It’s time to find out what your valued employees want — before you lose them

After 21 months of being whipsawed by the pandemic, increasing numbers of employees have gone on strike. Twenty million U.S. employees quit their jobs between April and August 2021. Then, 4.3 million employees quit in August 2021, a figure 40% higher than in August 2020, and 20% higher than in August 2019, before the pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which began reporting resignations in 2001, this 40% figure establishes an all-time high.

Surveys suggest this employee resignation tsunami will only increase. In March 2021, Gallup reported 48% of the U.S. employees they surveyed were job searching or scanning for new opportunities. In August, the consulting firm PwC’s poll of 1007 full- and part-time U.S. employees reported 65% were looking for a new job.

The question facing employers: what to do about it. Employers that figure this out can keep their talent and better attract outstanding employees.

Is raising wages the best answer?

Many employers struggle to fill jobs. In today’s labor market, in which available jobs are plentiful, employees have the edge. Many employers, struggling to compete for talent, have raised wages and offer “thank you” bonuses to employees choosing to stay.

According to the management consulting firm McKinsey and Company, these quick fixes fall flat. They reduce the work relationship to a transactional one, forgetting employees are human and emotional. Further, there’s often another employer able to offer higher salaries.

What works

In my recent book, Managing for Accountability, I prove employers that take care of their employees reap the benefits. Yes, employees want higher pay and better benefits, but they also want to feel valued. Employees aren’t loyal to employers that aren’t loyal to them. Employees report that employers haven’t gotten this message. According to McKinsey’s recent surveys, 54% of employees stated they didn’t feel valued by their employers.

What tells employees they’re valued? Three intangible perks rank high — flexibility so they can take care of themselves; being listened to and feeling connected with coworkers and managers. According to a Harris poll commissioned by Catalyst and CNBC, 76% of employees want their workplace to make work permanently flexible. McKinsey’s survey reveals 52% of employees quitting didn’t feel valued by their managers. McKinsey’s research also documents that 51% of employees quitting stated they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.

[How companies can keep the best parts of work-from-home culture — and avoid the pitfalls]

Quality managers thus play an outsize role in retaining employees. According to Gallup, it took a pay raise of at least 20% to hire employees away from a manager that engaged them. According to research released on October 13 by Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on women’s workplace issues, 57% of white women and 62% of women of color who felt valued by their employer and that their manager respected their personal circumstances rarely thought of leaving.

Finally, we all listen to the same radio station: WIFM or what’s in it for me? Can you as an employer offer employees, training, professional development and career paths? Can you recognize each step in your employee’s development and increased value? As a prime example, Waffle House names entry-level employees grill operators, more experienced cooks “master” grill operators and its best operators “rock star grill operators.”

What does the employee resignation tsunami mean to you as an employer? Realize that even your more satisfied employees may feel empowered by the increasing options available to them and be re-evaluating their employment choices. Decide how to hold on to your valued employees so you don’t have to hunt for new ones. Ask them what matters to them.