Employers are prepared to give raises to stymie the Great Resignation this year, but according to one analysis, more money might not be the best way to keep star employees.
The research, published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, found that the most important indicator of employee retention was the opportunity to make a lateral career move. In fact, the opportunity for a lateral move was 2.5 times more important than pay in predicting employee retention, and 12 times more effective than offering someone a promotion.
The data considered turnover from April to September 2021, Glassdoor reviews from the last few years (including before the pandemic) and 172 culture metrics at roughly 600 companies.
If you think about it, people have spent the last two years of the pandemic — on top of ongoing racial justice movements, climate change disasters and mental health challenges — reevaluating how they want to spend their time. More work, even with a title bump and raise, might not be what employees are looking for anymore, says lead author and MIT senior lecturer Donald Sull.
"Leaders too frequently think the only way to reward people is to give them a promotion," Sull tells CNBC Make It. "But some people have families or outside interests and don't want the additional responsibilities and time commitment a promotion would entail."
Employees might prefer the opportunity to try something new or create an entirely different role based on their interests, Sull says. Companies also had higher retention scores when they let people take on international assignments or relocate to a new office — basically like trying out a new job in a new place without having to change employers.
In addition to lateral career opportunities, the analysis found that employees are more likely to stay with a company that offers remote work arrangements, employer-sponsored social events and predictable schedules.
Company-sponsored social events have always been an important predictor of how high employees assess culture and their desire to stay, Sull says. He expects intentional work-sponsored events will become even more important in the coming years. With limited social gatherings during Covid and a future of hybrid work, "leaders will have to be more conscious about structuring events to build team cohesion and culture, because they'll have less time to do it," Sull says.
None of this means that workers don't care about the money. It's possible workers who've stayed through the Great Resignation have been able to negotiate for raises, and so money isn't the main sticking point in keeping them happy or making them leave.
But as business leaders figure out how to keep employees from quitting, Sull says they should think bigger about what contributes to a healthy work culture overall.