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Retention and recruitment: What leaders need to know in the post-pandemic workplace

Photos by Marian Kroell on Unsplash.

We all anticipated that the world would be different when we returned from lock-down to (semi)normal operations. But who could have predicted the post-pandemic employment landscape in which we find ourselves? One in which:

  • Nearly 3 million women have dropped out of the labor pool
  • People continue to reevaluate their lives, choosing balance, health and family over hard-charging business priorities
  • Many low-wage jobs have moved from centralized city centers to far-reaching and less accessible locations not served by affordable transportation
  • People waiting it out in limbo to see if their old jobs will return
  • Managers and leaders in many sectors scrambling to find employees willing to take jobs

And things are likely to get worse before they get better. As reported by the Society for Human Resource Management, “More than half of employees surveyed in North America plan to look for a new job in 2021.”

No wonder I’ve seen a huge spike in requests for interviewing and selection training. Yet while elevating a leader’s ability to recruit and hire well is certainly not a bad strategy, it’s only part of what’s required. What’s also necessary is an ability to engage and retain the employees you already have.

In many ways, recruitment and retention are two sides of the same coin.

Attracting, evaluating and ultimately deciding to hire and invite new employees into the organization will always be an important leadership/managerial task. But you might find that you need to engage in that task a bit less frequently and feverishly if you are able to keep the employees you have longer.

“Loving the ones you’re with” (as the old song goes) and taking steps to intentionally retain your current workforce may be among the best investments a leader can make. And while there are countless generic strategies to engage employees, here are three particularly relevant and post-pandemic-specific approaches you can take to stem unwanted turnover.

Get real and rationalize the work

Krithika Varagur writes for The Wall Street Journal: “White-collar and front-line workers found themselves taking on unexpected duties beyond their original job description as the coronavirus abruptly transformed businesses and stretched many workforces thin. Today, many of them are re-evaluating their broader job demands.”

And this is not going to end well.

Preempt the job-packing problem

Now is the time to revisit employees’ bloated lists of responsibilities and to compare the jobs they’re doing with the job descriptions they signed on for. That means acknowledging the extent to which people have stepped up during these extraordinary times and working together to rationalize these factors.

Workload

Start by realistically considering whether the current volume of work is appropriate/doable. If not, then you and the employee must consider alternatives. Are some tasks no longer necessary? Can some of the work be automated? Who else could take these tasks on instead?

Compensation

Let’s face it: Some of your people deserve to earn more as a result of assuming additional responsibilities. Someone can only do the job of 1.5 or two people at the same level of pay for so long. So, as a leader, you may have to have some uncomfortable conversations with your manager to find ways to ensure that compensation is sufficiently equitable to retain top talent.

While salary levels and hourly wages may be difficult to negotiate upward, consider what might be easier to secure. Spot bonuses, reimbursements, and even greater flexibility sends a message of value and appreciation to those who are stepping up in profound ways.

Resources

If the workload has expanded beyond what’s appropriate (or doable) and additional compensation is impossible, then a third way to rationalize the situation is to introduce resources: Additional headcount or assistance. Contract labor. Equipment. Time and extended timelines and deadlines.

There are countless levers that can offer the support and resources people need to manage an expanded workload humanely.

Help them grow or watch them go

This is the title of my book with Beverly Kaye, and it’s also a strategy that will distinguish you and your organization in a competitive employment market. Learning, growth and development are at the top of the list of things that keep people where they are or inspire them to look elsewhere.

The events of the last year are causing many employees to recognize the need to upskill, expand what they’re capable of contributing, and remain relevant in a fast-changing environment.

So, take the time to talk with every employee about their growth goals and objectives. And find organic ways to offer the learning they want. You don’t have to wait for classes, conferences, or other formal development activities.

Create experiences that accomplish the same thing. Invent a special project. Allow them to lead a meeting. Encourage peer coaching. Leverage volunteerism. Get creative and generate opportunities for people to grow right in the workflow.

Don’t let showing up become a showdown

A recent FlexJobs survey found that 62% of working parents report that they would quit their jobs if remote work ceased. And it’s not just parents.

To be fair, some people have discovered that the work-from-home grass really wasn’t any greener, and they welcome the opportunity to return to the office. But many discovered a quality of life they hadn’t known before. They also discovered that (in many cases) the work can be done just as well elsewhere.

For years, the traditional, co-located structure was rationalized with arguments that having everyone work from home just wasn’t possible.

Nearly overnight, organizations demonstrated that they actually could make WFH work. And now there may be no going back.

Yet, as the threat passes and some semblance of normal returns, many organizations wish to return to the pre-pandemic norm of working from work. And, as the FlexJobs survey confirms, they do so at their own peril.

Ask yourself — and your organization:

  • Does this work need to be conducted on-premises?
  • What are we trying to accomplish by having the employee return?
  • How else might we accomplish that same objective?
  • What level of flexibility/autonomy can be accommodated to retain needed talent?
  • What are the consequences if we don’t get this right?

The post-pandemic employment landscape is vastly different from what we experienced before or even anticipated. Keeping the employees you have is the best way to at least reduce your investment in recruiting new ones. But retaining people as we all emerge from the events of the past year will require special attention to workload, growth and flexibility. And in the increasingly slim and competitive employment marketplace, this will be what distinguishes the organizations and leaders who’ll not just survive but also thrive in the post-pandemic world.


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