“The Great Resignation”: What Businesses Are Doing to Retain Employees in 2021

HR experts on the best employee retention tips in 2021

by Aimie Ye, SEO Manager @ GoCo

As the nation makes a comeback from the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be hearing more and more about “The Great Resignation” of 2021. This recently coined term refers to the overwhelming spike in quit rates across the U.S. as businesses get back on their feet this year. In fact, nearly 2.7% of workers in America left their jobs in April — the highest percentage we’ve seen in more than 20 years. Additionally, over the past year, 25-40% of workers have considered quitting their jobs.  But what’s causing elevated quit rates and employee churn post-pandemic? 

Why Quit Rates are Soaring

After a year of uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees that have weathered the storm are reconsidering and prioritizing their career paths. While last year, most workers valued job security in the face of an economic crisis, most employees are now re-evaluating their goals. Here are some of the key reasons this is happening now:

  • The pandemic allowed employees time to re-evaluate and improve their skill sets
  • Employees are concerned about career advancement opportunities
  • Workers are now looking for a job with more flexibility or the potential to work remotely long-term
  • The economy is recovering after the pandemic, and the job market is booming

While the uptick in quit rates is a signal of economic recovery, businesses and HR pros are now wondering how to retain employees, continue to make them feel valued, and stay competitive in the booming job market. We’ve reached out to a number of business owners and HR experts for the best employee retention tips in 2021. 

Tips for Retaining Employees in 2021

Invest in Ongoing Training Resources

Though most employers offer employees the proper training during the onboarding process, a large majority do not continue to offer resources to keep their abilities up to date. 

Tanner Arnold, President & CEO of Revelation Machinery, says, “Remember that employees don’t always have extra time for training, and their lunch or break time is just that – their time. Make time for training classes during work hours, but don’t expect employees to attend a 4-hour class and then return to their regular tasks. Take a cue from YouTube and TikTok: short, incremental classes of 30 minutes or less are incredibly successful, and they allow employees to fit them into their calendar without creating a backlog of work to be caught upon.” 

Hire Selectively from the Start

“To improve retention rate, make sure you hire selectively from the beginning. When hiring, consider things like diligence, attitude and integrity amongst other things like academic qualification, skills and experience. Also, pay your employees right. Keep a tab on industry compensation standards. Structure the bonus and benefits well. You may also offer flexible work schedules. Ensure employees are well prepared to do what their job requires like travel, late nights, vacations and so on,” says Olivia Tan, Co-Founder at CocoFax.

HR will want to review hiring criteria to make sure that the job responsibilities are fully covered and understood, even before an employee starts with the company. Nathan Murphy, Co-Founder and Owner of QuizBreaker adds, “What we’ve done to overcome this obstacle is to adjust our hiring process, mainly by adding new interview questions to see if an employee is prepared to handle the less glamorous parts of the position they’re applying for. It’s not that we’ll try to scare a potential hire away, but we will be very clear in our questioning to make sure they understand what’s required of them.”

Make Work-Life Balance a Non-Negotiable

One of the best and easiest ways to improve employee retention is to make balance a non-negotiable. In a recent Indeed survey, over 50% of respondents are experiencing burnout this year. With remote work blurring the line between work life and home life, HR plays a key role in setting the expectation.

Diego Cardini, Founder and Director of The Drum Ninja, suggests, “Encourage your employees to take breaks from their screens throughout the day—and to take days off when they need it. Respect your employees’ personal time by sending emails or texts just during business hours unless it’s an absolute emergency. Ensure that every one of your employees has a manageable workload, and if they appear to be overburdened, rearrange things to remove tasks from their plates and give them some breathing room.”

Modernize Your HR Software

Having the ability to digitally access onboarding documents, benefits plans, and pay stubs is equally important for HR professionals and employees. On one hand, with a modern HRIS, HR managers are able to streamline previously paper-based processes and checklists with the click of a button. On the other hand, employees feel empowered with the ability to check pay stubs, request PTO, and update personal information without having to go through another party. Upgrading to an HR software that offers onboarding, payroll, and time-tracking in a single log-in improves the employee experience exponentially, which in turn sets them up for success in the organization.

