Almost four million U.S. workers a month are quitting their jobs. More than half of North American employees plan to look for a new position this year. And an alarming percentage of the workforce describe themselves as “burnt out.”
Statistics like these are the shadow cast by the looming “talent turnover tsunami.” The pandemic has unmoored millions of people from their familiar patterns both at home and at work. Adrift from their routines, their plans, and their long held understanding of what employment should look like, they are risking a swim to new shores.
Finding innovative ways to attract and retain talent will be a necessity for organizations seeking to keep their heads above water during this flood of worker turnover. In the latest Fleet Club session, Caroline Jessen, senior director of people & communities for Cisco, shared her insights on effective retention strategies.
What’s causing employee turnover?
From her vantage point, Jessen observed that employee attrition seemed to decrease over the height of the pandemic. Uncertainty led people to hunker down. Now with the availability of the vaccine and the lifting of many lockdown restrictions, people are shaking off their long stretch of stagnation by taking the opportunity to try something new with their careers.
Jessen also believes that the accumulated mental strain from the collapse of work/home boundaries and the inability to socially interact with coworkers has helped fuel the feeling of burnout raging through employee ranks. The burnout has only been exacerbated by the lack of support from managers understandably unfamiliar with how best to man the bucket brigade under such trying circumstances.
A third cause of employee turnover that Jessen identifies is the natural result of the months of isolation during the lockdowns: time to reflect. People had the chance to step back from the hectic rhythms of their lives, look around, and ask, “Is this what I really wanted?” Where the answer was “No,” those people are taking the opportunity to make choices that will put them back on the path to career and lifestyle satisfaction.
Of course, wanting to make different choices is different from having the freedom to make different choices. But freedom is exactly what the post-pandemic job market is offering. Widespread adoption of remote work practices has freed people from having to choose their job based on their geographical location. And the booming economy has freed people to risk changing jobs—or even careers. “The world out there is much wider,” says Jessen. “The opportunities are much bigger.”
How do you win the talent war?
With people having more freedom to choose whom they work for, how do you get them to choose you? Gone are the days when flashy start-ups and Silicon Valley titans could lure talent with foosball tables and lavishly stocked cafeterias. Who needs a company with a foosball table when your basement game room is just a flight of stairs from your home office? And who needs a corporate campus sporting a Michelin Star cafeteria when your kitchen pantry is stocked with all your favorite munchies?
“Companies relied on creating an attractive work environment to lure in employees and keep them engaged and motivated,” says Jessen. “But the playing field is completely different now.” Jessen sees the companies that are open to letting employees work remotely as having the clear advantage in attracting talent. “There's not one single day, it seems, when you don't hear a big announcement from a company saying ‘Our employees can work from anywhere!’”
A second way for employers to set themselves apart is to address the stress and the burnout that gave rise to the turnover tsunami. Managers need to learn how to “lead with empathy.” Only by gaining an intimate understanding of what each member in their team is most comfortable with in terms of collaboration styles, team communication, and the setting of work/life boundaries can managers create an environment that promotes retention. In other words, the Age of the Micromanager is over.
“At Cisco, we’ve made great strides in evolving our managers from the ‘command and control’ model to a more empowering and empathetic type of leadership,” says Jessen. “If you as an organization are unable to support your managers and enable them to develop their emotional intelligence and their empathy, you will lose the war for talent.”