3 min read

Turnover and psychological safety considerations for leaders

Turnover and psychological safety considerations for leaders

Are you caring for the wellbeing of loyal employees?

The "great resignation" may be hitting employers in the U.S. particularly hard, but it is also a significant concern for leaders in Canada. The Globe and Mail recently reported that 19.3% of workers expect to quit their current job in the next 12 months. And half of the organizations that responded to WSPS' 2022 Health & Safety Leadership Survey said recruitment and retention is their top business priority.

See also: Psychological safety can help you avoid turnover and staff shortages.

This phenomenon has been widely reported; however, what hasn't been discussed as much is the negative impact of constant churn on those who remain in the workplace.

People respond differently to change, and the steady loss of team members can directly impact well-being, productivity, and retention.

  • Dealing with loss - Many work relationships are among workers' most critical social connections. Losing a close workmate can affect an individual's mood and outlook and create a profound sense of loss.
  • Managing workload - In the current environment, it can be difficult to replace an employee. When positions remain unfilled, others have to pick up the slack. This can result in additional strain and stress that, if not appropriately managed, can put employees at risk of burning out.
  • Building relationships - Don't assume that new hires will immediately fit in. Sometimes employees don't click right away with individuals who have been hired, especially if they're replacing close colleagues. Interpersonal relationships are built on trust and respect, which takes time to develop.
  • The strain of onboarding and training - Constant onboarding and training of new workers can put additional pressure on employees.
  • Doubt and confusion - Seeing others leave can result in workers second guessing their decision to stay and can cause confusion and distraction.
  • Mental state - Everyone has been affected differently by the pandemic and societal and economic changes over the past few years. Some workers maybe experiencing higher degrees of anxiety or depression. Others may be languishing - feeling blah and unmotivated - and some may flourish despite all the challenges.
  • Expect that people will respond differently to significant change in the workplace.

See also: Are you and other leaders in your organization languishing?

Tips for supporting the employees who choose to stay

VUCA is an acronym that organizational psychologists use to describe today's work environment. It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Things might have been moving in this direction before COVID, but the number of people choosing to leave the workforce reflects that the pandemic definitely made matters worse.

Below are some tips to help you stem the tide of departures and buffer those who choose to stay from the impact of VUCA.

  • Model self-care - Losing team members can strain employees who may be already stretched thin and creates more work, including conducting interviews, picking up the slack until replacements are hired, and helping fellow team members cope. Make sure you are taking care of yourself and taking steps to recharge so you have the energy to support your team members and encourage them to do the same.
  • Proactively manage workload - When there is turnover, employees often pick up additional tasks and projects that they may be able to manage for a few days, but when they are expected to maintain this load for weeks and months, it can take a toll. Empower employees to ask for help if needed, and, if necessary, stop or put projects on hold to prevent burnout or further turnover due to unrealistic work demands.
  • Be accessible - Make sure you have communication channels for employees to ask questions, raise concerns and make suggestions. Be open to feedback, and remember that your actions can make or break trust at critical times like this. If employees feel ignored or don't trust that their suggestions are received well, they won't step up to assist and may decide to leave themselves.
  • Manage quality and standards - Orient new hires to your policies, processes and service delivery standards, and, if necessary, remind all employees of expectations. Ask employees who are leaving to train new hires or, at the very least, leave a handoff document to ensure that institutional knowledge is passed along.
  • Conduct exit and stay interviews - Ask employees who are leaving for feedback and suggestions. If you are worried about turnover, consider conducting stay interviews to find out how employees feel and allow them to raise concerns and questions.
  • Be professional - No matter the circumstances, resist the urge to talk negatively about employees who leave the organization. In times of change, teams need professional leaders who promote positive energy.
  • Create opportunities for new team members to bond - Consider involving all team members in certain aspects of the onboarding process, plan team-building exercises and remind everyone about organizational values and expectations.

While we can't change the external factors creating these challenging conditions, we can control what goes on within our organizations. Taking steps to mitigate the impact of turnover on employees who are choosing to stay will go a long way toward building organizational resilience and sustainability.

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