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

Staff retention – forget the shiny perks. 

Staff retention has never been more critical. With rising employee turnover, rising recruitment rates and economic instability on the horizon – you can’t afford to not retain your talent. At the height of the pandemic, 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.

We’re now post-pandemic and facing new challenges -most notably with enormous changes in employee sentiment.

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 the pandemic 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 the pandemic reached 60%. 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 leadership programmes are bespoke to your company, leaders and culture. Take a look at our suite of specialist programmes that are designed to be practical, holistic and provide long-lasting change.