How to stop staff leaving in a post-pandemic worldby
With one in four people thinking of quitting their job after the pandemic it’s no surprise that firms are asking “How do we retain our talent?”
You went to the trouble of finding them, hiring them, nurturing them, keeping them engaged during remote working and how do they thank you? By seeking new opportunities.
It’s not unusual during a holiday to wonder whether we want life to go back to how it was before we left for our vacation, but before we know it we are back on that treadmill and the idea of opening a beach bar in Ibiza or starting a not-for-profit foundation disappears as quickly as our tan lines.
But a change in our routine which lasts 18 months is far more likely to result in a more permanent and committed desire for change. Maybe your staff enjoyed picking the kids up from school or deciding what time to start in the morning, having lunch with their partner or working with the cat on their lap and they don’t want to give it up.
Maybe their reflections were more existential. They discovered a passion for a cause, indulged in a hobby which could become a business or simply realised that, if they are working from home, it doesn’t matter who they work for so why not look for a promotion, pay rise or change of role with someone new?
We know that levels of stress and burnout are particularly high right now so the search for something new may be an attempt to address mental wellbeing concerns.
Or it could be personal. The way your staff have felt supported (or not), valued (or not) and the plans you’re making for post-pandemic working may also be influencing their curiosity about what else is out there.
So, what questions should you be asking to ensure you’re not losing your best people for the wrong reasons?
Why are people leaving?
As we’ve seen, there are many factors that cause someone to think about moving on. In a small firm someone leaving to get more experience elsewhere is almost inevitable. Equally someone realising they don’t want to commute anymore isn’t necessarily a judgement against you. You can offer a more flexible working arrangement but if that doesn’t appeal to them you can’t relocate your whole set up just so that one person doesn’t have to sit in traffic every morning.
Having an exit process enables you to either address the problem (if you can) or create a good leaving experience. If you know why they feel it’s time to move on and what they are looking for you can even help them find the right opportunity. Who knows, they could be back in a few years time bringing all that experience back to you. At the very least they will talk you up at the next firm and to all their accounting friends.
Asking “What has prompted you to look elsewhere?”, “What have been the best and worst aspects of working here for you?”, “How could we improve as an employer?”, “Is there anything that would change your mind about leaving?” and “Would you recommend us to others?” gives you vital insights that help you keep your top people.
Are the right people leaving?
Not all turnover is bad. When you improve your culture, get clear on the behaviours that are encouraged or not tolerated, change the dynamic from parent-child to adult-adult or promote more empowerment and ownership some people won’t like it.
If those are the people who are leaving you may be less concerned. Online shoe retailer Zappos offers new employees $2000 to quit their job in order to weed out those who just work for the money. Former CEO, Tony Hsieh, believed that $2000 was a small price to pay to sift out those employees who would inevitably have motivation problems later on.
Look at who is complaining, dialing it in or actively seeking other opportunities. Do you really mind if they go?
Is it our fault?
It’s also worth having a long, hard look in the mirror. What kind of employer are you? Do you understand what your people need from you to feel valued and go the extra mile for your clients? Have you been willing to listen and respond as their needs have changed or have you held on to outdated ideas about what work should look like and how people should be managed?
You’ve demonstrated over the last year and a half what your real values are as a firm and that might be an eye-opener for some of your people. If there was a disparity between what you said mattered to you and how you behaved when the chips were down you’ve told people all they need to know. It’s too late now to try to convince them your poor behaviour was an aberration.
Many firms have initiated an almost continual survey of staff wellbeing and engagement so they can respond fast if decisions or behaviour at the top of the firm is turning people off. It’s time to get very interested in what you’re doing and how it’s perceived by your people.
Who are the right people for us now?
You don’t have to be the right firm for everyone. In fact, I predict that one result of the pandemic will be that firms will be more differentiated. For instance, we are already seeing firms shouting about their attitude to remote working. Investment banks Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have been very clear that they expect people to be in the office as soon as possible. Challenger firm BDO , in contrast, has said people can make up their own mind about where they work.
And these public declarations will go beyond where and when your people work. We will see firms differentiating based on their values, their approach to new technology, their niche (and their niche within a niche), their staff development opportunities and their ‘higher purpose’.
All of this means that you need to be super clear on what you stand for, what your ideal employee looks like and what your expectations are. This will enable you to be highly specific about what kinds of people are going to thrive in your firm. They might be harder to find but, once you’ve found them, they will stay with you because it’s such a perfect fit.
The employment market is changing. We are going to see some flux as people work out what the last 18 months has meant for them and as firms do the same.
Instead of worrying about retention focus on what you stand for and whether you just talk the talk or really walk the walk. And if people are fleeing from your firm you may need to ask yourself a few tough questions.
Watch Blaire Palmer and two Accounting Excellence award winners on AccountingWEB Live explain how they’ve retooled their firms to get the best out their employees. The episode is now available on demand.
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Blaire Palmer is a leadership coach, author and conference speaker. As CEO of That People Thing she works with senior executives to help them rethink how to lead in these fast-changing times. Blaire is a judge in the Investing in People category of the 2020 Accounting Excellence Awards...