As the pandemic’s shadow wanes and recovery continues, the workplace has not returned to business as usual, and it doesn’t look like the “normal” we knew pre-pandemic will be returning any time soon, if ever. Vaccines, better medical treatments, and continued safety measures are lessening the threat in work environments, but the virus itself is not the only menace in the air for small business leaders. Widespread turnover is on the rise.

More than at any other time in recent history, people are quitting their jobs in a mass exodus phenomenon organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz dubbed The Great Resignation.

The numbers are staggering. In April 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 2.9% of the American workforce quit, which was the highest number ever recorded in a single month. The resignations have continued every month since, showing no signs of slowing. From August through October, nearly 13 million Americans quit their jobs. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than 40 percent of employees are actively searching for a new job. Not only that, but resignations are causing a domino effect, meaning employees are more likely to consider leaving once a team member has left. As more workers quit, those they leave behind tend to become overworked and exhausted, leading to a vicious cycle. 

Ongoing turnover means employers need to ensure their priorities are aligned with what’s going on in the workforce. To take the right steps, it’s important to understand why employees are quitting in record numbers and how to address the problem.

Why are employees quitting?      

Millions of workers have gone from craving job security during the pandemic to craving more job satisfaction, improved work/life balance, better compensation and benefits, and more career advancement possibilities. 

Among the chaos of the past two years, and amidst other contributing factors, several experiences stand out when it comes to why this turnover is happening now. 

On one hand, the increased workload and stress brought about by the pandemic led to burnout. Some employees are leaving to rest, recover, and seek less demanding roles. 

On the other hand, more people were able to enjoy the experience of flexibility and remote work than ever before. As employers began calling them back to the office, they weren’t willing to go; some wanted even more flexibility once they recognized their options were open. 

Others decided to jump ship when they saw the tide was turning in their favor. It’s a job seeker’s market, and they want to take advantage of the job openings to advance their career or pursue new career altogether. 

Finally, faced with their own mortality, illness, the loss of loved ones, and disillusionment brought about by events in the world, many people are leaning into the idea that life is too short not to follow their passions, and they’ve decided to explore new career paths or downgrade their lifestyle to work less.

Now that we have an idea of why employees are quitting, let’s take a look at what small business leaders should prioritize in 2022 to meet the challenges at hand.

1. Focus on Reducing Turnover

Hopefully, the quit numbers will slow in the coming months; but even so, The Great Resignation has both taught us a lot and reinforced what we already knew about turnover and retention

You’ll need to put as much effort into trying to save the employees you want to keep, and improving your relationship with them, as you would your top client, or someone you love.

Your employees are your greatest resource, and as recent staffing shortages have made abundantly clear, your business can’t run effectively without them. 

Reducing turnover starts with developing a strong employer brand:

“An employer brand is an important part of the employee value proposition and is essentially what the organization communicates as its identity to both potential and current employees. It encompasses an organization’s mission, values, culture and personality.” – SHRM

Gallup Research tells us employees with a strong connection to their organization’s culture show higher levels of engagement. Engaged employees are more likely to refer friends to their organization. And 71% of workers say that they use referrals from current employees of an organization to learn about job opportunities.

Keep the lines of communication open, both ways. Transparency enables employees to feel like they are valued by the company while being kept in the dark causes trust issues. Seek their input and feedback, so they feel connected to the company’s mission and know they are not just a number. 

One of the biggest reasons employees quit is that they can’t envision a future with the company. Your best employees want more than just a steady paycheck; they’re looking for opportunities to learn, grow, and advance. Without this, they may not see the benefit of sticking around and choose to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Lack of employee recognition also leads to turnover, so be sure you put effort into letting employees know you appreciate their contribution and the hard work they are putting into the company.

2. Promote Employee Wellness

HRAnswers team member, Diana Hardy recommends that leaders should also prioritize employee wellness as we head into the new year. 

