The Great Resignation: Why Millions of Workers Are Quitting, CNBC, October 2021

Why Are So Many Americans Quitting Their Jobs, NPR, October 2021

How Companies Can Improve Employee Retention Right Now, Harvard Business Review, October 2021

Why Are Workers Really Quitting, Inc. Magazine, October 2021

The Real Reason Everyone is Quitting, Fortune Magazine, October 2021

Why is Everyone Quitting, Washington Post, October 2021

As you can see from the list of recent articles concerning employee retention, there seems to be a huge problem. Some have coined the phrase “The Great Resignation.” And, if you do a simple Google search for “why are so many employees quitting their jobs,” you won’t have to go through the 8 million results to realize that everyone is trying to solve the great mystery–why are so many employees quitting?

If I had that “magic pill,” I would be writing from an island surrounded by palm trees and an ocean breeze while holding a cold beverage. Unfortunately, that pill does not exist. Therefore, I will continue to write from a 35-degree location in Pittsburgh. The mystery remains, and every company is seeking to improve employee retention as much as possible.

The most companies can do at the moment is try everything to make it harder for an employee to look elsewhere for employment. I do understand that employees leave for many reasons – health concerns, relocation, more money, that big promotion, etc. Some of those reasons have been around for many years, and sometimes there is just nothing a company can do to retain an employee faced with those situations. But many employees (probably more now than ever) are on the fence about staying or leaving. Some studies show that 80% of employees either are actively looking for a new job or are open to one if it comes to pass. These are the ones that organizational leaders need to focus on.

I have coined this as “Strategic Stickiness.” It is simply initiatives that will make it harder for employees to look elsewhere for employment. We all know that everyone has a “price of departure” in mind. For some, that may be $1,000 more a year, and others, $100,000. We want to make the actual and psychological cost of leaving so high that the possibility of departure decreases significantly. We want employees to question just how much “greener the grass” is over the hill.

The goal is to create more employment weight than other companies. When an employee faces another job opportunity, we want the benefits of staying to substantially outweigh the benefits of leaving. Will this create 100% employee retention? No. But it may increase the stickiness so much that more top talent will seriously consider the negative implications of leaving.

Here is my short list of Strategic Stickiness concepts. Before you read them, some may seem wild and off-base – Remember, it’s like that old Bob Dylan song: “Times they are a-changin’.”

  • Improve Leadership Skills – Want employees to leave? Have poor leadership–they will run! A recent study revealed that over 57% of employees quit because of poor leadership. Improved leadership can include increasing feedback, gaining trust and respect, improving employee satisfaction and motivation, offering coaching, etc.
  • Job Enrichment – Get employees involved in special task groups, leading projects, and adding variety to their current role. Allow them to develop and grow.
  • Remote Work – This is here to stay. If an employee can work remotely, then develop this as a benefit. Right now, this benefit will most assuredly recruit your talent elsewhere. If a hybrid approach is possible, then do that.
  • Unlimited PTO – Yep, you heard it right—unlimited days off! It’s growing; companies such as Netflix, Oracle, LinkedIn, GE, VMware, Dropbox, Workday, Glassdoor, and others have developed some semblance of an unlimited PTO policy.
  • Restructured Work Weeks/Days – If possible, look at alternative workweeks and flexible workdays. This could include four-day workweeks, flexible workdays with reduced hours, etc.
  • Employee Development – Invest in your people. Show employees that they are valued. This can be anything from leadership development, succession planning, individualized coaching, etc. Employees want and need to be developed. To forgo this is doing the organization and the employee a disservice. If you want employees to know that they are appreciated, develop them!
  • Healthy Work-Life Balance – This may seem like an old adage; however, it is still something employees strongly desire. When possible, incorporate programs around mental, physical, and spiritual health. Burning out employees will cause them to jump on very quickly.
  • Competitive Benefits – This should not be a surprise. Make sure employee salary is competitive, 401k matching is above 5% (which is around average these days), an achievable bonus structure is implemented, yearly raises are given, and health care costs are in line with other organizations.

These are just a few of the methods to develop Strategic Stickiness. Creativity is the key—and differentiating yourself as an employer will be rewarded with improved employee retention. The battle to retain top talent is not going away anytime soon. The only bad choice is to ignore this problem and become complacent—that will assuredly result in failure!