COVID-19 spurred on the Great Resignation of 2021, during which record numbers of employees voluntarily quit their jobs. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 48 million workers quit their jobs last year, even amid the pandemic. That makes 2021 a record-breaker for resignations, beating out the previous record-holder—2019—by an average of half a million more quits each month.
At the NCCAA 2022 conference this past spring—its first in-person event since the pandemic, Keno Simmons, principal consultant with KVS Consultant Group, offered insights on what managers should know about employee retention. Below is a look at some of the knowledge Simmons shared.
It’ll cost you
First, it’s important to keep two things to keep in mind about the great resignation: It’s not over, and losing an employee is expensive.
There are recruiting costs, including money spent on advertising, time spent reviewing resumes or conducting interviews, and the expenses involved in doing background checks, skills testing and other candidate assessments, Simmons says. He adds that the vacancy can create a burden for those who are left behind and must do “double duty” to keep work flowing. It also can result in lost productivity because the organization is short-staffed.
That productivity issue may continue even after the new hire starts reporting for work. “It can take up to a year for a person to learn the job and get comfortable doing it,” Simmons notes.
Then, there’s the cost of onboarding. A benchmarking study from the Society for Human Resource Management found an average cost-per-hire of some $4,700. Add in the total soft costs of hiring a new person—expenditures that involve the time spent by managers who must do the interviewing, evaluation, and training—and it may cost twice the new person’s salary to get that employee up to speed.
Given the expense and disruption, it pays to keep your great employees on the job. Simmons takes a relationship-building approach to cementing the employee-manager bond. He knows that this relationship often makes the difference between an employee’s staying or leaving.
That reality was evident when Pew Researchers surveyed people who quit their positions in 2021 and found that 57% cited “feeling disrespected” as a reason for walking away from their jobs. Disrespect contributed to more resignations than childcare issues (48%) and poor benefits (45%). If people feel disrespected enough to leave the organization, it reflects problems in the vital employee-supervisor relationship, a worker’s primary link with the organization.
According to Simmons, good employee-manager relationships begin with the onboarding process. He recommends companies assign a mentor to each new hire, someone who can help that individual learn the job, grow comfortable with it, and learn the organizational culture.
Simmons also said human resources should keep tabs on the new hire for months after the start date. “After the first week, first month, first three months, human resources should be checking in with the new hire to see how things are going,” he says. He adds that HR should be in touch with the new hire's supervisor, too. That way, the organization can reduce wasted time and effort if the new hire isn’t working out well. “What makes onboarding successful is communication between HR and the new person as well as to the supervisor to ensure that people are getting what they need,” Simmons says.
He also maintains a key to bonding with new employees is to see them as individuals. “A lot of times organizations want to do one thing for all people when it comes to recognition or providing incentives, and all people don’t need or want the same thing,” he explains.
So, for instance, when it comes to incentives, an employee may want remote work. Even if the organization can’t allow that every day, it would be wise to work with the employee and negotiate a compromise, such as remote work two days a week. Likewise, recognition should be common and personal. Simmons says it’s more powerful to say, “You did a great job on this project when you…” In other words, he counsels people to “be specific. It helps the person feel like you noticed what she did and valued it.”
Likewise, employees need to know the ideas they offer are heard and appreciated, so when someone offers a suggestion, Simmons says it’s crucial to “circle back” and let the employee know what happened in response to the idea. Did the supervisor take it to the leadership team? Will the suggestion be implemented? Was it something the company needed to forego due to cost or some other factor? “Explain to your employees what you did and why. That helps people feel their ideas are valued,” he notes.
Finally, Simmons thinks exit interviews are important, but if you want to keep people on staff, he suggested employers do “stay interviews.” Find out why people stay on the job and what could change to make them even happier with the organization. “You won’t know what an employee’s needs are unless you have those one-on-one conversations,” Simmons says. “Employee retention is all about communication.”