Retaining top talent isn’t easy. 

Our latest research shows almost a third of employees feel that retaining staff is a challenge for their company. 

This is partly because our values have changed. Employees now expect more from their places of work: increased flexibility, better perks, and much greater transparency. 

Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, there’s even more at stake. Things have taken a serious turn, as employees’ personal and professional lives become increasingly disrupted.

With government restrictions mounting, many organizations are struggling to ensure business continuity, while employees have been asked to work remotely in a bid to slow the spread of the pandemic.

We know employees need to be able to work in a framework that supports them – period. Perhaps more than ever, businesses have a responsibility to step up and take care of their people. 

Based on what we know from our ongoing work research and our study on the consumer response to the coronavirus outbreak, here are some tips on how to retain – and best support – your people in times of uncertainty.

Lead with honesty and transparency. 

To modern professionals, transparency is a big deal. 

We found direct correlation between employers who communicate business goals and updates regularly and workers’ overall satisfaction. Employees want to feel part of the bigger plan.   

Transparent communication in the workplace isn’t just about keeping employees aligned with a company’s vision – it’s also about keeping them invested. 

In challenging times especially, transparency is the way through. 

Amid the unease and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, with a third of the world experiencing lockdown, employees will be looking to their organizations for extra guidance – regardless if the future is unwritten, and even if employers (like the rest of us) are still figuring things out. 

Employees still expected to work have a right to know what plans are in place.

When the time calls for it, it’s far better for employees to be made aware of situations as they’re unfolding than in retrospect. On the contrary, a lack of information can make some employees feel unsupported. 

Conversations during this time should be real, honest, and frank. From an employer’s perspective, this means:

  • Communicating frequently: Giving periodic updates to show the company is staying on top of the latest developments and is acting accordingly.
  • Empathizing and listening: If employees are feeling powerless and vulnerable, these concerns shouldn’t be dismissed in favor of other work priorities. Employees should be able to express themselves freely, with workplaces acknowledging such concerns are normal.
  • Being real. While not every employee request can be honored, implementing some normal practices and policies and lowering expectations (around output, for example) may do a lot to ease nerves.

Being entirely transparent – while opening things up for two-way discussion – can help shape employee attitudes to the crisis for the better.

It’s crucial that leaders don’t get sucked into the panic. An employer’s willingness to set the example and help employees cope can go a long way to reduce stress and empower employees when they need it most.

Realise good workplace culture is twofold: as crucial for morale as it is for business objectives.

Based on all of research outside of that specific to COVID-19, employee salary and progression are the top conditions to ensure a happy and motivated workforce. 

Next comes workplace culture: no ‘buzzword’, but something requiring attention. Just a quarter of knowledge workers say they’re ‘completely satisfied’ at work.

Workplace culture is a chief concern for professionals globally, and the research is there to support it. 

Good culture is vital for retention: more than 6 in 10 employees who said their workplace had an excellent culture also rated their company high in terms of morale. 

In the long term, the benefits are compounded. Companies that take specific measures to improve the wellbeing of employees in the workplace can reshape their trajectories toward a happier and more engaged workplace culture, resulting in increased innovation, growth and revenue.

Workplace perks: more than a box-ticking exercise. 

Workplace perks do more than incentivize employees. They contribute to employees’ sense of belonging and shape their overall experience being at work.

That said, exactly what initiatives contribute to good workplace culture depends on the needs and opinions of individuals within any given organization. 

Whether it’s free office social events, free food or drink, free exercise classes, discounted services, activities, or events, positive workplace culture isn’t the result of one thing, but a culmination of many things. 

Now, with employee well-being at risk of being compromised, fostering a sense of solidarity in the business through good workplace culture couldn’t be more important. 

Opening up discussion around culture – by asking employees what they envisage an ideal work culture to be – can be an invaluable tool for organizations looking to make a genuine impact on their employees specifically.

