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Balancing These Two Things Is the Key to Employee Retention

People are hitting the reset button and reassessing absolutely everything. Here's what you can do to retain your best talent.

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As someone in the business of careers and job search, I’ve spent much time observing and contemplating the Great Resignation and the Great Relocation  movements that are fundamentally upending employment patterns and mindsets and creating what some regard a workforce crisis.

One could debate how we got here at length, but for me, the issues stem from two key concepts: value and trust.

Having experienced 18-plus months of disruption, uncertainty and, in many cases, personal trauma and loss, people are hitting the reset button and reassessing absolutely everything. One of the questions they’re asking is, “Why should I even think about working for a company that doesn’t make me feel valued, and in many respects, doesn’t embrace and reflect my core values?”

Related: The Antidote to a Toxic Culture Is a Culture of Trust -- Here's How to Build One

“A-ha” moments

Don’t think that people who’ve experienced these “a-ha” moments will be easily lured back by a bit more money. People want to feel that they're spending their time meaningfully, and now the scales have truly tipped in their favor.

So, let’s talk about the matter of trust. On September 21, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff made this a central theme in his Dreamforce 2021 keynote. He believes that we’re in a “trust crisis” and only by building kinder, more responsible businesses will we be able to transcend it. I support his view that organizations need to urgently focus on building, as he put it, “a new trusted enterprise.” 

Of course, trust is a broad concept. But here’s my take on how and why it matters in the workplace and what can go wrong if it’s lacking.

Related: Psychological Safety: Key to High-Performing Employees

Weed out the people police

Consider the structure of a typical mid-to-large-sized business: Sandwiched in between the executive team and most other employees is a middle-management layer. The rationale is that these individuals give the leadership team time to focus their attention where they need to without worrying about day-to-day operations. But too often, these middle managers become the “people police,” and a large portion of the workforce ends up feeling isolated and under scrutiny. And, in our new culture of remote work, it’s easier than ever for micromanagement to unfold. 

It’s an unwelcome recipe for feelings of disconnection and resentment.

We’re now at the point where we can’t ignore the fact that those long-established, hierarchical corporate organizational structures are no longer serving us well. I’d argue that’s been the case for many years, but in a pandemic world, these approaches are simply no longer fit for purpose. 

In an economy where employees have become a scarce and precious commodity, businesses need to say “no” to micromanagement. In the eyes of job seekers, it’s perceived as nothing more than surveillance  and at worst, spying.

On the other hand, when people feel as though you trust them, they’ll want to work for you  and they’ll do good work. It’s really that simple.

Related: You've Been Tracking Employee Productivity All Wrong

Keep an eye on productivity measurements

That’s not to say companies should go completely hands-off. Leaders need to put in the work to set up expectations, deliverables, timelines, boundaries, productivity measures and regular feedback loops that are mutually agreed upon, but they should be careful not to overcook them.

In my business, I’m just concrete with my team. We hold very detailed meetings at the beginning of each quarter so everyone knows what our vision is and what goals we're trying to achieve. Of course, those goals can change, but that’s also discussed and agreed upon  together. 

That’s it. Everyone then has all the freedom in the world to do whatever they want, when they want and where they want, so long as the work gets done.  

And if anyone needs something from me, I expect them to ask me, but they also expect me to provide the help.

Strong leadership is about being heavy on trust and responsiveness but light on “hovering” and checking up on people. If you want people to feel empowered and trusted, give them space, but also let them know you always have their back.

Japanese monk and teacher Shunryu Suzuki probably said it best: "To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: First, let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them ... is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them ... without trying to control them."