Amid an ongoing pandemic with uncertainty and instability, leaders are scrambling to figure out why employees are leaving in droves. They assume they need to either bring everyone back to the office or pay them more to cement connectivity and loyalty.
But if we scratch the surface a little more, the attrition issues we’re facing may have little to do with economics and more to do with psychology. After all, 36 percent of employees who quit in the past six months left without a safety net. Disregard the former ways of effective leadership; we must reframe the fundamentals by creating a culture based on human connection and recognizing employees as individuals.
A culture based on connections and individual contributions requires a deeper understanding of the human psyche. Much of our work on performance and engagement is grounded in the basic premise that we as humans need to be valued, seen and heard.
No matter what I do for a living – if I drive a delivery truck, greet customers at the front office or manage the company’s finances – I need to feel that I matter. The challenge for leaders lies in the fact that the last 18 months have strained their ability to create meaningful connections with their employees and employees are seeking those connections elsewhere.
According to a recent Gartner study, deeper relationships between employees and their employers meant better mental and physical health. Employers who support their employees more holistically experience a 21 percent increase in high performers.
Attrition: How did we get here?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the ultimate pattern interrupter. We’ve had time to reflect on the value we bring to our company and the value our work brings to our own lives. Having left the “physicality” of the office and the connection that implies, employees have experienced more time and space to consider what work environments and culture work for them.
They are reevaluating their requirements and seeking jobs that have greater purpose, plentiful growth opportunities and flexibility. Employees have taken advantage of working from home, but it has come at a price. Leaders report that organizational culture is suffering; employees aren’t connected as they once were and employees participate less.
August marked an all-time high in U.S. attrition rate, the highest since 2000. It’s not just hospitality and restaurant owners scrambling to stay open, major corporations are seeing top management leave. While much has been published about why employees are leaving, little has been reflected about how leaders can stem the tide by adjusting the way they lead.
Becoming a talent magnet
As leaders, we can reframe this pivotal point and ask ourselves: What can I do differently to be a talent magnet? This is achievable by creating a culture that values employees as individuals and establishing real human connections with one another.
Attracting and retaining good talent will require a fundamental mindset shift, recognizing that people’s decisions to leave or stay are personal and unique. Creating a culture that recognizes the individual and meets them where they are requires new behaviors from leaders.
Refine trust: Pre-pandemic, leaders used to “trust, but verify,” how their employees were working. Supervisors saw employees working in the office, overheard conversations, saw meetings taking place and therefore trusted employees were doing their work. In a virtual environment, that visibility has diminished. Leaders must shift the way trust is built and sustained by creating opportunities for personal connections outside of virtual meetings.
Recognize individuality: Understand what’s happening physiologically to humans that is triggering these unprecedented “flight” reactions at their jobs. They are overworked, overwhelmed and burned out. The World Health Organization now classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon. Individualized leadership places emphasis on the employee as a whole person. If you recognize any of these signs in your employees, it’s time to have a chat:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- negativism or cynicism
- reduced professional efficacy
Consider how you can craft a personalized plan to help lead each member of your team. What triggers does each employee have and how do you help minimize those triggers in the work environment? Opening the dialogue around the employee as an individual allows leaders to understand and listen, and help with the solution, rather than solve the problem for the employee.
Shift relationships with time: How we think about time and use it must be reevaluated. Back-to-back calls all day are adding 30 percent more work to our days. Perhaps we only need 10-minute check-ins instead of 30-minute meetings, or we can cut 2-hour meetings into smaller chunks of time. Encourage employees to block time during normal work hours to work, rather than meet. Challenge the standard. Give people the flexibility with time and space and how they get their work done and train them how to do that.
Ensure fairness: As more offices reopen, those working away from the office may face significant negative bias over those working on site. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, said at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council that working from home “doesn’t work for those who want to hustle.” This bias puts at a disadvantage those who need to spend time at home with young children when schools close, or immunocompromised family members who can’t take the risk of breakthrough infections. Unfortunately, this adversely affects women in the workforce. As leaders, we need to check our unconscious bias to make room for the differences in needs of our team members.
Provide equal air time: Are your meetings conducive to those both in and out of the office? Is every participant receiving equal “airtime” in whatever way they participate in each meeting? Some leaders reserve time after large group meetings for follow-ups with those who aren’t comfortable speaking in larger settings. This ensures every voice is heard, in the most conducive and comfortable environment for everyone.
Create real, human connections: Establishing connections starts with a clear understanding of each of our employees’ perspectives. Open dialogue with each team member allows leaders to listen, understand and validate what’s important to a member of their team. Relationships and rapport are key building blocks of engagement. Provide the stability your employees need by helping them see their own future on your team. Connect their work to the company’s outcomes and talk through concrete goals that will guide them along their career path continuum. Schedule time to have regular check-ins with staff and remind them of the value they bring individually to the team. Because we no longer connect in the hallways or in the break room, consider restructuring meetings, and the technology used, to reinvent those small group discussions.
Each of your employees has unique talents and perspectives, creating a diverse workforce for your company. As attrition rates continue to hold steady, smart leaders will recognize this opportunity to build strong individual relationships and recognize individual talents. Great employees will be drawn to these talent magnets. As connections are made, one by one, you are building a common bond among engaged, satisfied and high-performing individuals: the ultimate dream team.