The A, R and E of Employee Retention

Is the pandemic over? It depends on one’s view of it and when we ask.

Are government mandates being loosened? During the lateness of Winter 2022, the answer is yes. Have things changed—perhaps forever? Also, a yes.

We have seen lines drawn in the snow and sides taken. And, whether it is apparent or not in your workplace, people will have differing views on the pandemic, how it should be handled, and much, much more.

At the recently held 2022 CAAR Conference, Derek Rolstone of Stone HR Strategies headquartered in Winnipeg discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the physical landscape of the workplace, and how it will affect the agri-biz workplace in a positive way—if you will let it.

He revealed five things your team needs to make it through COVID-19:

      1. Information from company leaders;
      2. A sense of community;
      3. Help on working remotely;
      4. Encouragement to provide feedback;
      5. Optimism.

Rolstone presented his views on COVID & the Workplace: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly—a nod to the classic Clint Eastwood movie, relating it to a subject that concerns us providing an overview of the pandemic and its affects on the workforce.

Speaking in a general manner about the effects of the pandemic on the business world, Rolstone noted the good that he saw: “Relief monies were given out quickly by governments; we saw the take-over by Zoom as a virtual meeting device; allowed many organizations to downsize their brick and mortar requirements as it became apparent that working from home did not affect productivity but also increased morale; allowed some companies to strengthen their bench team when a larger pool of work talent became more widely available.”

He cited good government programs such as CEBA, CEWS, and provincial bridge programs. Other goodies include the pandemic providing companies the opportunity to review its own policies, and where necessary, revise them.

The bad, according to Rolstone, revolved around federal assistance program CERB—originally meant to provide benefits to low-income Canadians, but used by many as an excuse to not search for new employment or worse, to quit their job. Rolstone also wondered if a malaise had settled in owing to a lack of communication. “Have we asked our staff if we are going the right way?”

He also pointed out that COVID-19 not only dampened opportunities for engagement with staff and customers but noted that closures and social-distancing requirements have hampered productivity—fewer employees allowed to work in a given space to maintain health and safety protocols, for example.

Remote work has also caused work issues, noted Rolstone. “Businesses didn’t know about people moving their living locations—sometimes to another city; or the instance of a new hire actually living in another country.”

He also said that the concept of working from home has lost its appeal for many employees. “Because the novelty has worn off, remote workers feel that they are on edge,” he opined.

“There is no one right approach for work policies,” he said mentioning vaccination policies. “Some companies didn’t seek HR help when putting policies in place.”

He said that lack of care caused many people to quit their job when they could not align with the work orders.

Of course, it’s not all pandemic related. Rolstone said that some 60 percent of Millennial-aged employees will leave the company within three years—a trend that had already been observed in the pre-COVID-19 years.

Now, for the downright ugly aspects, Rolstone provided some disturbing examples.

“There was a US CEO who fired 900 employees via a Zoom call; and the Burger King staff who quit by giving their notice on the giant company sign outside the restaurant.”

Despite the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Rolstone did have some thoughts a company should consider.

He called it the A/R/E principal. Simply defined as Attraction + Retention + Engagement = Profits, he said that companies capable of increasing their A/R/E engagement would be better positioned to survive and thrive.

“Being a better employer helps retain employees.” He said that companies need to have true “performance conversations, not performance reviews”.

• Ensure you, the company, communicate with clarity to the employees. “The first rule of pandemic management is to communicate with clarity,” explained Rolstone with emphasis. “The second rule is to communicate with clarity.”

• Celebrate culture and enhance organization identity. “Celebrate a work anniversary for an employee with a mention on social media.”

• Create a welcome aboard for new employees.

• Other benefits to consider: birthday off; deferred profit sharing; training allowance; hybrid work opportunity; flexible hours; social events; and health care spending accounts.

• Focus on mental health. “The pandemic has led to fear, stress and confusion,” stated Rolstone. “Very few managers have a background in psychology, medicine or social work. This is why they need some help in assisting their employees that are going through some tough times… this is exactly why EFAPs (Employee Family Assistance Programs) were invented.”;

• Pay employees accordingly to set yourself up for future success. Know where you are in the market—and your own pay philosophy;

• On Board Well. The first day of the job is exciting for a new hire, but it is also the time when they know the least about your company. First impressions are important—and in this case it’s the impression left by the employer. Ensure, on the first day, that: you explain the job in its entirety; payroll is taken care of; provision of office supplies; business cards, parking passes; workspace set up; create and review a 30-, 60- and 90-day plan.

• Have policies in place;

• Tell employees what they want by first asking them via a survey. One Rolstone example: It’s not merely about providing them with free food, but maybe if they would prefer healthy food. “If an employee was asked if they would recommend their workplace and the answer is a yes—they are engaged,” said Rolstone. “If no, you have a problem.”

• Train them. Along with annual performance reviews, Rolstone advised employees at least have all applicable company policies explained to them. Don’t merely point to them in an HR guide.

• Make Zoom meetings better, he said, by creating more enjoyment. People working from home often lack physical contact with others. The Zoom meeting doesn’t always have to be about work. It can also be about people.

• If you need to make a change, do it right. Rolstone said this talking point was related to the termination of a longer-termed employee. “When releasing someone, do it clean, without the walk of shame.”

With the media talking about the upcoming “Great Resignation”, Rolstone pointed out that some 41 percent of employees will consider leaving their employer during the upcoming year.

The real trick, however, is how to keep the good ones. “You do that by doing things to increase employee engagement—the things you should already be doing,” summed up Rolstone. “Remember: it’s all about Attraction, Retention and Engagement.”


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