Happy, successful employees are critical for a successful company. While companies must consider how to retain employees at the best of times, employee retention is an especially pressing topic during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Ontario continues social distancing indefinitely, maintaining an engaged staff will offer a sense of stability to companies amid flux.
How can companies retain top talent to ensure maximum productivity, motivation and success?
Employee retention strategies can be implemented by employers to ensure that employees feel valued and engaged, even with current remote working practices. This can support lower turnover rates, higher productivity and improved organizational performance. Here are a few suggestions to keep employees engaged and motivated in the current COVID-19 environment:
1. Maintain formal and informal recognition programs
Informal and formal recognition programs ensure that employees are appreciated for the work that they do. Recognition programs can inspire creativity, increase engagement, and ensure that the workplace is not being affected by the negativity of disengaged employees.
Remote working doesn’t mean that recognition programs should stop. Some ideas for informal recognition that can be implemented while maintaining remote working practices include:
- Offering sincere thanks for a job well done during one-on-one calls or with a follow-up email.
- Acknowledging employees and project teams during team meetings.
- Hosting online celebrations to note major accomplishments and team successes.
- Posting thank you notes in team chats teams. We use the “praise” function in Teams.
Formal recognition and incentive programs should also be maintained. COVID-19 has resulted in changes to revenue and profitability for most organizations, so measures and targets should be revisited to account for revised go-forward expectations.
2. Provide remote professional development opportunities
Today’s professionals are always looking for new opportunities to learn and enhance their skills. This is especially true if current market conditions are creating capacity and presenting an opportunity to repurpose time for professional development. Provide team members with opportunities to learn and grow. Some ideas include:
- Attending virtual conferences
- Taking virtual online training courses
- Completing the already available corporate online training
- Encouraging team members to watch relevant online material (e.g., TED Talks, MasterClass), then ask them to summarize the key insights from what they watch to share with the organization.
- Scheduling virtual “lunch and learns” where leaders provide training on relevant topics
Professional development will encourage employee engagement, motivation and productivity.
3. Implement extended health, safety and wellness programs
Health, wellness and mental well-being have become a growing concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthy employees are happy and productive employees. Here are a few suggestions on how to support employees while working remotely:
- Provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Most benefits providers have an EAP that can be added to benefits for a relatively low cost.
- Create a “Health and Wellness Spot” where employees can communicate recommendations, tips and encourage each other to stay healthy. At the Burnie Group, we have a virtual communication board, where health and wellness is a popular topic.
- Support health and wellness initiatives. Whether it’s providing funding for virtual health and wellness programs or supporting team members who want to lead inter-company challenges, find ways to make health and wellness top of mind.
4. Establish a regular cadence of communication
During COVID-19, it’s more imperative than ever that leaders consistently communicate with their employees. As people no longer run into each other in the lunchroom, at the photocopier or at the water cooler, it is important to establish a regular cadence of communication. Examples include:
- Establishing individual monthly touchpoints between managers and their direct reports.
- Scheduling weekly “town halls” to share business updates and highlight priorities
- Encouraging team socials to get together regularly to check in and socialize
- Establishing an “open screen” policy (instead of an open door policy) to encourage team members to set up time with their managers if they have concerns
To ensure that communication is managed well, invest in leadership training to ensure that managers are prepared to communicate effectively with their team members. It is important to communicate clearly and transparently with all team members and to provide them with critical information to ensure they are kept in the loop and feel like they are involved.
5. Define clear roles and responsibilities to ensure people have a backup if they’re sick or unavailable
Delegate critical tasks and responsibilities, so each employee has a back up in case they require time off to accommodate illness or other COVID-19 related interruptions. This planning will support business continuity and improve organizational stability because it ensures that essentials tasks are completed. It will also offer reassurances to both sick and healthy employees. Sick employees will know they can take the time they need to get better. Healthy employees will share the work left behind, so no one has to bear the brunt alone.
6. Encourage work-life balance while working from home
It is critical to remember that employees are still entitled to a balance between their professional and personal lives while they’re working from home during the pandemic.
Allow for flexibility with working hours. Employees with families and pets have a lot to juggle along with their professional work. Be considerate of each person’s situation and try to find creative solutions to make work and home-life co-exist. Be sure to share any flexible arrangement that you’ve agreed upon so that others can accommodate this agreed-upon approach.
The key to employee retention is making employees feel appreciated and understood both during the COVID-19 pandemic and ordinary times. Employers can make employees feel valued by offering recognition, providing professional development opportunities and implementing extended health and wellness benefits. Employers can make employees feel understood by communicating clearly, inviting employee feedback, offering increased flexibility and planning so that employees can take sick days when they need to. Treating employees with empathy will lead to increased happiness in the workplace, which will increase employee retention and improve productivity overall.