Game Of Pool And A Free Lunch? What Really Drives Staff Retention?

Exactly a year ago, we were in the early days of pandemic-related layoffs. The redundancy rate, which usually hovers around 3.8 per 1000 employees, jumped to 4.7 employees per 1000 before peaking at 14.2 per 1000 in Sep-Nov 2020. Companies were furloughing and firing through 2020, eager to lighten their human resources, to survive the pandemic.

But now here we are, slowly releasing from lockdown, with economic growth showing some green shoots. Plenty of organisations are predicting not just recovery, but a potential economic boom, with some forecasting another ‘Roaring 20s’, the same kind of explosion of the economy and job market in 2020 as occurred in the 1920s. So, for businesses, where we start to see signs of economic recovery, we look to the labour market and our need to now retain and develop our talent.

But this is will not be a simple flick of a switch to return to normality. Globally, our psychology changed fundamentally in 2020. We’ve been through a collective trauma, and most of us have done some reassessing of our lives in one way or another. Statistics show that many of us have done much more than that. Signs of a shift began when employee polls showed the working majority want working from home to be a regular part of their lives into the future. Dig a little further and there are bigger changes at play.

How Have We Reassessed Our Work?

Recent figures indicate that we’ve been contemplating much more than where we work over the last year. It appears we’ve been thinking about how we work, what we do for work, and who we work for. Take the recent Total Jobs survey. It shows the impact of Covid has made a fifth (22%) of UK workers realise their current role isn’t for them. Then, there are the figures released by the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) that show nearly half of all workers in the UK (47%) would like to completely change career.

A further study conducted by Aviva highlights the number of UK workers who plan to change their careers as a direct result of Covid has climbed from 53% in June 2020, to 60% in April 2021. Their ‘How We Live’ study suggests people aged 25-34 are amongst those most likely to want to retrain or change career.

So now businesses must turn their mindset from minimising headcount and reducing overheads to thinking about how to retain the talent they have. There are plenty of established techniques to retain staff, starting with the recruitment process, onboarding, employee experience and benefits packages. But has there been a change in what resonates with employees?

If we think back to a decade ago, the digital powerhouses of Google , Facebook and Twitter were leading the culture conversations through their plethora of fun benefits like free lunches, pool tables and massages as part of their talent attraction and retention offering. As recently as 2018, Perkbox was suggesting that every business needed a pool table in order to compete as an employee of choice.

But after all we’ve been through in the last year, does the idea of pool tables and free lunches cut it anymore?

The Key To Retention

Some businesses have sensed a shift in employee motivations and have been adjusting their programmes accordingly. LinkedIn has taken a more empathetic approach, giving its entire global company an additional week of annual leave to recover from the difficulty experienced during the pandemic. Grant Thornton has also responded sympathetically, offering their people extra wellbeing days. But these well-meaning gestures have a time limit; they are not the kind of incentives that will be replicable year-on-year, nor will they have the same impact into the future.

A recent New York Times article by organisational psychologist Adam Grant suggests we need to look a bit deeper into employee psychology. He suggests that people are currently in a state of “languishing”, a kind of disconnect and paralysis of feeling, coupled with an inability to focus, all caused by the pandemic and its constraints. He believes it is this phenomena that is driving the desire for employees to consider their options.

Rob Falzon, vice chair of Prudential also believes that employees are feeling lost around a lack of career progression, and a concern around skills development. He adds that people feel “that they’ve been working very hard, but they’re not really seeing opportunities to progress.” This is because companies have been distracted by more urgent needs related to surviving and keeping people safe. And it’s probably true that most businesses in the last year have not sat down to plan how they adjust their training and development to the psychological states of their employees post-pandemic, but it seems that’s maybe exactly what they need to do.

So, if there is a single attribute that makes the difference in retention for employees post-pandemic, it’s got to be less about the tipsy activities that helped motivate us in the past and more about the things that make a difference to us as humans. We’ve sobered to our difficult environment and now we want more holistic support, like learning and development.

The Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) believes that the payoff for organisations that focus on employee retention through development is well worth the time and investment. Increased performance, better productivity, higher employee morale and improved quality of work, not to mention the reduction in turnover, are all organisational benefits that can be gained.

What Does Post-Covid Development Look like?

It’s important to start by doing an analysis to identify what is needed by staff and discover where there are gaps within teams. Then it’s about building a training programme to support the culture you are trying to build. Consider:

  • What are your business goals and objectives? 
  • Does your culture need to change? What skills do you need to support it?
  • Where do you have skills gaps that you can upskill people in? 
  • What do you need to embed to ensure that you reach those goals? 


Developing Managers

Engaged managers who can support, coach, inspire and engage their people in their work will be the route to greater employee productivity and performance post-pandemic, so developing your managers will not only help with their retention, but has a trickle-down impact on the rest of the organisation.

Managers who feel valued and developed will lead by example, embrace the culture you wish to embed and allow, champion and encourage others to do the same, creating a team culture across the organisation that will transform into the new working world.

Importantly, other key retention attributes such as employee wellbeing and employee experience are key areas of responsibility for managers, so developing them to develop others is critical. With remote working sure to continue, creating a culture of trust between individuals, teams and functions will be needed. Developing your managers to lead in the ambiguous environment of remote working is a critical skill that will set them in good stead.

Developing Leaders

Organisations need strong, effective leadership – more so than ever. The behaviours and actions displayed by the people at the top are visible to all who work there, so investing in their development is absolutely paramount. Often, organisations focus on the training and development of their mid-tier staff, forgetting that senior employees also value continued development as part of their reasons for staying with an organisation.

Start by building a development plan that equips leaders with everything from setting a vision, engaging your people and modelling the right behaviours, right through to the skills and knowledge required to create high performing, innovative and digital enabled teams, divisions or companies. 

Developing futureproofed leaders who build resilience and adaptability, harness the talent of others and become digital savvy, all while being fully authentic, ethical and inclusive builds a solid front bench to grow and scale your business. Setting up employees with this breadth of skills makes them feel valued and appreciated, while giving them lots of good reasons to stick around.

Can We Help you?

Our manager and advanced manager programmes are designed to support leaders at all levels. Some of our programme topics include:

Management Development:

  • Managing remote teams.
  • Coaching for performance.
  • Employee Wellbeing.
  • Managing upwards.
  • Performance feedback.
  • Building high performance teams.
  • Powerful and engaging communication.
  • Resilience and Adaptability.
  • Building innovative & collaborative teams.
  • Impact and influence.
  • Digital Savvy for Managers.
  • Managing in a VUCA World.
  • Stakeholder management.
  • Difficult conversations.
  • Effective delegation and empowerment.


Leadership Development:

  • Challenging  senior leaders to understand their natural leadership style and behaviours.
  • Equip them with the tools to adapt their style and behaviours as required.
  • Support them to change the behaviours and limiting beliefs that are holding them back.
  • Supporting and guiding them during major/rapid transformation programmes.
  • Equipping them to navigate the complexities they face.
  • Providing insight to enable them to maximise their own impact, and that of their teams.
  • Use both 3600 feedback or psychometric tools to provide the required feedback and insight to help unlock their potential.

At Culture Consultancy, we can help address your retention through development goals. Our executive and culture coaches can help you achieve step changes in your leadership capabilities, performance and impact using a range of tools and styles to achieve the best outcome. 

We focus upon enabling step-change to build greater capacity and resilience within leaders, ultimately creating high performance individuals, teams and organisations who feel valued and a critical part of your business future.

Get in touch if we can help you devise and implement development programmes to help retain your key employees and fast track your business growth.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels