Employee Retention in a Time of Uncertainty

by Dr. Jennifer Charles

News outlets are calling it “The Great Resignation.” It’s a time when business owners are seeing a staff reduction with a record number of resignation letters coming in, with 4.3 million workers quitting in August 2021 alone. As a business owner, my heart sinks every time I get that dreaded email that someone else has put in their two-weeks’ notice. It makes sense; most of my employees fall in the category of millennials or Gen Z, and they have become the largest population in the workforce as baby-boomers and generation X workers retire.

Who Are The Millennials and Gen Z-ers?

Although sources differ slightly, millennials were born between 1981 and 1995. Gen Z-ers were born between 1996 and the mid-2010s. Both are ambitious, idealistic and hopeful, but there are some key differences. Millennials have lived through 911, the housing crash, the stock market crash and, now, COVID-19. Millennials are naturally untrusting of authority as they’ve watched their institutions let them down.

Gen Z-ers have only heard stories of most of these events, and they have not experienced them first hand. They are the first generation to grow up entirely in the digital age, and they spend an excessive amount of time online — especially on social media. As a result of this, they are more prone to anxiety and depression, and are risk-averse and practical.

Why Are They Quitting?

Although COVID-19 did play a role in their quitting their jobs, the virus simply uncovered some hidden problems that were there all along. When people went into lockdown and some were fortunate enough to work from home, they got to spend more time with family, they got more free time to do some of the things they loved without a long commute. Even the furloughed people were somewhat cushioned by unemployment checks — and with commuting not being an issue.

This group of people started to see what mattered most was not working just to pay bills. They started asking themselves what made them happy, and they got a glimpse of the possibility that they could do more than make a living — they could make a life. Some traveled, some moved, some started a business — and many found they were happier finding that balance between work and play.

How to Keep Them

Eventually, many of the people from this time period will return to the workforce. After all, not everyone will make it as a nomad traveler or strike it rich as a genius inventor. They may not stay forever, but here are three tips that will keep them around at your company longer than others:

Transparency: Both groups are naturally untrusting. They value transparency in their employers. Growing up in the internet age, they can find thousands of sources contradicting anything anyone tells them. The time of salary negotiation and playing hardball is over. It’s best to outline your compensation structure and what it takes to increase pay upfront and have them decide. Most young employees appreciate the honest and upfront approach.

Supportive Environment: Even more than money, the No. 1 reason people quit is they do not like their direct supervisors. That’s why it’s essential to foster an environment where the management leads by example. Companies are surprised to find that it’s a compilation of little intangible things that can make or break an employee’s decision to leave. Things like how often you show appreciation, whether all the managers are accessible and being available to help your employees with their goals can go a long way.

Career Advancement: It doesn’t matter if you’re a Fortune 500 company or a small mom-and-pop. Every organization has something it can offer an employee besides a paycheck. If you can’t think of something, it’s best to try hard. Gone are the days when employees stayed with a company until retirement. It’s common to see employees bounce around several jobs before even thinking about retiring. Many get what they can from a company before moving on. So what if your company cannot offer a path to partnership or earning six figures? It can provide something more valuable: employability skills.

One of the goals at my company is for everyone to leave the company better in some way than when they came in. This is valuable because even though they may not look at the job as longer-term, they still feel that they get value — by way of transferable skills — that they can use to enhance their résumé and careers. Transferable skills can include anything from managing a ledger to making presentations to customer service, or anything else beyond their day-to-day. So, ultimately, it’s a win-win.

In today’s job climate, employees cannot always be counted on to stay in a company long-term. However, there are ways for both to gain value from time you have them. The best way is to give value. Show them you care about them in more ways than just their salary. People need purpose in life; if you help them find this, they’ll remember what it was like working for you when they leave. And that might just mean they’ll come back in the future.

Jennifer Charles, Ph.D., is the inventor of the Boosting Healthy Habits app and owner of Building Block Resolutions. Her company provides therapy for children with autism, parent coaching, and crisis management for business.

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