3 Brain-Science-Backed Tips to Improve Employee Retention During the Great Resignation

Are you worried about your employees leaving? You should be!

People are leaving their jobs at higher rates than ever before. In April 2021, a record-breaking 4 million people left their current job. According to a recent Microsoft survey, more than 40% of people are considering leaving their position this year.

What gives? We’ve always predicted a labor shortage to happen as the baby boomers began to retire, but the pandemic expedited their exodus. Plus, living through a serious public health crisis shifted the way people from all demographics think about work and life.

Now, a lot of employees are burned out and looking for flexibility, higher salaries, and a better work-life balance, and they’re willing to leave their jobs to find it. Enter “The Great Resignation.”

I’m finding myself having so many conversations with our clients about employee attrition. But, many leaders are focusing on the wrong thing: recruitment over retention.

Flipping the Script: Retention Over Recruitment

With the sudden flood of retirements and resignations, many companies are panicking and pouring more energy into recruitment and less into retention. This isn’t the wisest move since research shows it costs 33% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them.

Not to mention, companies with good retention rates have four times the profit levels of companies that don’t. And that’s just looking at the financials. Think about how much time it takes to find and hire new talent.

Sure, higher salaries and sign-on bonuses might lure in new talent at first — or keep people on board a bit longer. But, they’re short-term fixes at best. People today are looking for more, like company culture and flexibility.

Should they stay or should they go?

Make no mistake, recruitment is essential during this time of high turnover, but it won’t matter if you haven’t done some work on retention.

So, how can employers and companies find, attract, and retain the right talent right now? First, let’s look at what brain science has to say about it.

Our Brains on Retention Tactics

Aside from eating, sleeping, pooping (yep we said pooping!), and reproducing, everything else we know is learned. Our specific collection of learned behaviors and opinions is completely unique to us, and it helps form our personal filters and biases.

These filters and biases vary from person to person, so the things we want and expect out of a work environment also vary. This is why some people respond well to bonuses, while others prefer better benefits or a flexible work environment.

What people view as a reward or reason for staying at a job will differ for all your employees. But, there are some universal facts about people that you can use to formulate your retention strategies.

For one, we’re social creatures. Even the most introverted of us needs connection, interaction, and to feel like we belong. This can be tricky, especially in our new socially distant, remote settings.

But, a failure to connect can lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection, putting us into threatened states. In a threatened state, we’re likely to fight or flight our way out of the situation — the opposite of sticking around.

Making sure employees feel connected is important for retention

Aside from socialization, everyone needs support, including supervisors and employers. But much like rewards, support is unique to the individual. What makes one person feel supported won’t necessarily work for someone else. If we feel like we’re being “lumped” into a generic support system, we can feel unheard, disconnected, and isolated.

This again moves us into that threatened state.

How to Make Employees Feel Supported and Secure

Thankfully, with some planning, you can help ensure your employees don’t get to this point. Here’s how.

Tip One: Assume Nothing

The same rewards won’t work for everyone. Instead of assuming your incentive will keep your employee happy, ask them what they want! Try something like, “What would be helpful for you right now?” Then, brainstorm with other company leaders and figure out what’s possible.

Even if you can’t give your employees exactly what they ask for, the simple task of asking and attempting to provide what they need will help people feel like their voices are being heard.

Tip Two: Move Away From One-Size-Fits-All

One-size-fits-all solutions don’t address unique employee needs. We’re in unprecedented times, so it’s important to continually add new tools to your toolbox to keep employees happy and engaged. Things like customizable fringe benefits packages or choose-your-own wellness benefits are great solutions to meet everyone’s needs.

Tip Three: Consider Coaching

Coaching is also a terrific way to address people on an individual level. Meeting people where they are is essential. Employee Assist Programs (EAP) are a great start, but there’s often a stigma attached to them. When you add coaching programs as part of the rewards program and extend it to all employees, though, you’re able to customize solutions for each person.

A coach will meet each employee where they’re at and customize their approach

Appreciate the Individual Person to Maintain Your People Quota

What motivates and supports each employee is as unique as they are. Looking at retention on an individual level can help.

Go beyond the one-size-fits-all solutions, and brainstorm ways to support your people in a meaningful way without breaking the bank. Coaching is one way to do that.

Whether you’re interested in individual or group coaching, we’d love to help. Learn more about The Disruptive Element’s Coaching programs.



Paula is an experienced Corporate Executive and an Executive Coach with over 30 years of experience who co-founded The Disruptive Element to ignite potential!

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Paula Winkler

Paula is an experienced Corporate Executive and an Executive Coach with over 30 years of experience who co-founded The Disruptive Element to ignite potential!