Prepare for the great worker reshuffle: Are your employees planning to jump ship?

Many are predicting a significant number of workers changing jobs. Here’s how to be prepared and slow or stop the exodus.

Woman joyously throws papers in the air as she quits her job

Image: Bluehousestudio/Shutterstock

From the pages of the Wall Street Journal to whispered anecdotes, to conversations in the Fishbowl “professional community” app, it seems workers have quickly traded their desire for job security with a frenzied demand for job change. In some ways, this is not unexpected. Most companies froze hiring or reduced staff during the pandemic, and the remaining workers were happy to “weather the storm” rather than launch a job search. The current uptick in people changing jobs, to the highest level since 2000 according to the Labor Department, is partially due to planned job changes that were suspended due to the pandemic.

SEE: Juggling remote work with kids’ education is a mammoth task. Here’s how employers can help (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

A rapid positive turn in the economy also has supercharged demand for workers, further incentivizing potential job switchers with attractive compensation packages. Finally, for many, the pandemic redefined where, when and how we worked, and it appears there’s more optionality to these questions that might attract a worker to another company.

Regardless of the drivers behind these shifts, it’s likely a portion of your staff are considering jumping ship. Being prepared and potentially preempting some of these shifts can help prevent your remaining team members from more months of burnout dealing with a shorthanded team while business ramps up.

Provide real acknowledgment

Perhaps the most significant detriment to employee morale and retention is employees who feel undervalued. Many workers were legitimately happy to have a job during the pandemic and willing to turn their homes into a 24/7 workplace to help pull their employers through the darkest days of the pandemic. Now, they’re listening to their corporate leaders talk of booming sales, exploding revenues and record results, while looking at a paycheck that hasn’t increased in a couple years.

SEE: Virtual events don’t have to be tiresome: Okta came up with a new way (TechRepublic)

While it might seem like a challenging HR issue to determine how to adjust an individual’s pay, consider for a moment the replacement cost of that employee should he or she leave. A simple tally of the salary required to attract a similarly talented individual, the hiring costs from signing bonuses to headhunter fees, and the cost of their training and ramp-up time will provide a fairly accurate replacement cost for that employee should they leave. Compared with the cost of a pay increase, bonus or retention payment, there may be a very compelling business case that a significant bump in pay may be cheaper than replacing the employee.

“Many workers were legitimately happy … to help pull their employers through the darkest days of the pandemic. Now, they’re listening to their corporate leaders talk of booming sales, exploding revenues and record results, while looking at a paycheck that hasn’t increased in a couple years.”
Patrick Gray

An out-of-cycle pay adjustment may be met with some administrative resistance as an additional and unplanned burden; however replacing a key employee is equally, if not more burdensome in most cases.

Should you go this route, let the employee know that this extra effort was specifically to recognize their value and contribution during the pandemic. A conversation with a leader or public acknowledgment that the company is attempting to share the post-pandemic good fortune will go further than a generic company-wide email or a few platitudes without any corresponding financial reward.

Dust off your “new talent story”

As the job market grows more competitive, it’s worth creating a story about why your company is a compelling and interesting place to work. If you as a leader don’t feel particularly excited about the opportunities that each day brings, how are your current staff and potential future employees feeling? For many of us, making it through the pandemic required grim determination. As brighter days arrive, it’s time to restructure how we talk about and structure our workday. If your teams feel like they’re toiling away in a salt mine, that attitude will likely be sensed by any potential candidates, and create a self-fulfilling work culture that’s unlikely to attract or retain talent in a seller’s market.

SEE: Let go of perfection: Don’t waste time on projects that won’t yield much result (TechRepublic)

Explore unconventional options

The months of the pandemic and post-pandemic recovery have been anything but conventional. This may call for some unconventional approaches to attracting and retaining talent. Rather than the traditional path of forcing job change discussions underground, offer to assist any employees who are looking to make a move through recommendations, managed transitions and offers of different positions within your company. In the worst case, you might create an advocate for your company in someone that was going to leave anyway, and you might even allow an employee to find their calling in a different department or division of your organization.

SEE: Tech jobs for HR pros, writers, analysts and artists (TechRepublic)

These unconventional approaches can be particularly beneficial in technology organizations. Everyone was forced to gain a higher level of technical proficiency due to remote working, and employees outside your IT organization may have found a passion for tech that could benefit your group.

Ignore the talent shuffle at your own peril

Even if all your people profess their love for your organization and employee surveys come back glowing, post-pandemic wanderlust will likely impact your team members. Planning to retain and reward key players, and perhaps deploying some unconventional strategies, will keep your team performing well and possibly retain and even attract new high-performers.

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