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How these employers held onto workers during ‘The Great Resignation ’

As a record number of Americans quit their jobs, some employers are doing things right. Trust, appreciation and support helped persuade these employees to stick with their jobs during the pandemic.

(David Zalubowski/AP)

After weeks of writing about employees leaving unsafe, unhealthy and otherwise miserable jobs, I asked for stories about employers that have managed to retain employees during “The Great Resignation.” Good wages and benefits are a starting point, but I also heard about employers whose practices go beyond the basics in retaining and attracting new talent.

Trust: Remote-work options, flexible hours and autonomy were not just a public health necessity or a kindness during the coronavirus pandemic. They’re a sign that employers trust employees to manage their personal and professional responsibilities appropriately.

“We’ve all been offered [work from home] if we can do our jobs remotely, extending even to today, with no pressure to return if we’re more comfortable [being] remote,” Mary McCaffery, a technology nonprofit employee in Syracuse, N.Y., said in an email. “I feel very fortunate to be employed here.”

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Martin L. Buchanan, a 68-year-old software developer who left behind expensive metropolitan living to join a start-up in Laramie, Wyo., notes that his firm offers floating holidays for five months of the year in addition to standard major holidays and PTO (paid time off). “I appreciate [my employer’s] generous time-off policies, which give me the flexibility I need. Our younger developers, some starting families, also appreciate it,” Buchanan said in an email. (Bonus: At a time when workers older than 50 seem to be having the hardest time landing interviews, Buchanan’s employer also seems to embrace workers of all ages and experience levels.)

Steve Ross, CEO of a marketing firm in Joliet, Ill., has a policy of paying workers their hourly rate for a 40-hour week even if a project takes them fewer than 40 hours to complete, and not requiring them to clock in or out for the day. “I tell everyone that I’m more worried about the results of the work they are doing than the time they spend doing it. They are here to provide results, not time. They are all adults, so I don’t feel I should need to, nor do I want to, micromanage their minutes.”

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Of course, not all jobs can be performed remotely, and allowing workers to set their own hours is not always possible, especially when the job involves hands-on care and service to meet client needs. In that case, employers have other options.

Appreciation that goes beyond monetary rewards: While many workers during the pandemic were grateful just to have a job, some employers put extra effort into showing appreciation for their work.

Karrie Duke, director of development at a Kansas City, Mo., nonprofit that provides residential support to adults with developmental disabilities, said in an email that her organization used Paycheck Protection Program funds to provide hazard pay and bonuses: “We put every dime of the PPP money into our staff, which I believe saved us from losing many of them.”

Duke said management at her company also makes efforts to thank and acknowledge their staff through non-monetary means. “Gifts, lunch and recognition on social media hopefully help them to feel seen and appreciated. The senior team takes turns calling employees on their work anniversary to say thank you. This has been a huge hit. People like being acknowledged individually.”

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The work is still demanding, and staff are prone to burnout, especially with the added pressure of working through the pandemic. But when funding and other resources are scarce, a little thanks can go a long way.

Support: In contrast to employers that disregarded protective protocols against the coronavirus and allowed clients to do the same, some employers are making sure to let employees know they have their back. Cindy Yepez said that at the Houston veterinary clinic where she works, “we now fire clients that are nasty.”

Yepez said that in addition to providing bonuses and paid leave for staffers infected with the coronavirus, “the owners decided that things are stressful enough with covid that we just aren’t going to put up with people who are disrespectful or abusive to our staff. These people are given their pet’s medical records and told that they need to find veterinary care elsewhere.”

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The result of these policies? Low turnover among current employees and lots of interest from qualified applicants.

“Once the pandemic restrictions loosened up, we received a slew of highly qualified job applicants who were looking for better working conditions,” said Yepez.