If this exercise isn’t commonplace, now would be a good time to start. Instead of implementing immediate changes, ideas employees generate can be implemented when business as usual gradually resumes -giving employees things to look forward to. 

Unlimited annual leave, for example, is an increasingly growing trend in the workplace, primarily used by tech firms and start-ups as a tactic to attract and retain talent. 12% of satisfied employees are offered unlimited holiday (compared to only 7% on average) but the arrangement might not work for everyone. 

There’s a correlation between uncapped holidays and over-working, with knowledge workers who have the benefit being 22% more likely to work late and work overtime at least once a week. 

Of the knowledge workers who rate their company as excellent in terms of employee satisfaction, the following workplace perks are well regarded:

  • 60% consider their workplace layout and environment as excellent.
  • 59% rate their company’s communication and openness to feedback as excellent.
  • 59% rate their work-life balance as excellent.

Being seen to take a proactive approach to workplace culture and associated workplace perks sends the message to employees that they aren’t taken for granted. 

While the right perks do ladder up, adjusting and adding benefits in line with employee expectations is as important, and should be an ongoing priority in the retention stakes. 

Be present: provide employees working remotely with the ongoing support they require.

Working remotely is broadly accepted for one quarter of workers globally.

But today, companies who were once resistant to the idea of allowing their employees to work from home have been forced into making it a reality. The option to work remotely is often dependent on the internal structure of an employee’s company – and it comes more naturally to some. 

On the flipside, there are tangible benefits to working from home: companies that permit remote working also have 20% higher employee satisfaction

Furthermore, those with employers that permit remote working are more inclined to rate their companies as “good” or “excellent” for employee morale, communication, productivity, collaboration, and overall culture. 

However, remote working is also associated with a tendency to work longer and harder; something employers should be acutely aware of. 

Employees will continue to perform to the same standard in many different circumstances, providing they continue to be supported when what constitutes ‘business as usual’ looks different.

As evidenced by our research, the likelihood of doing things like working overtime, and answering emails or messages outside of office hours actually increases as workplace tolerance toward remote working increases.

Trusting employees to manage their own flexible work arrangements is key.

Productivity rises by 16% when remote working is permitted, despite the popular stereotype that employees become less productive and more distracted when working from home. 

Employees currently working from home in self-isolation risk becoming disengaged, which makes communication through any means, essential.

Instilling regular check-in times, through video calling especially is hugely beneficial, as video facilitates a strong person-to-person connection through reading people’s expressions and body language. 

When in person interaction isn’t possible, video conferencing may be the next best thing: allowing empathetic conversations to take place and keeping rapport among employees healthy. 

No one can be certain how long work from home measures will continue. Ultimately, remote working can only be successful if companies have effective digital collaboration and communication tools that are accessible to everyone. 

Employee burnout becomes a real factor when workers are based outside an office space, and this has to be watched closely. It’s not just about creating a culture that responds quickly to industry changes, but ensuring employees maintain a positive wellbeing while doing so.

By doing their best to be present despite the social distancing measures in place, organizations can help employees work from home comfortably, safely, while feeling as though they’re in control.  

For better or for worse, peoples’ experiences impact their organizations

The pace of change is faster than it’s been at any other time in history, but once you scratch the surface, the true state of work is more people-powered than you think.

Companies need employees who are connected, collaborative and feel optimistic about the future.

But the onus isn’t all on employees. Organizations that care about retaining talent should parioritize understanding why certain workers find themselves disconnected from the wider corporate vision.

Employees look to their leaders and model their behaviors, especially in times of crisis. What they most likely crave most right now is to feel acknowledged and accounted for. Employees need organizational support, clear communication, effective tools and a strategic vision to follow.

Alongside this, a renewed focus on improving workplace culture can do amazing things for morale and employee retention – even with the odds stacked high.

Employers who listen, and take specific actions to support employees for better or worse, will surely be among the most resilient. We might not know what lies ahead, but it’s a good time to remember the value of people.

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