‘I work from home or I quit!’ How can HR retain employees?


Many employees who’ve worked from home want to keep it that way. If they can’t stay home, they’ll quit. What can HR do to retain employees now?

Nearly 30% of remote workers say they’ll quit their job if they aren’t allowed to continue remote work, recent research from LiveCareer found. Another two-thirds of employees say they only prefer to work for companies that offer remote work options.

That’s a double-whammy for HR professionals: Some employees are willing to walk out the door if they can’t work from home. Others won’t consider your open positions if you don’t offer remote work opportunities.

“People value remote work and will need strong encouragement from their employers to come back to brick-and-mortar offices,” says Susan Norton, Senior Director of Human Resources at LiveCareer. “Companies need to offer new benefits that will make their staff want to stay with their companies. Free coffee and fruits won’t be enough to retain top talent.”

So how can you retain – and recruit – good talent when many people’s expectations have changed?

Here are seven ways to keep good employees and bring in new people.

Start listening, planning

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available and ready for the workforce, it’s the best time to start exploring ways to retain employees and build your future workplace. And you’ll want to do it along with employees, whether they’re remote or on site.

“HR professionals and company leaders need to actively listen to their employees and be open to their suggestions related to future work arrangements,” Norton says. “It’s essential to engage in a conversation with your employees, encourage brainstorming, and show that your company truly cares about their work-life balance and job satisfaction.”

You might form a voluntary committee from across functions to share information on your business plan and the need for on-site work. And the group can come up with ideas that benefit both ends of the remote-work spectrum.

Focus on what you can do

HR leaders are often in the precarious position of relaying unpopular information (such as, “Everyone needs to come back to work”) to a reluctant audience. And then you might have to relay that reluctance (or outright rejection) back to the top.

In this case, management consultant Liz Kislik suggests in the Harvard Business Review that you focus heavily on what matters to each side. For instance, emphasize the precautions the company takes to keep on-site employees safe and healthy. To leadership, emphasize the positive things remote work has done for the company. Perhaps you’ve increased retention or been able to cast a wider net to recruit talent.

Split the difference

Some people are happiest on site. And they may make up enough of an on-site workforce for a small percentage who still want to stay home.

Look for remote successes – such as increased productivity – to highlight when you need to sell the idea of more remote work to your leadership team. Remind off-site employees of the benefits of being on site – such as collaboration, fewer distractions, resources, training, career opportunities, etc.

Then you might be able to load the office with “volunteers” who help restart the retention and recruitment. They might act as champions of on-site work, reminding others of the advantages of being in the office.

Make it easier to work on site

Some employees don’t want to come back because they struggle to get care for children who are now learning remotely. Or they might need to help other family members.

In addition to health and safety measures, try incentives that make it easier for employees to physically be on site. For instance, one company we know turned conference rooms into socially distanced learning spaces. Then it hired former teachers to oversee employees’ students as they learned virtually all day. They even brought in a fitness instructor to get the kids moving.

Other companies work with local agencies such as the YMCA to arrange similar schooling situations for employees. They also help employees find and finance older adult care.

Make on-site work more efficient

Once you make it easier to work in the office, you can retain employees by making on-site work more efficient. That way, they might actually work less on site.

Some ways: Encourage management to call fewer department meetings (many employees consider them time-wasters).

And give everyone more guidance to communicate effectively. For instance, you might set up a communication protocol to help everyone understand what needs attention when. Example:

  • For true emergencies, make calls and drop tasks.
  • For less urgent issues, use Slack and expect responses within a half day.
  • To share information, use email and don’t expect responses.
Get creative with benefits

If full-time remote work beyond the pandemic is off the plate for your organization, you might be able to offer incentives to engage, motivate and retain employees on site.

“If companies need their staff on-site, they’ll have to find creative ways to motivate their employees to stay with the company,” Norton says. “This might include benefits such as commute time counted as working hours, more paid time off, or reimbursed commute. Some employees could also expect a pay rise if they were no longer allowed to work from home.

“Recent months showed us that people can reach their objectives and deliver on pre-pandemic goals from their homes. Companies realized that their employees are not only more productive but also happier when given more flexibility in their work,” Norton says

Offer the benefits they want

LiveCareer researchers asked employees who wanted to stay home what would entice them to go back on site. Here’s what they said:

  • Pay raise
  • Free food/snacks and coffee
  • More paid time off
  • Reimbursed commute
  • More flexible schedule
  • Improved office space (such as better equipment or private workspace)
  • More opportunities to socialize with colleagues
  • Casual dress code, and
  • Fewer working hours (to compensate for commute time)

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