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By Bill Staikos, SVP, Evangelist & Head of Community Engagement at Medallia

There is plenty of debate around the reasons behind the Great Resignation. Reports on this show workers are quitting for any number of reasons, such as more money, more flexibility, reshaped professional values, burnout and more. No matter the reason, research shows that companies can expect an additional 20 – 30% of workers in the U.S. to leave their jobs in the next 12 months; and these statistics present the financial services industry with a need for revamped retention strategies.

Financial institutions are responding with as many solutions as there are reasons for the turnover issues they’re facing. Some have implemented wellness days, while others are increasing flexible work hours. There are even some companies that see pre-pandemic office perks as no longer valuable, removing free coffee and lunches while requiring employees to be physically present five days per week. Despite these initiatives, a lack of understanding what is truly important to today’s workforce can have a negative impact on morale and further exacerbate the underlying causes of resignation.

For leaders in financial services, this workforce phenomenon begs the question, “What can I do to keep my team intact and performing at the highest level of efficacy?” Put simply, the onus is not just at the corporate or HR level to serve up a magic bullet. Every manager or leader needs to consider what they are doing, or not doing, for each individual on their team to navigate turnover contagion.

Begin with Discovery

It’s important for leaders to start with a discovery phase and create a full view of their workforce’s needs. This can be done through “always on” feedback channels or by deploying a survey that asks what is important to them in a workplace, what triggers would prompt them to consider leaving, what can the company and leaders do to meet their needs, as well as if they feel a sense of belonging and connection with the purpose and values of the company. This quantitative work should also be augmented with qualitative insights via one-to-one discussions with some individuals to gain a deeper understanding of the results uncovered in the survey.

The results of this research should then prompt open ideation with the larger workforce. Financial services leaders should co-create solutions with the people directly impacted, as it will give employees a sense of ownership of the outcomes.

More advanced capabilities like crowdsourcing can foster innovative ideas from employees, offering them the ability to look at ideas for improvement and vote them up or down. This can also help to drive ownership and accountability while creating a culture of innovation and inclusion, allowing people to feel they’re part of the process for improvement.

The Power of Purpose

Though many financial institutions are struggling to manage the shifting demands of multiple stakeholders who want more profitable growth, leaders must identify a clear purpose in order to improve workforce retention.

With a definitive purpose, managers and leaders gain strategic clarity that acts as a beacon for all of their decisions. Moreover, the workforce can tap into their basic human need of being part of something bigger than themselves, and leadership can use this as a motivator for growth and innovation.

By connecting their actions with their stated purpose, leaders can build more trust with the workforce to better deliver on a company’s strategy, which can improve overall relationships with stakeholders across the organization. This is another example of how connecting with employees at the individual level can benefit the big picture, sparking positive ripple effects throughout a company.

The Importance of Middle Management

Middle management is the glue that holds the company together and motivates people to do the work required to meet company objectives. As a result, ensuring middle management teams are successful can be a key differentiator in the war between retention and turnover, as they connect purpose to their people.

Whether through turbulent times, like the COVID-19 pandemic or a recessionary period, companies need to invest in better coaching for middle managers and create spaces for safe conversations and sharing. This can be done by creating peer-to-peer coaching and support groups for managers that meet quarterly, or by hiring external professional coaches that help managers focus on accomplishing specific goals.

Additionally, development programs targeted at helping managers should not only grant these individuals an opportunity to refine their skills and influence with their direct team, but also to influence and communicate with peers and executives across levels in the organization.

Finally, companies should revisit their culture of smart risk taking. For example, is risk taking celebrated within the organization or is it frowned upon? How companies define these parameters translates into overall company culture. By letting middle level managers know that taking smart risks to improve workforce experiences can be an engine for growth, and providing them with a platform and rewards for doing so, these individuals can transition to impactful leaders.

Final Thoughts

While many financial services companies are undergoing changes to the workforce experience, including returns to offices for some or all days of the week, it’s imperative they take a step back and create a space for listening and learning. Without it, they miss an opportunity to engage with their people at a deeper level, one with purpose as a foundation.

Additionally, while research, insights and solutions are critical, companies cannot forget the middle layer of managers. These individuals are challenged to effectively manage the pressure of performance from executives against the needs of individuals in their organization. Without proper training, development and rewards, these individuals will continue to suffer and people will continue to leave if they do not feel supported.

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