6 Creative Retention Strategies for the New World of Work

When we packed up our laptops in mid-March 2020, most of us expected to return in a matter of weeks, not months (or years). What we’ve come back to, though, is a new world of work. And this world comes with new expectations, changed priorities and evolving employee needs.

On top of these, the war for talent is fierce. Since the Great Resignation began in April 2021, millions of people have left their jobs—over 20 million between July and December 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it’s not over yet: survey research reveals as many as one in four employees plans to quit this year.

Given these numbers, it’s no surprise nearly 90% of employers are reporting higher turnover rates than normal. Costs can add up quickly, as it’s estimated turnover costs employers 1.5 to two times an employee’s salary, and perhaps as much as $1,500 per hourly employee. These figures include both the cost of hiring—like job boards and hiring managers’ time—as well as indirect costs like lost productivity.

This all assumes you can find talent. With job openings topping 11 million—a record high—many employers are finding huge gaps in their talent pipelines, and persistent difficulties in keeping qualified candidates moving through the hiring process. These challenges are pushing employers to seek innovative ways to hold onto the talent they have. When you consider the investment you’ve already made in your current employees, from hiring to onboarding, retention makes sense for continuity and the bottom line. 

Here are six creative strategies to help your organization boost retention.

#1. Build connection and engagement.

After two historically stressful and difficult years, many employees are hungry for connection. The isolation of remote work has taken its toll. Research shows having at least one close connection with a coworker promotes higher employee engagement, increased productivity and better work. Another study reveals close connections are a top priority for 70% of employees. This points to the importance of initiatives that can bring together your employees, from “donut meetings” to employer-sponsored events like lunch-and-learns, community service projects, social outings and more.

#2. Expand benefits.

For some employees, the decision to stay or go is entirely driven by pay and benefits. One in two departing employees is seeking higher pay and better benefits. For many, this includes expanded benefits for mental health, well-being, and age-and-stage needs (like childcare, travel insurance, PTO, and more). As a result, many organizations are enhancing benefits beyond traditional healthcare, dental, vision, and retirement offerings to include expanded, employer-sponsored benefits to stand out—and to hold onto existing talent.

#3. Cultivate talent internally.

Many of us have been there: as a highly qualified internal candidate, we’ve gone up against an outside candidate for a role we really want, only to lose out. Savvy companies are coming around to realizing internal development can bear big benefits. Cultivating talent internally—and establishing clear paths for advancement—can help employees feel they know where they’re going, and the organization is invested in them. It’s a win-win, as employers have already invested in hiring and training these employees, who hold a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge.  

#4. Offer educational support and tuition reimbursement.

Many younger employees appreciate benefits to help them continue their education and advance their skills or address the financial strain of student debt. But older employees do, too. Tuition reimbursement can help differentiate your benefits package as well as boost retention. Creative strategies for retention, though, can go beyond traditional degree-track tuition reimbursement to offer educational support for online courses, internal mentoring and development programs and even certification study courses.

#5. Provide opportunities for career exploration.

Sometimes employees take a role but fall more deeply in love with the organization than their department, manager, or responsibilities. Developing ways for them to engage in career exploration can go a long way toward supporting retention. These can be as simple as a “shadowing” day or as involved as creating rotations for employees to cycle through different functions in an organization. In addition, career exploration can help address the reality that the #1 reason employees leave their jobs is a bad manager, not a company, according to research from Gallup.

#6. Expand coaching to employees.

Traditional career coaching has been offered to executives or to those being primed for leadership success. But many employees at all levels prioritize career and professional development. Career coaching services can go a long way toward helping employees build their hard and soft skills and gain more clarity on what they want from a career. Virtual options and on-demand, modular content can help employers manage budgets while still offering a valuable perk to boost retention—and help employees grow.

What is your organization doing to stand out in a fiercely competitive talent market? What are your creative strategies to boost engagement and retention?