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Retaining talent during the great resignation

Leadership, especially those in direct reporting relationships, are fundamental to addressing attrition.

Retaining talent during the great resignation
[Image Source: bernardbodo/Adobe Stock]

With the rate of attrition skyrocketing for most organizations, what are practical retention strategies that your company can deploy? I’ve been advising clients on talent management for almost two decades. While the reasons for attrition are similar (e.g., wages, flexibility, growth), it’s now even easier for employees to decide to leave. There are a couple of reasons why this is happening:

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• The job options that are currently available in the marketplace (e.g., employees who may not be looking for a change and are not signaling the market are being actively recruited).

• The continued stressors brought on by significant work-life imbalances (e.g., no real boundaries since remote work started and increased pressure from having to compensate for other team members who have departed).

Leadership, especially those in direct reporting relationships, are fundamental to addressing attrition. Managers experiencing record YTD turnover while hiring falls drastically below target is becoming the norm. The impacts on the hiring manager (e.g., opening the requisition process, interviewing candidates, etc.) are well known, but are managers aware of how the attrition has impacted the rest of the team? Case in point: Are you aware of the ripple effect you might be creating as a manager by loading up other team members with tasks that were previously done by people who left? Are you adding to an already overflowing plate? Becoming aware of the impact these tasks — which you may think of as temporary — could have on the remainder of the team is critical.

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The next step is to address the issue. You cannot deliver on the commitments you planned to deliver on when you had a fully staffed team—period. If you do not level expectations with your senior leaders, your team will walk out on you. Good people try their best to step in so that there isn’t a vacuum on a team, but this can only be sustained for short bursts of time unless you help them alleviate their current workload. If you cannot do that, you must reset expectations so you don’t lose the survivors on your team.

For those team members who stay with you, make sure you create more growth opportunities for them and vary the types of opportunities according to their experience levels and adaptability, especially if they are high-performers. Many high-performers like to be involved in higher-stake opportunities. They may be interested in working on innovation, for example, or they may want some level of autonomy over an initiative that they can attack without fear of failure. Balancing opportunities to help them grow will help with retention, but only if you have clearly identified paths.

Note that just dangling a potential growth opportunity that is vague in scope and unarticulated in terms of timing will not help; in order to successfully have this discussion, you have to understand the personal needs and drivers of each of your employees—they will not be the same across the board. For each team member, have a clear plan in place that outlines why this growth opportunity fits with their career aspirations and tell them when they can expect it to materialize (e.g., you will have the opportunity to work in our innovation lab, co-developing a product with a client, starting Q4 2021). If you don’t extend a concrete offer, you run the risk of your team jumping ship for any one of the outside organizations looking to poach star talent.

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Lastly, advocate for your employees. In many organizations, overhauling the compensation and rewards plans is not usually within a manager’s purview. However, actively advocating for your team where possible and ensuring that you recognize their value and contributions is still critical and undervalued. While pay adjustments do have motivational effects, they are usually short-lived, whereas ongoing recognition of accomplishments, both formally and informally, from direct managers, peers, and other leaders makes a bigger and long-lasting impact. Having a formal recognition program where employees can reward each other for a job well done, based on specific behavior or achievements, is worth implementing to sustain momentum and to align employees to your company values. Too many organizations don’t align their rewards strategy to their organizational goals and just focus on occasional gifts or perks, so ensure that you have an overall recognition strategy first before deploying any programs.

Having a good handle on the team-wide ripple effects of attrition, tailoring growth opportunities to each employee, and installing a formal recognition strategy that is aligned to your organizational goals, are all critical steps in retaining talent. That being said, these are just a few levers to enhance your employee value proposition (EVP), which needs to be clearly articulated. In other words, communicate the promise that you are making to current and potential employees about the experience they will have while working for your organization. If your articulated EVP does not match your actions, the dissonance will leave you with continued, soaring attrition rates.


Krishna Kutty – Managing Partner & Co-Founder at Kuroshio Consulting, advising clients across North America on strategy, transformations, and leadership. 

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