How to weather the 'turnover tsunami'

Globally, workplaces are being hit by higher than ever staff turnover, with the associated staff shortages and hiring costs. How can managers effectively retain talent?
by Sophie Mackenzie

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On 14 September 2021, the UK’s Office for National Statistics released its monthly ‘Labour market overview’, which shows the country’s labour market continuing to recover, with employment levels having risen to pre-pandemic levels. Good news on the face of it – yet, as the Guardian’s economics correspondent Richard Partington reports, the recovery poses a huge challenge for employers. He describes “employers scrambling to hire staff” in what various media outlets have dubbed a ‘turnover tsunami’, while Forbes warns that in the US “experts are now predicting a fresh wave of voluntary departures and resignations”.

The numbers are alarming: research published in May 2021 by the German HR firm Personio finds that 38% of workers in the UK and Ireland are planning to change roles in the next 6 to 12 months, an exodus that could cost employers around £17bn. So, what is triggering this trend?

Reasons for leaving

“There’s a worrying disconnect between employers’ perception of what will encourage their staff to leave and employees’ reality,” says the Personio report. “This suggests a lack of understanding around staff’s problems and priorities today. Crucially, whilst HR decision-makers are right to speculate that a pay freeze – or cut – and a worsening work-life balance could cause workers to look elsewhere, they underestimate the pushing power of a toxic workplace culture.”

Post-pandemic changes to the way we work will have a significant impact on staff turnover, says JP Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at the global research and advisory firm Forrester, talking to TechRepublic. Gownder points out that the established push-pull factors that lead to resignations can no longer be taken for granted in a post-pandemic world.

“Leaving a job often requires some combination of finding a new job and overcoming the inertia of staying with the old one,” he notes. “But I think we are at an inflection point at which many people are reconsidering the particulars of their lives and of work-life balance.”

Others, according to Human Resource Executive, are feeling the effects of pandemic burnout, having spent the past year and a half working longer hours with little interaction with colleagues and inadequate HR support. The article states: “Further adding to workers’ stress is the feeling that their employer, and HR department in particular, is not helping with their concerns. Just 21% said they were able to have open, productive conversations with HR about solutions to their burnout. More than half (56%) went so far as to say that their HR leaders did not encourage conversations about burnout.”

Staying power

An article in The Conversation questions why, after months of isolation and Zoom fatigue, employees aren’t eagerly rushing back to the office – in fact, many would choose to leave their jobs instead.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had big implications for the relationship between employees and employers,” writes Erica Pimentel, assistant professor, Smith School of Business, Queen's University, Ontario. “For one, it’s revealed how many employers profoundly mistrust their employees’ ability to get their work done without in-person supervision. It’s no wonder that when faced with a hot post-pandemic economic recovery, employees are choosing to find a new employer over returning to a boss and organisation that lacked trust in them during the pandemic.”

Erica sets out four post-pandemic staff-retention strategies companies can adopt:

  1. Offer flexibility
    Employers should consider the possibility of allowing employees to work from home at least part-time, moving towards a hybrid workplace that allows both in-person and remote working opportunities.

  2. Reinforce the best of your workplace culture
    If inclusion is a priority, remote work can provide the opportunity to bring in hires from around the world that otherwise would not be available. If training and mentorship are most important, think about how online tools can be used to foster these types of relationships.

  3. Show employees you care 
    With many new opportunities for jobs both at home and abroad, employees will be able to choose where they want to work. Retaining employees will depend on the ability to keep them motivated and engaged. This can include offering employees financial incentives while also offering the chance to get involved on new projects or on new work teams.

  4. Keep tabs on top performers 
    The most expensive employees to replace (and the most in demand) will be top performers. Employers should hone in on these individuals and make sure that they are being offered the growth opportunities and recognition they desire.

And, according to Forbes, readiness is all. “The first thing for leaders and managers to do is accept that things will look significantly different in a post-pandemic world. People are more energised than ever to make moves and get the ball rolling when they feel they’ve lost an entire year’s worth of progress in their own lives. Businesses should respond accordingly as there is no use in sitting back and hoping for the best,” the article warns.

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Published: 17 Sep 2021
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Soft Skills
  • turnover tsunami
  • Recruitment
  • Covid-19

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