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Fearing the Great Resignation? Talk to your employees. Here’s how for 2022

January 9, 2022

In 2022, responding reactively to pandemic challenges will not cut it for businesses of any stage or size. Companies must make thoughtful reforms to their work environments to support employees’ performance – and to retain them long-term.

By Sandi Sadek, Partner & Chief People Officer, B Capital Group

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the workplace in ways we could not previously have imagined. With mass work-from-home policies, the boundary between office and home life has blurred. Meanwhile, the stressors of the pandemic have loomed for employees at all levels, from facing COVID infection to having to care for family members.

Workers feel burned out. And in 2022, responding reactively to pandemic challenges will not cut it for businesses of any stage or size. Companies must make thoughtful reforms to their work environments to support employees’ performance – and to retain them long-term.

Culture, always a buzz phrase, is going to come to the fore, but maybe not how you’d expect. Rather than expecting employees to fit into a company’s culture, organizations will be evaluating how well their culture meets employee expectations.

What does this shift look like? In a word: More communication. Chief people officers and human relations leaders will need to facilitate ongoing conversations with employees at all levels and be responsive to employee needs. Here’s where to start.

Ensure two-way feedback

Frequent feedback is good! You want employees to know where their job performance stands. However, if employees feel like they are always receiving feedback – whether from managers or HR – but their own feedback goes ignored, they will feel alienated and underappreciated. You need to ensure an open door for employees to share how they are feeling about their managers, their workload, and the environment in which they are working. Feedback is not just about job performance, but people’s personal situations and experiences too.

Ask for feedback frequently. You can schedule short weekly or monthly check-ins between employees and management or HR. You can send out anonymous surveys to collect feedback. You can utilize an array of online tools, such as Lattice, where meetings and content are recorded with prompts for follow-up. By asking everyone for feedback frequently, you can create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing and being honest. The more feedback you collect, the better you’ll be able to pinpoint larger trends in employee sentiment and ensure engagement of employees.

Support your managers

Creating an environment where employees at all levels feel comfortable sharing requires cooperation from managers. It is critical to provide your managers with a forum to seek support from peers and higher management, as well as to provide them with training for supporting employees.

I recently ran some training sessions for managers to refresh them on making the most out of performance conversations with people on their teams. We role-played conversations and provided them with tip sheets that included questions they can ask employees about their job performance and wellness. Giving your managers a list of questions to ask employees may sound prescriptive, but it ensures that those critical questions get asked.

If there’s one key takeaway, it’s that this type of training or these conversations with managers must be ongoing. You can’t check in with managers just three times a year. You need to do it regularly. And you need to also ensure your managers are meeting weekly with members of their teams to see how they are managing, feeling, and performing.

Take a holistic approach to wellness

People bring their whole selves to work, even if you don’t see it. Especially in periods of high stress at a societal level, and with many people working from home, employees carry the challenges of their daily lives into their work tasks. All this makes an emphasis on wellness a critical component for healthy workplaces in 2022 and beyond.

Today’s definition of wellbeing encompasses not just physical health, but an employee’s mental and emotional health as well — collectively these affect their productivity and ability to perform at their best.

Normalize discussion of wellness at work. This doesn’t have to mean managers ask probing questions. That said, it’s important to ensure employees are comfortable sharing whether they have low energy, whether they are dealing with family stress such as children out of school, or other larger elephant-in-the-room type issues that could have bearing on their performance.

Not all wellness conversations can, or should, happen with managers or in the workplace. Your employees may require professional support. Many companies are boosting mental health benefits for employees, by offering them things like free or discounted access to therapy sessions and meditation apps. Benefits to employers who take this holistic view to employee benefits can include reduced employee stress, improved productivity, and reduced turnover.

Be mindful of daily stress

Stress has a direct correlation to employee productivity. When you know more about what is causing concern for your employees, you can be more mindful of it. That could look like allowing a flexible schedule for employees who are also caretakers at home. It could look like encouraging an employee to take a mental health day after completing a project, or during a time of transition in their lives. Or at a very simple level, scheduling one day a week without meetings.

Being mindful of daily stress also means taking care not to unnecessarily create stress. Train managers and teams not to overreact to minor errors that can be corrected. Foster a culture of learning, where the focus is on learning, adapting, and moving on.

Career planning

One of the best ways for companies to drive employee engagement and avoid having to  refill open roles, is to retain the talent they already have. Talk early and often with employees about their long-term career goals and the support they need to achieve those goals with the company. Look for opportunities to promote internally. People need to see that their company is willing to invest in their development in order to picture themselves sticking around well into the future.

Promoting internally is also a great way to create an internal pipeline for harder-to-fill senior roles that require familiarity with your industry or organization. As an extension of this, you may also consider rehiring former employees. To have that as an option, make sure employees who resign experience a cordial and thoughtful offboarding process. Take exit interview feedback seriously as it may indicate larger trends in employee sentiment, and communicate to the departing employee that their contributions have been valued.

The bottom line is that employees have been under tremendous stress for two years, and 2022 will be no different. In a market where talent is scarce, companies need to adapt, listen, communicate and work even harder to build a robust culture and retain talent. However, even assuming the talent market finds equilibrium, pandemic challenges are impacting worker performance. To prosper in the pandemic, companies should fully engage HR to create meaningful experiences for employees with a supportive company culture.

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