Want to Improve Employee Retention? Start with Inclusion.

One in five workers planned to quit their jobs this year. Job fulfillment and the ability to be one’s self at work are two of the main reasons why people consider changing jobs. While inclusion does not guarantee job satisfaction, it is a prerequisite. So if you want to increase retention among your workforce, start with inclusion.

While The Great Resignation was a peak exodus, attrition rates in the workplace have been steadily building for over a decade and continue to have momentum. Organizations are in a two-way relationship with their employees and, even at the top, break up rates are on the rise.

In 2021, over 47 million employees in the U.S. voluntarily quit their jobs — an unprecedented mass exit from the workplace which has been followed by a continued stream of resignations and willingness to walk. PwC found one in five workers globally planned to quit in 2022. The Conference Board found up to 1/3 of U.S. workers are looking for a new job. Another survey found 1/3 of UK workers were planning to quit. Recently, Microsoft and McKinsey surveys put the number of people considering leaving their employers at 40%. 

But the Great Attrition didn’t begin with the pandemic. Quit rates have been rising for ten years. From 2009 to 2019, the average monthly quit rate rose by .10 percentage points each year. And attrition is a costly erosion of your talent and experienced workforce, which requires not just attracting people in the door, but staying engaged with them.

Why do People Leave Jobs?

While pay was cited as a top reason in PwC’s report that covered 44 countries/territories, job fulfillment and the ability to be one’s self at work came in closely as second and third reasons people were considering changing jobs.

When employees do not feel included, a significant amount of emotional energy goes away from productivity and towards concealing or downplaying parts of themselves. Consider that  77% of employees and 80% of leaders who are disabled choose not to disclose disabilities. Or that 46% of LGBTQ individuals are closeted at the workplace. Or that Hispanic women report they have to check their identity at the door in U.S. corporate environments. 

Employees who feel excluded are the most vulnerable part of your workforce. Exit interviews with employees have shown that lacking a sense of belonging factors hugely in leaving jobs. A lack of appreciation and recognition is a top reason too.

The cost of turnover has been estimated to begin at 50% of salary for an entry-level position, 125% of salary for a mid-level position, and 200% of salary for a senior executive position. And turnover is a phenomenon that ripples out, affecting overall engagement, performance and retention rates throughout an organizational ecosystem, just as a leak affects all of the water in a vessel.

How Inclusion Affects Job Satisfaction - Even at the Top

While inclusion does not guarantee job satisfaction, it is a prerequisite. Nobody is satisfied in a relationship where they don’t feel seen, heard, considered, valued or like they can both be themselves and belong.  

In what has recently been coined “The Great Breakup,” the search for better work relationships extends into the leadership realm, among women who have challenged exclusion head-on to finally earn their place at the table. But the Women in The Workplace 2022 report found that 10.5% of senior leaders and executive women walked out anyway in 2021: for every woman at the director level that was promoted to the next level in 2021, two women directors walked out the door of their company.

As Sheryl Sandberg, founder of Lean In, commented: “Women leaders are leaving their companies at the highest rate we’ve ever seen. They aren’t leaving the workforce entirely but are choosing to leave for companies with better career opportunities, flexibility, and a real commitment to DEI.” She herself leaned out of Facebook this past summer. 

Companies with inclusive (and equitable) cultures have 22% lower turnover rates and higher engagement. Research has shown that employees who say their company is doing “about the right amount” or even “going too far” are far more likely to report workplace happiness and opportunities for career advancement than those who say their company is “not doing enough.” The same report (wake up call) shows that non-C-Suite employees perceive DEI as more important to company success than the C-Suite does. 

Be A Relationship That Includes and Inspires

Rather than sacrificing a part of themselves for work, people are increasingly looking for a way to make work "work" for their whole selves. People are choosing to no longer settle or feel stuck. They want inclusion, compatibility and growth in their relationship to work.

People are valuing themselves, their time, their energy and the large part of their lives they spend in work. They now want workplaces in which they experience safety, enjoyment, belonging and opportunity; flexible work arrangements that are effective in their overall life mix; purposeful work that feels meaningful and organizations that are values-aligned; and the opportunities and pay that rewards their contributions.

Companies have to consider their value propositions in wider terms, and relative to individuals. The workplace is indeed one of the biggest relationships in anyone’s life - and organizations are waking up to the fact that wherever they are not in a deeper two-way conversation with each of their employees, the connection risks wearing thin.

In order to promote retention, engage the individuals in your organization by showing you care about them. Segment out demographics to understand how different groups are experiencing your workplace differently on factors such as inclusion, job satisfaction, opportunities and engagement. Involve third parties to solicit perspectives from your employees on what is happening beneath the surface in your organization. Coach managers to be able to hold one-on-one discussions that gauge how individuals are doing and how they need to be supported to thrive. 

Also, embrace difference and recognize and appreciate individuals, especially those who are often overlooked. Consider how to make workspaces more accessible and inclusive for everyone, and involve your workforce in that question. Listen to preferences around flexible and hybrid work models rather than imposing strict rules - and make in-office time matter. If you’ve written inclusive language into your job descriptions, have you written the same into practices in your pipeline processes - such as formal sponsorship, visible DEI leadership, meeting dynamics and internal hiring? Once people get into leadership, do they feel included there?

Much of retention comes down to relationship satisfaction. Create a one-on-one relationship with each of your employees that helps them to feel valued, appreciated, heard, motivated and inspired.


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