Hybrid Work

How to Ensure Remote & Hybrid Work Don’t Negatively Impact Employee Retention

How does remote work and hybrid work impact employee retention?

That question is being asked more often as organizations everywhere struggle to come to terms with The Great Resignation, why it is happening, and what it really means for your business.

Well-known HR Industry analyst Josh Bersin believes that “The Great Resignation” is actually a “Great Migration“, saying “While we often blame the massive quit rate on the pandemic, let me suggest that something else is going on. This is a massive and possibly irreversible trend: that of giving workers a new sense of mobility they’ve never had before.”

He adds this perspective:

 Employees are migrating from “crummy jobs” to “better jobs” and from “companies that don’t seem to care” to “companies that really, really care.” And for many workers this means moving to companies with opportunities for growth, promotion, and even a new industry.

Although the difference between “Great Resignation” and “Great Migration” may be subtle, Bersin’s take that the difference is about leaving a “crummy job” for a “better job,” rings true – particularly if you are finding that the underlying issues at play are employee engagement and retention.

Does Hybrid Work Weaken Employee Loyalty?

What does hybrid work have to do with it? Well, a recent article from the Financial Times, titled Employers beware: hybrid work weakens loyalty, argued that as knowledge workers spend more time working remotely, the attachment that so many employees have traditionally had to the organization will gradually diminish as they have less time in the office.

Here’s how they put it:

After years of rhetoric about the need for staff to have a “passion” for work, finding that staff now care a lot less than they once did could prove a shock for employers. In pre-pandemic days, flexible work patterns increased employer loyalty because that was a ‘privilege for the favored few,’ says Alan Felstead, author of a new book Remote Working.

As work becomes less and less social — because of remote and hybrid — it becomes less important as social ties and attachment to the employer weakens.

Those “social ties and attachment to the employer” are almost always the result of a strong and vibrant workplace culture. The challenge is in maintaining that kind of organizational culture when large numbers of employees are working remotely, as so many of them have been during the last two years. Others see this as a challenge too.

For example, an article published by BenefitsPro titled Turning the Great Resignation into the Great Retention made the case that remote work and hybrid work, where employees no longer have a strong physical connection to the organizational culture, can negatively impact retention rates… but that doesn’t have to be the case.

“A sense of culture often drives an employee’s loyalty to an organization. During the pandemic, working remotely became the norm and some traditional “in-person” cultural norms began to shift or fade as the team was no longer face-to-face. As company cultures began to shift in the pandemic, there was no longer a natural stronghold for employee retention, and employees began to explore opportunities outside their organizations to meet their changing needs.

To avoid this migration of workers, or “Great Resignation” as we now know it, companies must focus on adapting their cultures, understanding the needs of their employees, and drilling down to the core of what is best for the business as we continue to navigate ever-changing environments.”

This brings us back to the critical issue: Is there an answer to the current employee retention challenge that so many organizations globally are struggling with?

Here are two possible solutions:

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1. Focus on Greater Internal Talent Mobility

Unleash, the UK-based digital media and events company, analyzed a recent survey of 1200 employees by Lever, an American company that makes recruiting software. They found that 40 percent of the workers they surveyed are planning to leave their current employer by the end of the year. Among Generation Z, that figure rises to a whopping 67 percent.

But Lever’s research pointed to a solution – 41% of those same employees said they are planning to ask for a role change in 2022, and 13% were even willing to take a pay cut to facilitate such a change.

In other words, workers are looking for greater internal talent mobility and want their current employer to help them move into a new role within the organization that will help them build their careers. “Millennials are particularly keen to ask for a new role (43%),” Unleash notes, “compared to 40% for Gen X and 36% for Gen Z.” They add this:

“While there has been a lot of talk about offering financial incentives to keep employees in their jobs and to attract new talent, there has been less discussion about the role of career development and learning in the ‘Great Resignation.’

Given how important career development is to workers at the moment, now is the time for employers, HR teams and managers to initiate conversations around internal mobility and learning. Find out precisely what your workers want if you want to keep them.”

