Publisher’s note: Rosabeth Moss Kanter He is the Arbuckle Professor at Harvard Business School. The former Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Business Review and founder/director of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, she advises businesses around the world and is the author of 20 books, most recently, “Think Outside the Building.” The opinions expressed in this comment belong solely to the author of it.
(CNN) — To attract workers in today’s tight job market, companies are promoting better workplace services. amazon is posting ads about salary and company benefits. levi strauss offers to cover the travel expenses of workers who want to abort. Airbnb allows its employees to permanently work remotely. This is a worker’s paradise.
That said, not all companies are offering better pay or benefits. And many managers are so obsessed with hiring that they neglect the people who are still with them. That may cause your current employees to start seeing that the grass is greener elsewhere.
That is one of the reasons why the dropout rates March reached an all-time high of 4.5 million.
In recent focus groups I led, successful managers and professionals from various industries explained to me why it is so difficult for companies to retain workers. Even those who are satisfied with their careers to date said they would leave for higher pay and better work-from-home options. But they also made it clear that the willingness to stay with the current employer is also a question of whether their line managers can deliver on five other factors beyond salary that keep people happy, productive and on the team.
The pandemic forced many people to work remotely, whether they liked it or not. Many found that they liked it very much.
Now, an increasing number of people demand the ability to choose when, where and how to work. But sometimes remote work can be offered so rigidly that it feels constrained. For example, one employee I spoke to told me that his company gave them two work-from-home days and told them they had to stick to them no matter what. They also couldn’t come to the office for half a day. This made the employee feel that remote work was just another set of rules that disempowered them.
Instead, a major airline reduced turnover when it was the first to offer a website to flight attendants that allowed them to exchange schedules. Workers clearly felt empowered by having more control over their own work lives. Companies must give people options that fit their unique work and life needs.
People yearn for things to be predictable. Surprises make it difficult for employees to plan their lives and have peace of mind. When constant change is forced upon them, with no chance to anticipate it or participate in decisions about it, people become anxious and passive, dreaming of escape.
Senior executives sometimes wait for a full plan to be developed before announcing workplace changes to employees, either because they don’t want to be criticized or because they aren’t sure they’ll end up doing everything they announce. But open and consistent communication helps people feel valued and plan for change instead of being surprised by it.
Even pleasant surprises are still surprises. For example, workers who receive unexpected one-time bonuses sometimes feel that they don’t know what to count on when calculating their future salary; they would rather have a predictable total package.
Dead-end jobs quickly lose their appeal. And that can make a new job seem like the only way to start over and move on to the next step.
People thrive when they are recognized for their value by gaining more responsibility, recognition, and relevance, such as a higher title. Giving them the opportunity to increase their skills increases their value and self-esteem. Managers must support people’s desire to take the next step in their career by helping them find training and promotion opportunities without inadvertently pushing them out the door.
Workplace friendships alone aren’t enough to retain workers, but their absence encourages quicker exits. People need to feel like they fit in. Creating resource groups for similarly situated employees (for example, working parents or black women in tech) shows that the company cares and can provide a safe space to share experiences and advice. The value of solidarity can be reflected in retention.
But companies must be careful that disgruntled people find like-minded colleagues.
That can lead to letters of protest, unionization drives, or amplified grievances. It is important that they listen to complaints early on and address them head-on.
Jobs that convey a sense of purpose and meaning are more likely to exert emotional control over people. Regardless of whether the company generally thinks it stands for social responsibility, people want to see that chance to make a difference in their immediate work experience. They need to feel that there is a connection between their company’s claim that it is reducing emissions and a real reduction in plastic waste that they see every day. Giving employees the opportunity to choose a cause and join a company volunteer program also helps increase loyalty.
Conventional wisdom holds that the best way to improve employment circumstances is to get an offer from a new company. It should not be like that. Managers who want to retain people should act as if they’ve just been hired. They should treat them as new faces and welcome them back to the company, building their loyalty by leveraging their experience. Of course, managers need the same treatment from levels above them, because they themselves might feel neglected and ready to run for the next opportunity.
The best talent bank could be the one that companies already have. They must treat their people as a precious resource and give them what they want from the job. If they are rewarded, the company will be rewarded.