Before anyone had heard of COVID-19, company executives were scratching their heads over how to attract and retain good employees. A colleague of mine told me three years ago about an “all hands” conference call wherein the CEO was asking the employee attendees how to keep employees engaged. The CEO speculated that more regular performance bonuses might be in order. My colleague, ever the brave soldier, piped up and said, “That won’t do it. Your current workforce is over 60% Millennial, and recent studies show that in five years, those people will dominate the workforce. Millennials are all about the quality of the experience, not the tangible rewards.”
Even prior to the pandemic and the Great Resignation it kickstarted, we were seeing a shift in the creation of workplace configurations to attract and retain talent. There were physical-space perks: Open-concept offices with considerable employee perks began making an appearance, and quiet rooms where an employee could take a break undisturbed were offered, as well as on-site massages and yoga
. There were quality-of-life perks: Gourmet lunches prepared by chefs were made available, and on-site car washes, mental health services and on-site day-care became enticements for employees. Soon, potential employers were flooded with resumes from people eager to join their companies.
Enter COVID-19 and its impact on businesses—layoffs in affected sectors skyrocketed, and resignations plummeted to a 20-year low. Those companies whose employees were able to work from home shifted to a kind of “business-via-zoom” routine. And then, their employees began seeing the emotional, mental, and financial benefits of conducting their daily routines remotely. Being able to cut commuting costs in time and money, save on childcare and achieve a more satisfying work-life balance fed many employees’ need for a quality work experience.
By late 2020 and into 2021, as companies began asking employees to return to the office, the leadership teams began seeing a puzzling trend: employees were resigning to find better jobs. With unemployment still high, what was driving this movement? A study by Deloitte in October 2021 found that among Fortune 1000 CEOs, 57% cited that attracting talent was among their organization’s biggest challenges. Gallup’s research scientist, Jim Harter, reported
that even though good pay and employee benefits are important, many workers left their positions in 2021 due to low engagement and how they perceived their jobs contributed to their overall well-being.
What does this mean for employers now?
To understand what employers must do now, let’s look at what we’ve observed before COVID. We know that employees gravitate toward a more satisfying work experience. We saw that trend take place with the inflow of employee applications to companies who provided perceived on-site perks. In talking with those companies, we learned that the presence of the perk packages alone wasn’t the driver. The corporate culture that those companies had developed was attractive. The perks were secondary; an outward demonstration of the company’s desire to make their workers feel important, valued, and appreciated.
So, how can an organization retain its talent and keep them motivated, especially now that employees have seen that it’s possible to work from home? Are management teams prepared to acknowledge the shift in employee awareness of their own well-being and the factors that contribute or detract from it? After all, they’ve seen that working from home, even a few days per week, doesn’t impact productivity, so how can employers show current and prospective employees that their company is the right one for them to choose?
The answer is trust. All employees, regardless of their age or position, crave certain things. They desire to do work that’s appreciated and valued. They desire to be allowed to contribute ideas and be heard. And they desire to trust and to be trusted. The key to developing trust is establishing connections through culture, communication, and collaboration.
Culture in an organization is something that cannot be spoofed and cannot be measured. A good corporate culture is felt; it’s a vibe that employees and customers alike can sense. It’s evident in the tone of the messaging that comes from senior leadership, in their level of engagement and in the way they treat their customers. It’s driven by how senior leadership members communicate.
The best communicators in our society know that the message sent must equal the message that’s received. That means as we endeavor to communicate with others, we must never assume they know what we mean. Let’s look at the prevalence of email, text, and other digital one-way messaging. How often have we misread or misunderstood the tone and intent of an email or text? This happens in verbal communication as well, although to a lesser extent.
When we are speaking with someone one-on-one, we can gauge their understanding by their body language and facial expressions. When speaking with an employee, either in real life or via a video meeting, it’s a great idea to assess their understanding along the way by asking questions and listening thoughtfully to their answers, as well as inviting questions from them. Inviting input from employees and other team members helps them feel valued and respected. In a remote working environment, this becomes even more important, so workers don’t feel isolated from management and each other. A manager reaching out to their employees to simply ask how they are doing, not only with work assignments, but also in other areas, fosters trust.
In any culture-building process, it’s critical to invite collaboration. Collaboration means interacting with others on an equal basis to arrive at a conclusion or achieve a goal. Often, in a hierarchical organizational structure, the messages from the C-suite promoting an environment of collaboration are filtered by middle management members. To counter this, all management levels might consider cultivating a collaborative mindset with their teams. Since no one knows everything and no one enjoys being “managed,” seeking input from subordinates and managers alike, then putting those ideas into practice will help all team members feel valued, appreciated, and heard. One very effective way to achieve collaboration is to share stories.
We once conducted a sales training class for a large group and asked them to come prepared with their stories of wins, losses, and pending sales. In the group, we invited each member to share their stories. Ultimately, we helped workshop the “losses” and “pending’s” to the degree that the group later reported an increase in their sales of those opportunities by 60%.
All these things sound elementary, but often we as managers are so driven by the business objectives to be met that we overlook business fundamentals that allow team members to do their best work. As one of those fundamentals is trust, let’s look at how trust affects an organization. Trust is the gateway to persuasion. It breaks down silos that prohibit productivity. It encourages employees to remain with the company, thereby, reducing recruiting and training costs. It promotes more positive customer interactions, reducing customer churn. When we treat employees as a company’s most valuable asset—we establish trust.
And trust is where the magic happens.
Linda is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. SCTC consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.