The Retention Challenge

In Featured, Premium, Press by Gail Letts


Gail Letts, CEO & Owner


I recently attended a panel presentation on the Future of Work and heard some sobering statistics and information which, when put together, give some clarity around the challenges of high employee turnover and low retention rates that most every business is experiencing. 

For the first time in history, America has five generations in the workforce, each with unique characteristics. 

  • The Traditionalists, or Silent Generation, born before 1946
  • The Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964 – Generation X, born 1965-1980
  • Generation Y, the “millennials,” born 1981 – 1995 
  • Generation Z, born after 1995

Each of these generations have differing values and expectations. For businesses who have most, or all, of these, the relationships between the generations can be a challenge, if not respected and handled correctly. 

At present, there are 11 MILLION jobs unfilled. 4.4 MILLION people have left the workforce over the past two years and the average rate of turnover is 25%. 

COVID has created a “double disruption” in our workplaces….the challenges of the pandemic and technological advances have changed how we communicate, meet, shop and evaluate products and services.

For the past two years, businesses had to adapt to a remote or hybrid environment. For some, this has been a positive shift as many employees gained a renewed connection with their families. For others, this change has created frustration and stress with the demands that COVID has put on family life and personal schedules. While there is a segment that prefers the office to distance themselves from personal disruptions and interruptions, the majority of employees have enjoyed the fact that they no longer have a commute to the office, no longer have to conform to a dress code or be involved in office politics, and have been able to fit in personal time throughout the day to take a walk (with or without the dog and kids), jump on a peloton, or get in a workout. 

This change in personal and professional dynamics has disrupted the typical 9-5 routine that many people were accustomed to. However, technological advances have happened at lightning speed, driven by the need to communicate virtually. For employees who have not kept pace with technology, the “new world” in business can be intimidating at best (the second of the double disruption). 

For those of us currently recruiting for positions, employees now have different needs including more flexibility in their work routine and schedules, flexibility in expectations and higher pay. 

So how do businesses address these dynamics which are impacting retention of talent? I offer the following solutions to consider. 

First, we need to open up communication with our employees to understand what they want and need. We need to increase our own communication and feedback with our teams, offering multiple methods of communication programs such as employee engagement surveys, in-person meetings, chat groups, and email. 

Second, we need to understand and appreciate the generational differences. As employers we need to ensure that our cultures respect and value all. 

The Traditionalists have a “never give up” attitude. While only 2% of the workforce generation, they remain a valuable piece of companies. They have high regard for communication, teamwork and collaboration. 

Baby Boomers are approximately 29% of the workforce generation and are determined to work hard like their parents. Many in this generation were negatively impacted by the fall of the marketplace and the 2008 financial crisis, so they are likely to prolong retirement as much as possible. 

Generation X accounts for approximately 34% of the generation workforce and these employees are known as inventors of the “work/life balance.” This generation is marked by skepticism of authority and places high value on working smarter, not harder. Gen X employees are quick to adapt and have a strong understanding of technology. They are frequently “sandwiched” between the demands of children at home or in college and caring for elderly parents. 

Generation Y is frequently described as demanding and expecting but these employees are typically the most inclusive, tech-savvy and resilient generation. They are the most educated of the generations, value team collaboration, enjoy a more flexible environment and account for 34% of the workforce generation. This is the fastest growing segment of the workforce population and their representation could double in the coming years. 

Generation Z, now entering the workforce, is most likely to take advantage of remote opportunities. Employees in this group are exceptionally tech-savvy and have higher expectations for their employers in terms of workplace accommodations and social advocacy. They prefer to communicate through online chat or email, rather than in person. 

Let’s work hard to bring the generations together by bringing all of them on projects, giving them a common goal, and making sure all voices are heard and respected. 

Third, we need to review our job descriptions, qualifications, and salary ranges to ensure we keep current with this rapidly changing work environment. We need to make sure that current compensation for all existing employees is current with the market. We also need to be sure that we are not unconsciously screening out people with needed skills for new positions based on outdated thinking. 

Fourth, an investment in training and development is critical. Training should not just address current responsibilities, but should allow employees to learn more about areas of interest for continued growth. Mentorship programs can provide the support, guidance and feedback many employees need for success and can help engage a variety of age groups and generations. Encouraging all employees to remain active in learning is not only critical for their own value, but builds an employee base with new skills for this rapidly changing world. 

Fifth, we need to have cultures where people feel valued, where they want to come to work, where they are proud of their organizations and the contributions being made to society. We need to recognize the importance of “brand,” as more than 50% of new hires research companies before accepting an offer. Not only do they use digital resources, but they will frequently seek out current or former employees to learn more about an organization before making an employment decision. 

Sixth, we need to be sure that our work environments are welcoming and attractive. Office space needs to be examined and re-imagined to balance the need for quiet spaces where employees can feel at peace with the increased attractiveness of communal spaces, bringing people together to collaborate and form professional relationships. 

Seventh, when we do welcome a new employee into our organizations, we need to be thoughtful and deliberate about the onboarding experience and the need to ensure, through objective feedback, that the experience expected is the experience delivered. 

Finally, we need to reevaluate existing benefit programs to ensure they are attractive to all. Many businesses are now offering “family benefits” vs “employee benefits” and demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity through benefit programs is attractive to a huge population of employees. Additional benefits may require creativity and imagination, such as implementing work from home days, offering concierge services, offering fitness programs and incentives and offering services that can support employees with challenges in their personal lives. 

The expectations, challenges and opportunities that we see today in business have never been greater. Leadership must be innovative and imaginative. The leaders of today need to understand that many of the past policies and practices will no longer be accepted by today’s employees and we need to be open-minded and creative with change. 

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