How to deal with employee attrition amid the new normal

Temporary pay hikes and perks might be insufficient to check attrition as workers look to find a better work-life balance. In the new normal, human resources teams need to take a strategic approach to keep employee morale high.

I was recently infected with COVID-19. This disease has been nothing like a flu (I always assumed it would be). A peculiar characteristic of this disease (from what I have been reading online and experienced) is that it aggravates any underlying existing health condition one may have and brings them to the surface. I guess the only silver lining for me is that now I am aware of my health condition that need attention.

The pandemic has done something similar for organisations. The last 18 months of the pandemic has brought to the surface a lot of the existing underlying currents for them.

All these years, organisations have put sales and marketing first, ignoring people management and organisation culture. With the pandemic these aspects became key to how they reacted and survived the pandemic.

Fast-forward to 2021, and many organisations are struggling with employee attrition. A recent report by McKinsey states that more than 15 million workers have moved jobs in the US this year alone.

Employees have been in silo-ed capsules and a lot has changed for them. The pandemic has made them more aware, more emotionally connected to their environment, more purpose-driven, and more anxious.

Chances are that quick fix attempts by organisations like pay hike, perks, etc. will most likely fall flat no ROI. The office of the CHRO has been impacted directly with these knee-jerk reactions.

If you are looking at an effective way to understand your employees and map it to your initiatives, try the Know-Feel-Do framework.

Know-Feel-Do is a simple framework that can help you get a better sense of a user and their environment. This framework is derived from the empathy stage in Design Thinking. It is a simple framework that allows for maximum impact.

Here are examples of how you can apply this framework to decode some of the important factors for employee attrition.

1. Give them a purpose

Know: How much of your renewed goals and objectives are your employees aware of? The new employees who joined in the last 18 months, and who have not met anyone physically – how are they connecting with the larger dream of the organisation?

Everybody is looking for a purpose and if they do not find it in their current workplace, they will go out looking for it. You need to know that it is no more about completing deliverables, as it is about making a positive impact.

Feel: Earlier any communication around organisation goals were restricted to the Leadership. However, today you need to make it more inclusive, else the lack of purpose will make the employees feel disconnected.

They are looking at forming bonds and nurturing long-lasting relationships, else they will switch jobs. If you think that by offering quick fixes like perks and hike in salary will help retain them, you are wrong! Your employees will see right through these knee-jerk reactions and the damage will be irreversible.

Do: Create ‘Shared Vision Boards’ - Find a way to connect with your employees beyond their role. Open up to them and share your organisation’s goals and vision. Tell them how they fit in and why you need them. Bring them into a workshop and have a conversation with them.

Building shared Vision Boards is a good tool to get the conversation started. Vision Boards allow for discussion and deliberation, and when done well it manifests into a shared identity.

2. Human aspect of work

Know: Your employees may have been indoors, but the world opened to them virtually. They had easy access to some amazing content on interpersonal skills. They found opportunities to connect with their community and give back to the society.

Research states empathy has been one of the largest drivers of all decisions taken by individuals in the last 18 months. Do you know how much of this empathy has been towards the organisation?

Feel: Check the last 5 email communications that they may have received from the office of the CHRO – chances are that all of them were transactional in nature. In the midst of all the human interactions in their world, have work/HR emails been just informational - about some change in WFH policy or a security protocol they need to complete?

Each time they login to a virtual meeting, has it just been to review their deliverables? How are these interactions making them feel? Is it creating a void because that could get tough to fill.

Do: Share stories instead – An organisation is nothing but powerfully curated stories coming together. Have you curated yours? Find ways to share real stories with your employees – on that small win, that mistake that was handled, the deal that was almost lost, and the dreams that can be theirs.

Show the human side of your organisation. Show them that you are willing to listen, to act and to change. Empathy drives the world, and it will drive your organisation. This shift in conversation is what will make the organisation more human.

3. Create autonomy at work

Know: Do you understand the meaning of autonomy at work? In this context it means giving employees charge of their experiences and actions. Organisations that encourage autonomy foster more resilient employees.

Creating autonomy means giving them flexibility at work, making it easy for them to be accountable, and creating a sense of ownership. Rate your organisation on autonomy and identify the gap.

Feel: Employees want to be listened (everyone does). They want acknowledgement of the adjustments they have had to make to fit in to this new normal. They want a sense of fulfilment when they get their tasks completed. It is important for organisations to find ways to address this and give their employees ways to communicate their accomplishments, concerns and gratitude.

Do: Leverage Online Tools – The last 18 months have seen powerful HR tools and platforms emerge for organizations. Collaboration tools, project management tools, performance tools and engagement tools will be crucial investments for organisations.

Organisations that have found ways to integrate and leverage these tools in their employees’ work life have seen higher engagement, better communication, and enhanced employee experience. How much of this have you leveraged?

4. The back-to-office conundrum

Know: Humans are creatures of habit. It took them many quarters to just fall into the WFH mode, and now we want them back at office. This is not an easy transition. Getting into WFH was easier because everyone was doing it. Getting them back to office will take a lot more effort.

There are organisations that have moved to a permanent remote set up and you will continue to find articles that highlight how productivity has been higher in a remote setup. How do you counter these messages? It is time to reimagine your back-to-office communication.

Feel: When was the last time you heard out your employees? It’s important for you to run surveys and make a concerted effort to get a sense of what your employees feel about returning to office. Back to office cannot be mandated, which makes it tougher for organisations, especially after all the mails you have sent in the past about the goodness of WFH! However, the more you can decode their emotional state of mind, the better you can plan.

Do: Create employee personas – Employee demographic is old school. It’s time to now create employee personas. While a 25-year-old, sharing a room with someone, and missing out on socialising could totally dig returning to office…a 35-year-old with two toddlers and a working partner at home may prefer WFH.

Your communication and policies need to accommodate both these personas, not their roles. The easiest way to build employee personas is by designing the right survey tools. The questions and the format should encourage your employees to share about their environment, their motivators and their distractors, their pains and their fears.

The following few months are going to be challenging and the stakes for a CHRO office are high. The world has changed, and your organisation culture has to adapt to this change.

Attrition is at a rise, and it is poised to continue to increase at an alarming rate. You may not be ready for a complete reset, but you need to hit the “pause” button right now.

Pause and observe – spend time to listen to the murmurs and the chatters in your organisation. There is a whole lot of wealth hidden in these little conversations, you just need to magnify them.

Ask yourself if your existing culture applies in this new world? Is it post-pandemic proof? Your challenges are real, but so are the fears and concerns of your employees. The one way to discover and address them is by using the Know-Feel-Do framework.

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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