Here are eight of the best ways to keep your team engaged and feeling valued.

How to Attract and Retain Employees During the Great Resignation

Wealthsimple Work provides employers with a modern financial wellness benefit for employees.

Remember those workplace legends who quit their jobs in a blaze of glory? 

 From the fed-up JetBlue flight attendant who pulled the emergency-exit chute to end his job effective immediately; to the fictional Jerry Maguire who grabbed a goldfish (and Renee Zellweger) on his way out the door; to the countless, “I can’t take it anymore!” tales we’ve heard from our own lives, plenty of people have made their exits with flair.

 Except, not so much anymore. In our more beleaguered pandemic world, organizations are experiencing an unprecedented seepage of talent. But instead of individuals angrily stalking out of the office high on adrenaline, large swaths of employees are giving notice via Zoom, quietly closing their laptops, and walking away. 

 In the US, the Great Resignation has seen 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021 alone. If you measure back to April, that number is in excess of 20 million people who have set off for greener professional pastures.

 There are labour shortages in Canada, too. Consider the chilling statistics that show things are expected to get worse:

  • 51% of senior leaders polled by LifeWorks and Deloitte Canada are considering leaving, retiring, or downshifting from their current organization or position

  • 57% of Canadians would change careers if given the opportunity, according to a Lighthouse Labs survey

  • 40% of employees surveyed by Workhuman in the US, UK, Ireland, and Canada say they are planning to look for a new job in the next 12 months

  • Employees aged between 30 and 45 increased their resignation rate by more than 20% between 2020 and 2021, reports Visier

While there are varying reasons for this mass exodus, researchers are crediting factors like burnout, a disconnect between employees and employers, poor work/life balance, and overall job dissatisfaction to be chief among them—particularly among younger generations. A survey by global staffing firm Robert Half found that of the 33% of Gen Z and Millennial professionals who said they plan to pursue a new job, 40% of Gen Zers reported they want more money, while 31% of Millennials wanted to leave due to low morale.

 This spells disaster for organizations that may already have a talent shortage. Turnover is expensive—the cost of replacing an employee can run an organization anywhere from 50 to 100% of their salary when you factor in recruiting, onboarding, training, and time to ramp up productivity in a new hire. And beyond the dollar figures, constant turnover usually has a negative impact on employee morale.

Thanks to the Great Resignation, there’s more pressure on employers than ever before to accommodate employees’ needs, exceed their expectations, and provide them with working conditions and perks that keep them engaged and excited about coming to work. Even if that means Zooming in from home. (Maybe especially if it means Zooming in from home.)

 So, how can you retain employees in this climate?

Invest in them.

Here are 8 retention strategies that companies are—or should be—considering for the year ahead.

1. Get to know what individual employees want

Strategies for how to retain an employee should be as individual as each person. While some staffers would consider staying if they received a salary boost, others would rather have more flexibility in their schedules, learning and growth opportunities, the ability to give back to the community while on the job, or simply a stronger connection to the values of the company. 

 It’s imperative that managers and other leaders understand the individual needs of their employees. Give them a chance to share their perspective on what’s working for them and what’s not. A reverse performance review can lead to important insights that could help employees feel heard, valued, and connected to more than just their paycheque. 

2. Improve company culture with transparency and communication

The very existence of the Great Resignation is proof that people are no longer content to work for the reward of a mere paycheque. An internal communications strategy and a well-defined company culture are must-haves when considering how to retain an employee. 

If you’ve taken the first step of asking employees what they value, you’re well on your way to knowing how to create and communicate your company culture. Consider putting together a company handbook that answers questions like:

  • What are our core values and what do they look like in action?

  • Who are our leaders and how can we connect with them?

  • How do we give/receive feedback?

  • What’s our communication culture? (e.g. when do we email/Slack/IM/drop by)

  • What are our processes for mediating conflict?

  • How do we lift each other up?

  • How do we learn and grow within the organization?

3. Implement or enhance a recognition program

If the malaise of pandemic lockdowns taught us anything it’s that most people need to feel purposeful to be satisfied—at home and at work. Many of us want to know that what we do matters to other people, including leadership and colleagues, if not the wider world around them.

