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Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

Motivating employees' return to work, as opposed to mandating it, is the best tactic, according to the Great Attrition survey from McKinsey and Co.borisz/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, organizations should motivate employees rather than use ultimatums as part of back-to-office strategies, according to a report that also warns a heavy-handed approach could increase employee attrition.

While the report was produced to better understand what is driving voluntary attrition in the labour market – something that is currently much lower in Canada – it highlights the problems with certain return-to-office approaches.

In the Great Attrition survey from McKinsey and Co., 52 per cent of the companies polled said they want to mandate in-office work four to five days a week to improve camaraderie and collaboration.

The report’s authors caution this approach might backfire. Motivating employees as opposed to mandating their return is the best tactic, they said. For instance, organizations should clearly articulate the benefits of working at the office and consider who needs to be in, and why. The report also suggests team leaders call their team members periodically to check in and to designate time for newer employees to engage with colleagues during remote working.

“The Great Attrition is an opportunity for leaders and companies to rethink how they are connecting with employees, especially in hybrid or virtual settings,” the report says. “Be deliberate about cultivating deeper team relationships and creating an inclusive, purposeful experience for people, regardless of where they are working. The stakes are high. If employees don’t find the culture, connectivity and cohesion they seek, they are prepared to look elsewhere.”

More than half of employees surveyed who quit their job in the past six months said they did not feel valued by their company (54 per cent) or their supervisor (52 per cent). Fifty-one per cent said they did not feel a sense of belonging.

The poll surveyed some 5,800 employees and 250 managers in Australia, Canada, Singapore, Britain and the United States.

“If your WFH [work-from-home] policy offers minimal or no flexibility and your justification for requiring everyone to be back in the office is something vague like, ‘it’s better for our culture if people are physically together,’ expect people to resent – and likely resist – it,” notes Ron Carucci, a best-selling author, and an organizational and leadership consultant, in an article in the Harvard Business Review.

Mr. Carucci spoke to six human-resource executives who say their companies have seen a stable rate of attrition to see if there were any common practices that had helped their companies retain talent, and whether those could be replicated.

“One important factor that jumped out at me among the HR leaders I spoke with was that they all emphasized that their cultures of solidarity were established long before the pandemic struck,” Mr. Carucci said. “One [HR executive] said, ‘If you didn’t have a purposeful culture, you were caught short. And if you were, there’s no quick panacea to fix it. But for goodness’ sake, don’t waste another minute waiting to start creating one.’”

Bosses who long for prepandemic working ways won’t fit in with new style of work

Employees need autonomous flexibility in where and when they do their work

All six companies in question had corporate cultures that were fortified with employee-centric policies. This included ensuring the company’s inner workings remained attuned to the needs of employees, particularly those seeking a sense of purpose in their work. Second, the organizations coached managers to create meaningful conversations, such as asking team members how they’re progressing professionally – and personally – and showing a genuine interest in the responses.

The McKinsey survey authors also suggest organizations listen closely to their employees and get their input on organizational changes. This includes firing toxic leaders, re-evaluating the managerial cadre to ensure they have the right people in the right positions, and ensuring work benefits and perks are aligned to the employees’ needs. Employers should be flexible in their approach to work whether it’s remote, or hybrid.

What I’m reading around the web

  • Ageism is alive and kicking. This story says IBM executives referred to older workers as “dinobabies,” and discussed in e-mails how to force them out. The executives said older workers should be made an “extinct species,” according to a court filing in an age-discrimination case against the company. It’s the latest development in a legal battle that first began in 2018, when former employees sued the company after it fired tens of thousands of workers over 40 years old.
  • According to this story from BBC, based on government satellite data, the number of trees cut down in the Brazilian Amazon in January far exceeded the deforestation in the same month last year, with the destroyed area being five times the size. By way of comparison, that area – 430 square kilometres – is more than seven times the size of Manhattan.
  • This story in CNBC says Jade Weatherington, a single mom from Georgia, makes US$120,000 a year through her online writing and grammar classes. She started her business teaching on Outschool in 2018 and now has multiple e-books and a master class guiding others that want to do the same and replicate her success.
  • Since 2018, when cannabis was legalized in Canada, the country’s industry has created more than 151,000 jobs, according to a new report by Deloitte Canada and provincial cannabis distributor the Ontario Cannabis Store. According to this story on LinkedIn, the sector has also generated more than $15-billion in direct and indirect tax revenue and contributed $43.5-billion to national gross domestic product.

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