Five HR leaders share their approaches to retaining talent during these changing times.
By Simon Kent
Change is coming to the workplace. A change in people. Research from Microsoft among more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% are considering quitting or changing professions this year. Meanwhile a Personio survey (covering the UK and Ireland) reports four in 10 employees (38%) are on the lookout for new opportunities in the next six to 12 months, with this figure rising to 55% in the younger talent bracket of 18-34 year olds. In short, there will be a lot of talent changing hands in the coming months.
The Personio study also found that whilst 45% of HR decision-makers are worried about staff leaving, only a quarter (26%) felt talent retention is a priority for their organisation. Ross Seychell, chief people officer at Personio says HR must act now. “If you have invested time to attract, hire, and onboard your talent then you should focus on retaining it now more than ever,” he says. “To ensure you hold on to your talent, the first step is to understand more about what is important to your people and most critically, understand what’s working well, what isn’t, and how you can improve as a business,” he says. “It’s simple, but an effective way to gather insights is through pulse surveys or employee listening groups. Additionally, external data sources such as Glassdoor can provide valuable insights from past and current employees.”
“We’re already seeing some movement in the marketplace and a number of our people have made decisions to change careers during the pandemic,” confirms Tim Scott, director of people, Fletchers Solicitors. “We all know that some turnover is a good thing as it allows new ideas and approaches to come in and freshen an organisation’s thinking. However, it is important to any organisation in any sector to avoid a sudden ‘brain drain’ as this has a massive effect on productivity. It’s not just the cost of recruitment, but the new team member has to negotiate the learning curve of any new job and will take time to get up to speed.”
Scott says his business’ response has been to place further emphasis on workplace culture. In the face of the pandemic impact, this means going beyond offering a flexible and inclusive workspace to creating one which actively attracts and retains talent. “We work hard to maintain a positive culture at Fletchers and I like to think that gives us some insurance against our people moving on just for similar or slightly improved terms and conditions,” he explains. “We make an assessment as soon as someone indicates their intention to leave as to how likely they might be to stay, what it would take, and whether we can realistically achieve that. Sometimes our efforts are successful, sometimes they aren’t. It’s important to recognise that in some cases, once someone has resigned, there is no going back for them mentally, whereas others are more likely to change their minds. As is so often the case in HR issues, it comes down to the individual situation as each will be different.”
Sabrina Munns, people and performance director at absence management software company Edays, believes that whether or not an organisation keeps its talent will depend on what it already offers staff. “Deciding whether to focus HR’s efforts on retaining talent or finding new talent is completely redundant if your employee value proposition is outdated and not in line with what employees want,” she says. “Prospective hires will look at these core values and judge a prospective employer before deciding to interview. So, if you are losing talent to other businesses, then you may also find it difficult to attract talent in the future as the likelihood individuals are choosing to leave or not interviewing with you could very well be for the same reason.”
Ellora MacPherson, chief investment officer at funding and insurance solution company Harbour, believes that so far in the face of the pandemic, talent success has been realised through speed of response and flexibility, however the next stage requires more strategy.
“High-performance demands an excellent workplace culture,” she says. “To achieve high employee performance during the pandemic, many successful managers were able to draw on an already strong workplace culture to support and motivate their teams.” Sustaining high performance requires leaders to be proactive, show consistency in their messaging, and continually adapt their response and behaviours to the current situation. “In a period of uncertainty, the workforce depends on a leader for direction and drive,” she says. “When building a high-performing team, leaders must also look to the future. All crises eventually come to an end and are followed by recovery and re-ignition. A good leader will also have a plan for this.”
“Any organisation concerned about talent retention needs to ask what their employees need and want, and to act on this,” says Gemma Lee, chief people officer at Konica Minolta Business Solutions (UK) Ltd. Listening to staff certainly means understanding how they are driven by reward but more significantly now, it means knowing where employee expectations rest in terms of flexible and remote working.
“Once we could reopen our offices – which we knew there was a demand for – it was clear from employee survey feedback that we must retain the level of flexibility provided during the pandemic of how and where people can work,” says Lee. “Equally, feedback from our prospective employee candidates also suggests that workplace flexibility is highly prized in the employment market, and that people would be looking for a considerably higher salary to consider a return to a more traditional rigid workplace environment.”
Lee concludes that in her own business the moves towards digital transformation means that some of the current roles and structures could look very different in the future.
“Whilst many organisations were already planning for the long-term future, the pandemic abruptly stalled the process to deal with the crisis and immediate concerns of maintaining short-term profitability,” she explains. “It’s clear now that we all need to return to that scalability and future-focus mindset, so ensuring you have the right team in place, with a shared long-term vision and goal is vital to achieving longer-term success post-pandemic.”