Treat talent as scarcer than capital

HR professionals are constantly bombarding us with how vital it is to retain loyalty and performing employees, and how staff turnover can disrupt the business, thus causing ripple effects that take considerable time to overcome. The truth is that it’s an ongoing battle against different elements attacking from all possible angles and sides, says Mark Aquilina, founder and Chief Visionary Officer at NOUV.

We all know there is a cost to staff turnover, not just monetary. It drains people’s morale, loads other employees with more work, and disrupts internal leadership. 

We have seen the world change considerably over the past two years, but the world has also changed many people. I know this even from looking at myself. We are different, and we see things differently. So, it is understandable that many are re-evaluating themselves and what they want, not only from a professional point of view but also from life. 

In the US, recent research has found that 40 per cent of workers plan to leave their jobs – roughly two out of five employees confirmed they are considering leaving their job over the next three to six months. The same research also found that the rate of those quitting or resigning from their job is 25 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Most likely, the pandemic has re-wired people into viewing the world – and their job – differently. People are switching jobs, moving to completely different industries, moving from traditional to non-traditional roles, retiring early, or starting their business activity. Others are just deciding to quit to be able to travel or rethink their personal life.

I see nothing wrong with this shift. Indeed, I think it is a healthy shift. But as an employer, watching people go remains painful, primarily when you would have invested so much time into nurturing so much potential. It can make an employer feel helpless, used, and abused (within this context). When people you would have considered ‘part of the family’ decide to leave the fold, as an employer, you are left with unanswered questions; did I do enough? Have I taken them for granted? Could I have done more to persuade them to stay?

Asking why is essential. But it is equally important to acknowledge that, ultimately, everyone has a personal journey to follow. Even the path I am on may in time, change. 

Meanwhile, as employers, our responsibility remains to our organisation and those who choose to stay. As employers, we should be driven by this responsibility, and we must realise that we can still do much to retain our people.

Ensure that our organisations remain authentic

Although competition for talent remains high, there seems to be a fundamental mismatch between the demand for talent and the number of workers willing to apply for the vacant positions. Perhaps employers continue relying on traditional levers to attract and retain people, including salary, designations, and opportunities for advancement. But although finding talent remains a big struggle, I do not think it is enough to settle for those employees who happen to be ‘available’.

I recently came across some research from the Hay Group that found that highly engaged employees are, on average, 50 per cent more likely to exceed expectations than the least-engaged workers. And companies with highly engaged people outperform other companies by 54 per cent in employee retention, 89 per cent in customer satisfaction, and fourfold in revenue growth. 

Other research by the London Business School also confirmed that employees who feel welcome to express their authentic selves at work show more commitment and better individual performance.

But even though some employees might, for example, value flexibility at work highly, others could see more value in mental health support, more meaningful work, and career advancement. So as employers, we should start looking beyond current parameters and more deeply at what different workers want and how best to engage them.

While no company or organisation can ever be the best place to work, we also need to admit that even the best places see their talent leave. So as employers, we must feel compelled to see how to improve the chances of our people staying. 

I feel that a good start would be to ensure that our organisations remain authentic, where people are allowed to be the best version of themselves, resulting in an environment in which, no matter what the individual differences are, the sum of these differences defines the company. This approach is a good recipe for nurturing highly engaged employees.

Uncaring and uninspiring leaders can also be a big part of why people leave an organisation. So, a lot of the onus is now being placed on us employers who are being called to engage on a more human level with our employees. We need to understand their expectations, how they want to grow personally and professionally, and whether their values match those of the organisation. 

Most of all, and more than ever, as employers and leaders, we are now being called to inspire those around us. 

We can achieve this by being more open in our communication, letting others participate more in the leadership and decision-making processes and acknowledging the actual value of flexibility which also requires a show of trust. More trust gives more autonomy, and more autonomy nurtures employees to want to assert their individuality more.

On the more practical side, as employers, we can retain our organisations’ attractiveness by showing our people in absolute terms that they stand to grow. The most effective way to demonstrate this is to help them sharpen their employee value proposition by focusing more on their respective career paths, compensation, and benefits and increasing the organisation’s prestige. 

On a less traditional level, we need to keep building a solid company culture, being more creative and personal in how we pursue employees. A job might not necessarily be for life. Still, suppose we, as employers, invest in more meaning, belonging, and a stronger team. In that case, we could develop a unique portfolio of organisational attributes that makes it harder for our people to want to leave.

On the one hand, many workers following this severe pandemic feel freer to envision the jobs they want. Conversely, companies do not have to reinvent their employee value proposition to ensure they are attractive. They could do well by expanding their reach into multiple talent pools creatively and authentically. The employees meant for you will recognise you.