4 Avoidable Mistakes That Will Cause High Turnover in a Post-COVID World

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Jun 1, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

According to a study by Bamboo HR, 68% of employees in the US have left a job within the first three months and another 31% jumped ship within six months. Now consider this:  More than 60% of employee turnover is voluntary, meaning it could easily have been avoided. Together, these are startling statistics that will inevitably exacerbate the common problem of high turnover in organizations. This is especially true in a post-COVID world, where businesses will be set to bring their workforces out of furloughs and open up hiring again.

The takeaway for businesses is clear: Avoiding turnover comes down to making strategic choices about leadership, communication, manager-to-employee relations, and employee engagement. But the choices organizations and their leaders make during this critical time could have long-lasting effects and end up driving top performers and typically engaged employees away.

De-prioritizing employee development

Getting a paycheck just isn’t enough for employees these days. Rather, employees today care about and invest a great deal of energy, money, and time into their career development. They want to grow, learn new skills, become more effective in their roles and rise up the ladder into more senior roles. These aspirations don’t disappear just because the world is in the midst of a crisis, and employees now have to adjust to working from home indefinitely. In fact, some would argue that this becomes a higher priority during times of crisis, as employees tend to look inwards and reassess their priorities in life.

A key component of employee development is feedback. It makes a big difference in how employees perform, progress, and advance in their careers. For remote workers, it’s especially important in understanding role expectations and moving forward with role-specific goals and professional development plans. But as a recent Doodle study reveals, this is not so easy to accomplish. In fact, 15 percent of the surveyed HR professionals said their biggest challenge had to do with providing regular feedback on performance and career development.

One of the best ways to provide and request feedback is through one-to-one meetings. But as most employees are now working from home indefinitely, it’s critical that managers keep up their regular one-to-one check-ins with direct reports – but just move them to video meetings. Virtual one-to-one meetings will prove to be an essential and safe space for managers, HR teams and leaders to provide consistent updates on the state of the business as well as allow employees to voice their fears and concerns openly and candidly. This will undoubtedly make employees feel more trusting and appreciative of the efforts being made by their employers, which will make them less inclined to look for work elsewhere.

Decision-making based on gut feelings and personal experience

In times of crisis, everything is in flux. Business models are impacted. Growth slows. Spending must be tightened to ensure long-term business continuity. Hiring that was once deemed critical to business growth is now seen as a nice-to-have and put on hold. Layoffs may be a necessity to minimize business losses (in the short term). These are all tough decisions, but ones that must be made and weigh heavily the shoulders of leadership.

Unpredictable, turbulent times can often result in leadership making decisions based on gut feelings or their personal experiences. That’s a recipe for trouble. Leaders should instead make decisions based on concrete data, facts, and insights. By doing so, organizations will be better equipped to recover quickly and with fewer hiccups once the crisis has subsided. Being more methodical and strategic in their decision-making will also be seen by employees in a positive light and provide a sense of reassurance in the stability of the company. That will translate to a more appreciative and fulfilled workforce – and one that feels a stronger sense of loyalty to the company. 

Tone-deaf communication about layoffs

When times get tough, budgets are always the first to go, which leads to layoffs and/or furloughs. All types of organizations are vulnerable to this, regardless of their size, market share, and revenue. While layoffs have already and will continue to happen amidst COVID-19, it’s all too common for leadership to take a tone-deaf approach to their communication about layoffs. For example, if leadership sends a company-wide memo or announces layoffs in an all-hands meeting, it’s in poor taste to reference poor performance or play the blame game. Additionally, the communications should be well-thought-out and include all important elements, such as severance pay, rehiring plans, job search support, to name a few.

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a LinkedIn post from an Airbnb employee who has recently been laid off as a result of COVID-19. But what stood out to me in that post is the tone and words of appreciation and respect the employee had for how Airbnb’s CEO communicated the news to staff as well as the comprehensive plans set forth in the communications (and generous severance pay being offered to employees across all regions). Because this type of communication was handled with a great deal of thought, care, and empathy, those laid-off employees will surely band together and maintain strong bonds with employees who still remain at Airbnb. So once things resume back to normal (or some semblance of it) and hiring picks back up, you can bet those laid-off employees will be open and eager to rejoin the company.

Giving the silent treatment

Crises are a breeding ground for confusion, fear, stress, and panic. And for many people, that’s the perfect reason to go underground and be silent. But if managers revert inwards and stay quiet – or close themselves off from their teams and colleagues – it can have negative repercussions for the mental health of employees, which can also lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and resentment. And that all boils up to less loyalty, which could push them towards looking for new jobs (when they might not have considered it before).

This is where the leadership and HR teams must take it upon themselves to educate managers on how to help their teams cope with stress, anxiety, and pressures. Managers will need to be more gracious with their time and set aside time for one-to-one meetings with their direct reports (sometimes multiple times in a single week). It’s inevitable that employees will have numerous questions swirling around their brains about what the crisis means for their individual job stability, how they’re performing, and areas they may need to improve. If managers go silent or even continue with business as usual, employees will feel more stressed, anxious, and resentful towards their managers and the company as a whole. In those cases, you can bet these employees won’t think twice about updating their resumes and applying for new jobs.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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