Employers might be too focused on the employees they could lose amid the Great Resignation, but they mustn’t forget about those who remain.
As the Great Resignation starts playing out, many employers are starting to feel the pinch. But this isn’t the only group we need to focus on right now. Employees will also notice the effects of their colleagues leaving in droves. And so, HR professionals and leaders should be careful not to pool all their attention into those who’ve left their organisations and make sure to take the time to check in on those who remain.
Paulette McCormack CAHRI, Founder and Owner of Fresh HR Insights, says these employees might be feeling a range of emotions and respond in a variety of ways.
“Where you have a person who was well-liked in the office – they had everyone’s back and they were a good worker – then there would be a sense of loss, both from the office friendship level, but also from a workload perspective,” she says.
“If the business doesn’t rehire for that role or re-distribute the work, people might start asking, ‘Why should I do that extra work for the same amount of money?’ Or, if [their colleague] has left for a better job, there might be some resentment, anger or fear of missing out. All of these things can come into play.”
McCormack offers advice for how employers can respond to employees’ varied concerns, and keep the workplace humming through hard times.
Spread employees’ knowledge out
Preparing for a potential mass exodus of employees should start early – i.e. before a company begins to notice higher-than-usual turnover rates.
Make sure to capture employees’ corporate knowledge so that staff who remain during the Great Resignation have all essential information available to them.
One way of doing this is to ensure there is always crossover between teams; knowledge should never sit with one person.
“Think about the Olympic rings; they all crossover,” says McCormack. “So if you think of the rings as roles, each role crosses over and everyone can support each other. If there is a missing link, others are able to come in and do some of that work.
“There should be some cross-training and production of operational manuals, so you’re ensuring what’s in people’s head actually gets out on paper as well.”
Producing operational manuals could start at the recruitment stage, she suggests.
“Take this as an opportunity to get new recruits to write down what they’ve been learning because then you’re creating the manual for the person that may come in behind them… It also makes the new person feel like they are of value because they’re creating a training manual for the role when they move forward and step up.”
This means you’re showing them from day one that there are progression opportunities within your company.
These measures help to ensure the departure of one or more employees doesn’t result in a huge loss of knowledge and skills, which could create added pressure and stress for those who remain.
“I’ve heard situations where an employee left and their manager wasn’t at their farewell. They couldn’t even come to say goodbye.” – Paulette McCormack CAHRI
Another way to ensure information is dispersed throughout a team is to set up formal mentoring opportunities – and this doesn’t have to be between employees at differing levels of seniority. Mutual mentoring can occur between anyone in your organisation and serves as a great way to cross skill your people.
This knowledge can be peppered throughout an employee’s time with the company as part of a continuous learning culture, which means people are constantly training themselves, so they can pick up the slack when a gap emerges – be that when someone takes unexpected leave or exits the company.
This process also gives employers more time to find the right hire, rather than rushing to quickly plug the hole of the former employee. Leaders can rest assured that things are ticking over within a team while they go to market for the role.
Leaning on contract workers to temporarily fill any gaps could also support a company that’s rapidly losing staff, as you can choose to dial up or down the flow of workers as needed.
Whatever you do, don’t do nothing. If you leave an increased workload in the hands of an underprepared or overworked employee, no matter how capable they seem in the short-term, you risk pushing them to their limits and creating future retention issues.
Present the positives
While employee turnover can bring up negative emotions and introduce stress into the workplace, it might also create unexpected and promising opportunities for employees who remain.
McCormack suggests opening up the vacant position to internal staff.
“If you’re going to re-recruit, there might be someone who wants to move up [or across] internally. Open that opportunity up for them. They already know your culture and your people, so why wouldn’t you want to keep them if they’re a strong performer?”
Plus, if their former colleague has been knowledge sharing with them throughout their time with the company, their colleague has been slowly preparing to step in; it won’t feel like they’re being thrown too far in the deep end.
“If you recruit internally for a role, that person may end up getting a pay rise, they may get a career opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have thought they were going to get.”
Consider involving team members in the recruitment process, says McCormack. That might look like giving them a say in who is hired, and even in formulating the job description.
“They may want to pick up something new themselves. Depending on the size of the business, it might be possible to redesign the way work is distributed.
“Never look at it as an end. Look at it as a new beginning, a new opportunity, a way to move forward.”
Keep morale high and don’t talk negatively about departing staff
Small acts of recognition can go a long way.
When times are tough, gestures that show appreciation for putting in the hard yards convey to remaining employees that their efforts aren’t going unnoticed.
“That could be organising a coffee cart to come in on a Friday morning, or leaving a small box of chocolates on each employee’s desk… It’s a little way of saying, ‘I know you’re working hard and I want to acknowledge that.’ We all want to be valued.”
This also extends to recognising the contribution of the departing employee(s).
“I’ve heard situations where an employee left and their manager wasn’t at their farewell. They couldn’t even come to say goodbye, and that person left feeling demoralised, dismissed and unsupported,” says McCormack. “It can also lead people who remain in the organisation to wonder what the manager thinks of their role and their value in the company. They might start asking themselves, ‘Why am I here?’”
However, these acts of recognition shouldn’t come at the expense of open and transparent communication, and addressing any underlying concerns.
“If someone’s workload has gone up because other employees have left, it’s about saying, ‘I know there’s more pressure on you at the moment and I can see your workload has gone up. What can we do to disperse some of it?’”
McCormack also advises helping employees to rank their tasks in order of priority, and lightening their load by taking items lower on the list off their plate, or teaching them to delegate.
“Make sure your expectations are clear, so they know exactly what they need to do, exactly the outcome you need from them, and the support available for them if they’re not coping,” she says. “It’s all about communication.”
Workplace design should also remain front of mind.
“If you’ve got a department of five people and three people leave, don’t keep the remaining two people isolated from everyone else. Bring them as part of the team. That may mean changing where they are sitting, so they feel included.”
If there are empty desks around someone, they’re going to be constantly reminded of all the people who’ve left.
“Make it an environment where people connect and socialise.”
Curious about how other organisations are supporting staff through the Great Resignation? Join the AHRI LinkedIn Lounge, exclusive to members, to discuss this and other workplace topics with other HR professionals.