How to Keep Talent During the Great Resignation

Professional development can give people skills that allow them to leave for a new gig. But knowing your best people's goals can help them stay.

Good organizations pride themselves on helping their employees grow. They make efforts to ensure their people have opportunities to increase their responsibilities, pick up new skills, and generally do more.

But those organizations acknowledge there’s a downside to this: All that professional development can help launch your best employees out of your office and toward what they see as a better opportunity. What’s been called the Great Resignation—mass numbers of American workers quitting their jobs—might be more accurately called the Great Churn, where people aren’t dropping out of the workforce entirely so much as looking for something better. 

“One thing we are seeing is that hires are high,” ADP economist Nela Richardson told CNN in February. “They’re not leaving the jobs market, they’re leaving for other jobs in the same industry.”

That puts leaders in a tough bind. Failing to support employees discourages them and can prompt them to quit; supporting them can smooth their path out the door. And either way, employees are eyeing the exits. According to a report earlier this month by workplace consultancy WTW, 53 percent of U.S. employees “are either actively looking for new opportunities or at risk of leaving.”

How to address this? One approach is to not pretend that employees will offer you their eternal loyalty. That seems obvious—decades of service to a single employer is rare these days—but recognizing it can change how you connect with your employees. In a recent article for Strategy + Business titled “Purpose Is a Two-Way Street,” a pair PwC leaders share how interacting with employees around their bigger life goals made the hiring process more candid and positive. 

One recruit, they explain, “openly stated that he wanted to be a CEO elsewhere by 34 and to retire at 40. Accordingly, he was seeking skills and experiences that would provide him with a stepping-stone toward that goal.”

Understanding an employee’s purpose won’t necessarily keep them around forever. But when the organization acknowledges the employee’s goals—and when there’s common ground between those goals and the employer’s—the potential exists to increase retention. In such an environment, your people feel like they’re being heard and you know that you’re providing them with their sense of purpose.

Bread-and-butter matters of pay and benefits remain crucial to hiring and retention, of course. In the WTW survey, those factors scored high for what keeps people staying with a job and what prompts them to go job-hunting. But “softer” factors were part of the calculus as well: 33 percent said that job security was a key factor in motivating them to look for a new job, and 31 percent cited flexible work (or a lack thereof) as a factor.

Job security comes from knowing an organization is stable and consistent. It also comes from knowing the employer is supportive. As the Strategy + Business authors point out, cultivating employee success can mean creating “paths that allow employees to move within and across, and even outside, an organization—not just up—to achieve their goals.”

It seems counterintuitive, but when you know people may not stay, they might stick around longer.

(celiaosk/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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