If there is one important lesson from The Great Resignation, it’s that top talent can go wherever they want. We are now dealing with free agents more than ever before and they vote for or against culture and leadership with where they choose to work. And why shouldn’t they? Some of us are spending 40, 50, even 60 or more hours of our waking time every week at this thing called work. It’s got to give back to us in ways that are meaningful beyond money.
Effective leaders aren’t just privy to their team’s needs, but are flexible enough to meet those needs in a way that benefits both the individual and the organization. Luckily, a focus on the individual’s needs will yield not only their best work but will encourage them to stay put. It’s a shame some bosses learn that lesson too late and it repeats itself over and over again.
The office dynamics of five years ago already feel archaic, and that means that leaders will have to unlearn a few things if they want to retain their best people. Investing in an employee’s career and personal development is no longer considered a perk, but rather the bare minimum to keep talent that can go anywhere.
As a result, I often see these five mistakes that are reminiscent of the stringent, traditional work policies of yore that simply have no place in the workplace today. Strong leadership requires building a better work environment, even if it’s remote. When training leaders in your organization, consider these practices to ditch before your best people ditch you.
1. Assuming that a person’s job is their first and only priority.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted many people to reflect and readjust their priorities, and that meant they no longer wanted to place their jobs in the center of their lives. A job worth keeping is one that will not only respect but also will encourage a healthy work-life balance.
For example, my company has transitioned to a four-day work week and there’s no question that it benefits morale. We’ve found that productivity actually goes up and people feel like they’re able to pay better attention to all aspects of their life. Implementing this schedule might not work for every company, but creating a system where employees feel encouraged to spend time away from work is paramount.
2. Forgetting to check in on company culture.
A recent Pew Research study found that “feeling disrespected at work” was one of the top driving forces behind employee departure. These slights might come from the top or from their coworkers and peers. Either way, it’s the boss’s responsibility to address problems in company culture. Leaders drive the conversations that take place at work, and they can’t fall asleep at the wheel.
The first step to making sure an employee feels respected is to reflect on how you communicate with your team. This respect is enhanced by transparency. There are more ways to make an employee feel valued than you may realize, but it can start with frequently checking in. It’s an opportunity to make them feel appreciated and acknowledge their hard work, but it’s also an opportunity to see if there are any problems in the office. It is not the employees’ responsibility to report on day-to-day office frustrations or grievances. If the manager is unaware of toxicity in the workplace, it’s their fault, because it was their responsibility to check in and ask.
3. Not giving employees a growth trajectory.
Top talent will happily move from company to company if it means they’ll move up the ranks in their industry more quickly. This doesn’t mean you have to put them on the fast track when there is limited space at the top, but it does mean you have to be clear on where opportunities are within the company. If they bring value to the workplace, bosses need to bring value to their career development.
Seeing a star employee leave for greener pastures can be heartbreaking, but in some respects you have to be happy for them. They’re moving upward. To avoid losing them, you have to let them know that upward is a place that exists within your company. Advancement doesn’t always have to be linear, but it does have to come with the promise of new skills, new opportunities and new accolades.
4. Not investing in skill and mindset development early enough.
Top talent knows that if they are exchanging their time, their services and their lifeblood for a job, that job has to be giving something back to them that’s more than just a paycheck. Development is reciprocal. If they’re building your brand, you need to build their skill set and help them develop as people.
If you have irreplaceable talent, why wouldn’t you do everything in your power to expand their skill set for the benefit of both the employee and the company? Top employees know that they don’t have to invest in skills training on their own time or even on their own dime. There are plenty of jobs out there that will invest in their education as a means to keep them satisfied, encouraged, and eager to use those skills to the company’s benefit.
5. Enforcing a strict location policy when remote work is feasible.
Every year, the demand for company flexibility gets louder, and that isn’t going away anytime soon. So many industries have discovered that employees can do their jobs remotely with matching success. I know someone who interviewed a candidate who lived on a boat — a boat! This person had stellar credentials and were top tier in their industry. They were an easy hire who went on to do great things for that company from yes, a boat.
I’m not asking leaders to sail the seven seas in search of high-quality hires, but it’s time to expand the periphery of their search. The Great Resignation happens to coincide with the great departure of talented people leaving major cities because they know they can do their jobs from any corner of the world. Hiring managers need to look beyond the walls of their office, and leaders need to trust their employees to get the job done. Offering flexibility shows that the boss trusts the employee, and trust is key to building a lasting relationship with the right people.
Leaders and organizations know that to retain top talent, they have to go above and beyond the competition, but it’s time for them to recognize that their employees’ needs are changing. Gone are the days when decorating the office like a forest or offering free sushi on Tuesdays were enough to keep people around. Flexibility, growth and most of all, trust, are the keys to keeping your best employees engaged and committed. After all, meaning beyond money comes from a life well lived.