Retention rates are a key indicator of worker satisfaction—including the role, compensation, benefits, and company culture. High retention rates typically indicate a positive work environment, and low retention rates can be a red flag. As retention has fallen during the Great Resignation, employers have launched initiatives to lower their attrition—from providing new childcare benefits, to bumping salaries, to offering unparalleled levels of flexibility. For many organizations, adapting perks and policies is a positive step. However, overemphasis on retention alone may cause leaders to lose sight of their ultimate goal: an engaged and successful workforce.
When there’s growth, there is bound to be churn
To keep up with innovation and industry evolution, organizations must adapt. This change can come in many forms as some companies adapt their business strategies, while others find a new path of growth to accomplish their vision. At key moments of change, employees may find that they are excited to continue growing with the business: they can learn new skills and competencies, experience different roles, and increase their level of company impact.
Yet for some employees, company changes may not be aligned with their expectations, goals, or values. For example, if an employee thrives in an unstructured startup environment, once the business grows multiple times over, there may be no convincing them to stay. When misalignment occurs, business leaders can best maintain the motivation of remaining high performers by supporting employees in their transition to a new organization.
More abruptly, businesses may evolve their values or strategic direction, and employees might not align. Strategic changes can often cause a high employee churn rate for a period of time. With today’s ultra-competitive workplace, it is tempting to hold on to dissatisfied employees as long as possible—presenting a counter-offer, promising a promotion, or creating a new role—because employees are extremely hard to replace. However, resignations are a normal part of change for both the employee and the company to grow.
How to know when it’s time to let an employee leave
When is an employee worth fighting for? That’s the ultimate question leaders are facing during the Great Resignation. To understand the answer, leaders must understand why the employee is planning to leave.
- Is it because they don’t work well with their manager?
- Do they not enjoy the field of work or the specific role they are in?
- Are there any growth opportunities for them at the company?
Getting the answers to these types of questions will help leaders guide employees through the best course of action for their career, and in turn, for the company.
If the employee’s reasons for leaving are fixable, such as moving to an exciting new role or a team with a different culture, the company should consider offering these options to reengage an employee. However, attempting to retain an employee at the moment can result in negative consequences for the broader team. For example, we have made the mistake of promoting employees too early in order to retain them. An employee may expect a promotion, but their manager does not agree that they are performing at a higher level. After being promoted, the employee may leave anyway, leveraging their new title to get a role elsewhere. This departure of a now more senior team member can have a larger negative impact than if the employee had departed prior to being promoted.
It’s equally important to leave each departure on a good note. When an employee leaves for a new company, it does not mean the relationship with them is over; maintaining relationships with past employees increases the business’s reach to more potential customer prospects, partnerships, and references. Additionally, maintaining positive relationships with past employees helps organizations build a robust talent pipeline for the future, as a recent Lever report found the majority (52%) of employees would consider returning to a former employer.
What happens when you support true growth for the employee and the company
When employers try to retain workers who no longer feel aligned with the company mission or culture, it creates an unhappy, unengaged workforce. Low morale is contagious. Research shows that emotions are infectious. Although it can be scary to lose top talent, holding onto employees that no longer feel dedicated to the company’s mission or culture is actually holding back the workforce and company from having a shared end goal, and negatively impacts business. Organizations with a highly aligned company culture grow revenue 58% faster, are 72% more profitable, and outperform their competitors.
When employees depart, they open the door for new talent that is excited about the company’s future, leading to a workforce that has a more positive tie to the company. New employees can bring fresh perspectives, a key component in sparking workplace success and innovation. Furthermore, hiring new staff members that are dedicated and happy with the company will drive positive business outcomes because when employees are happy at their place of work they are 13% more productive.
No matter the circumstance, it’s always challenging to see an employee leave for a new position, but companies are better set up for success when they have employees that align with their mission, values, and culture, than when they work to save every employee just for sake of retention. Employees that do not align with a company’s new course will not be as dedicated in making headway towards its goals and for the best interest of all, it is not worth fighting to keep them. As we look toward a renewed future for business heading out of the depths of the pandemic, it is time leaders take a step back from their retention strategies and ensure they are driving business success instead of halting it.
Nate Smith is the CEO at Lever.