By Brent Pearson
How many human resources and business leaders are seriously considering how they will navigate the looming talent shortage? I would argue that there is hardly enough.
Let’s check the numbers. US employers added more than 517,000 jobs in January 2023 (more than three times what was expected), with the unemployment rate at 3.4%, a 50-year low. On top of that, the Baby Boomers are retiring, and the growth rate of the working-age population is flat.
Additionally, we navigate the engagement and retention challenges that come with a more remote and hybrid workforce. Gallup’s data shows all methods work.
While there isn’t much you can do about these macroeconomic and demographic trends, there are strategies you can deploy to create a work environment where people are less likely to leave.
Connection as Your North Star
Human connection is one of the most effective yet underrated retention strategies you can use. Think of all the ways companies are throwing money at the retention problem in the form of spot bonuses, compensation changes, and more perks. None of these expensive “strategies” actually scale engagement or long-term loyalty.
What people crave is real connection with their peers and their manager. McKinsey found that 46% of workers cited an unfulfilled desire to work with people who trust and care for each other as a reason for quitting. Our new report with RedThread Research proving how critical connectivity is to your business; Organizations with increased connectivity are 5.4 times more likely to be agile, 3.2 times more likely to have satisfied customers, and 2.3 times more likely to have employees.
What is Connection … and Isn’t it
Connection is finding commonalities and having a shared experience. In an increasingly digital workplace, you might think you have a lot of connections with your company just from looking at your messaging and communication tech stack. But this is a wrong approach. Messaging tools are great for collaboration, but they are not connection tools. They make it easy to start a discussion, but to build a real human connection, you need to be more systematic in your approach.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Despite the importance companies place on free snacks and foosball tables, office perks don’t. what do employees really miss when they work remotely. Sixty percent say strong interactions with co-workers are the number one benefit of being in the office. Almost two-thirds said theirs co-workers and peers has the biggest impact on helping them feel connected.
If you want to build human connection, you need to take it personally so that people can find commonalities and have shared experiences. In our latest company off-site, we brought all employees together in person for the first time in three years. Since so many of us only interact on screen, we want to be very intentional about building a connection. We’re holding a networking competition using our new People Cards, with everyone sharing a little-known fact about themselves. We are done make more than 7,000 connections in 24 hours.
But you don’t have to be personal to be personal. Make sure you recognize moments big and small—celebrate marriages, birthdays, and other personal milestones and achievements. Wherever an employee sits in the organization, make sure they get the same experience and level of connection by using automated workflows and prompts they can act on.
Those little touches pay off. Employees with strong friendships at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, better at engaging with customers, and produce higher quality work, says Gallup.
Wow Your New Hires
But you need to make sure that the connection starts even before a day. And in this regard, the status quo is clearly not working. Up to 20% on new hires leave in 45 days.
To counter that trend, your organization can send automated communications to new employees so that their introduction to your company is hyperpersonalized. Learn as much as you can about your new employees, and show them that you are listening. Ask everyone what their 3 pm munchie is, and make sure the snack is on their desk on their first day. Consider sharing how you like your coffee in a preboarding questionnaire and then have your manager do what you like on your first day.
These gestures show you care, but they’re not just polite. If you properly onboard employees, you can reduce turnover in the first year by 50%. This retention rate is paying dividends; an employee who experiences a stellar onboarding experience becomes a brand ambassador who helps attract better applicants, leading to lower recruitment costs and lower employee turnover.
Create Cross-Functional Connections
Many teams have developed effective strategies for connecting with each other. Where we often see silos between different teams and functional groups within the same company.
One way to make cross-functional connections is through teaching. These programs can have a huge impact on your learning initiatives; 71% of employees say that in order to learn something new or change their thinking, they need to talk about it with someone.
For maximum impact, pair mentors and mentees of different ages and experience levels. Then make sure they stick to the plan by using technology to send reminders and prompts about potential discussion topics.
Strengthen Your Managers
You can’t deny the ripple effect—positive and negative—a manager has on company culture. Gallup research showed that direct managers accounted for up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement. And that puts pressure on managers who already feel overwhelmed, with 50% saying they struggle to foster human connections among increasingly remote workers.
Help your managers look like rock stars with nudges that give them timely reminders about regular check-ins, giving feedback, and sharing praise. For some leaders, managing people is intuitive; Maybe they don’t need teaching. But for most managers, it doesn’t come naturally, or they’re so busy that they forget the basics—or worse, they forget about their remote employees.
This principle is lived through learning. Instead of employees sitting through learning the video management system at 2x speed alone, you can make learning a connected experience. Managers can create friends with employees so they can learn together in real time. Learning becomes more than a team sport, and that helps create more threads of connection in your organization.
These are just a few ways you can turn human connection into a competitive advantage in your organization. You can’t control external factors like the labor market and demographic trends, but you can choose to create a culture of engagement and belonging. And with the help of technology, you can help your people form the connections they want. Together, you will grow.
Learn more about how you can encouraging performance, engagement, and commitment with better human relations.
Brent Pearson is the founder and CEO of Enboarder.