Retaining Your Employees During the Great Resignation

What’s behind the recent wave of job departures? Sara Garlick Lundberg of DHR Global says that in many cases the blame lies in organizations’ failure to have the conversations needed to retain their talent or thoughtfully adapting to new circumstances, in addition to burnout. She went to her colleagues at DHR’s Leadership Consulting to solicit their insights.

March 2, 2022 – It’s not unusual for Sara Garlick Lundberg, a partner in the non-profit practice of DHR Global, to be approached by non-profit leadership contemplating change. But the rate at which this is happening has skyrocketed, thanks to the Great Resignation, or the Great Re-evaluation as others call it.

For some, continued uncertainty and talk of a hot job market has led to curiosity about trying a new role. But for more, the root cause of executives leaving is simpler: Organizations aren’t having the hard conversations needed to keep their talent or thoughtfully adapting to new circumstances, and people are burned out, according to Ms. Lundberg. “Common themes in my conversations include uncertainty in the face of transition, stress from expanded roles, deflated compensation and lack of understanding of the complexities of this moment,” she said. “The costs associated with replacing talent are high: Lost time and work means less time spent delivering on your mission, and recruiting requires hours of work, fees to firms and energy spent onboarding.”

How do you get ahead of the trend and prevent your high performers from becoming part of the Great Resignation? Ms. Lundberg spoke with her colleagues at DHR’s Leadership Consulting to solicit their thoughts.

“One of the things that underlies our current challenges is culture. Look at your culture and whether you’re practicing your core values,” said Maryanne Wanca-ThibaultDHR Leadership consultant. “Start at the very top.”

When culture is articulated but not lived within an organization, trust erodes, and culture can turn negative, Ms. Lundberg said. “Are staff members engaged and asking hard questions? A culture where people are not is one where things might be askew. Organizations led by longtime leaders, especially founders, can be particularly susceptible.” In a recent article on, executive coach Dan Mack shared: “I’ve found that successful founders often lose their curiosity, passion and edge….Remaining curious, humble — for previously successful entrepreneurs — and open to other ideas is an internal battle.” This lack of curiosity can lead others to prioritize falling in line, letting survival reign over values.

With more than 20 years of leadership experience, Sara Garlick Lundberg specializes in non-profit search consulting, organizational assessment and executive transitions. She works across the health, education, human service, conservation, arts and youth development spaces to secure executive leadership, as well as with CEOs to identify senior talent in the areas of finance, fundraising, operations and research. Her clients have included Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Physicians for Human Rights, Child Mind Institute, New York University and Trust for Public Land.

Ms. Wanca-Thibault added: “Questions are essential. This may seem like a question of niceties, but an open culture where engagement is authentic, and culture is lived builds the internal environment that keeps talent and attracts new leaders.”

Invest In Connection

A recent New York Times survey of early to mid-career professional noted that many “pandemic hires” were feeling rudderless and adrift in the workplace. Remote work may be efficient, but those who don’t invest in relationship building lose out. In a recent NYTimes piece, Ann Helen Peterson and Charlie Warzel noted, “Small talk, passing conversations, even just observing your manager’s pathways through the office may seem trivial, but in the aggregate they’re far more valuable than any form of company handbook. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be translated into a remote or flexible work environment.” These activities support what Ms. Lundberg calls the soft connective tissue that builds trust and makes a company an enjoyable place.

“Activities and rhythm are essential … people forget that in person we had those informal points of connectivity,” said Christine Greybe, president of DHR Leadership Consulting. “In the remote work environment, you really need to create that. In the virtual world, staff connectivity must be an investment. It lives at the individual level (calling a colleague who is sick, for example), and at the team level. At DHR, our wellness team hosts everything from remote cooking, yoga, and painting classes to coffee chats with leadership. When timing has been right, leadership also prioritized COVID-safe, in-person gatherings.”

Keeping Up with Pandemic Adjustments

As we approach the two-year mark of the pandemic, individuals continue to face complicated and compounding pressures – from office returns and limited childcare, to depressed compensation paired with expanding roles, according to Ms. Lundberg. Ongoing adjustments that reflect the interconnectedness of our work and personal lives are the new normal. “We don’t always get involved in personal matters, but in this time… it’s hard to separate professional from personal, and leaders who understand this and adjust are coming out ahead,” said Ms. Wanca-Thibault.

