Since the pandemic began in 2020, organizations have struggled to adjust to the "new normal." With remote work challenges, rampant employee burnout, and thwarted return-to-work plans, keeping employees engaged became harder than ever.
Then, in 2021, a wave of employee turnover shook the workplace yet again. In what's being called "The Great Resignation," over 20 million people quit their jobs in the second half of the year.
Now, as we enter a new year, it's quickly becoming apparent that resuming "business is usual" is no longer an option. In order to attract and retain top talent, organizations need to rethink their approach to employee experience.
The Great Disconnect
The spike in employee turnover during "The Great Resignation" took many by surprise. But even before the pandemic, warning signs were everywhere. Prior to COVID-19, many Americans were experiencing more job burnout and disengagement than ever. A 2018 Gallup study found that about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job. And in 2017, Gallup found that 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. They described this as "a sign of global mismanagement."
During the pandemic, that mismanagement reached a breaking point. For many employees, the exhaustion and burnout had become unbearable.
In addition, the pandemic caused many people to rethink their careers, goals, and ideal work-life balance. According to a Joblist survey, the top reasons employees are quitting their jobs are unhappiness with how their employer treated them during the pandemic (19%), low pay or lack of benefits (17%), and a lack of work-life balance (13%).
The Great Resignation had exposed a growing disconnect between organizations and their people. What many employers had deemed an "acceptable" employee experience was revealed to be psychologically harmful and toxic for their employees.
The good news is that many employers are starting to acknowledge this disconnect, and taking steps to address it. Deloitte’s European Human Capital Trends Report found that 54% of leaders are re-imagining work processes moving forward, compared to only 28% prior to COVID-19.
For years, organizations have shrugged off the importance of company culture. Now, facing the threat of losing current employees, organizations are starting to view company culture and employee experience as a priority for the first time.
Rethinking employee engagement
The pandemic has taken an enormous toll on workers, hurting employee well-being and wreaking havoc on work-life balance. In response, many organizations adopted flexible work policies and tasked their HR teams with adopting new wellness initiatives to keep team members engaged.
But for many organizations, the task of juggling employee engagement while prioritizing employee health and safety quickly became too much. HR departments grew overwhelmed and overworked, and still team members were burned out.
Without a clear roadmap for building employee experience, organizations will lose their best people and fail to meet their goals. Human resource teams must partner with organization leaders to develop an employee retention strategy where team members have opportunities to grow, develop, and be appreciated.
But in truth, the burden of employee engagement shouldn't fall entirely on the shoulders of Human Resources. Adopting an employee retention strategy must be an organization-wide effort that HR leaders and C-level executives partner to develop and implement from the top down.
Becoming a people-first organization
Top workplaces put as much effort into creating extraordinary experiences for their employees as they do for their customers. But until recently, many companies' employee experience strategy started and ended with a Powerpoint slide.
The key to a successful employee experience strategy is adopting a people-first mindset that will permeate every aspect of your culture. When building your employee experience, it can be helpful to start with a clear mission statement. Setting a vision will clarify your intentions and help you make decisions.
At Cooleaf, our mission is helping organizations support and love their people. So with every existing and new initiative, we like to ask the question: Will this make my employees feel truly valued and loved? If the answer is yes, then the initiative is worthy and valuable to consider for our organization. If the answer is no, then we put the initiative on hold.
It may sound simple, but focusing your engagement strategy around a specific vision can help you see what's really important within your organization. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the many choices facing HR teams and organization leaders – evaluating perks and employee benefits, balancing job flexibility and employee mental health, and more. But a guiding mission statement can help you see things more clearly.
At first, rethinking employee engagement can seem like a lot of work. But an effective employee experience can impact every aspect of your organization. A positive workplace culture improves turnover rates, employee satisfaction, and employee productivity. And these are things that can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
So what does a people-first organization look like in practice? Here's just a few examples:
- A top-down approach to employee experience that encourages managers to recognize and celebrate team members and make them feel appreciated for the work they do.
- An onboarding process that helps new hires feel welcomed from their very first day at their new job.
- A work environment that is inclusive, supportive, and motivating for all employees, especially diverse groups and remote employees working outside the office.
- A culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing, including mental health and wellness.
- Professional development is not only encouraged, but supported throughout the organization.
In each of the examples, employees are treated like people first, and workers second. In today's competitive climate, it's actions like these that will help organizations transform "The Great Resignation" into "The Great Retention."
The Great Retention Awards
In 2022, Cooleaf will launch The Great Retention, a project designed to help leaders rethink employee experience. In addition to resources and guides, we'll also highlight organizations with innovative approaches to workplace culture in The Great Retention Awards, a list of companies taking extraordinary strides to retain and engage employees.