By Paul Slaggert, Director of Open Enrollment Programs, Kelley Executive Education, Indiana University

I have recently seen quite a few articles that anticipate a wave of employee turnover as Americans put the pandemic behind them. Making a career move during the pandemic was not possible for many people. Leaving a job because they were unhappy didn’t make sense.

In his recent article, “Here’s Why Workers Across America Are Quitting Their Jobs Right Now,” Anthony Klotz wrote that close to 6 million fewer resignations took place in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.

Anthony says:

“We know that generally many employees only stay at their jobs because the costs of leaving are higher than the costs of staying, and this ratio has shifted for many workers over the past year. The costs associated with staying have risen, with many workers experiencing burnout—a key contributor to voluntary turnover. At the same time, some costs associated with quitting have decreased. The pandemic has provided many Americans with an opportunity to reduce expenses, pay off debt and save money. Combined, higher employee burnout and enhanced financial security is a recipe for increased resignations.”

This means companies need to pay attention to their ability to both attract and retain workers.

My nearly 40 years of working with leaders have continually reinforced that recruiting and retention are two sides of the same coin. My observation, however, is that companies pay much more attention to recruiting employees than they do to retaining employees.

During a segment in my Frontline Leadership program, we talk about what is important to people on the job. One area of lively discussion is about communication—the ability for people to feel that they are “in the know.” As part of this discussion, I always talk about how organizations can communicate better. An example I use is about communication regarding major organizational changes and the uncertainty that exists across an organization as a result. I tell participants that one major downside of not letting your best people know their status in an uncertain environment is that the best people leave—because they can!

Marc Emmer is an author, speaker, and consultant recognized as a thought leader throughout North America as an expert in strategy and strategic planning. In his article The New Formula for Recruiting and Retaining Talent, which appeared recently in Inc. magazine, Marc Emmer says:

 “But the fact remains that turnover is often disruptive and expensive, especially given that the employees who are most able and likely to quit during times of change are the highest performers, and no company likes losing their stars. And it’s likely inevitable.”

The Connection Between Recruiting and Retention

Emmer explicitly makes the connection between recruiting and retention. An expert in strategy and strategic planning, he goes on to propose specific steps organizations can use to recruit, attract, and retain employees. Mostly, however, these tips and actions focus on expanded benefits, job structure and flexibility, and the physical environment of the workplace.

However, Emmer doesn’t discuss one of the most important and valuable retention efforts I know of—investing in the development of your people. He does reach the right conclusion, though: We should be thinking less about what yields the optimum productivity, and more about how we can provide an environment for our employees to be the best version of themselves.”

In order for your people to be the “best version of themselves”, you as their leader need to determine what their potential is and find ways to help them reach it. That involves getting them the developmental opportunities they each need. This can be anything in a long list that includes just-in-time online resources, internal stretch assignments, better use of delegation, training on required technical skills, job rotations to build specific capabilities, and formal developmental programs.

The need to focus on development as a key retention strategy in the post-pandemic environment was supported in Deloitte Insights’recent article “Returning to work in the future of work: Embracing purpose, potential, perspective, and possibility during COVID-19,” which discusses the new critical need to develop employees. Here is what they said (my emphasis on the last sentence below):

The COVID-19 shift: COVID-19 reinforced that it is more important to understand what workers are capable of doing than understanding what they have done before. Through this crisis, the world has had the opportunity to see the resilience and adaptability of the workforce as workers quickly assumed new roles and even contributed to opportunities in different fields and industries.

New possibilities: As they stage the return to work, organizations should consider how to encourage and offer opportunities for workers to continue to grow and adapt based on their potential, rather than solely on their existing skills or certifications. Now is not the time to pull back on workforce development efforts, but instead to double down on commitments to building a resilient workforce that can adapt in the face of constant change.

As a leader thinking about recruiting and retention I strongly urge you to avoid underestimating your employees’ need and desire for your investment in them. This is one retention strategy that is extremely valuable, but underutilized. If you want to succeed in recruiting and retention in the post-pandemic environment, you will have to make sure you keep your best employees. Word will get out that your organization differentiates itself in this regard, which will also help with your recruiting.

You can distinguish your organization as an employer of choice by investing in the training and development of your staff. It is an easy way to separate yourself from the crowd and avoid the very expensive loss of your best employees.