“Strong leaders are connecting formally and informally – more importantly, they’re taking action,” Ms. Lundberg said. “We have seen clients provide those who are caregiving with monthly stipends to support added childcare needs, mandatory office-wide weeks off, and more.”

Evaluate your Offerings

This isn’t the market to rest on your laurels with regards to compensation. “I speak with too many non-profits who feel that the draw of their mission or reputation should help staff and prospective candidates overlook lagging compensation,” said Ms. Lundberg. “Thankfully, many more are discussing compensation analyses with their boards and doing the hard work to ensure they can attract, support and retain the best talent.”

Related: How to Prepare Candidates for a Successful Resignation

“Non-profits are also getting creative, offering incentives like tuition reimbursement, four-day workweeks, extended parental leave and wellness stipends, that, like the pandemic adjustments noted above, not only incentivize employees to stay, but build loyalty,” she said.

Evaluate Roles and Offer Opportunities

Sometimes the best talent is hiding in plain sight (or just a Zoom window away). Ms. Lundberg says to “sit down with peers to learn more about high-potential employees across your organization. Think about creative ways to develop rising stars, as well as those who struggle, but show potential and may flourish in a different role.” Ms. Greybe also shared: “If you want to retain staff, you need to invest in them. Engage your team, provide training, initiate a high potential program and develop a succession plan.”

In separate report, DHR had conversations with both employers and employees, determining that retaining your best employees boils down to a few foundational concepts:

Capture Hearts and Minds with Core Values

An organization’s culture is critical for employee retention. Employees today want to understand how they fit into the larger purpose of the organization and how their contribution makes a difference, said that report. Companies need to be clear about the organization’s purpose and values, and leaders need to model the culture every day. In a survey of HR professionals, DHR found that 84 percent feel that a positive culture is one in which behaviors align with core values. “The big challenge for companies is to create a culture where people feel like they belong and are making an impact while working in a remote or hybrid environment,” the study said. “Leaders can create a more inclusive environment by tailoring the cultural expectations to individual needs.”

Embrace Flexibility

Companies with a more flexible culture are winning. “Employees have had time to think about what’s important to them in their work and personal lives and now expect more choices and more autonomy,” the DHR report said. “It will be necessary for leadership to think about creating experiences that are true to the culture, and individualized. Consider offering employees flexibility in their schedule like a four-day work week and work-from-home options. And re-evaluate how work is done and how people work together. The employee experience is no longer a one-size-fits-all.”

Fighting the Great Resignation with Cash 

As the Great Resignation has extended worldwide, compensation experts have reminded organizations that there are numerous ways to attract and retain employees besides paying them higher wages. But there’s overwhelming evidence that the go-to move for most companies continues to be paying more, according to the latest findings from Korn Ferry, which found a record a number of pay raises over the past quarter.

Provide Clear Opportunities for Growth

Employees are looking for career growth potential; they want to feel like they are being invested in and need to see and feel the development path ahead of them. Leaders can motivate employees through new challenges, coaching, and offering tuition assistance for degrees and certificates focused on the skills they are trying to learn to achieve greater success. “It’s essential that leaders clearly show employees how they can grow and succeed and provide opportunities for different career paths, including offering stretch roles,” the DHR report said. “They also need to hold people accountable through goal setting and provide honest feedback if it’s not working.”

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

How leaders communicate with employees has changed, especially in a remote or hybrid environment. If you are a team leader that doesn’t get together on a day-to-day basis, it’s hard to read cues and build a deep connection, according to DHR. And employees with a strong connection to their organization are less likely to leave. The report says to consider how you create an inclusive environment and show employees that they have a future in the organization. “Make people feel heard,” DHR said. “Listen to your people, ask good questions, and get good feedback. Ask your team how they want to be engaged in making themselves and the company succeed.”

Related: Hiring Top Talent in Unprecedented Times

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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