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Goal or outcome? Challenge your employee retention mindset
Image by Jimmy Foulds

8 min read

Goal or outcome? Challenge your employee retention mindset

Leaders are facing overwhelming pressure to maintain low turnover numbers, but many organizations are approaching this the wrong way. Here’s how you might want to reframe your mindset when it comes to retaining employees.

It seems the pandemic-induced shift to remote work was the calm before the employee retention storm. With dramatic thunder and lightning, the turnover downpour has started. The world of work has changed forever, and employees are taking notice. Now, people are leaving their employers in droves, in what’s been coined “The Great Resignation”.

New research by PWC suggests some 65% of US employees are actively looking for a new job. That’s a disheartening and let’s face it, costly prospect. Such a high turnover rate will significantly impact team cohesion, workplace culture, customer service, and project continuity. Not to mention the actual cost of finding new hires in an already constrained talent market.

So, the obvious course of action is to focus on retention as an objective: let’s keep people from leaving. But what if we adopt a slight shift in mindset in viewing retention as an outcome: let’s create a place where people can thrive, and retention will follow. It’s a slight shift in perspective that can make a significant difference.


The Great Reprioritization

In a recent survey by Limeade, three key reasons are driving the job search (and consequently employee turnover): burnout, company instability, and flexibility. It’s not perks; it’s not even how much they can learn and grow. According to Adam Grant, what’s emerging is more “The Great Reprioritization” than “The Great Resignation”.

It’s less about employees running away from something and more about running towards a more desirable state. They’re seeking better job satisfaction and greater work-life integration, calling the shots instead of having the shots called on them. In the PwC study cited above, employee expectations are now driving reasons to stay, or leave, with a force that has employers whirling to meet these demands.

After years of entrenched thinking about the 9-to-5 clocked in an office, people now realize that they can work better, more efficiently, and with greater creativity and care for their well-being outside the physical office. All it took was a global pandemic to shove us in the right direction.

At scale, we’re re-thinking how we wish to conduct our lives and perform our jobs. Sitting in traffic for 2-hours a day? No thanks. Being told when to work? Nope. Doing things because that’s how it’s always been done? I don’t think so. Tolerating unfair treatment? Absolutely not.


Why employee retention is an outcome, not a goal

What this means for employers is the old playbook is done. If we’re going to keep people engaged and happy in our organizations, we need a new way of operating. It’s not only employees who are reprioritizing. Organizations must do the same and adopt this new employee retention mindset. Shifting to a human-centric mindset, where we listen to and make space for individual needs, circumstances, and work preferences, is now more critical than ever before.

Focusing on what matters to people is the key to employee satisfaction. If you truly show you care, you don’t need retention strategies. If for once and for all we break out of the mold of stodgy leadership, pointless rules, and untested assumptions about what’s good for employees, life at work becomes simpler, more enjoyable, and enriching.

And guess what? People stick around (notwithstanding an outlandish salary offer that’s becoming all too common in some industries, possibly rendering any retention efforts moot).


How to adopt a new retention mindset

Retention as an outcome requires a new approach of looking at work and the places where work happens—as well as designing the employee experience. Here are seven points to ponder and challenge your existing mindset:


1.   Question your long-held beliefs about work

Whether you like it or not, work has changed forever. Those leaders holding onto outmoded ways of managing, communicating, and assessing output, are in trouble. Before you can create a work environment and company culture where people will thrive (and stay), you’ll need to be honest about and ready to change what you believe about work and how it should be done. This must happen for leadership, team, and organizational structures.


2.   Normalize conversations about burnout and mental health

One of the simplest things you can do to ward off resignations is to have open talk about how people are feeling. In particular, acknowledge that burnout is real, and that anxiety, stress, and loneliness accompany feelings of overwork, underappreciation, and overwhelm. Burnout is rarely a personal problem; it’s mostly an organizational issue. It won’t change unless you begin to talk about it and hear what your employees are working through.


