Retention rate has always been an important focus for human resources professional teams. However, it’s become a challenging issue in recent years for most (if not all) human resource departments, in what has come to be known as “the Great Resignation.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a whopping four million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. Resignations peaked in April and remained higher than normal throughout the rest of the year, with a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs at the end of July and an astounding 4.5 million letters of resignation handed in across the U.S. in November alone. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the highest instances of resignations occurred in hospitality, health care, and logistics, and the impact has been felt globally across industries and has affected the public as well.

So, what can businesses do in the face of this crisis?

Although turnover is a natural part of employment, high levels of turnover can point to major issues in your company culture. In the midst of “the Great Resignation,” it’s easy to resign yourself, thinking there’s nothing you can do. This is false however. If improving your retention rate is important to you and your company, read on to learn how to combat voluntary turnover and support higher retention rates.

What causes voluntary turnover?

Before you can combat turnover, you need to understand why it occurs. Voluntary turnover is when employees choose to leave their role with a current employer for various reasons.

A common misconception is that employees only leave because they want a higher salary. While it’s true that greater compensation is a factor in a worker’s decision to go elsewhere, it’s not the be-all and end-all reason. Other enticements are more intrinsic in nature.

Lack of flexibility

Sometimes life gets in the way for your employees, which makes flexibility one of the most attractive perks to offer. ManpowerGroup Solutions found almost 40% of job candidates said schedule flexibility is one of their top three factors for career decisions.

Poor compensation

Whether we like it or not, money makes the world go ’round. When employees are underpaid, they’re more likely to look for new, higher-paying jobs. And, since finding a new position is the best way to negotiate a higher salary, it’s no surprise employees leave when they discover better pay elsewhere.

Feeling underutilized or unappreciated

Two of the most basic human desires are validation and appreciation. People have an inherent need to feel like they matter, so when employees feel undervalued, underutilized, and unappreciated, they won’t stick around. In fact, Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist, says, “the less appreciated we feel our work is, the more money we want to do it.”

No work-life balance

Work-life balance is a goal that most employees constantly strive towards, so it logically is a top factor in their decision to leave a job. Long hours backfire both for people and their companies, leading to burnout and higher levels of turnover.

Personal concerns

Family responsibilities, health issues, and other personal concerns play into an employee’s decision to leave their job. While an organization can’t always mitigate these types of issues, offering support and flexibility during difficult times can help you retain those employees.

Toxic or ineffective management

You’ve heard the saying “people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses.” Bad bosses can be responsible for many of the other factors that lead to turnover: crappy pay, long hours, boredom, poor benefits, and feeling undervalued and unappreciated.

When it comes to management, “bad bosses” can fall into one of two camps. First, there’s the toxic managers who take credit for others’ work, play favorites, and even abuse their reports. Then, there’s the managers who are just plain bad at their jobs. In both instances, these managers can be hard to spot, as they hide their shortcomings well.

Poor benefits

From paid time off (PTO) to health insurance and more, benefits are an important part of employee compensation. When these benefits are unavailable or fail to live up to employee expectations, you could face resentment and burnout that leads to higher turnover.

Limited growth opportunities

PWC’s Future of Recruiting report revealed that U.S. job seekers are willing to forgo as much as 12% of their salary for development opportunities, including more training. Growth and development opportunities allow employees to envision a future for themselves at a company. When they feel stuck with no chance for movement, they’ll go somewhere that does offer it.


Bored workers are unlikely to be productive or find enjoyment in their jobs. The LinkedIn Talent Trends survey found Gen Xers are the most likely to leave an organization because of a lack of challenging or interesting work. Yikes!

Why is turnover so high right now?

The Covid-19 pandemic upended many established practices, including how and where people work. Around the world, offices shut their doors and employees began setting up workspaces at home. Telecommuting rapidly became the norm, and phrases like “I think you’re still on mute!” have turned into TikToks and memes memorializing the shift to work-from-home life.

Turnover rates vary from industry to industry. Unsurprisingly, front-line workers — those in customer service or hospitality-type jobs with lower incomes and fewer benefits — have seen the highest instances of resignations. They’re followed by burned-out health care workers and those in the logistics field who’ve been inundated with labor shortages and higher-than-normal volumes of cargo.

While some employees left their roles as a result of burnout, others decided to change careers. For some, these resignations provide the perfect opportunity for a job change.

A quick look at the technology sector over the past two years demonstrates just how good the getting has been. Companies like Zoom and Slack grew exponentially during the pandemic as their products were adopted faster than ever before. And, since tech companies have a long-established reputation for being flexible and offering great perks, it’s no wonder workers have flocked to these types of opportunities.

