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How a People-First Hybrid Strategy is Essential for Retention During the Great Resignation

History has an odd way of repeating itself, for better or for worse. Just as the 1918 influenza pandemic contributed to the Great Depression, the world faces an eerily similar situation with the coronavirus pandemic leading to the Great Resignation, or what some are calling the Big Quit.

The Great Resignation describes the phenomenon whereby employees of all levels are voluntarily leaving their jobs in response to COVID-19. According to an August 2021 survey by Bankrate, 55 percent of employed Americans are likely to seek new employment in the next 12 months. Whether due to burnout, recruitment, or poor company culture, the Great Resignation has driven leaders all over the world to take a step back and reconsider what it takes to retain employees during such a tumultuous time.

Of course, navigating the new hybrid workplace model can make retention even more challenging, as employees working both remotely and on-site have different needs and preferences. Staff are also holding employers to higher expectations than ever before. This certainly includes fair compensation, but employees today are asking for much more than bigger paychecks. According to recent survey results from IBM, employees are also prioritizing work–life balance, career advancement opportunities, benefits, and employer ethics and values.

Given this information, what approach can companies take to keep their staff from joining the millions of Great Resignees? To put it simply: implement a people-first mind-set within your hybrid business model. Companies that follow this strategy have seen positive results in terms of talent retention and employee satisfaction.

But what does a people-first approach look like, and how can it be implemented? Below are the do’s and don’ts for businesses looking to transform their company culture and retain staff.

Don't Forget to Lay Down the Foundation at the Top

In a people-first organization, being a successful executive manager means being acutely aware of employee morale and—especially—their happiness. This is not an easy job, which is why it is essential for businesses to hire self-aware, empathic executives and set expectations for them on day one.

A people-first mindset is a companywide commitment, beginning with a rock-solid foundation. This must originate from top executives and those in leadership positions. A people-first organization must communicate with all leaders that their performance will be evaluated, in part, on the satisfaction and retention of those they manage. If they are not on board from the start, a people-first approach will never be successful, especially in a hybrid environment.

Don’t Be the Leader Who Is All Talk and No Action

It is important to highlight that leaders are not exempt from the above standards. There should be no delegation from the top executive when it comes to fostering a people-first culture. On the contrary, people-first leaders play the biggest role in cultivating and perpetuating a positive, welcoming environment. Leaders need to be walking the talk and actively demonstrating that they are putting in the effort each and every day. This means reaching out—prioritizing people above everything else—and being flexible enough to make changes so others don’t feel lonely or marginalized.

For example, when the pandemic was spreading in March 2020, my company began to see a trend of selective layoffs and terminations across the region. Our employees were worried about their jobs. As the leader in the region, I immediately addressed those concerns with a series of internal communications that responded to employee concerns in an honest way. I encouraged people to keep working from home since we were still open for business—even though we were 100 percent remote. Then I worked with our finance team to apply for a U.S. government Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to ensure that we had adequate cash on hand to keep our personnel employed. We have since paid back the loan, and we never had to lay off a single person. Our strategy paid off—employee morale and loyalty were maintained throughout the pandemic.  

Leaders should approach people with authentic empathy and understanding so they can mitigate a lot of employee stress and anxiety. When leaders commit to the people-first initiative, it will signal to their employees that they are valued as individuals, making them happier workers. And happy workers, as studies have shown, are more productive workers—13 percent more productive, to be exact.

Do Select Core Values that Foster Team-Building and Openness

Let’s face it, even daily team-building happy hours are not able to fix deeply rooted issues within an organization. A successful hybrid organization must establish core values that foster a culture of inclusion and openness—and live by them. If a company wishes to successfully move to a hybrid model, it has to select core values that permit such a model to work in the first place. Core values that center on reliability, openness, innovation, and flexibility must be widely visible to employees both on- and off-premises.

Leaders have to double down with clear actions to put those values front and center in their employees’ everyday working lives. Similarly, organizations must re-visit, prioritize, and showcase their mission statement, and ensure that current and prospective employees align with it.

When the big-picture goals are clear and prominently featured in day-to-day work life—and these align with an open company culture—employees will have a much easier time committing to an organization’s objectives and purpose whether they are geographically together or not.

Do Provide Your Employees with a Channel for Open Communication

Employees should feel empowered and welcome to have open and honest conversations with colleagues of all levels—anywhere from an entry-level person to the CEO—no matter where they are. Nobody should be off-limits to anybody within a successful hybrid organization. Having an open-door policy with a remote/distributed workforce will break down barriers and encourage constructive and healthy conversations to occur, enabling problems to be solved before they become overwhelming.

These open lines of communication not only ensure that all voices are heard, but also build trust among employees. When employees feel heard and trusted, they are more likely to stick around for the long haul.

Do Implement Policies that Align with Your Core Values

If you select core values that center on reliability, openness, innovation, and flexibility, then your policies need to showcase these values. For example, you could arm your personnel with notebook PCs instead of desktop computers and give them a flexible working environment so they have the freedom to work from wherever. You have to make certain that you put procedures and technology in place that ensure your business will be unaffected by your employees moving around.

For example, when the pandemic hit, we were already prepared and our staff could work remotely. We had installed cloud-based telephony (not just Microsoft Teams, but PureCloud for our call centers). We also had webcam capabilities for all laptops and external webcams for home office setups. TeamViewer for remote support work was already up and running, and we had already upgraded our Global VPN infrastructure which enabled us to have the capacity to handle over 1,000 users simultaneously across all regions. Finally, we were using cloud-based technologies to handle everything from project management to reporting to IT ticketing. The transition was seamless because we were already operating in a quasi-hybrid working environment prior to the pandemic.

In short, when you establish and foster company policies that enable a successful hybrid environment, you’ll be contributing directly to a people-first culture and aid in maintaining employee happiness and tenure.

Do Encourage Employees to Prioritize Their Mental Health

Work–life balance and mental health have been at the forefront of business conversations over the last two years, and for good reason. Research suggests that the majority of employees have experienced burnout at some point in their career, and businesses that wish to maintain a happy and motivated workforce must actively promote flexible workspaces and work–life balance. People are more than just the work they produce each week—business leaders must not only understand this, but treat it as a lens through which they view every aspect of the organization.

Companies that value their staff will put forth resources such as meditation or free counseling, encourage mental health days, and have open conversations to prove their commitment to employees. This is particularly useful in challenging times like a pandemic, and it can help support employees who may not easily adjust to the hybrid model. When employers spend time, money, and resources on creating an environment with a people-first mindset, they not only help to retain their staff, but they can also recruit new talent.

Retaining staff has never been more important than in the era of the Great Resignation. Although a healthy company culture does not guarantee employee retention, it aids in combating unhappiness and attrition. Company culture isn’t just about happy hours, a snack bar, or games in the office (although those perks may help); it’s also about a deeper, heartfelt philosophy. This is where the people-first mindset in a hybrid workplace comes into play. If executed properly and genuinely, businesses may avoid the Great Resignation and prosper in their own era of the Great Retention.

Tim Palmquist, vice president, Americas, for Milestone, has 28 years of experience in the technology industry. This spawned perspectives that range across IT and include IP video from the early adopter days through today. He joined Milestone in 2007 and has supported and navigated the growth of Milestone through several sales, operations, and leadership roles in the Americas region. Palmquist is passionate about driving the opportunities of the open platform business model, believing that customers are best served by the innovations of a partner community working in cooperation together.