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How to Retain Top Talent Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic

by MindSpring Partners on August 10, 2020 in Find Talent


At the beginning of the year, no one could have predicted how different our world would look eight months later. Yet, here we are – COVID cases continue to spread, cities across the U.S. are hitting the pause on reopening, and unemployment remains above 10%. In Chicago, an emergency travel order now requires a 14-day quarantine for anyone visiting from areas with high rates of infection, including neighboring states.



During the early stages of the pandemic, companies were focused on their response to this unprecedented situation, primarily looking to keep their workforce engaged and productive. Amidst layoffs and furloughs, voluntary turnover rates plummeted, but now, as more organizations look to recover and thrive in the post-COVID future, retaining top talent has become more important than ever.



What does your company need to do to engage and retain top talent during and after the pandemic? We’re examining three key areas that are crucial to employee retention and the long-term success of your business.


The Art of Listening

For many professionals, the pandemic provided an opportunity to step back and ask what they really wanted out of life and their career. A job change may have been risky at the height of the crisis, but as things open back up, it’s likely that turnover rates will increase too.


Employee turnover is costly for businesses and leads to a loss of time and money. A major factor often cited by employees who leave is lack of engagement and purpose in their role. A simple approach to this problem is asking for feedback from your employees to find out how they’re doing at work, how they view your company, and what they need to succeed. According to Qualtrics’ 2020 Global Employee Experience Trends report, regular listening has a large impact on employee retention and engagement scores.


Collecting feedback can be accomplished in different ways depending on the size of your team and what specific information you’re hoping to gather. For example, some organizations prefer one-on-one meetings with team members. This form of engagement can help managers check-in on current projects, learn about an employee’s skills, discover what they find challenging, and set goals to help them grow and develop. Other companies like to conduct “stay interviews.” Similar to exit interviews, stay interviews allow a manager to learn why an employee has stayed in their role and what motivates them. This is another great way to gain insightful feedback and head off issues that might cause an employee to leave. Contrasting these forms of individual feedback are organization-wide employee engagement surveys. This type of large-scale information gathering can be useful for collecting ideas from groups and can improve not only the day-to-day lives of employees but the entire business.


Ultimately, however you choose to engage employees and collect feedback, the most important detail is listening to what employees have to say and taking action to address the information. When people can provide feedback, they feel valued and appreciated. But when real action doesn’t follow, the benefits are negated, and employees are likely to end up frustrated or worse. Regularly providing opportunities for employees to share opinions and offer advice helps create an inclusive culture where workers feel like part of something greater than themselves. However, it’s listening and the actions that follow that make people likely to stick around as a result.


Benefits that Matter

When unemployment rates were near record lows in late 2019 (which feels like a decade ago, right?), many companies highlighted their benefits and office perks as a way to stand out from the competition and land top talent. Now, with many offices closed and employees adjusting to the new WFH normal, office perks like happy hours, healthy food options, and on-site gyms are useless. As the benefits that helped you attract talented employees lose their appeal, it’s important to revisit your company’s offerings. Are you providing benefits that satisfy employee needs? How can you adapt the perks you offer to meet top talent where they are in this moment?


Some benefits were always important to employees but have become even more crucial due to the pandemic. Healthcare coverage, PTO, and flexibility consistently rank among the benefits that matter most to employees, so these are a great place to start. How are your current benefits holding up? Maybe it’s time to revisit those time-off policies or increase the flexibility of work hours to improve the experience of employees caring for family members at home.


In addition to more traditional benefits, are there perks you can provide employees to create a better work experience during the pandemic? For example, instead of team lunches or office happy hours, maybe employees get to order lunch on the company card a few times each month. Not sure what perks your employees want or would value during the pandemic? Make these questions part of your employee surveys and collect feedback to identify the benefits that are most popular.


Last, don’t overlook employee compensation. While benefits and perks are important, they aren’t a substitute for fair and competitive pay rates. If you want to retain top talent, you’ll need to make sure compensation, benefits, and work perks all align with your company culture and the new reality we live in.


Opportunities for Growth

Providing opportunities for employees to grow and develop their skills isn’t a new concept when it comes to employee retention. However, growth opportunities and professional development are likely to look different in a post-COVID world. Previously, employee growth was encouraged through on-site trainings and workshops, then applied on-the-job at important moments. These steps allowed an employee to learn new skills and put them into practice in the workplace in ways that built confidence and pushed comfort zones.


As a result of the pandemic, trainings and skills development opportunities could be limited along with opportunities for hands-on application. So how will your company adapt? Start by talking to top talent about their goals and the skills they want to develop. Are there online courses you can offer employees instead of in-person trainings? In addition, consider including soft skills development opportunities to help employees improve in areas that might otherwise get overlooked. Growth and development will continue to be top contributors to overall employee engagement and job satisfaction, so having a plan for these opportunities will be crucial throughout the pandemic and beyond.


The world may look a lot different these days but retaining your top talent doesn’t have to be complicated. By addressing these key areas, you can improve employee retention and prepare your company for success post-pandemic.


Want to know what Chicago pros actually care about when it comes to work? Check out MindSpring’s 2020 Un-Salary Guide!



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