Retention Roulette 0

Retention-Roulette

In a tight talent market and with work going remote, retaining talent has become a critical issue. While most companies spend a great amount of time and money investigating why a valuable employee has decided to move on, the others devote their time to understand why employees stay and how they can retain people.

The article explores in detail why ‘Retention is a Mindset’ and how it can help to attract quality talent, retaining them for their current skills and future potential and keeping them rightfully and delightfully engaged.

On an employee’s top-10-critical-reasons-to-leave list, job satisfaction is perhaps the ninth or tenth reason. The top reason for low attrition is a tough job market. An average employee is always in the job market evaluating jobs, roles, and eventually a career switch.

There is no way to stop employees from leaving if organizations do not have a plan to make them stay.

While it has been proven otherwise, many organisations, especially in the Indian corporate context, spend an extensive amount of time and resources on the question – why are employees leaving us? Exit interviews have always been the weapons-of-mass collection to collect responses from exiting employees.

By employing highly scientific and analytical prowess to such exit data, these organisations believe to be able to churn out the magic potion which will save them from talent churn.

Have they been successful? I have my strong doubts, majorly for two reasons. Firstly, exit interviews are more like post mortem. Can we save lives now? No. We have lost the patient. What we are trying to figure out now is, what led to such untimely death. Instead, ideally, just like medical research, the focus should have moved to – how to save lives? In the workplace, it translates to – how do we retain people?

Secondly, the basic assumption of a positive correlation between an employee’s tenure and his/her engagement levels, i.e. there is low attrition because people are satisfied and happy at the workplace. Alternatively, infant attrition in an organisation happens because people are not happy with their job or role. Yes, it is a possibility. But, on an employee’s top-10- critical-reasons-to-leave list, job satisfaction is perhaps the ninth or tenth reason. The top reason for low attrition is a tough job market. An average employee is always in the job market evaluating jobs, roles, and eventually a career switch. A sad manager would be a close second on the list.

One of the worst fears at work is the insecurity of keeping the job. During job cuts, the most severely impacted people are the ones who lost their jobs. But it is painful to even for the people who are retained due to uneven distribution of job responsibilities, overburdened and extended work hours, poor and late decisions eventually leading to work stress, physical fatigue, and mental frustration. 

A golden handcuff compensation tactic leading to deferred benefits is a good reason to stay back with no correlation to productivity. All these and a few more tend to have a highly negative impact on the financial health of an organisation in addition to affecting the mental health of employees.

There have been multiple employee group studies, academic and analytical pieces of research, and organisational development projects through decades bringing out some fantastic results on why people stay. These factors start with job satisfaction to role clarity, complexity, and competence building to more intangible environmental factors, both external and internal, whose spectrum ranges from maintenance or operational factors to more intrinsic and motivational factors.

With the ever-evolving technological advancements, global exposure and deregulation, demographic inclusions and diversities have cultivated a very information-led population, which essentially has brought forth intellectual property in the forefront, making people realize, accept, and declare employees, not just human resources but as human capital. As the retention of talent with critical skills is acknowledged by organizations, the first and best reaction that multiple organizations show is trying to become the “employer of choice”.

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But retention stays a fairly complex theme to ideate and implement. Employee retention means a lot of things to a lot of different mindsets. It may signify people policies that make people stay in organizations for a longer period of time. It takes into account various initiatives undertaken by organizations so that individuals stick to the organization thereby maximizing return on investment on the individual’s personal development as well as professional learning and growth during his/her tenure.

Many academic and consulting types of research have listed factors that drive retention such as the ecosystem and industry in which an organization is competing, the organization’s inherent culture, its leadership style and communication plans, compensation and long term benefit plans, flexible work schedule, and career progression opportunities, etc. In today’s time when the whole concept and definition of a workplace is evolving to be called as – anywhere, there is stable internet – retaining key talent is a competitive advantage for every organization.

Reality check for top management across geographies on retention and quality of talent is brought out well by McKinsey C-Suite Gap Report – May 2021. We all are aware of this phase being called The Great Resignation, which directly impacts the past, current, and any future retention plan for an organization. However, now more than ever, some very pertinent questions have come back in focus of management.

Retention-Roulette-working-model

Uncertainties such as do managers stay for reasons different from those of non-managers, is the work ethic of younger employees different from that of older employees, what kind of employees stay, and which type tends to resign more promptly or stay because they like their work, why do Gen-X (managers over 40) don’t like their jobs and yet stay with organizations as against millennials or Gen-Z, and most importantly, how dissatisfied is dissatisfied?

