Rewriting The Employer-Employee Social Contract: Keys To Success

Originally published in Forbes, and written by: Addie Swartz, CEO of reacHIRE.

In a recent episode of 60 Minutes, Karin Kimbrough, chief economist at LinkedIn said, “It’s as if that social contract of work is being rewritten, and right now the worker’s holding the pen.”

The past two years have been a whirlwind for companies, especially for senior executives. In early 2020, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment spiked, with widespread layoffs and staff reductions. Then in 2021, the job market rebounded at an astonishing pace, with U.S. job openings reaching unprecedented levels as the economy picked up just as a record number of Americans quit their jobs. This was nothing short of HR whiplash.

Countless terms have been coined to describe this phenomenon, including the “Great Resignation,” the “Great Reshuffle” and the “Big Quit.” Resignations are expected to continue. With so many considering career changes, power is in the hands of employees, and this has the potential to significantly upend organizations’ business and diversity goals.

As employers, we put so much effort into attracting employees and welcoming them into our companies. But we need to put equal effort into engaging and retaining current employees we’ve worked so hard to find. The operative word here is “re-recruiting.”

From nearly a decade of working closely with HR leaders, I’ve seen concrete actions you can take today to rewrite the employer-employee social contract and create an environment where top talent will thrive and stay with your organization.

Implement Ongoing ‘Stay Interviews’

Employers often don’t learn about why employees are leaving until it’s too late — during the exit interview. In this market, organizations need to be more proactive. Listening conveys caring, and the information you pick up on can lead to actions that enhance the employee experience.

To that end, some organizations are adopting “stay interviews.” Unlike an exit interview, a stay interview involves a one-on-one meeting between an employee and their manager or an employee and human resources. Conducting these interviews separately from performance reviews — with a focus on gaining feedback rather than giving it — is critical. You can learn about what’s working, what is motivating or demotivating to your associates while identifying key areas of improvement needed to keep your best team members. Stay interviews should take place after an employee’s first 90 days on the job and continue once or twice a year for each employee’s duration.

Connect Employees Across Your Organization

Remote jobs have blurred the lines between work and home lives. At the same time, connections between communities, friends and family have changed significantly or turned virtual. Continuous Zoom meetings, as well as fewer opportunities for human connection, have led to increased feelings of isolation and burnout. Even after the pandemic ends, the adoption of remote work could continue to create feelings of isolation. Nearly half of workers who quit their jobs don’t feel a sense of belonging and more than 40% of women often or almost always feel burned out. Conversely, when employees forge meaningful connections with one another, they are five times more likely to be satisfied with their work experience and organizational culture and eight times more likely to produce great work.

Companies can foster belonging and community by finding ways to connect employees to each other — to learn, share experiences and receive real-life advice to better navigate work situations and capitalize on opportunities. Such support should be more immediate and frequent than what is provided by periodic gatherings such as employee resource groups. This can be done informally through team-building and virtual meetups or coffee chats or through structured and scalable talent experiences from coaching to learning to community building. Connect employees across your organization with intention.

It’s also vital to democratize employee development opportunities so they are available to everyone — not just employees identified as high potential. Community-building should be provided broadly across employees, as retention is costly and a threat for all organizations.

Offer Continuous Learning And Skill-Building

Top companies understand the importance of offering all employees opportunities for ongoing learning and growth in flexible ways that match their schedules and unique work-life challenges. According to findings from a Prudential survey, 80% of employees planning to look for new opportunities are concerned about career growth, with 72% looking to enhance their skill sets. Data from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) shows that 51% of women with caregiving responsibilities “agreed it is more challenging to be successful during the pandemic, while 28 percent of male respondents said the same.”

More flexible opportunities such as on-demand learning resources, microlearning modules and peer-to-peer networking opportunities allow employees to learn at their pace and on their own time. It’s important to identify learning methods that can be easily consumed, are “fast to value” and address issues employees are facing. Overstressed employees are challenged to find time for online or other courses that unfold over weeks or months.

Re-Recruit The Employees Who Got Away

Another opportunity is to re-recruit boomerang employees, or employees who left your organization on good terms and are open to returning. Research from Cornell University shows that boomerang employees are often higher performers than their peers. Re-recruiting boomerang employees can be a win-win for both an organization and the employee because less time and resources are spent on recruiting, onboarding and training.

Stay in touch with former employees through alumni activities like email updates and gatherings, either virtual or in person. Include open job listings in communications. Life circumstances and priorities change, and maintaining connections to former employees who already know your organization can help bring back boomerang workers and generate referrals.

Be An Employer Of Choice (No Matter The Market)

Employees always want to work for companies they feel connected to and where they feel they belong. Listening, being flexible and offering “fast-to-value” learning opportunities are critical to creating the belonging and engagement needed to foster an environment that enables your employees to stay and thrive.