Fuel50 and HR.com dug into the importance of talent mobility in the State of Internal Mobility, Succession & Career Development Report and stressed this point that seemed to anticipate the current retention dilemma:

(It’s important to) ensure your talent mobility and development processes are agile and ready to pivot. In today’s disruptive era, many organizations are reinventing their business models. This requires employees to pivot into modified or totally new roles.

HR should play a lead role in anticipating what these modified positions look like, the competencies that will be required, and strategies for preparing their workforce to successfully take on these roles”

Here’s why this is so important: some 67% told Lever they would quit altogether if their employer did not allow for internal mobility. Given how difficult it is to recruit and hold on to good employees today, a sustained focus on internal talent mobility is critical for all organizations but especially those seeking ways to improve retention.

2. Provide More On-The-Job Professional Development

One of the big issues that drives so many employees to seek out greener pastures is a desire for a clear or more well-defined path to career growth. The Harvard Business Review suggests that the answer is this: on-the-job professional development.

Here’s how HBR describes it:

“With (so many) continuing to quit their jobs at a record pace … it’s no surprise that attracting and retaining talent tops many leaders’ priority lists this year. … (and) there’s one lever leaders can pull that’s highly accessible, doesn’t have to be expensive, and gives employees something they really want…

On-the-job professional development is a nearly perfect solution to many of the problems facing companies today. Why? First, your people want it. The 2022 LinkedIn Global Talent Trends Report found that employees believe professional development is the No. 1 way to improve company culture. And the consequences of neglecting development are significant. According to a report by The Execu|Search Group, 86% of professionals said that they would change jobs if a new company offered them more opportunities for professional development.

Second, it’s good for business. A recent survey from Better Buys found that employees who get professional development opportunities are 15% more engaged and have 34% higher retention than those who don’t…

Evidently, prioritizing learning and development is crucial to the bottom line. And it doesn’t even have to cost much. But you do have to make professional development personal. In other words, make it real and truly connected to your employees.”

Trane Technologies (formally known as Ingersoll Rand) experienced these issues firsthand when their employee engagement survey revealed that their people desired a greater focus on career development. After implementing an enterprise-wide initiative called ‘Career Progress’ aimed at enhancing career experiences within the organization, they saw internal recruitment rise from 38.7% to 55% and overall improvements in employee engagement and retention. 

The Senior Manager of Global Talent Management at Trane technologies attributes these wins to the dedication of their people, as well as the organization’s commitment to provide a culture of growth and development, saying: 

Our success is enabled by the commitment and dedication of our employees globally. To help our employees grow, we believe it’s vital to strengthen their engagement and develop their skills and leadership capabilities.

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Employee Retention Starts with Investing in Your People and their Future

When employee retention is an issue, as it is in so many organizations right now, it might be because employees think they have a “crummy job” as Josh Bersin puts it, or it may be that they simply view the job as “crummy” because it feels like a dead end. This has always been a big workplace challenge, but it is really coming to the forefront of leadership concerns now.

While remote and hybrid workers may not be as connected to the office and workplace culture as they once were, the employee engagement and retention issues driving the Great Resignation are really fueled more by organizations simply not meeting the needs and priorities of their people. After all, people want to stay with companies that are willing to help them develop their skills, offer them new opportunities, and help them on their career journey.

The best way to keep employees engaged, happy, and wanting to stay is to demonstrate your investment in their future, and yours, by delivering things like greater internal talent mobility and more on-the-job professional development. Organizations that successfully do that will find it doesn’t matter whether people work in the office, from a remote location, or do a little of both.

The Harvard Business Review couldn’t have been clearer when they put it like this:

“People’s lives and priorities are changing in dramatic ways before our very eyes. By offering those very same people the thing they want the most — on-the-job personal and professional development — not only will you invite employees to be a part of your team and encourage them to stay, but you’ll be contributing to a world that’s more rewarding for everyone.”