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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Dear leaders: It’s time to wake up to the Great Retention

You have power over the narrative and can change the conversation from resignation to retention. Sharpen your attitude and play more offense, because clarity of provision and purpose always keeps good soldiers at your side.

Dear leaders: It’s time to wake up to the Great Retention
[fizkes/Adobe Stock]

Every time I go on LinkedIn or browse online, there’s some headline or post about the Great Resignation that shoves its way into my space. And I have to be honest—I’m sick to death of it.

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The number of people walking out the door is concerning: 4.5 million people left their employers in November 2021. That statistic isn’t a one-off, either. The number of people calling it quits has exceeded pre-pandemic highs for eight months straight. People are rethinking how they want to work after COVID-19, and they are going remote by choice.

As everyone highlights the degree of loss and what’s luring workers away, it seems leaders are not discussing the reasons why anyone would want to work in their offices or using those points to drive loyalty. To thrive, we need to wake up, put all the talk of resignation on the shelf, and focus on retention.

WE’RE FOCUSED ON THE WRONG THINGS

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In my view, many leaders have traditionally taken the attitude that it’s normal in business to have a certain number of people leave and there’s not much they can do about it. The degree to which employers are losing people now far exceeds what we’re used to handling, but instead of taking responsibility, leaders are maintaining the we-can’t-help-it attitude and using COVID-19 as an excuse for the spike in resignations.

If you just ask why we’re seeing this resignation, the fact that leaders aren’t meeting the needs of their employees—even when they could do something—becomes clearer. People want to feel part of something bigger. Why aren’t we connecting them to our vision? People want more flexibility in their work schedules. Why do they have to leave our companies to have that? They want great managers. Why can’t they have a great manager in you?

We have not asked ourselves these types of questions as a matter of standard. We are so focused on external factors that “can’t be helped” that we miss the opportunity to improve and make a fantastic case for our companies.

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HOW CAN WE TURN THIS AROUND?

Part of good leadership is being responsive to the constantly evolving employee landscape. And if there were ever a time when preferences and needs were different, it’s now. The way we lead has to shift to reflect this reality.

The biggest shift in leadership needs to be a new focus on internal marketing. When you promote your vision and values and highlight how you’re living them out, employees have something to counter the attractive messaging competitors are throwing at them. Since their needs are already being met by your company, employees are not as tempted to go try to meet them elsewhere. I know a few people reading this may be thinking, “What? Spend marketing dollars for our own people?” Yes, absolutely.

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With some digging, you’ll discover the gaps that are unique to your business. During the pandemic, our HR team was concerned because most of our accommodations and supports focused on physical safety and wellness. There wasn’t enough emphasis on mental health. So we created a new program to restore mental health as part of our overall wellness program. We filled the gap we recognized, and now we can highlight that to our existing and potential workers as a reason we’re worth working for. Sure it cost money, but so does attrition and good people leaving your organization.

Internal marketing requires us to be visible to our employees. It takes active engagement and re-engagement that builds trust. This can bring new challenges as our circumstances change. Now that so many people are remote, I don’t see everybody as often—workers I used to see every day might only be in the office once a week. So I don’t skimp on virtual meetings, and I write more emails and texts than I did before the pandemic.

I’m seizing every opportunity to present new activities that let people learn about each other in a fun way. Our recent Valentine’s game show is just one option we’ve successfully thrown on the table, and that certainly wasn’t something we were even thinking about two years ago.

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The efforts we make to maintain connections and practice values pay off. One of my recent hires told my VP of marketing that the dedication to employees was a big part of what attracted her to the business. She was impressed that I actually go around the building and talk to people and that there’s an open atmosphere where everyone can get to know each other.

See, it’s not the big things that retain our people—it’s a dozen small actions, and it starts with you not accepting the norm and believing that your organization is the best place for people to work. Communicating well and doing what you say you’ll do really does work.

YOUR ATTITUDE IS WHAT MATTERS MOST

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The landscape leaders face today is unlike any other that professionals have had to navigate. But just as we did in the past, we have a choice about how we will respond and lead in it. Attitude counts. If we resign ourselves to the fact that people are going to leave, that’s exactly what they’ll do. If we embrace what’s going on as an opportunity to change what we’re doing for the better, we can thrive. It’s all about playing offense, not defense.

If we heard our customers or clients were under attack, we would fight tooth and nail for them. Yet, we’re not defending our kingdom with our own employees. Instead, we’re resigning ourselves and letting our most valued asset walk right out the door.

You have power over the narrative and can change the conversation from resignation to retention. Sharpen your attitude and play more offense, because clarity of provision and purpose always keeps good soldiers at your side.

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CEO of Merchants Fleet, transforming the company’s business model and creating a new fleet industry category known as FleetTech.

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