It’s Time To Rethink Retention

Keeping the employees you have is ‘every bit as important’ as winning new ones, says human capital expert Peter Corless. The key? Demonstrating care and support.

Sometimes lost in the panic to fill positions during the ongoing Great Resignation is the importance of retaining quality workers and avoiding those resignations in the first place, says Peter Corless, executive vice president of enterprise development at OnShift, a human capital management technology company based in Cleveland.

Corless’ ideas center around four main concepts: flexibility, recognition, professional development and support. He spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about the costs of losing employees, the growing gig economy and why showing your employees you care about them is the most important move of all.

With the competitive labor market, how should HR leaders rethink how they retain and engage their existing employees?

The pandemic amplified the importance of the employee experience. Amid the Great Resignation, HR departments are scrambling to fill positions; however, it’s every bit as critical to focus on retention strategies. Key initiatives that enhance the employee experience will help keep the current workforce engaged—so they stay. 

Minimizing turnover through effective retention strategies can have a major impact on an organization’s bottom line. On average, the cost to replace an hourly employee is at least $1,500, and for salaried employees, it can cost an organization one-half to two times their annual salary. I work most closely with the senior care industry, which is experiencing a labor market crisis with a staffing shortage and high turnover. The cost to replace one nurse aid is at least $2,250. 

The wants and needs of the workforce are changing and HR departments need to adapt by rethinking retention strategies with the following concepts in mind: flexibility, recognition, professional development and support. 

What are retention strategies that align with the concepts you listed?

Let’s start with flexibility. The pandemic was a catalyst for a shift to more flexible employment arrangements, with employees balancing personal and professional obligations. Employees and candidates aren’t settling for traditional, fixed schedules anymore. At OnShift, our annual Employee Perspectives survey found that 25 percent of senior care employees—whose industry was among the hardest hit in the workforce shortage—cited more flexible schedules to be among the most valuable benefits. This echoes what’s happening in other industries with more companies adopting hybrid or fully remote work arrangements and leaning into the gig economy. 

HR departments must implement processes that allow employees to have greater control of their schedule. For hourly employees, consider implementing scheduling technology that allows them to easily manage their schedule and swap or pick up shifts from their phone. Also, be open to candidates who may only want to work one to two days a week, as the number of Americans working one or more jobs is trending upward. For non-hourly workers, ask about adjustments to their schedule that would make their lives easier—even simply pushing their start time an hour later. The proactivity of checking in and offering adjustments will start a culture shift to build upon in terms of employee experience. 

Beyond flexibility, building a strong culture of recognition should be part of retention strategies. The same Employee Perspectives survey found that recognition programs are also considered a top benefit. When evaluating how to implement these programs, HR leaders need to ensure the programs are fair and unbiased. Consider utilizing your HR technology to systematically support a rewards and recognition program. HR technology programs can track employee behaviors such as clocking in on time, picking up shifts, goal monitoring and more, and HR leaders can harness this data to effectively recognize and reward their team members. 

Initiatives focused on professional development should not be overlooked, which is especially important to millennials and the growing Gen Z population. Retention rates at organizations that offer professional development programs are 35 percent higher than organizations that don’t have them. Developing leadership tracks helps organizations attract and prepare the next generation, while also building a talent pipeline for leadership positions. 

You mentioned earlier that more and more Americans are working more than one job—how can HR departments lean into this trend without exacerbating burnout?

In 2020 the gig economy grew by 33 percent, expanding more than eightfold faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. Implementing more adaptable schedules and opening more shifts to occasional workers is critical to lean into this trend and get candidates in the door. 

In addition to allowing for more flexible schedules, consider tapping unique or “non-traditional” candidate pools, like retirees. Many retirees want to continue working in some capacity—even if it’s just a couple days a month—while others need to keep working. Either way, baby boomers typically have a strong work ethic and can fill necessary roles. Of the 3.6 million Americans who have recently left the labor force, older Americans, age 55 and up, accounted for 90 percent of that increase. Take the time to reach out to local community groups like Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs or churches to reach them.

The common denominator in all of these retention efforts is demonstrating care and support for your employees. This is one of the most valuable things an employer can do in this challenging market. Make sure employees have opportunities to voice their concerns and offer feedback. Listening to employees is key to fostering a more inclusive environment that makes them feel valued.

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