Why staff retention should be top of mind post-COVID 19 (and how to improve it)

By Robert Half on 17 August 2020

If there is one thing to be said for staff retention, it’s that there should never be a time when the importance of earning employees’ loyalty slides off the radar. In fact, in the post-COVID employment market, the biggest mistake leaders could make is thinking that their star employees will stay with their company just because the job market – for the moment, at least – is looking relatively flat.

Employees who feel they have been let down by their company during challenging times are likely to leave their organisation at the first opportunity. And the adverse impacts of this could be amplified if these negative experiences are multiplied across an entire workforce – especially if any key staff departures stifle future business growth.

At the same time, as lockdown guidelines are further eased and business confidence returns, many companies could soon kick back into hiring mode, which means sought-after workers might be tempted by career opportunities outside the organisation,

Unless there are compelling reasons to remain and stay loyal, that is.

Sustained efforts and long-term thinking are vital to an effective staff retention strategy, because if the employee engagement ball is dropped, the consequences are nearly always both immediate and longer-term. As companies navigate this phase of recovery and recalibration in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, hiring managers should take care optimise their employee retention potential.

The quality (or even existence) of company retention initiatives will likely be put to the test over coming months, so here are some relevant steps hiring managers can take today to help build an employer brand that attracts and retains talented staff, now and into the future.

Get to grips with your employees’ experiences

At the risk of stating the obvious, we have all had to adapt to a lot of work-related change recently, from the way we collaborate and interact with colleagues through to how we onboard and engage new recruits remotely. On top of this, many workforces will be adjusting to a new normal way of working in the office again.

Hence being aware of employees’ day-to-day experiences is paramount, so that issues that might impact their wellness, engagement, or ability to work productively can be addressed immediately. Right now, companies should prioritise ongoing communication with their teams. To further capture qualitative information about the employee experience, companies could also investigate setting up ‘pulse’ employee engagement and satisfaction surveys.

With a steady flow of real-time information and feedback, organisations will be equipped to tweak and refine their policies and processes to meet the ongoing needs and aspirations of their employees.

Pay your staff what they are worth

The pressure to cut costs has been mounting for some companies but recruiting new employees at a lower-than-market rate is rarely an effective long-term solution – even when unemployment is high.

Employees who don’t think they’re being paid what they’re worth often experience lower levels of engagement. Along with that, comes reduced productivity, which can impact the business’ bottom line. At the same time, if other companies are paying higher salaries, there is a heightened risk that you’ll eventually lose your most valued employees to the competition.

Paying top performing staff well is key to maximising productivity when it matters most while ensuring you’re not left with gaps in your workforce when the market rebounds.

Focus on employee wellness

Some of the most common office-based employee wellness initiatives aren’t being utilised right now, such as in-house gyms, breakout areas, yoga classes and social events. It’s still vitally important to find ways to help employees stay physically and mentally healthy, though.

To show that you continue to value your employees’ wellbeing, consider channelling resources into alternative initiatives that suit current working remote practices and are relevant to people’s situations. These might include wellness webinars that offer coaching on topics such as coping with uncertainty, living through change, stress management and mind-body relaxation, as examples.

Similarly, always promote the idea of engaging in physical activity through company communications and consider how you could facilitate valuable in-person interactions that are compliant with social distancing rules. Organising ‘virtual’ exercise classes or team building exercises are just a couple of employee wellness initiatives to help staff stay physically and mentally healthy.

Be cooperative and flexible

The pandemic and its aftermath will undoubtedly continue to evolve into some sort of new ‘new normal’, both l, inside and outside work. For example, while parents might have to juggle variable schooling and childcare arrangements, staff relying on external suppliers to complete projects might experience unexpected delays.

Companies are being recognised for their agility and proactivity around supporting staff to manage additional pressures. Consequently, employees will place increasing value on flexibility around working hours and remote working arrangements as well as greater leniency when it comes to project or task deadlines.

Don’t forget professional development

Lately, many employees have been asked to take on additional responsibilities or have adjusted their day-to-day duties to help companies navigate the impacts of the pandemic. But employees will quickly become disengaged and less willing to stay loyal if their employment relationship starts to feel like a one-way street or a ‘dead end’.

Even if prospects of promotion might have momentarily paused it’s important to show staff that you remain invested in their future career potential. For this reason, identifying opportunities to upskill staff will remain a key part of what it takes to retain a loyal, talented workforce that’s ready for the future.

Offer transparency

Uncertainty around the wider impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic continues to be incredibly unsettling for workers. What’s more, the mental wellbeing of employees will be even more challenged by companies that attempt to conceal crucial information that may affect their future prospects or the way they work.

In the current working environment, employees will gravitate to companies that make them feel most comfortable, secure, and prepared for change. So, leaders should always exercise openness and be upfront with information that might affect their teams or wider business.

Staff retention should always be a priority for companies. But, for retention strategies to remain effective, leaders must always consider ways to make initiatives relevant and timely to the circumstances in which they’re implemented.

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