Millions of Americans continue to leave their jobs voluntarily each month, forcing employers to spend a lot of time and attention on recruiting and hiring when they really need to be thinking about retention strategy.
The government reported a record number of Americans, 70 million, left their jobs in 2021, including 47.8 million departures counted as voluntary. This “Great Resignation” has left employers scrambling to fill vacancies, a problem that could get worse before it gets better. The pandemic spurred some people to quit jobs, especially mothers affected by their children’s school closures. They will be thinking long and hard about whether to return to workplaces that are reopening, as will people who have relocated or otherwise adapted their lives to working from home.
As the economy began recovering and people watched others find better paying or more rewarding employment, job hopping became normalized—and fulfilling for many. A Pew Research Center survey found those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement and more work-life balance and flexibility. The broader sense we are getting from the Great Resignation is that people want to feel good about their work, which make a strong company culture the best protection against turnover.
Retention strategy goes far beyond raising wages and offering whatever fringe benefits the competition is dangling. In a strong company culture, executives know their people and what they need individually in terms of job flexibility, time off, and benefits. Managers help team members develop their skills and move on when appropriate, whether that involves a promotion, a lateral move, or following their dream elsewhere. That last possibility may sound like the opposite of a retention strategy, but there’s a real possibility the dream-chaser will either return with more skills and experience or become a loyal and grateful source of job referrals.
When people are quitting without a new job, business leaders should be asking whether their company culture is weak, if not toxic. Bullying bosses who break promises and make unreasonable demands on people’s time are toxic. But everyday elements of the workplace that we take for granted—meetings, emails, paperwork requirements, or how people behave when they think they are joking around—may bog down a company culture if they are seen as pointless, burdensome, or degrading.
In a strong company culture, business leaders communicate their vision with authenticity and simplicity. In a supportive culture, leaders show gratitude and appreciation to employees, and not just by writing checks. They include workers in decision-making, listen to them, and give honest, respectful feedback. Leaders ensure the same humanity imbues all their business relationship, including those outsourced. The main cost of this strategy is the investment of time and mental energy, but that pales in comparison with the difficulty of onboarding good help in a historically tight job market.