Expectations can make or break a relationship. If employers are insecure about their ability to hold onto staff, they may promise the world to attract top talent. But it is failing to deliver that is losing staff respect and contributing to low retention rates. Professional relationships are no exception to the wisdom we learn in life: it is better to be honest in the long run.
In looking to bounce back from The Great Resignation, we must understand its causes. Staff left jobs where they felt their needs were not being met. Before the pandemic, nine in ten people said they would be willing to take a pay cut to do more meaningful work. After the pandemic, many did.
This trend will continue so long as staff feel alienated from the work that they do. Businesses were cut slack through the lockdown months as teams adjusted for survival. But slipping standards have enabled toxic cultures to thrive, hitting career progression, collaboration and staff involvement in decision making hard. Riddled with burnout, working long hours and feeling ignored, toxic company culture placed first for reasons to leave in 2022, taking an average cut of $8,000 for a job that could guarantee healthy work.
It is better longer term to be transparent and to know you have found the right fit than to see what you can get away with and hope for the best
The picture in front of us tells a story of staff not understanding their role, of not knowing how to progress and of losing contact with their peers. The solution to this problem involves being very careful with hiring practices and ensuring that expectations are both fair and accurate. Employers facing staff shortages will be tempted to over-promise roles, perks and growth opportunities in order to compete against wealthier, safer alternatives – but are shooting themselves in the foot if they’re unable to deliver these promises.
These mismatches inevitably attract over-qualified or overly enthusiastic employees to teams now burdened with the obligation to provide work outside of their capabilities. A fifth (20%) of employees leave jobs within the first 45 days of employment, highlighting the need for better communication between recruiters and the teams they service. This is no trivial figure when the cost of replacing an employee works out at roughly six to nine months of equivalent salary.
There are a few practical rejoinders to this problem.
One: conduct interviews on-site if you work on-site. Your office reflects your company culture and an opportunity for staff to imagine their place in your shared collaborative space. Leaders should already be in the business of using physical spaces to communicate values and a vision for the future, fostering group and individual working spaces and investing in infrastructure that yields strong working relationships. This should be apparent to every applicant able to come into the office for a sit-down interview. Where other factors might affect a person’s ability to come into the office, leaders can show their genuine commitment to a healthy, inclusive workplace by offering an alternative that acknowledges and meets the varied needs of staff.
Two: remove all room for ambiguity. Global businesses must recognise and adapt to the cultural sensitivities they meet. In the United Kingdom, applicants may feel it inappropriate to ask about career progression or opportunities for a raise in the interview stage. A job description that leaves out these important details opens the door to staff walking into jobs they will promptly discover they cannot sustain. It is better longer term to be transparent and to know you have found the right fit than to see what you can get away with and hope for the best.
Three: continue to offer regular ‘stay’ interviews and meetings with staff as they join. Staff who have been with an employer for one year are ten times more likely to leave than staff who have stayed for five. The neglected truth is that all staff need to be heard, to have regular catch ups and the opportunity to voice their concerns and anxieties. One in three felt their career was stalled by the pandemic and employers will face huge unspoken pressure to offer above and beyond to keep staff. Job descriptions and the KPIs that grow out of them must reinforce clear expectations for learning and development, and staff should be given the space to consult or push back when they sense a gap between what they have been promised and what they are experiencing.
Four: know when to quit. The imbalance of supply and demand in the job market has undermined the conversation around overqualification. But it is more important than ever to understand your candidate and to know that you can deliver a happy, sustainable experience of work. If you feel it would be in bad faith for a candidate to start a job knowing that they will soon be looking for another job, it would also be bad faith to sensationalise a job just to win the best candidate for a matter of weeks. Punching above our weight may start with noble intentions, but it shows a fundamental lack of respect for the candidate to knowingly offer more than we have.
Five: demonstrate progress. Candidates will respect shortcomings when companies can confidently own their pace of change. Rather than promising flexible working and then looking for a way to accommodate it, businesses should not shy away from the opportunity to share internal debates in a healthy and moderated way. If you have not yet settled on a flexible working programme, acknowledge that you are still in discussions with staff – if you are – and offer the candidate the opportunity to have their voice heard if they take the job. A candidate is more likely to accept an outcome they did not want if they had the chance to reason with it than if they had it imposed upon them after being promised something else.
In summary, businesses must start the hiring process with an accurate and honest period of self-reflection. They must know what they have, what they need, and what they can afford to share to acquire it. The challenge for recruiters and employers will be to secure stability by targeting appropriate candidates and letting go of the self-destructive goal of filling jobs at all costs.