To say that these past couple of years have been challenging would be an understatement. On top of the stressors of everyday life, we had to collectively learn how to navigate this new world that came from the challenges of Covid-19. Still, the employees who stuck with you kept showing up and kept everything moving forward. 

Ask yourself what your organization can do to contribute to the good health and overall well-being of your employees. 

As we move into a new year (still maneuvering through new policies, expectations, and processes), at HRAnswers, we believe that it would serve leaders well to pause and consider what they can do to ensure that teams have access to helpful resources and information regarding mental, physical, financial and occupational health. 

Perhaps this means incorporating a wellness newsletter or creating a list of local resources that would meet a variety of wellness needs that employees may have. Whatever that looks like for an organization, the effort has the potential to go a long way.  

Not only that, but it’s important to recognize the company’s role in allowing space for wellness. It can come across as disingenuous to provide wellness resources while overloading your employees, expecting them to work unreasonable hours, and not allowing for time to take care of their health.

From putting family first to valuing self-care to carving out time for hobbies, travel, and other interests, one of the biggest reasons for turnover this year has been that more and more people are no longer willing to let work consume them. Supporting work/life balance is key.

3. Cultivate a Shared Vision

HRAnswer’s Hillary Gaylord urges leaders to remember that in times of uncertainty, where employees must continuously adapt to changing ways of doing things and getting work done, when employees are likely to be more attuned to personal stressors and waxing and waning concerns over the pandemic, small business leaders should look for ways to impart a sense of stability, support, unity, clarity, and purpose throughout their company. 

One of the best ways to create this unified and purpose-driven culture is to define and communicate your vision and goals for 2022. When employees understand what is most important to the business, what success on an organizational, departmental, and individual contributor level looks like, the expectations for their personal performance become clearer. 

Share the Company Vision

Start by sharing your vision and goals with your entire organization. 

Consider including answers to the following questions to keep your team informed:

  • What does a successful 2022 look like?
  • What are milestones that will inform you along the way that you are on your way to achieving this success? 
  • Why is it important to achieve this goal? How does it align with our mission, vision, and values? How are employees motivated or incentivized throughout the year to achieve these?
  • How will success be measured? How does it impact the business? How will or can it impact employees?

Share Each Employee’s Role in Furthering the Vision

Break the company’s overarching goal down on a granular level and share with each employee how their role contributes to the overall goal. 

If the employee directly reports to you, have those one-on-one conversations. If there are lines of management, share the expectation with managers/supervisors that they have meaningful one-on-one conversations with their employees. 

Employees often think, “How do I make a difference? I’m just one person so how does the conversation I have with one client matter?” or “How can being proactive and recommending a solution to a problem or new way of doing something affect the bottom line?” 

  • Be prepared to address these feelings by developing an answer to “What is it that I do every day, with every interaction or every task I complete, that influences or impacts this goal/outcome?” for each of your positions.
  • Ask questions such as: How many times can you think of a product you bought or a service you received where the customer service (scheduling, billing, warranty, follow-up, tone of communication, responsiveness) interactions you had were a factor in your overall satisfaction with your purchase? 

Everyone plays a role in whether or not a client, customer, patient, etc. returns or continues to do business with you.

Keep Everyone in the Loop

Keep your leadership team and staff apprised of progress towards meeting your goals throughout the year.

Provide regular reminders about milestone achievements, and continuously reiterate the importance of meeting your 2022 goals. 

As mentioned above, circumstances are constantly changing, so re-evaluate and adjust goals as necessary. If it becomes apparent that the goals from the beginning of the year must be modified, be prepared to update and share with employees. 

Finally, celebrate achievements and recognize success along the way!

Make Human Resources a Priority

Overall, the chaos, stress, and costliness of ongoing turnover is not a storm any employer wants to weather, especially not coming out of the period we’ve just pulled through. The reality is, none of us can afford to allow human resources to slip from our list of top business priorities in 2022 and beyond.

Do you need help creating or managing an employee retention or recruiting program for your small business? Contact us for a free consultation today.