As many employers navigate a potential return to the office, new research from the Angus Reid Institute has revealed some startling data about the potential of plummeting employee retention rates.

Survey results found that more than half of Canadian households had at least one member working from home during the pandemic. Of those who worked from home, 29% reported that they would prefer to work from home permanently, with an additional 44% favouring a hybrid model.

However, what should get an employer’s attention is that of those surveyed, 25% indicated they might begin searching for a new job if they were forced to return to the office full-time and 19% would immediately quit if asked the same. The implications of this could be enormous for employers who are eager to see a total return to the office.

But is it fair to put 100% of the blame on returning to the office or is something else impacting retention? We know that employees who are engaged in their work are more likely to stay with their organization, and Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report reinforced the connection between feelings of engagement and retention rates. So, it might be time to check in with your employees and find out if a lack of engagement is part of the problem.

How do you know if your employees are engaged?

It would be great if every employee was fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work 100% of the time. However, we all know engagement levels fluctuate, especially during times of change. With that in mind, it’s important to check in and understand how people feel as you return to the office.

Here are some ideas on how you could check in on those feelings:

  1. Conduct an employee survey – A pulse check will allow employees to express their feelings in a safe place, and you will likely get a good understanding of employee issues and concerns. A word of caution, only conduct an employee survey if you are prepared to act on your findings.
  2. Carry out an organization assessment – A good assessment will provide meaningful information about performance, trust, and engagement.
  3. Schedule one-on-one time – Check in with your team and find out what excites them and concerns them about being in the office.

How to proactively address engagement issues

Uh oh – you’ve uncovered some concerns. Now what? Here are some common engagement roadblocks and potential solutions:

Issue: We’ve moved to a hybrid workplace and our leaders are unsure what skills and capabilities they need to be successful in this new environment.

Considerations: It can be hard to feel engaged during times of change, especially when you can’t call on your existing skillset to navigate a new environment. Define the needed leadership competencies, assess gaps, and then create a development plan to close those gaps. Providing group and/or individual leadership development opportunities for leaders, coupled with application coaching, will equip them with the skills they need for their new world of work and in turn drive engagement.

Issue: Some employees feel unsure about how we’re handling our return to the office, and it looks like we have a trust issue.

Considerations: Trust is not a switch we can turn on and off and it’s more of an outcome than a static condition. Many organizations and leaders have been under considerable strain over the past 18 months. Have leader actions and interactions with direct reports changed as a result? Have leaders set aside empathy to “keep the lights on”? If so, this could have caused a breakdown in trust.

Potential solutions include:

  • Leader assessment tools to improve self-awareness and increase insight,
  • Team trust-building workshops, and
  • Emotional intelligence/empathy training for leaders (yes, empathy can be learned!).

Issue: Employees aren’t sure what our culture is or what our organizational values are.

Considerations: Two potential issues come to mind. First, were your employees ever sure about your culture and values? If not, there are solutions available to “get them off the wall” and into the workplace.  If yes, perhaps they have gotten buried for the reasons mentioned above. Maybe it’s time to consider some refresh options.

Second, do your return to office plans and actions align with your culture and values? If not, you could be setting yourselves up for trust and engagement challenges, and the potential loss of top performers.

Without conscious efforts to check in on employee engagement, employers could be at risk of seeing a mass exodus of staff as retention issues start to arise. Prioritizing engagement as companies return to the office will be a crucial step to improving the overall effectiveness of your team, increasing job satisfaction and keeping employees invested in your company. If you’d like help navigating strategies to keep employees around for the long-term, we would be happy explore that with you.

Cenera provides expert guidance in HR Consulting, Leadership Development, and Coaching. Reach out to us today to learn how you can get started.

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