Human Resources and Employment Services

Employees looking to quit post-pandemic? Here's how to keep them.

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Key Points
  • 42% of current remote workers say if their employer doesn't continue to offer remote work options long-term, they'll look for a job at a company that does.
  • A majority of of people in an Accenture survey said a hybrid work model - where they're able to work remotely between 25% and 75% of the time - is optimal.
  • 63% of Gen Z workers are most interested in working in a hybrid setting.
Vlad Lapich, with tech startup company Fast, works on his computer on the first day back in the office on March 24, 2021 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Just as the country is opening back up, and companies are figuring out plans to return workers to the office, at least some of the time, they have a new worry on the horizon: a talent drain.

 A recent survey done by Morning Consult on behalf of Prudential polled 2,000 adults working full-time. It found that 87% of American workers who have been working remotely during the pandemic would prefer to continue working remotely at least one day a week, post-pandemic. Among all workers, 68% say a hybrid workplace model is best. But here's the kicker: 42% of current remote workers say if their employer doesn't continue to offer remote work options long-term, they'll look for a job at a company that does.

To avoid this wave of departures, companies need to rethink not only how they operate in a post-pandemic world, but what it's going to take to attract and retain the best talent. Employees haven't been shy about answering that question. In pulse surveys, formal studies and other research, chief human resources officers say that the number one thing employees are looking for now is flexibility.

A research report released at the end of May from Accenture, the global professional services company, further amplifies this point. It found that 83% of the people it surveyed said a hybrid work model—where they're able to work remotely between 25% and 75% of the time—is optimal. Tallo, a talent development platform, surveyed Gen Z, the youngest generation in the workforce, and found that 63% are most interested in working in a hybrid setting, 27% want to work in the office fulltime, and 8% want to work fully remotely.

Employees have spent the past year holed up at home, doing their jobs remotely while also balancing all the demands of family life—often right in the next room. But these past 15 months have also given workers ample time to sort through what's important in their lives and how they want to move forward in the next five or 10 years (hint: it's not commuting). As a result, a growing number of people are deciding that now that the threat of the pandemic is finally decreasing, it's a good time to look for a new job that will afford them the kind of work/life balance they're seeking.

Competing for talent everywhere

Jim Dunn, chief people and culture officer at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Atrium Health and a Workforce Executive Council (WEC) member, has seen all the surveys. He believes this potential talent drain—what's being dubbed by some as "the great resignation"—is a growing problem that companies can't afford to dismiss.

"I'm seeing it first-hand in my own HR department," he says. "I've lost three teammates to other health systems that are outside the Charlotte area. They're in California and New York but they're allowing people to continue to work remotely right here from Charlotte." And although about 11,000 of Atrium's 70,000 employees are currently working remotely, and more than half of those workers will be able to remain remote even when Atrium's offices open back up, Dunn says his colleagues' departures signify one thing for companies: "Now the entire country is a competitor for talent."

Now the entire country is a competitor for talent.
Jim Dunn, chief people and culture officer, Atrium Health

The companies that are going to win this looming talent war are the ones that cultivate cultures that best reflect what is most important to workers in a post-pandemic world. That includes not only remote and flexible schedules, but opportunities for career advancement and training, resources for mental health and well-being, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

ADM, the global food processing and commodities company, has about half of its 38,000 employees working in manufacturing and operations, explains chief human resources officer and WEC member Jennifer Weber. "Things really didn't change for those folks in the sense that we couldn't send them home because of the nature of their jobs," she says. But for the rest of ADM's workforce, the past 15 months have proven that they could enable productivity remotely.

A balanced approach

Now, as the company begins bringing people back into its offices and labs in greater numbers, the emphasis is on training managers and leaders to be sensitive to the needs of individuals who continue to need the flexibility of a remote schedule. "We need to be balanced in the approach we take to meeting people where they are, and enabling the kind of flexibility that's needed to meet the demands of work and their life," Weber says.

To further infuse that into the culture, at the end of June, she says ADM will be rolling out training to 6,000 of its leaders worldwide to address the importance of cultivating empathy, resilience, focus, and a growth mindset. "Empathy and self-empathy are tied to resilience, and if there's one thing the pandemic taught us it's that our emotional well-being is as important as our physical well-being," Weber says. Developing this mindset is a way to help leaders not only amplify these skills in themselves, but to cultivate it throughout the organization, she adds.

As workers navigate the weeks and months ahead, the tension between wanting to be around friends and colleagues in person and the desire for the flexibility of a hybrid schedule will likely grow. Brian Doubles, CEO of financial services company Synchrony, says his company's goal hasn't changed since the pandemic: attract and keep the best talent. Flexibility is the key to making that happen.

Like other people, Doubles says he has days when he doesn't want to do another Zoom call. "I want to see our employees and customers in person. I want to be around people, but that doesn't mean I'm going to do that five days a week going forward," he says. The chief envisions that he'll be in the office perhaps three days a week, and work from home the other two simply to role-model the behavior and make employees feel comfortable with doing that themselves. "Because I'll tell you one thing," Doubles says. "If we're not offering that to our people, another company will."