season 1 Jan 29, 2024

In a few spaces over the past week I have talked about recruitment and retention. Most of these conversations were with people in HR but some were in Economic Development roles, educators, and C-Suite Leaders. The conversation about recruitment and retention is really a conversation about workplace culture.

Currently, there is no shortage of chatter about workplace culture online. The "Great Resignation" in 2021 (which I was a part of), and the "Quiet Quitting" trend  (hate this term - it was really the organizations pushing people out and people were suffering in silence) of 2023. This year will be a continuation of that because people aren't staying where they don't belong, where they aren't comfortable, and where it is very clear they aren't valued.

The Niagara Institute has compiled some great stats to depict where we are at:

The outlook isn't great. It's a lot of costs and a lot of transition. In preparation for this, employers are scrambling to fix all of the issues so that they can keep phones being answered, products going out, and services provided. Without people there is no business. The problem is, this scramble is messy and not sustainable. Companies find themselves scrambling to keep themselves running versus scrambling to help people who are clearly in distress (which is why they are leaving in the first place). Employers need to solve the root problem not put a bandaid on the effects.

Using a traditional business lens: employers have to build a strong value proposition. They have to create a package for employees that will make their company more desirable and that will supposedly keep them from leaving. The package might include strong inclusive values, high compensation, and career opportunities. Some companies are desperately reading any article they can find to help with recruitment and retention (at the surface level) and then add new "benefits" without consideration of their target market. Will everyone want yoga classes at lunch or a coffee bar? Pet insurance? New baby bonus? House cleaning services? Yes, these are all benefits that have been implemented to retain employees and keep them happy at work. While it may work for some, it might not be the best strategy for everyone and might not even relate to the people who are leaving.

How do you know what works?

Know your people. This is essential for effective leadership, even if you aren't focusing on recruitment and retention. If you don't know who you are supporting then how can you be sure you are supporting them effectively? Would you have a hamburgs and hotdogs BBQ to celebrate with your staff if you knew they were vegetarian? Probably not, but some places are still doing it - regularly. Child benefits don't benefit people without children. After work drinks for people who don't drink alcohol (for whatever the reason). Surprises or out of the norm "celebration" for people who are neurodivergent. There are a lot of considerations when deciding what works and what doesn't. Of course, it's challenging (if not impossible) to respond to everyone's needs. But Patagonia encourages their employees to take breaks to go surfing – something that might not be super enticing for people in Winnipeg. The more you know about your people the better you can respond to their interests and needs.

Within the conversations about recruitment and retention people are also discussing support for newcomers. Companies want to draw newcomers to their spaces but don't know how. They also don't know how to retain talent from other equity deserving groups (people who face -isms: sexism, racism, heteronormativism, classism, etc.).

Here are five questions that can help your company overcome these challenges.

1. Are we doing this as a community effort? 

Economic development and population increase is not the job of a single company. It's not even the job of a few companies. Recruiting and retaining people whose demographics might not be highly represented in your area requires a regional change. Think about your own network – schools, places of worship, retail, food service, entertainment, recreation, self-care, medical care, etc. It's likely that you can access most of these near where you live or work. Within this network we have places we need, places we would like to have, and places we can live without. This is what influences where we settle. But the answer isn't, "let's build a mosque." If you build it, they still may not come (more on that in 3, 4, and 5). 

As a community, focus on the people (see the trend here). If you are recruiting a father with three children and his in-laws are living with him, you need to consider what their needs are too.

  • Partner's employment, the children's schooling, language services, religious services, cultural services, dietary needs, multi-generational housing, public transit, social support... 

The list really does just go on because everything that you need to survive and thrive might be different than that of the people you are trying to recruit (and even retain). It all goes back to migration and immigration terms: push and pull factors. Where there are better opportunities, people will go and that will drain existing talent and create a regional drought over time. Doing this work together as a community means you are creating comprehensive pull factors and not singular factors that can easily be disregarded for something better somewhere else.

2. What do you know about people and their journey?

Much of the conversation about work-life balance over the past few years has been related to work hours and remote work. The pandemic allowed a lot of people to lean into the flexibility that was being offered to them and it worked. Many people's email signatures said (and still say) "my working hours might be different than your working hours." That proves to be true every single day when I send emails at 6:45am all the way till 8:00pm (during the week, on weekends, and even holidays). No, I am certainly not working that entire time. Flexibility allows me to empty the dishwasher, get a massage, go to the gym, or visit that cute cafe downtown that I never get to visit because they close at 5:00pm. [Side note: This flexibility is also great for economic development and can keep more money local... leading to even more economic development. Funny how that works.] 

After the pandemic lessened it's grip on society, people started to return back to the office. Some quicker than others. But was that beneficial? Someone close to me was sharing their experiences of remote work versus office work. They are commuting to the office where they book a boardroom to have confidential meetings with people over Zoom. So why couldn't they just work from home? Someone else and I were talking about this issue and how people are increasingly being called back to in-person work. They expressed "companies would rather have people in the office doing nothing all day than be at home where they would actually get work done." Sure, there are some jobs that you have to be in-person for and lots of benefits of working with other people in real-time and face-to-face... but there are also benefits to having flexibility and options.