In contrast, the McKinsey study says still (as early as May 2021), 92% of CXOs want offices to open for at least 4 days if not 5 as against 52% of an average employee. Now that is a huge gap in terms of expectation and reality to bridge from a retention point of view, isn’t it?

Retention has to be the focal point to attract quality talent, retaining them for their current skills and future potential and keeping them rightfully and delightfully engaged for them to stay longer with higher output and… Click To Tweet

Retention mindset

Working in hybrid mode is a reality now. We need to start accepting thoughts, ideas, and actions around how to maximize the hybrid workplace model and embed it into our recruitment, onboarding, engagement, development, and performance analytics processes.

From an Indian market perspective, COVID-19 hit us badly. While it was said that brick & mortar businesses will be impacted majorly while digital companies will actually gain, we saw more than 4000+ job losses from digital startups like Oyo, Uber, Ola, Zomato, Swiggy, Cure.fit, etc.

One of the worst fears at work is the insecurity of keeping the job. During job cuts, the most severely impacted people are the ones who lost their jobs. But it is painful even for the people who are retained due to uneven distribution of job responsibilities, overburdened and extended work hours, poor and late decisions eventually leading to work stress, physical fatigue, and mental frustration. There were some saving graces with many traditional and brick and mortar companies like HUL, Mahindra, and Asian Paints, promising zero job losses. In fact, they announced annual salary increments and compensation assurances.

Some went a step ahead and offered concessions to their business partners such as dealers and wholesalers, relaxed payment terms to vendors and discounts for timely payments, etc. Immediate benefits were seen such as an instant positive jump in share prices while long-term benefits can be assured with increased employee loyalty and business partners’ commitment. Companies like Flipkart, Johnson & Johnson, CSS Corp, and BharatPe also increased compensations and announced promotions and full annual variable payouts, etc.

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Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves – Steve Jobs.

Today, we can confidently say retention is a mindset. It does not start when an employee is tenured and wants to quit. Retention has to be the focal point to attract quality talent, retaining them for their current skills and future potential and keeping them rightfully and delightfully engaged for them to stay longer with higher output and unwavering integrity. People need to stay and be productive long enough to ensure the ROI on retention in nurturing talent can be reaped by the individual and the organization.

An organization just can’t hire the wrong talent and allow them to hang around or hire the right talent and lose them in this scarce talent market. In addition to grooming talent, people need to believe they can voice their opinions and are encouraged to be open and fearless.

Through the last few years, traditional employee surveys such as Employee Perception and Employee Pulse Surveys have gained prominence and with the advent of AI in HR springboards, it has created a whole new people practice industry in itself. Equally critical for retention is building confidence for a more diverse and inclusive workforce by instituting women and LGBTQAI+ centric development programs that aid in retention and building a talent pipeline.

Going forward, we need to accept the fact that business goals and workforce planning are going to look very different and unique post-pandemic. While currently there is a reactive approach to managing employee turnover, we need to proactively start identifying critical skills and cultivate new skills among our people base through upskilling, reskilling, and introducing newer hiring practices.

business goals and workforce planning

Working in hybrid mode is a reality now. We need to start accepting thoughts, ideas, and actions around how to maximize the hybrid workplace model and embed it into our recruitment, onboarding, engagement, development, and performance analytics processes. The top priority needs to go to keeping top talent engaged and ring-fence them with the best possible retention tool available. We need to ensure they feel valued and excited about being in the organization through career growth, offering new roles and deliverables, personalized training, etc.

Tapping the gig economy, taking advantage of an experienced and yet flexible workforce, and playing with a blended workforce is perhaps the trump card of the future. Gig workers often have better performance levels since their current performance directly correlates to repeat orders, references, and higher incomes, as well as temporary staff, tends to possess more eagerness and higher enthusiasm than regular/ full-time workers.

Ultimately, with work going remote, the need for attention and being recognized has doubled. As per reports, over 74% of people seek recognition for their remote work now more than ever. Organizations have responded and communicated well during the pandemic, from policy changes to updates on benefits and help on remote work, etc. It is equally critical to listen, carefully and patiently. Lending a listening ear and giving a supportive hand is the best way to retain healthy and productive relationships.

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Kanishka Mallick is an HR professional with 20+ years of experience across diverse industries like telecom, digital media, foodtech, fintech, wealthtech, e-commerce, and digital product & technology hiring ramp-ups. Currently, he is working as General Manager - HR at Times Internet.  

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