The real key to ending the Great Resignation is focusing on 'enthusiastic stayers'

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Americans are quitting their jobs at staggering rates, making it an exciting time to shop around for a new gig while recruiters do everything they can to court new workers.

But as companies push hiring efforts into overdrive, management researchers say they're neglecting the real stars of the workforce: enthusiastic stayers.

These are employees who are currently happy in their jobs and want to stay with the company, despite changes to their role during the pandemic or taking on added stress during times of high turnover.

Enthusiastic stayers are more engaged, productive and help businesses make more money, according to research published in the Journal of Managerial Issues. They also make up more than one-third of the workforce.

The more organizations focus on bringing in new workers rather than recognizing and promoting people who stay, the more turnover they'll see down the road, Georgetown management professor Brooks Holtom and author on the study tells CNBC Make It — "unless the organization does something to counteract that."

Businesses are too focused on recruitment during Great Resignation

When companies face labor shortages, they're more likely to relax their hiring standards, Holtom says. At the same time, throwing out monetary perks like flashy hiring bonusesretirement benefitstuition assistance and even higher wages can attract workers quickly.

Once workers are in the door, however, if they're not motivated by the purpose of the business or don't see a future for themselves at a company, they're not likely to stick around.

Workers may be attracted to temporary benefits like a hiring bonus, for example, but "if that's the only thing bringing people into an organization, it's unlikely to be an enduring factor in retaining them," Holtom says. These factors are also easy for competitors to match, so workers could be lured away by similar benefits somewhere else if the tight job market keeps up.

Some of these behaviors could prolong the Great Resignation for months, if not years, to come.

Instead, Holtom says the key for reversing the turnover trend is "building an organization based on people who fit with the vision of the job and culture, which increases the probability they'll be enthusiastic stayers."

Retaining enthusiastic stayers improves culture for everyone

Researchers say enthusiastic stayers have a strong feeling of job embeddedness, or a connection to the social fabric of the organization. The work of retaining, and even creating, enthusiastic stayers requires improving company culture in three ways: measuring employee fit, fostering relationships with coworkers and offering intangible benefits that can't be found elsewhere.

A big mistake many companies make is measuring how well a worker fits in at work when they're new, but not so much over time. Managers can do a better job of assessing whether employees continue to see a future for themselves at the organization, especially during as dynamic of a time as the pandemic and Great Resignation. If workers don't see a future for themselves, employers can help workers shape their job and chart a career path through training opportunities, paths to promotion, mentorship and sponsorship.

Second, businesses can make sure they're promoting coworker relationships through formal means, like clear communication between managers and their reports, as well as informal peer networks, like employee resource groups.

Finally, while businesses are trying to fill vacancies quickly through flashy perks and bonuses, Holtom says it's really the intangible benefits of a job and work environment that make it hard for employees to leave.

That means building a company that gives workers clear sense of purpose, opportunities to grow, fair wages and flexibility. "The degree your employer affords you flexibility to meet your other life goals or interests, that has value that competitors can't easily match," Holtom says.

Of course, improvements to a company's culture benefits everyone: People who stay reluctantly can become more engaged in their work, and even people planning to leave may begin to see a path for themselves at the organization. And a happier workforce can be a powerful way to attract job candidates, more so than temporary perks, Holtom says.

Check out:

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