But knowing people and their journey isn't just about the flexibility the work location. It's about PTO (personal time off), mental health days vs sick days, start and end times, the ability to celebrate holidays that are not statutory, personal health benefits, parental leave policies, communication strategies, and more. It's about knowing their identity, their experiences, their values, their beliefs, and what drives them. When you know where they've come from, who they are, and where they are going... you can fuel it. That's what DEI is all about – offering people the support they need because of who they are.

3. How do people know if they belong?

Diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility are all related to the creation of spaces where people belong. Diversity is who we are, accessibility and inclusion are how we are supported and included, and equity is the outcome. One step further is belonging. Belonging happens when people have good relationships, are happy and welcomed. You might be thinking... "well that is what we already have." Sometimes we don't think that we are excluding people because we aren't doing it explicitly or intentionally. That doesn't mean that they don't feel excluded or left out. Our intentions might not always be received the same way. For example: If you work in HR, you might have an open door policy and people can come in to talk whenever they have an issue. But, your office might be right in the line of sight and people are weary to come in because everyone else will see them. You think that people not coming in means there are no issues but really people fear being seen by their colleagues.

Ask yourself: How do people perceive themselves at the organization and how do you know? How are people included? How do people know the organization cares about them? What attributes are related to belonging (motivation, quality of work, etc.) and how are those measured at your organization? 

The more you assess how you measure belonging and confirm it exists, the more you can improve your culture (for more belonging). Really, it's about creating an enhanced experience for employees. Make sure there are strong communication pathways, clear appreciation, healthy workspaces, reverse assessments (employee to manager), etc. To know what is missing, you need to ask those that are affected. Your employees are the best people to engage when looking at creating deeper connections and belonging.

4. What is our culture fit?

During the recruitment process, a lot of interviewers gauge culture fit. Culture fit determines if candidates are compatible with existing culture, goals and values.  There are two problems with this: 1) if you have a bad culture then you don't want people to fit it... you want people to improve it; 2) people are keen to the idea of culture fit and might just say what you want to hear. To get the answers you really want, you have to ask yourself "what is our culture that we are trying to fit people into?" You might find that you are thinking more about "job fit" than "culture fit." In reality, you want people to be different than your existing culture because that is what builds innovation and grows organizations. If you bring people who think the same then you might remain stagnant. 

Culture fit also leans into bias. Are you hiring someone because they like to golf on the weekends with the other managers? Perhaps they are on your hockey team. A culture fit perspective can create value in people based on their similarities to you, even if they don't add much to the role or organization. Instead, think about a "culture add" when assessing candidates. How are they rounding out your team? What new skills, experiences, or values are they bringing on that can be transferred outward?

In the recruitment process it is really important to be clear about what you are looking for. What are the soft skills, hard skills, and identity that the new hires are bringing? What are you favouring and what is of disinterest to you or the hiring team? The more clarity you have before engaging candidates, the more opportunity you have to find someone who will truly belong and stay. 

5. How do you show people they are valued? 

The simple response is... compensation. It's really important (especially now) that people are compensated for their work. People are struggling to buy groceries, afford housing, and keep afloat. So when they are not compensated, they leave. People have so many more opportunities now than every before. Remote work has allowed people to take on jobs that they normally wouldn't and also be able to take on multiple roles. The idea of stepping stone jobs is becoming more prevalent than ever. This makes it very challenging for employers because they have to hire but also have to be aware that people might not be interested in staying forever. People aren't in lifelong careers anymore (unless you make them want to stay). 

Psychologically, people want to be seen, heard, and valued. They want to know that they matter and they want to know that they are needed. Of course, you need them to complete their job and their role might be an important part of a process. But does that really mean anything to them? A popular perspective floats around the interest quite often – if you die today, your employer will have your position filled by tomorrow. People are becoming more empowered to put themselves first because they know that they are just another number in the system to their employer. 

Responding to this is easy. Listen to them, see who they are, and show interest in them as human beings. Check in on them (and not just the typical "how are you?"), seek feedback from them, provide them regular feedback beyond performance reviews, work with them to improve, show appreciation (it's not always a pizza lunch that does the trick), be flexible, be personal, be consistent.... The more people feel like they are an integral part of the company, the more they put in and the longer they stay.

Build people so that they can leave and environment that they don't want to leave. Creating strong employees doesn't mean they will up and leave for another company. Sure, some might. But it's likely that if you are supporting them then your environment is also pretty great and they probably will want to stay.

What I Tell Everyone

After these conversations and a lot of reflection, I typically tell people the same thing. If you create a space that people want to be in, they will stay in that space. That's why we have places we enjoy sitting in our homes, our favourite place to grab a bite, our favourite hangout, etc.,... the places that make us feel whole, loved, welcomed, and at peace. That is more than the benefits that people get, the snacks in the lunch room, and the pat on the back at the end of the day. It's a combination of different aspects that show people they are seen, heard, and valued. It's a combination of aspects that let them thrive. When you build that, they will come...and stay.

Join our network of changemakers!

Get the latest updates, opportunity alerts, blog posts, recommendations, and highlights straight to your email. Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.

Janelle Abela

Janelle is the Founder and CEO of Diverse Solutions Strategy Firm. She is a former K-12 educator and found value in nurturing identity for student success. She has since expanded her approaches by working with various industry sectors. She believes it is imperative that a realistic means of change is created outside of the progressive education system and that guides the work that she do. Janelle hold a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Education, and Master of Education degrees, while currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Windsor. She is currently researching barriers to application of professional development content.