 If your organization is leaking talent, it’s important to ensure that the people who are sticking around feel seen as valuable contributors. A robust recognition program can include company-wide kudos or rewards and also quieter, and potentially more meaningful, expressions of appreciation. Leaders should take time to consider the complexities of what goes into each employee’s performance and provide tailored recognition and specific feedback that signals that their work is important. 

4. Consider a progressive wellness program

Word to the wise: basic health benefits aren’t enough for the modern workplace. Dental, drug, and simple wellness coverage is considered by many to be the bare minimum of what it means to stay healthy. 

 When thinking about how to retain an employee, proactive wellness coverages can go a long way, e.g.:

  • An allowance for personal fitness programs

  • Mental health support (e.g.  access to a confidential helpline and free sessions with a qualified therapist)

  • Stress management training and access to meditation platforms

  • Childcare referral programs and parenting workshops

  • Paid time off (PTO) for volunteering 

 Look for ways to go above and beyond traditional wellness initiatives that help bolster the physical and emotional health of all employees.

5. Offer resources for financial wellness

Most (70%) Canadians said they’d rather have an improved pension, or any pension, than a higher salary, according to new research by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.

 A modern Group RRSP program is one way to help employees feel financially secure about their future and reduce anxiety around finances that can otherwise impact productivity in the workplace. And offering to match contributions up to a certain amount also goes a long way to inspiring employee loyalty. Wealthsimple Work features low fees, intelligent portfolios, and a digital interface that employees will actually want to visit to check up on their progress. Employees also get access to one-on-one sessions with financial experts to help them plan for retirement (or other life milestones) and answer any questions about investing—which means your team doesn’t have to.


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6. Provide flexible work arrangements

In a post-pandemic world, people are widely split on whether they want to continue to work from home or head back into the office. A Robert Half survey found that 1 in 3 professionals currently working from home would look for a new job if they were forced to return to the office.

Providing flexibility on remote work and schedules will go a long way to securing the trust and loyalty of employees. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a black or white proposition. Compressed work weeks, flextime, and partial telecommuting are all options that could help employees meet you halfway if in-person collaboration (at least part of the time) is important to your business. 

7. Have a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) program worth raving about

It should never have been acceptable to ignore racial injustice in the workplace. Today, it’s downright ignorant. If your organization is serious about creating a workplace where all people, including Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), can thrive, you need a DEI program to make sure that happens. This includes encouraging inclusive leadership, making DEI everyone’s responsibility (not just one selected leader), empowering team members to speak their truth, fostering employee growth, and improving talent pipelines.

Take care not to let the fallout from talent shortages thwart your DEI efforts. Arthur Woods, co-author of Hiring for Diversity, writes in HBR that in “such a competitive environment, the natural tendency will be to revert to old behavior. Leaders will need to view filling gaps and advancing diversity not as an either/or but a both/and.” 

8. Look into a powerful corporate social responsibility (CSR) program

While it might not seem like ideal timing to invest in CSR, studies show that these programs often help attract and retain employees. A Cone Communications study found that 75% of Millennials would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company. (It’s not a bad way to boost your brand with customers, either.)

 Find out what matters to your employees and consider offering PTO for volunteering, matching donations, offering payroll-enabled microdonations, and doing charitable team building activities. Research shows that a group of people who do good in the world together are more bonded and cohesive.

While the Great Resignation is real, it doesn’t have to spell end-of-days for you and your very best people. Just like in any healthy relationship, employers and employees need to establish an open dialogue about what matters most to each party and what strategies can be deployed to help everyone get what they want—mostly. 

 Underpinning improved communication are retention strategies that not only inspire loyalty but help you create a world-class workplace that is better positioned to be a hive of creativity and collaboration. 

 When organizations address the talent crisis head on, they’re less likely to need those emergency exits. 

Katie oversees all things content for the Wealthsimple Work team, creating resources that helps employers big and small encourage financial wellness within their own teams.

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