Finally, for some, the Covid-19 pandemic revealed just how unhappy they were in their jobs. As a result, many workers handed in their notice to focus on themselves and their own well-being instead.

How can I avoid voluntary turnover at my organization?

We’d love to offer you a one-size-fits-all solution for tackling voluntary turnover, but — you guessed it — it’s not that easy. The reasons for turnover vary by organization and by individual, which is why virtually every company faces this challenge in some capacity. Although turnover is inevitable, there are steps you can take to reduce turnover, as well as help you attract top talent in the first place.

Be engaging and supportive

There’s a classic scene in “Office Space” that many of us can relate to when we look back on our careers to date. Ron Livingstone says, “Yeah, I just stare at my desk, but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch too. I’d say in a given week, I probably only do about 15 minutes of real, actual work.”

To combat boredom, offer employees meaningful and challenging work suited to their skills. While it’s unavoidable to have a few mundane tasks here and there, pushing employees out of their comfort zones and fostering a growth mindset that values skill development will keep your teams motivated. A supportive culture where failure is accepted as a key part of the learning process will encourage your team to think outside the box and remain engaged while they’re on the clock.

Foster a positive work environment

Toxic cultures are no fun for anybody and will send your people packing quicker than you can say “letter of resignation.” But a ping pong table and free snacks do not make a positive work environment.

Fostering a positive work environment means committing to your company culture. Are you living your mission and values? Do employees understand and feel aligned to your vision?

According to Slack, setting your team up for success comes down to the emotional, intellectual, and physical ways you support them. Cultivate a positive work environment by:

  • Asking for feedback and taking appropriate actions
  • Prioritizing onboarding and training/ongoing development
  • Creating a comfortable work environment for all employees with ergonomic furniture, temperature-regulated interiors, quiet spaces, and a fully accessible office
  • Encouraging collaboration and communication
  • Committing to transparency and openness
  • Facilitating opportunities for learning

Improve your hiring process

First impressions are everything. Employees often decide quickly if they will or will not stay with a company, which can significantly impact short-term retention rates. In these instances, it’s time to look at your hiring and onboarding processes. If you notice employees are leaving for lateral positions at other companies within the first six to 12 months of onboarding, this can be a signal that your hiring process is misleading candidates and new employees.

Implement a reward and recognition program

Recognizing employees by acknowledging their work and showing appreciation can go a long way toward improving retention rates and curbing turnover. Recognition and reward programs are a great way to  give employees the acknowledgement they need to feel valued and seen by management and the organization as a whole. These programs can include social recognition, monetary recognitions, and even non-monetary, tangible rewards.

The best reward and recognition programs are designed to provide frequent spotlighting and link rewards to specific actions.

Give feedback the right way

According to a Gallup survey, workers whose managers’ feedback induced positive or upbeat feelings in them were about four times more likely to be engaged in their work, with only 3.6% actively seeking new jobs. It’s important to note though that feedback shouldn’t be all praise. In fact, constructive feedback positioned in a positive light can have a greater impact on employee engagement than strictly positive feedback.

Allow flexibility

When you consider that, across many studies, work-life balance is among the top reasons why people leave companies, it’s clear offering flexibility is important in curbing voluntary turnover. The 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2019 showed about 25% of wage and salaried workers were able to work from home at least occasionally, and 57% had flexible schedules allowing them to vary their start and end times. The work-from-home trend skyrocketed in 2020 and has broadened expectations among employees worldwide who now look for additional flexibility like hybrid work environments when considering job opportunities.

Be competitive with compensation

Switching jobs is often the most effective way to increase your salary substantially, so of course employees job-hop. According to a study by jobs site Indeed, job-seeker interest skyrocketed in 2020 for higher-paying jobs across civil engineering, IT, media, communications, and software development. Besides salary, other monetary benefits can sway employee retention.

Compensation can include:

  • Base salary
  • Commissions and bonuses
  • Benefits such as health and dental
  • Paid time off (PTO)
  • Learning and development funding

Wrapping up — Avoid voluntary turnover in the great resignation

No matter how you slice it, people leaving jobs is and will continue to be a part of business. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic spurred “the Great Resignation,” a person worked for their employer for an average of four years and had 12 different jobs throughout their career.

Although these numbers have jumped to an average of one in four people leaving their jobs in 2021, this isn’t a fate employers must accept.

By ensuring your organization meets the needs of your employees and making a conscious commitment to foster a positive and engaging culture, you can reduce your voluntary turnover, attract top talent, and improve retention rates.

When employees do decide to leave for new positions, take the opportunity to solicit their feedback and learn why they’ve made the choice to move on. Offboarding not only gives you a final opportunity to have a positive impact on employees, but also offers valuable insights that can be used to boost your retention rates in the future.

About the Author: Jocelyn Pick