For most of last year, many employees were in survival mode, afraid to leave their current employer in fear of not finding work due to the pandemic. But now that vaccinations are underway and things are looking up, employers must be mindful of turnover as employees are more confidently feeling they can make moves.

One in four employees plans to leave their employer after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, according to a new study from the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV).

Findings of the January study of more than 14,000 people globally included:

  • 1 in 5 employees voluntarily changed employers in 2020 – Gen Z and Millennials make up the largest portion of this group.
  • Of the 28% of surveyed employees who plan to switch employers in 2021, the need for a more flexible work schedule or location, and increased benefits and support for their well-being were cited as top reasons why.
  • 1 in 4 surveyed employees indicated they plan to switch occupations in 2021 – more than 60% of this group had already changed employers in January.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed employees’ expectations of their employers, and to retain top talent, employers need to understand employees’ motivations and needs. More than a third of respondents said they and their colleagues have asked their employer for more flexible work arrangements, improved compensation and benefits, and more physical and financial safety and security in the past year, but only about half of employees gave employers high marks on their ability to deliver this.

According to the survey, employees want:

  • work-life balance (51%)
  • career advancement opportunities (43%)
  • compensation and benefits (41%) *note: only 29% of Gen Z said this was key to their engagement
  • employer ethics and values (41%)
  • continuous learning opportunities (36%)
  • organizational stability (34%)

Some companies have rolled out Covid programs to boost employee satisfaction, offering things like free virtual healthcare, quarantine/confirmed illness pay, and a backup family care benefit. But there remains a gap – IBV found that “while 80% of executives said their companies were supporting the physical and emotional health of employees, only 46% of employees agreed.”

IBV’s Tips for employers:

  1. Proactively engage with employees to better understand what is really important to them and their careers. Employees are more likely to be their authentic selves and open up when employers have created a culture of belonging. Employees have options. They will gravitate towards employers who are listening and taking action.
  2. Foster a culture of perpetual learning that rewards continual skills growth. Most employees want to succeed and grow. Employers can either create learning cultures to nurture the skills and talents of their people, or wait for the exit interview to find out which of their competitors are.
  3. Don’t take people for granted. The pandemic has reminded us how fragile life is. Everyone has been through a lot in the past year. Employers must demonstrate empathy and care for their employees holistically—by considering their physical, mental, and financial well-being.

Priorities have shifted for employees due to the pandemic, and that means that leadership and executives must shift their thinking as well. To prepare for and hopefully stave off possible turnover, employers must create a supportive work environment, encourage open communication, embrace flexible work options, and provide learning and advancement opportunities. Employers must be mindful of how their employees are doing – burnout is running rampant as workers are attending more meetings, working after hours, and having to juggle balancing home/work life (including having children at home in remote learning situations).

This article was originally published by Liz Carey on the NPAworldwide blog.

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