As more people receive vaccines and the COVID-19 crisis loosens its grip, companies are expected to ramp up their recruiting efforts. As a consequence, aggressive recruiters may coax your most talented team members to join another company.
It might not even take much coaxing: According to the March 2021 Pulse of the American Worker Survey of 2,000 adults working full-time, more than 1 in 4 employees plan to look for new opportunities once the pandemic subsides.
Keeping your talent is critical for growth plans. So, how can you make successful counteroffers to keep your top performers? Even if you can't afford to compete on salary, you can persuade your talented employees to stay by adopting a few of these ideas.
1. Have a meaningful conversation with your departing employee.
Don't rely solely on a pro forma exit interview with HR to understand why your top talent is leaving. Schedule a personal meeting with the employee and dig deep to find out their underlying motivations.
You may find that the reasons aren't just about compensation. To that end, it helps to ask a few questions that can open up the dialogue. For example:
- Do you feel that there is room for progression in your role?
- How is your relationship with your manager? Your teammates?
- Does your work schedule allow you adequate work-life balance?
- Are there constraints that make it difficult for you to do your job?
- Do you feel you have enough autonomy at work?
- How can we make things easier for you here?
Partner with the employee to creatively explore options. While you may be unable to match the salary they were offered, fixing the things that matter to them most may go a long way in getting them to reconsider leaving.
If you discover that compensation is the sole reason pushing your top employee to leave, consider your payroll budget and extend the best counteroffer that you can. You may not be able to beat their new offer, but don't lowball it either.
If your top performer has no other compelling reason to leave beyond the dollars and cents, and if the increase you offer is reasonably within the pay scale, you may be successful in retaining them. A 2019 LiveCareer survey of over 1,000 U.S. employees and hiring managers shows that 69 percent of employees accept a counteroffer because of the familiarity and comfort of keeping the same job.
2. Make people feel valued.
Everyone cares about status. Even if we don't realize it, we all have an innate desire to feel valued by others. The more leaders understand this fundamental driver of human nature, the more they can harness it to keep their best talent from joining a competitor.
As part of your negotiations, spend some time letting your top talent understand why their work matters to the company. Show them the relevance of their contributions and be specific. Some points to consider are:
- Why is their work important?
- What are some of their unique talents, insights or approaches that you value?
- How do their contributions benefit the organization as a whole, not just their department?
3. Offer long-term work flexibility.
In a post-pandemic world, employees who experienced the perks of working from home may want to continue to enjoy that flexibility. As the aforementioned Pulse of the American Worker Survey shows, a whopping 87 percent of American workers would prefer to continue to work from home at least one day a week. And 42 percent said that if their company doesn't offer remote work options, they will resign.
Globally, more than half of employees surveyed would leave their jobs post-pandemic if they are not offered flexible working options. (That's according to the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey of 16,264 employees from 16 countries across 23 industries.)
If work-life balance is a significant reason for your top-tier talent jumping ship, allow them to WFH a few days a week. To reduce commute times, you might also let them start early and leave later. An extra week's vacation might also sweeten the pot.
4. Offer opportunities for growth.
You may not be able to offer a significant salary increase. Still, you can give your stars new opportunities to learn and progress on the job.
A 2019 U.S. Harris Poll survey of 310 HR decision-makers and over 1,400 full-time employees revealed that 70 percent of U.S. employees say they're likely to accept an offer with a new company that's known for investing in employee learning and development. The study shows that 34 percent of employees quit because they craved more career development opportunities, making it a leading reason people leave jobs—second only to compensation (46 percent).
There are many ways to show your best people that you are willing to invest in their careers. Here are a few learning and development moves you can consider:
- Give them a better title, increase their responsibilities in their current job and give them the latitude and autonomy that goes with it.
- Find out what aspects of the business interest them and provide opportunities in these areas.
- Consider creating cross-functional teams that provide more challenging work and build new skills as employees perform each others' positions.
- Assign them projects that broaden their experience and enhance their resume, such as chairing a prestigious committee or spearheading a new entrepreneurial opportunity for the company.
- Enroll your best employees in an executive development program or other significant training and development initiative. One of my clients has offered to pay the tuition of a top performer seeking greener pastures through a part-time MBA program.
5. Provide lifestyle benefits.
As part of your counteroffer, look at the total compensation package rather than just the salary. Knowing what matters to your employees, offer a combination of lifestyle benefits to enrich your counteroffer.
Examples of modern lifestyle benefits include:
- Family: Child care assistance, tutoring services, financial assistance for adoption or fertility treatments
- Pets: Training, care, insurance and paid days off for new pet owners
- Household: Timesavers such as cleaning services or grocery delivery service fees
- Entertainment and Travel: A travel stipend, music or art lessons, cooking and baking classes, language lessons, a yearly stipend for books
- Technology: Gifts such as a tablet or smartwatch
- Wellness: Weight-loss programs, spa and salon treatments, family therapy, meditation, life coaching
- Education: Tuition reimbursement for sought-after technical and soft skills training
6. Use pre-emptive intervention.
Don't wait until employees give in their notice to initiate some pre-emptive actions. Making a counteroffer may temporarily keep employees from jumping ship, but if the underlying conditions that caused them to consider quitting don't change, they may still eventually leave.
Watch for signs that your A-players are unhappy and maybe eying other opportunities. They may indicate concerns about their job or disgruntlement with their immediate supervisor. Pay attention when they voice their concerns: Awareness can help you rectify issues before it's too late.
As part of your pre-emptive interventions, focus on developing the leaders in your organization. After all, as the oft-heard saying goes, people leave managers, not companies. A 2019 Work Institute Retention Report based on over 37,000 exit interviews in 143 companies shows that one of the top three reasons for leaving a job is "manager behavior." (This included poor communication, poor employee treatment, unprofessionalism and lack of support.)
Coach your leaders to treat people well and strengthen interpersonal connections with their reports. In a nutshell, help them be the kind of boss that doesn't cause employees to head out the door.
Read more articles on employee retention.
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