Are Your Employees “Sheltering in Job?”

Some employees may be waiting out the pandemic before looking for a new job. What is your organization doing to ensure they stay put?

It is hard to gauge employee satisfaction via video call. The calls typically last no more than an hour, and employees are “on” during that time. The computer camera is on and they often are performing for that camera. It is unlikely you would notice anything amiss about many employees during the time and exposure of a video call. With COVID-19 seemingly lifting as a pressing menace, some of your employees also may be lifting.

I saw an article by Cecilia Amador de San José on the site, All Work, last week that raised the question of whether some employees are waiting out the pandemic to look for something new. Employees can be fickle. You need only mention one or two shortcomings of your job to another person and there’s a good chance that other person will quickly ask: “Are you looking for something new?” Those of us who have been in the workforce for more than a few years know every job has shortcomings, and you should exercise tremendous caution before jumping to something new. However, younger employees don’t seem to think this way. A younger Millennial or Generation Z employee may leave a job after just six months—or less. I once worked with a Millennial, just 10 years younger than me (so not even a particularly young Millennial), who left a job six months in. And she put the head of the department from her outgoing job down as a reference! In the “old” days, outgoing employees who had spent six months on a job would be embarrassed to leave before the one-year mark. And if they did leave before that time, they wouldn’t think of using that employer has a reference.

Amador de San José’s article recommends career development opportunities as one way of retaining employees beyond the pandemic. I can say from my own experience that this is key. I had the experience in my career of never being spoken to about development opportunities after 10 years on a job. The position above me had opened up, and I wasn’t even considered, let alone made a leading contender, for the position. It was up to me to express unhappiness at being overlooked, and dropping the hint that I would look elsewhere career-wise, before I was moved into the upper position. It’s smart for an employee to be proactive in asking about development opportunities, and it’s equally smart for a company to be proactive in asking employees about what they envision next in their career. As we come out of the pandemic, it’s a good time to check in with managers to make sure career development plans are up to date with all employees.

Amador de San José also recommends recognizing hard work. With phone and video calls the primary mode of communication over the last year, it can be harder to tell employees they’re doing a good job. When we were all in the office, we walked past each other’s desks and saw each other in the kitchen, the restroom, while waiting for the elevator, in the parking lot, etc. Now when do we see other employees? During that one hour, or less, designated for a video call meeting. So it’s sometimes difficult to remember to ask an employee on the call to stay on a few minutes after the others leave so you can recognize their hard work. Public recognition is powerful, but in a meeting in which everyone is eager to move onto the next meeting or assignment, it can be awkward and irritating to the other participants to sandwich in praise of one of the participants at the end. Letting employees know their hard work under stressful circumstances during the pandemic is appreciated may mean the difference between an employee who returns to your office when it reopens and an employee who moves into another job as pandemic restrictions continue to lessen.

Asking for feedback is another important way to show employees you value them, Amador de San José notes. “What can we do differently to make your job easier and more enjoyable?” is a great question. I once told a former boss what would make my job easier, and he told me it wasn’t his job to make my job easier. True to some extent, but also a dumb response. If your employee feels their job is hard and onerous, how long will they stick with you? If that employee happens to be a high-performer, it’s a problem if they find their job more of a burden than it has to be. Asking managers to meet with employees virtually, and again in-person after the office reopens, to ask that important question may convince a wavering employee that it’s worth staying. The suggestions from the employee may range from hiring an entry-level person to work under them to the manager taking care of simple tasks rather than writing instructions for the employee to do it (i.e., writing instructions to add a comma rather than just adding the comma).

As employees contemplate their work future, many may want to retain the work-life flexibility they enjoyed during the pandemic, Amador de San José writes. This continued flexibility may not be right for every position and employee at your company. However, it’s a good idea to have managers assess which, if any, employees in their department could be eligible for such flexibility. Those employees will weigh the opportunity for continued flexibility while staying with their current employer against new, possibly higher-paying jobs.

Last, Amador de San José lists strengthening company culture as a boon to retention. Just as people are unlikely to want to visit a person whose company they don’t enjoy, so, too, are they unlikely to want to return to in-person work in an office with an environment they don’t enjoy. Managers could increase opportunities to retain employees by finding out, through direct conversation, what employees like and don’t like about the in-person office environment. The company can use that information to create an office that will be a value-add, rather than a chore, to return to.

Is your company talking about the possibility of a wave of employee departures after the pandemic is over? What strategies will you implement to make sure that doesn’t happen?