In March, an article from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) discussed the notion that there is a huge wave of potential turnover coming, once the perception that we are past the COVID crisis takes hold. Various sources suggest that as many as half of all workers are currently looking for new opportunities. Other sources indicate the number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs on a monthly basis dropped by about half in the early days of the pandemic, and that, because of “pent-up” turnover demand, the number will soon return to or eclipse that pre-pandemic pace.
The “X” factor that worries labor economists and employers who are looking ahead is the number of people leaving the work force for good, and the relative dearth of potential replacement talent. For reasons that run the range from declining birth rates to dizzying changes in technology and skill requirements to cultural inherency and educational inadequacy, this gap shows every sign of continuing to hold steady at the very least. Combining the two phenomena, it is easy to forecast a perfect storm rolling across the employment landscape: too few qualified candidates chasing too many open roles.
Few organizations seek out or desire high rates of employee departures. For all the usual reasons of lost work time, costs associated with hiring, training, and upskilling, and organizational disruption, most firms would prefer to retain top performers (and, in many cases, even those not performing at the top of the expectation matrix) rather than start over with new talent.
In these quickly evolving times of employee mobility, the new talent war is one of retention. All of a sudden, if we are to believe SHRM and their selection of research studies, everyone wants out of their current gig. As organizational leaders, if we want to stay competitive or succeed beyond that, we need to think hard and act fast on how we are going to hang onto our talented people.
There are a lot of quick hits that many companies will try, easy ideas like hybrid work models, self-directed work teams, inclusive events to encourage online participation by remote staff, even stay bonuses in some cases. The real focus on the stay-or-go decision, however, should be on the relationship between the staff and their manager. COVID has severely tested that relationship in many ways.
The real focus on the stay-or-go decision, however, should be on the relationship between the staff and their manager.
Consider the well-known adage that people leave their boss, not their job. What is important is to understand that relationship at a holistic level. It is almost a foregone conclusion that staff are less willing to talk to their own leadership about issues they have with their manager.
Appropriately partnering with an external entity whose core business is discerning engagement data and building action plans can yield valuable results.
This work blends the disciplines of Organizational Development and Change Management. Those results can, and should, set the stage for effective and appropriate management development programs. Immediately acting to strengthen the capabilities of managers to lead and inspire their teams will be crucial to retaining team members, and to riding out the tsunami.
The time for that work is now, before the wave hits.
Author Terry Smith is a senior Human Resources leader, specializing in Organizational Development, as well as strategic and operational change management.