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Bonuses, pay raises and extra time off may be fueling your retention problems

Alex McMurray

November 17, 2021

Bonuses, pay raises and extra time off may be fueling your retention problems

The Great Reshuffle marks a unique moment in time. People aren’t just rethinking how and where they work, but why they work. For large swaths of the workforce (including 41% who are considering leaving their jobs), their current why isn’t being fulfilled today.

As leaders scramble to retain top talent, many have found their typical levers - pay, perks and vacation - are ineffective in stemming the tide of resignations. In some cases, these benefits are making things worse.

That’s because most people aren’t considering quitting because of grievances about their pay and benefit packages. Sure, those may factor in. But for most people, the driving force behind their decision to quit is relational.

The search for meaningful interactions, not transactions

According to McKinsey, the top two reasons employees are leaving their current jobs are that they:

- don’t feel their work is valued by their company (54%)
- don’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51%)

Considering our context, it makes a lot of sense. The extreme isolation of the past 18 months has intensified our desire for community. We seek human connections, to be part of something meaningful, and for others to see our value.

So when a well intentioned leader offers a thank you bonus or pay raise, it misses the mark. Inadvertently, these offerings reinforce the disconnect between employees and their companies and deepens their sense that these relationships are merely transactional. 

Retention strategies need to pivot to community building instead. And since the epicenters of our workplace communities are teams, this is where leaders need to focus.

Your leaders, not your policies, are your key retention agents

Building great teams is more complex than adapting company-wide retention strategies. Rather than leaning on broad sweeping policies, it means engaging your leaders as key retention agents. 

This requires managers who go beyond compassion and empathy, behaviors that have become all but table stakes during the pandemic. They also need to help their teams:

- heal and reconnect
- understand one another
- celebrate everyone’s contributions
- acknowledge different needs in the current context 
- set a shared vision for how they’ll move forward 

Supporting your managers to be the community builders you need right now will be a far bigger contributor to retention than any benefit adjustments.

Community-builders will be your star managers

In this context, we see four mission critical behaviors for managers right now.

1. Listen. We often assume people will air their grievances. But most people have internalized a strict dichotomy between their professional and personal selves. Their professional selves have it all together and park their feelings at the door.

Great managers need to invite their teams to bring their whole selves to work and to express their feelings openly and honestly. Even if the conversations are uncomfortable, they need to listen, show compassion and find understanding.

2. Care. Everyone wants to feel cared for, seen, and valued. In hybrid and remote contexts, it’s easy to feel forgotten and disconnected. Your managers need to remind their teams that they are cared for. 

In some cases, it might be enough to celebrate and acknowledge their team’s contributions. For others, it might mean offering stretch opportunities to show that their potential has been noticed. For others still, it will mean acknowledging how their current reality demands certain flexibility; a single parent with school age kids may have very different needs to an older employee without dependents, but who is feeling weighed down by persistent isolation.

This requires companies to give managers latitude to offer flexibility to meet their teams’ needs.  

3. Be vulnerable. It’s important that your managers don’t feel they need to play the part of the always together unruffled leader. Encourage managers to talk about how they’re dealing with uncertainty and be vulnerable with their teams. When they share their own struggles they will foster trust with their teams. A team who feels entrusted will be more connected and far more loyal to their manager.

4. Focus on the team. People are craving community and belonging; the tight knit communities of your teams will be one of your best retention tools. Managers need to help their teams connect with one another, forge stronger connections, depend on each other, and ultimately, remember that they aren’t alone. 

This doesn’t just mean team socials and events. Having fun together is important, but so too are open and honest conversations across the team that help people connect and understand one another. This might feel hard and daunting, but our tools can guide them step by step through having those big, team altering conversations.

The Great Reshuffle is daunting and overwhelming. Yet the companies that hone in on what matters most to their people, rather than blindly throwing old incentives, will gain an edge in retaining and attracting great talent.

Want help to set your managers up for success as the key retention agents they need to be?

Let’s talk.