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Apr 22, 2021
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the uncertain job market and lack of open positions held employees back from embarking on job searches. Now, however, although many Americans are still facing the economic impact of the pandemic, the job market has slowly begun to bounce back. In March, employers added 916,000 jobs — opening up the floodgates to employee turnover. With a new sense of normalcy emerging, people are reevaluating their current employers to determine if it’s time to pursue a new opportunity. Indeed, 52% of employees will be on the job hunt in 2021, up from 35% in 2020. 

This is bad news for organizations as hiring needs pick up and they’ll not only need to expand their staff but replace those who decide to depart. With that in mind, Achievers’ fourth annual Employee Engagement and Retention Report set out to uncover what it will take to retain people through 2021. Here are some highlights:  

An Unhealthy Work-Life Balance

A major factor driving this projected turnover is the lack of work-life balance people have experienced throughout the pandemic. The irony is that many organizations made the assumption that work-life balance has improved since the onset of the pandemic, especially for those who are working remotely as commuting time has been eliminated and many companies have offered increased flexibility. However, 1 in 4 employees named work-life balance as the reason they would job hunt. 

Over half (51%) of employers are worried that their manager doubts their day-to-day productivity while working remotely. This doubt has translated to overworking, with more than 40% of people working longer hours than usual. What’s more, 44% of workers reported starting earlier or working later, and 37% are skipping lunch breaks, causing frustration and burnout.

So how can organizations address this unbalance? With a top-down approach in which leaders model behavior that in turn helps employees feel OK taking a vacation or signing off of work on time. Managers should set the tone for work-life balance by encouraging time off, and taking it themselves, as well as implementing simple habits like turning off their Slack or Teams availability when they sign off at night.

The Importance of Listening and Taking Action

To create a culture based on a healthy work-life balance, leaders must constantly gauge what their employees need and then work closely with them to understand the actions necessary to implement change. Although a new policy enabling flexible work hours may be helpful to some, it could provide more stress for others who need boundaries to their working hours. Every organization and worker will have slightly different needs, highlighting the critical nature of understanding the employee voice. 

But beyond just understanding needs, companies should focus on taking action from this knowledge that creates positive change. While up to 60% of employees say their organization has sought their feedback on key issues from employee experience and culture to DEI, nearly 1 in 5 say their employer is “horrible” at acting on feedback. 

This lack of action can make people feel unheard and undervalued and may discourage staff from providing honest input in the future. Additionally, failing to enact change based on employee feedback can set the stage for lack of trust, lack of engagement, and ultimately higher turnover. 

Driving Meaningful Engagement

The staggering number of employees planning to search for a new role indicates an urgent need to reflect on the state of the workplace. To cultivate a supportive, engaging, and happy work environment, driving meaningful employee engagement is key. While organizations often centered their engagement strategies around “fun perks,” such as free breakfast or company swag, in the pre-pandemic environment, those perks no longer cut it. Engagement now relies more heavily on a company’s core values — that is, actually embodying them via concrete actions rather than mere statements.  

Again, take DEI, for instance. Achievers’ research found that 52% of employees would be more engaged at work if their employer improved DEI. It’s particularly important to millennials, the largest generation in the workforce, 83% of whom are actively engaged in diverse workplaces. When employers build a sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace, there is a 56% increase in job performance — and a 50% drop in turnover risk.

The Road to a Happier Workforce

The pandemic has been a time of reflection as we all took a step back from fast-paced lives to reevaluate what really matters. However, many employers have not caught up to the constantly changing needs of their workforce, and as a result, will lose out on top talent. 

For businesses to retain and attract top talent going forward, they need to focus on the aspects of the workplace that matter the most to employees — work-life balance and company values. 

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