3.   Really walk the flexible talk

If you say that you’re providing flexibility, you need to do it. That’s why it’s so important to write down the framework for how you’ll work together going forward. At Jostle, we’re embracing a hybrid model and recently wrote down our hybrid work policy. It helps everyone understand what we’ve agreed, and what this looks like in practice. But don’t stop at writing it down; live it and make sure your managers support the flexibility you’re promising. Take flexibility one step further by remaining open to changing what’s not working and adding in new ways of working.


4.   Ask your people what makes them stay

It’s one thing to have an exit interview with departing employees, but a conversation like that can benefit more than just those leaving a job. Why don’t we ask every coworker why they want to be with our company? The stay interview is a handy tool to gauge employee sentiment, particularly around what people like about and can gain from working for your organization. It’s different from an engagement survey which usually scans broad topics across the organization, whereas a stay interview should focus on the individual and their desire to remain with your organization. It’s come to light in a recent survey by McKinsey that leaders don’t know why people are leaving. Here’s your wake-up call to get ahead by using facts not guesses.


5.   Understand what psychological safety feels like

Many workplace relational and burnout issues stem from lack of psychological safety. Amy Edmondson has identified the importance of psychological safety in the areas of workplace collaboration and teamwork. Psychologically safe team members “feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.”

When these aspects of working together are absent, people don’t take risks, innovate less, worry about failure, and carry the burden of perfectionism. Think about the type of work environment you’re creating with your leadership and teamwork habits. Chances are you’re adding stress and pressure for your people, without even realizing it.


6.   Be transparent and communicate more often

Workers are feeling even more left in the dark since the pandemic arrived. In a study on remote work and inclusion conducted by Jostle and Dialectic, we found that people were experiencing new barriers to inclusion and feeling less supported and informed by their managers. This leads to feelings of instability, uncertainty, and disconnect, spurring people to find a less turbulent experience elsewhere.

Even if you don’t have the answers, be open and clear on a regular basis with your employees with regular communication. Keeping everyone informed and talking with something like Jostle’s employee platform will go a long way to putting fears at bay.


7.   Employee success is your business

It’s your responsibility to create the conditions for employee success. It’s good for everyone, not least of which, your bottom line. So, how are you helping your people be successful? There are three key areas that you should consider: employee engagement, enablement, and celebration.

Engagement arrives when people feel connected to their work, peers, and culture. It’s also an outcome of feeling supported, trusted, and in control of all dimensions of work-life integration.

Enablement is the degree to which people are equipped to do their work, solve problems, and learn through mistakes. It’s also felt in the autonomy they have to manage their work with flexibility and accountability.

Celebration is the joyful part of work and a rewarding aspect of being connected to other humans. Recognizing people for their efforts and accomplishments boosts dopamine in the brain, leading to feelings of pride and pleasure. The more you celebrate, the better people feel.


A word of caution on turnover

We should never hope to keep people for the sake of low turnover rates. Helping people stay in your organization should always be motivated by how much they can thrive there, not keeping bums in seats because you fear the cost of replacing them or a glaring percentage in a quarterly report.

The reality is that people move on, and no amount of strategies will help them stay. It may seem counterintuitive to invest in people, only to have them leave. But the value and enjoyment you can derive from a happy and contributing employee over a short period of time, is often far greater than a long-term dissatisfied employee.

It’s also worth noting there is such a thing as a healthy annual turnover rate: it’s good for a few people to leave. That counts for under-performers as well as your star employees. In both cases, departures give remaining staff a boost.

In the case of under-performers, seeing them move on can often be a relief for those who stay. When a star performer leaves, it’s a signal that someone has been able to grow within your organization and is ready for their next challenge. And it opens new opportunities for others to step up and shine. Plus, it creates space for new hires who bring fresh ideas, insights, knowledge, and objectivity. The key is not to neglect the people who remain as we grapple with the departures of others.


Adopt a refreshed mindset towards retention  

It’s now or never—people are already on the move. Some may have declared as much; others are likely thinking about what they want in their work going forward.

Employers must change their mindset now or feel the gust of the revolving door. Those organizations that are nimble, compassionate, open, and genuinely flexible will support reprioritization, not aid resignation.  

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Everything you need to know about employee retention 👥

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Bev Attfield

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