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Staff retention: How to retain workers who want to quit

Group of volunteers organising food donations onto tables at a food bank in the North East of England. They are working together, setting up sections of the room in a church.
Some workers give up work because there is a particular cause or charity that they want to help, and you might be able to adapt your corporate social responsibility programme to fulfil that urge in them. Photo: Getty (SolStock via Getty Images)

The ‘Great Resignation’ has seen record numbers of people quit their jobs in a bid to find a better work-life balance and more pay. When an employee wants to leave a role, they’ve often already made their mind up long before crafting their resignation letter. However, it is costly – and time-consuming – for employers to fill vacant positions. So is it possible for organisations to retain workers who are considering quitting?

According to the UK’s Labour Force Survey in November 2021, of the 1.02 million people who moved jobs between July and September 2021, 391,000 of them had resigned – the highest spike ever recorded by the LFS.

Surveys have found that low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work are key reasons why people are quitting. Covid-19 has also fuelled a shift in mindsets around work and job satisfaction, with more people wanting to work flexibly.

Read more: How work changed in 2022

Depending on the employee and what they want or need, it can be better to let people quit if they want to. However, there may be steps managers can take to encourage workers to stay.

Regular open conversations

Sarah Taylor Phillips, a careers expert at Career Voyage, says employers and employees should be having regular career conversations as well as more formal appraisals.

“This is a more informal conversation in a safe place where employees can discuss what success looks like for them,” she says. “Following the global pandemic, we know that this is bespoke for each and every employee.”

Discuss workplace culture

Workplace culture isn’t something that should be overlooked, as it’s often a key issue when it comes to unhappy employees. Phillips says it’s important for employees to feel listened to and if they want to raise a problem, it’s essential they feel confident to do so.

“Do you discuss performance, workplace culture, working hours, pay and progression? If you’re doing this regularly, you’ll be able to anticipate a resignation and put something in place to stop it,” she says. “If you’re doing this, then hopefully you can address the issues or niggles as they arise and they can be relatively easy to solve.”

Give people flexibility

Research has shown workers want flexibility. This can mean working from home, hybrid working arrangements, or flexible hours. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to flexible working. Leaders will need to speak to people to find out what they want or need and then come to an agreement that works for both employee and employer.

Read more: Why working from home risks burning out employees

Something as simple as an extended lunch hour can be a game changer, Phillips says. “This means you can exercise in daylight – and safety – in the winter and catch up with work later in the evening,” she says.

Redesign roles

Sometimes, it’s possible to redesign a worker’s role to improve their job satisfaction. For example, if someone is worried about their workload after others have resigned, or if their job has changed since they started, think about ways you can alter their job.

“Redesigning a role – while playing to the individual’s strengths – and outsourcing parts of the role to a different person or department could help with motivation,” says Phillips.

Compromise with workers who want to resign

If an employee has handed in their notice, it’s essential for managers to find out why before they can come up with any solutions.

“They might be considering setting up their own business, in which case you could keep them on a part-time basis to minimise risk for them in the future,” says Phillips. “Someone might want a complete career change and it might be possible to do this within your organisation.”

The reasons for resigning may lie outside the workplace, too. “An employee might need more time for caring responsibilities or a purposeful hobby or volunteering role. Again, you could offer flexibility and maybe a corporate social responsibility programme could play a part.”

Think about money – or alternatives

In the current climate, money is likely to be a factor behind a resignation. Mortgages are higher and living costs are rising.

“It’s worth thinking about salaries and bonuses to address this issue,” says Phillips. “Think more than money though. Some employees would accept a lower salary for private medical and dental fees, an employee wellbeing programme, company social events or more paid time off.

“If an employee has made up their mind, you probably should let them go,” she adds. “But if you really want to retain them, it may be possible to make the changes they need.”

Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?