offer greater flexibility when designing future work arrangements. Giving people ample time to set up alternative child care and elder care arrangements is just one example of making the return to work transition smoother.
Establish an ongoing process and dialogue
Work policies shouldn’t be a one-way street. Continuous employee feedback is crucial to ensure you’re staying on top of what your team values most.
Encouraging an ongoing process and open discussion can help workers feel more empowered and engaged. With my company, we make it a point to compile employee surveys and regularly revisit our policies to make sure we are adapting to changing circumstances. This allows us to align business objectives with our ultimate goal of creating a positive culture.
“With workers having so many options in terms of workplaces, they’re unlikely to stay employed long at an organization that doesn’t value their opinions,” Bingham writes. “Recurring feedback and clear expectations are key to a policy’s success.”
Build a culture of appreciation
Delivering company policies without communicating appreciation is one of the biggest risks for a tumultuous return to work. According to researchers Kerry Roberts Gibson, Kate O’Leary, and Joseph R. Weintraub, it’s necessary for leaders to touch base early and often.
“While regularly taking time to say hello to employees and check in with them might seem like an unnecessary drain on your productivity, these interactions are actually valuable points of connection for your employees (and for you),” the coauthors write. More than that “They prevent your staff from feeling invisible.”
Bingham agrees. “The adage to ‘keep a professional distance from your employees’ is anathema to creating a great culture.”
Of course, showing appreciation goes beyond daily check-ins. Taking steps to address growth opportunities also communicates to team members that they are valued. “Employees want to know what the future holds for their careers,” write Gibson, O’Leary, and Weintraub.
While work policies will continue to change and evolve—an engaging, fulfilling workplace culture is what ultimately makes the difference in whether people stay or go.
As the researchers note: “At the end of the day, building a culture of appreciation comes down mostly to a lot of small common sense practices: Not taking your people for granted. Remembering to say thank-you in a personal and sincere way. Making it clear that you’re interested in your employees’ growth and in them as individuals.”
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.