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How to Retain Employees During the ‘Great Resignation’

By Molly Brennan, Global Managing Partner and Nonprofit Practice Lead, Diversified Search Group


We are in the midst of an extraordinary period of change in the talent market. The “Great Resignation” is a phenomenon that is impacting every sector and level of talent and is leading to fierce competition for leaders. As a recruiter focused on the nonprofit sector, I see the effects of this situation in my daily conversations with candidates and hiring managers. Candidates are in demand and talented leaders are very open to new opportunities. Hiring managers are losing team members and facing very difficult searches to replace them at a higher rate than ever.

According a September 2021 report from McKinsey, record numbers of employees are quitting or thinking about leaving their jobs: 40 percent of employees said that they were at least somewhat likely to leave their current job in the next three to six months, and 53 percent of talent management professionals reported greater voluntary turnover than in prior years.

It’s critical that managers and leaders understand what’s driving this trend and take steps to retain talent. Here are four things you can start doing right now to help ensure that your top performers stay with your organization and remain engaged:

Take the time to understand what’s going on.
This is a challenging time to be a leader and manager. There are so many forces at play that are affecting employment — not only the pandemic, which is causing all kinds of logistical and operational issues — but also deeper and more complex issues that are driving the Great Resignation, many of which have the potential to change the workplace permanently. Unfortunately, employers seem to be missing some of these key trends and the opportunity to address them before it’s too late.

According to the McKinsey report, there is a disconnect between why employers think their teams are leaving and why people actually leave. The survey found that employers cited compensation, work-life balance, and poor physical and emotional health. While those issues are certainly important and show up in surveys, the top factors employees cited were that they didn’t feel valued by their organizations or their managers, or that they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work. Employees are hungry for connections and relationships. They want meaning and purpose in their work. It’s critical for every manager, at every level, to understand this and act on it immediately.

Remember: It’s not only about the money.
As the findings above make clear, compensation is important, but it’s not the main reason why people leave their jobs. It’s critical that your employees feel that they are paid competitively and equitably. But it’s just as critical that they have opportunities for advancement, collaboration, interaction, and enjoyment at work — and all within a framework flexible enough to enable them to attend to their responsibilities and desires outside of work. This is a tall order for any organization. Creating a work environment that offers all of this is not something anyone can achieve overnight. But if you can make strides toward this ideal, you will be in a strong position to retain your employees.

Make personalized retention plans.
It’s safe to assume that your team members are thinking about leaving, being recruited, or both. When was the last time you asked an employee if they were considering leaving? Managers often avoid this conversation at all costs, but it’s a great way to understand who is at risk and what might get them to stay and re-engage. As you develop retention plans, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work. Your team members may have similar concerns, but the way you address them should be tailored to who they are. For example, if an employee tells you they are worried about a lack of growth, what can you do immediately to increase their skills and exposure even if you can’t do a formal promotion?

Focus on virtual culture.
The things that we know employees care about — relationships, connectivity, belonging — are challenging to prioritize in a virtual environment. But there are many small things you can still do to strengthen culture and connections on your team. Think about how you start and end meetings, how you collaborate and celebrate. Do a little research about building positive work cultures in a virtual environment and ask your team members for ideas. Even small changes in the way you communicate and operate can make a real difference when it comes to culture. One employer I know built a line item into her budget for monthly massages for team members who are still working from home in less-than-ideal conditions. Another bought Door Dash gift certificates so the team could eat lunch together, online. Managers can protect time and reduce stress by blocking some days or periods as no-meeting days. All of these are small ways to help team members feel connected to each other and the organization and strengthen culture.

If it hasn’t yet, the Great Resignation is likely to affect your organization in some way. But by taking the steps to understand why so many employees are choosing to leave their jobs you may be able to hold on to a few team members while also making your organization a better place to work for all.

This article was originally published on the PND Blog.


Molly Brennan is Global Managing Partner and Nonprofit Practice Lead at Diversified Search Group; and author of the 2019 report The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors. Her focus areas include leadership, retention, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

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