“I’m perfectly fine!”

Beware of those employees that reply to your inquiry on how they are doing with “I’m fine”. There may be an underlying unease and fear to return to the workplace that they are trying to disguise. Probe to really understand what’s going on for your team members and listen actively to their response. As we enter our second month of the “Work from Home” order from our local government leaders under the advisement of country political leaders and medical experts, I am seeing a concerning shift in the mentality of the people my network and the businesses that I partner with to promote organizational growth. People are increasingly becoming more agitated with the current state of malaise that is permeating our economic backbone and want to get back to work but not necessarily in the traditional means, or their employment situation pre-Covid19. I liken the current economic state to what I observed in the recession of 2007-2009 for which the recovery period dragged into 2010. The current state being marked with high unemployment rates across the U.S., limited confidence in our ability to bounce back to the iconic commercial powerhouse that we once were and overall poor global economic conditions.

So where do we go from here as employers? We need to prepare to resume operations and establish safe work environments for our team members. The result can take a variety of forms such as social distancing in the work space, remote work for those not interested, able or not required to return to the work environment, flexible schedules or a variation of all of the options. What employers seriously need to consider in anticipation of resuming full operations is that employees may voluntarily opt out which we need to account for in our modeling. So many people, and especially female executives that I have spoken with, are evaluating their options. Similar to the last recession, women are contemplating leaving corporate America for early retirement, taking a role that offers more flexibility, starting up their own business or working part-time. Many are simplifying their lives to reduce unnecessary overhead to allow them more optionality in their financial obligations. More time with family and friends during the Covid19 Stay at Home order may create a void that the return-to-work movement will need to incorporate with additional flexibility. The last recession marked female executives leaving the traditional workforce in record numbers and the work environment suffered as a result. So, before your key contributors come to you with the news of their intended departure that you dread hearing, proactively go to them and ask, “How could I make your work-life better here?”. Call out the proverbial elephant in the room by suggesting a retention package to entice them to stay and convince them that you are aware and appreciative of their value to the business…and to you. Say it loud and repeat it often, especially for those millennials who like to receive praise and affirmation of their work and value. I would add, who doesn’t like to hear that; just acknowledging that this is a trait tagged emphatically to the millennial generation.

There are so many creative ways to retain talent, with the most important factor being that you know your team members and what drives them; is it a title, office, more autonomy, a challenging assignment, leadership responsibility or more money? I would caution you against overuse of the latter, money has a very short-term effect in the employment arena. The euphoria created by an increase in pay is often limited to the length of time it takes to spend it and in today’s economy, it’s usually not long! So often employees are looking for a long-term career option such as a promotion, a larger and/or more diverse team to lead, discretionary bonus options and the like. While the idea of raising the cost of compensation at a time of uncertainty may not be appealing, discretionary compensation only costs if the company is profitable and in the best models, is self-funding. This is where the combination of your knowledge of the team members and your expertise in the business metrics is a magical combination. Leverage them to create a value proposition that is unparalleled to keep and meaningfully engage this key population! Be ready with your workforce planning models to account for some attrition but work to retain those individuals that you cannot afford to lose. Best of luck to you all in your ability to manage this challenging dynamic, this can be a catalyst for growth and set the stage for profitable times.  

Published by Maggie Debner

HR Executive Coach & Consultant

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