Update Sick Leave Policies

Are you sick leave policies in line with COVID-19 pandemic? Though we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, the pandemic is still a very relevant issue for businesses across the nation. 

Nate Tsang, Founder and CEO at WallStreetZen, suggests updating sick leave policies to improve retention. “Employers just need to make sure that their leave policies cover COVID -19 information, such as adding extra leave for those who will get tested and waiting for their results or even offering leave for employees who need to care for an infected person or live with one. If you take care of your employees properly, you won’t need to worry about them leaving your company.”

Establish a Mentorship Program

Once your employees are fully onboarded, how often do they meet with mentors (who aren’t their supervisors) for guidance? For many employers, onboarding doesn’t extend past the first week of employment. Establishing a mentorship program can create a stronger organizational identity and reduce quit rates.

Matt Weidle, Business Development Manager at Buyer’s Guide, states, “Employees benefit from mentorship because they believe they are valued and supported. It’s a key component of employee retention. Organizations need to invest in the growth and ongoing education of their leadership teams at every level, noting that this applies to leaders as well. Having a mentor from day one, someone they can go to who isn’t their supervisor and ask questions about the job, makes the individual feel more connected and less scared by the prospect of a new career with new chores and responsibilities.

Use Tools to Gauge Employee Engagement Levels

Magda Klimkiewicz, HR Business Partner at Zety, has tapped into the power of employee engagement tools to boost retention. 

“Employers can boost retention by taking the pulse and getting an accurate reading of employees’ engagement levels via tools like Officevibe. Such tools keep HR professionals in the loop about how employees feel across the board and can flag potential retention issues so that HR professionals can react in time. E.g., improve feedback culture within a team, provide opportunities for growth, etc.”

Rethink Events & Happy Hours

Take events, happy hours, and team building activities to the next level by innovating and creating a stronger culture. Matt Pasut, President at CR Creative Co. Ltd., explains, “We are in the process of adopting permanent work-from-home roles to compete with the “big guys” who now have the ability to poach talent through virtual roles. We’ve also instituted paid Birthday’s, “surprise and delight” strategies, and virtual “Thirsty Thursdays” to ensure our work-from-home teams are still able to interact with the office staff in a fun and consistent manner.”

Create a Culture Committee

“One of the best things we’ve done is to create a new position called the “Director of Happiness”. The main goal of this position is to increase engagement from employees and to enhance our company’s culture. As a result of COVID-19, we’ve morphed this role into the Culture Committee so that more team members could participate. The team is doing a great job of keeping company morale high during this tough period. We’re doing Zoom happy hours, birthday celebrations and WFH slack channels!” – Brandon Chopp, Digital Manager for INTO THE AM & iHeartRaves

Incentivize with Growth Opportunities

One of the key reasons employees seek new opportunities is when they feel that there is nowhere else to go within the business, whether it’s pay or position. Kathryn McDavid, CEO of Editor’s Pick, says, “We’ve decided to instill a consistent schedule of possible pay raises in order to incentivize team members to go above and beyond with their responsibilities. Every quarter, we have in-depth employee performance reviews, and based on how well someone has hit their expectations, they’ll get a raise.”

Offer WFH options or Flexible Schedules

With most businesses going remote last year during COVID-19, many employees will not want to go back in the future at all. If your business is able to run on a remote or hybrid plan, now’s the time to consider making the switch. 

Markus Albert, Managing Director at EatFirst, says, “I think it is immensely important that employers don’t force a return to the office on people and give them the opportunity to continue working remotely, or at least in a hybrid arrangement, indefinitely. We realized very quickly when we started surveying our employees that people were comfortable and happy working from home and considered it an important perk.” 

