GOOD HELP IS HARD TO KEEP: Employee Retention in the Post-COVID Era

By Bob Chrismas

The old adage, “good help is hard to find,” has taken on new meaning for many businesses during the first few months of the new pandemic and post-pandemic era of social distancing.

Many companies have had to rethink their business models and modes of delivery and cannot afford the added cost of continually retraining, developing and testing new hires. Loyal employees with the skills required to innovate are increasingly valuable. This article will briefly explore the challenge of employee retention and some strategies to overcome it.

Convenience store staff are in the front line, dealing directly with the public at all hours of the day and night. In my 31 years of policing, I have come to respect and appreciate the difficult job they do. Targeted for robbery, exposed to the drug culture and other creatures who stalk the night, they are also the ones who are there to provide essentials when people need milk for their baby or emergency first aid supplies during the night. These excellent convenience store staff stand out. I believe they are underappreciated in society and sometimes undervalued in the spectrum of vocations that people might choose to earn a living.

Convenience store staff are known for frequent job changes. This can be costly for businesses. Glassdoor, one of the world’s largest recruiting companies, reported survey results in 2018 indicating that employers expect 35 per cent of new hires to quit within the first 12 months of being hired. This turnover is likely exacerbated in the convenience store industry, where employees must contend with the challenges of nightshifts and other odd hours and deal with the unique clientele of their industry. In the same survey, which sought input from 750 employers, they found that 45 per cent of employees in the U.S. and U.K. reported salary as the main reason for changing jobs, followed by career advancement opportunities, benefits and location.

Reviewing research for this article, I found that many disagree with the old conventional wisdom that people quit managers, not jobs. I believe it is common sense that other things like salary and benefits being equal, if people like their managers and feel appreciated, they are more likely to stay. A study on employee retention reported in the Harvard Law Review (2018), found that people tend to leave their jobs when they are not enjoyable, when they feel that their strengths are not being used, and when they think that they are not growing their careers. Much of the other literature supports the importance that people put on salary and health benefits.

As the baby boom generation is coming to retirement age across North America, a lot of older people are looking for things to do with their time. The Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations conducted workplace studies in 2019. They found that many non-profit organizations are partly staffed by retired people who are not interested in any salary at all- but, rather, are on a pension and seeking to give back to the community in some meaningful way with their time. This workforce of retired people seems like an opportunity just waiting for some innovative business to take advantage of. At the other end of the age spectrum, are there opportunities for convenience stores to invest in our children’s futures, perhaps with in-kind tuition for commitment to the company? This kind of outside the box thinking could result in business models that take some companies into the Fortune 500.

Glassdoor and other third-party studies have reported that company culture matters more than pay with respect to employee satisfaction and engagement. They found that improving workplace culture and career advancement opportunities can result in substantially better employee retention. Some research has found that in many industries the cost of every employee is double what they are paying for them when you add in the price of replacement and training for new hires when employees leave. It seems like a no brainer to invest more in employees and focus on improving the work environment to enhance retention.

The opportunities for improved work environments must be limitless now, as companies are reinventing themselves or at least adjusting to the new post-COVID reality. Why not engage employees fully in this process? After all, don’t they know best who your customers are, how things flow in your store and what may work? Why not consider what may work and how competitive your salary and benefits package is and if an increase may offset the costs of continually hiring and training new employees?

Some other tried and true strategies for building loyalty in employees include perks; even small things that are unique and cost very little can go a long way. Offering staff a free carwash for a family member once in a while can build pride and help employees identify with their company. Selecting the right people and onboarding new hires well is conventional wisdom for employee retention. The lion’s share of all of these factors can be rolled into one primary consideration that I’ve saved for last; leadership. Managers supervise and ensure the mechanics of the workplace are achieved. A certain degree of management is required to make things work; on the other hand, leadership involves inspiration and encouragement and stimulates loyalty. Many studies have duplicated the same results; when you ask people who their best and worst supervisors were over their career, they invariably prefer and become loyal to leaders rather than managers. Be a leader, inspire people to be the best they can be, and make your company the best it can be. See people as valuable human beings, any one who could be your next CEO, support, reward and encourage them, and see how they respond. I’m sure that you will feel better, your employees will be happy, and your company will benefit.

Bob Chrismas, Ph.D., is an author, scholar, consultant, passionate speaker and social justice advocate police professional with internationally recognized expertise in community engagement and crime prevention. An advocate for social reform, he has written and speaks extensively on innovative trends in policing, community partnership and governance. Visit Bob at BChrismas.com