• Companies currently have a record number of open positions in the US, and worldwide 41% of employees plan to leave their current jobs this year.
  • Research shows that companies can avoid the 'Great Resignation' by building brands that are compelling to employees as well as externally.
  • Brands that align themselves with connection, progress and employee development are most likely to retain staff.

Managers are now navigating the ripple effects from the pandemic, as employees reevaluate their careers and leave their jobs in record numbers. Companies have a record number of open positions in the US, and according to a survey of 30,000 people across 31 countries, 41% of employees plan to leave their current jobs this year.

One way companies can avoid today’s so-called “Great Resignation” is to invest in building brands that are as compelling internally as they are externally. When leaders partner with marketing and human resources to explicitly align individual roles with a company’s inspiring brand purpose, we have seen companies transform an exodus of employees into an influx of talent.

Marketing and human resources departments have to work together to build the brand and uphold its values consistently across the company. Both departments regularly measure the impact of their efforts against objective metrics, such as retention levels, and make adjustments.

The goal is to convince employees not just to stay, but to wish to become brand ambassadors. But what makes a brand compelling enough for employees to reach that level of engagement? We recently surveyed 1,500 employees in the US at companies with more than $1 billion in revenues to find out. We discovered that fewer than a third of employees feel that fully engaged today.

Then, we investigated the elements of brands that employees value most. We asked respondents to rate 27 statements about their current employee experience and then used statistical analysis to explore the relationship between those statements against their employers’ revenue growth and their self-stated intention to leave their company. We next compared these results to previous diagnoses of the variables that allow brands to succeed with consumers.

The brands that align themselves with connection, progress and a commitment to employee development are viewed positively by both employees and consumers. While 72 percent of employees felt that their employer was failing to deliver all three, for the few employers that did, 90 percent of their employees said they intended to remain.

Revenues rise when brands engage employees
Image: Lippincott, based on survey of 398 brands with more than $1 billion in annual revenue

Of course, many companies have tapped into one of these elements to retain talent in the past. But our research demonstrates that improvements on all three elements are required to cut turnover in the current environment. Here’s why all three qualities are important:

Connection

Employees who love the brands they work for are often inspired by the mission, values, and the services that their company delivers. They feel a strong connection with their company, especially if the internal culture reflects the values that companies externally promote. When employees feel appreciated, cared for and inspired, the go to great lengths to make a company successful.

Employee enthusiasm for a brand can be a competitive advantage for a company within an industry. We have seen airlines where employees feel connected to their brand have a fifth as many consumer complaints as rivals that have more adversarial labor relations, even if the airlines have near identical records for cancellations and lost bags.

These strong connections can be forged by making not only a company’s mission clear, but also by having everyone from the CEO down exemplify it in order to ensure employees feel that mission personally. Management teams should also empower employees to make decisions for the myriad of conditions that a rule book can never foresee and back them up if the intent to align with the company’s brand is right, even if the execution is flawed.

Progress

Our research shows employees also seek progress in their lives. They want to feel pride in being part of something bigger than themselves, and this means company achievements being known and valued by the people whose opinions matter to the employee. Employees need to see their work publicly celebrated, their careers being supported, and they need to know that their friends and family admire the company they work for. However, only 44% of respondents in our brand study felt their employers actually delivered progress.

Delivering on the employee's need for progress means convincing them that their company's products or services contribute positively to society. Our study also showed that employees favor working for brands that support them in bringing their “whole selves to work,” working “the way I want,” with “progress towards career goals”.

COVID, workers, well, health

What is the Forum doing about keeping workers well?

Keeping workers well. It is the united aim of a global community influencing how companies will keep employees safe. What is the role of COVID-19 testing? What is the value of contact tracing? How do organizations ensure health at work for all employees?

Members from a diverse range of industries – from healthcare to food, utilities, software and more – and from over 25 countries and 250 companies representing more than 1 million employees are involved in the COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative. Launched in July 2020, the project is a partnership between the World Economic Forum and Arizona State University with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

The COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative leverages the Forum’s platforms, networks and global convening ability to collect, refine and share strategies and approaches for returning to the workplace safely as part of broader COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Companies can apply to share their learnings and participate in the initiative as a partner, by joining the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare.

Learn more about the impact.

Commitment to employee development

Finally, employees want to work for employers who help them to deliver their best, and who reward them when they do. For example, one bank we worked with empowered employees to help clients with problems across different departments. This involved focusing on the importance of maintaining clients’ relationships across all of the bank’s services, and giving employees digital tools that helped them to do this.

Our survey showed that only half of employees feel supported to deliver their best, even though 77% of companies said in a separate study we conducted that the events of 2020 provided an opportunity to move towards more unsupervised work arrangements.

In response, some companies are going so far as to “un-boss” their employees in order to make them step up and take more responsibility. One pharmaceutical firm that we advise moved towards an un-bossed culture to drive innovation and engagement by flattening its structure. As part of the company’s new organizational design, managers are rewarded for encouraging employees to stay curious, focus on innovation, and self-manage. This means enabling employees to better recognize their skills and their value.

A path forward

Managers need to recognize that the Great Resignation isn’t just a short-term issue, but potentially a long-term opportunity to build a competitive advantage by retaining and attracting top talent.

The most successful brands in terms of employee retention align themselves with connection, progress, and employee development, and provide appropriate incentive systems. They convince people not just to stay in their jobs, but become motivated to throw their whole selves into a company’s mission. Companies that tap into the power of brands to deliver meaning and agency to employees will be better at serving their customers and, as a result, will realize higher bottom-line growth.