Heather Reid, Resource Manager at Ukulele Tabs offers another flexible alternative. “We addressed this issue by setting up a more relaxed approach where our workers can work whenever and however they want as long as they meet the deadline and the quality of work is up to our standard. Boom. Many transferred to this type of setup late in November and we only have less than five people who quit since then.”

Foster a Culture of Rewards & Recognition

We have been working hard to develop a better culture of rewards and recognition using software that allows people to build social capital, recognize and be recognized by their coworkers for jobs well done, and receive praise and publicity from the company for promotions, important anniversaries, birthdays and the like. Creating this culture while working remotely is an important component of employee engagement and long-term interest in their jobs,” adds Markus Albert.

Implement Professional Development Programs

When it comes to professional development, not many companies have an official program in place. There are clear differences between training and professional development. Training helps fill in the gaps, whereas development is focused more on the future and career path of an employee. 

Jabez Reuben, Owner at The Blueprints, adds, “These programs not only make the employees more efficient but also make them feel valued and invested in the company. We regularly hold learning events and workshops that are addressed by industry experts. According to a survey done by LinkedIn, 94% of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their professional development.”

Ramp Up Mental Health & Wellness Benefits

During the pandemic, 4 in 10 adults in the United States have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, which is significantly higher than the year before. Employees are counting on HR and employers to help support healthy mental health practices.

Ravi Parikh, CEO of RoverPass Campground Reservation Software, states, “In addition to our previous sick leave package, we offer a set number of mental health days to each full-time employee. This prevents burnout by giving employees a way to take time off when they are struggling with anxiety, depression, and other difficulties with their mental health.”

Daivat Dholakia, Director of Operations at Force by Mojio, adds, “In addition to standard health benefits, we provide employees with funding for wellness-related costs and professional development training outside of the company. We additionally cover employees’ phone bills, with the understanding that they use their phones for work. Taking care of these costs signals to employees that we value the time and energy they spend making our company great.

Allow for Mental Health Days

“We’ve handled quit rates by allowing for mental health days and a personal weekly round-up. The mental health days are just like paid sick leave: if you need a day to de-stress, you can take it. You can only do your best work when you feel your best, and this includes not just physical but also mental health.” – David Galownia, CEO at Slingshot. 

Always Conduct an Exit Interview

Just as onboarding is crucial to the longevity of an employee’s career within an organization, so is offboarding. Exit interviews for quitting employees give HR a good grasp of what may need to change within the business, and how to prevent the same mistakes from happening over and over again. 

Eduard Klein, Digital Growth Specialist at, emphasizes, “Employees quitting their job is inevitable, and the best course of action is to ask them the reasons why. Gather data on why they chose to leave the company, and from there, formulate a plan on how to prevent this from occurring again.”

Be Transparent About Business Stability

Being honest and transparent with your team members about business stability reminds them of their importance in the success of the organization. HR managers and leadership should take extra steps to keep employees informed on business plans. 

Communicate to employees about business plans, future prospects, and business continuity and success metrics. Organizations need to ensure employees feel supported during crises and don’t have to worry or be overwhelmed with their job security and financial stability. When employees are confident in organizational offerings and can put their trust in organizations taking care of not just the employee, but also their families, the employee churn rate is reduced.” – Gargi Rajan, Head HR, Mercer | Mettl

Fund Continued Education

“Corporate workers today are as ambitious as ever, and most of them are keen on upskilling themselves for career growth. I decided to facilitate this, seeing it as another win-win opportunity – employees who keep upgrading their skillset are assets for any company. And, they’ll be less likely to leave when you keep on supporting their career advancement. I encourage my employees to look up courses and training opportunities within their job scope, and once they have my approval, the company funds the required fee.” – Anjela Mangrum, Founder and President at Mangrum Career Solutions

Whether or not your business is directly feeling the impacts of “The Great Resignation”, it’s crucial as an HR professional to continuously reflect on your employee retention strategies for a brighter future at your company. One of the key ways to better manage and keep employees in the loop is to adopt modern HR technology. If you’re ready to explore your HRIS options, take a free interactive tour of GoCo to see how we can help!

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