Global experts are calling 2021 the “Great Resignation,” and for good reason. The pandemic gave employees ample time to reflect on their careers — and during those reflections, many decided they’d be better off working elsewhere. As a result, millions of people have quit their jobs since April 2021, and millions more are expected to leave in the coming months. Whether it’s a desire for more flexible work models, the promise of a higher salary, or simple dissatisfaction that’s driving this upheaval, one thing is certain — employers are facing a considerable challenge when it comes to employee retention. 

What do these dramatic changes mean for your organization? While the next few months hold new obstacles in both retaining and attracting employees, it’s possible to come out on top with a happier workforce and thriving culture. Here, we’ll explore the factors that gave rise to these changes in the workforce — and the steps you can take to boost retention of employees at your organization. 

Why is the current job market so unique?

In March 2021, the Society for Human Resource Management warned of a turnover “tsunami.” They pointed to studies indicating that 50% of employees intend to look for a new job this year — and recent data has justified this extreme prediction. In April 2021, around 4 million people quit their jobs, forming a record high since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics started publishing the metric 20 years ago. 

What’s driving this widespread employee exodus? Even before the pandemic, employee retention was a major issue for employers. A low unemployment rate of 3.8% meant companies had fewer job seekers knocking on their doors, giving workers an edge in negotiating new, better-paying opportunities. But once the pandemic hit, job-hopping rapidly came to a halt. In April 2020, the unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7%, the highest number in years. Unsure of what was to come, many workers decided to ride out the bulk of the pandemic with their current employer. 

Vaccinated, eager for a change, and with more visibility into what the future may hold, employees are now making their next career move. Many are pursuing better offers at different companies. Some are switching industries to find roles they’re more passionate about, while others are opting out of the workforce entirely, leaving stable careers to start a business or regain personal time. Employees’ reasons for quitting may differ, but their decisions are impacting employers in the same ways — resulting in steep costs and countless vacancies. 

How does low employee retention affect your organization?

It’s no secret that employers pay a high price for turnover. According to Gallup, replacing an employee costs one and a half to two times the employee's annual salary — not including less measurable costs, like reduced team morale and lower productivity. Gallup also estimates that across the U.S., the costs associated with voluntary turnover total $1 trillion each year. 

To make matters even more difficult, companies are having a hard time filling vacancies while simultaneously grappling with the loss of top performers. In April 2021, there were 9.3 million job openings in the U.S., up from 8.3 million in March. Despite the 9.2 million people currently not participating in the workforce, companies can’t seem to attract the employees they desperately need. 

The National Federation of Independent Businesses found that 46% of small business owners weren’t able to fill job openings this June, with industries like food service and hospitality, retail, and manufacturing struggling most. But the acquisition and retention problem isn’t unique to any one industry. According to a DoorDash for Work survey conducted in October and November of 2020, only 15% of businesses have a retention rate above 90%, pointing to a wider problem of job hopping and dissatisfaction. 

Wondering where your organization stands? Here’s how to calculate your employee retention rate. First, choose a time period to measure, like a month, quarter, or year. Next, divide the number of employees who lasted the duration of the time period by the number you had at the beginning, and multiply by 100. If your employee retention rate is lower than you’d like, consider taking time to understand the reasons why your employees are pursuing new opportunities — and how the pandemic affected them — so you can properly address the issues that spurred their departures as well as consider what benefits and job perks could move the needle. For more pointers on selecting benefits that retain and motivate employees, check out our cheat sheet on choosing employee benefits

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How did the pandemic impact employees?

The pandemic challenged us all in many ways, and it also caused employees to rethink their attitudes toward work. It had both positive and negative effects, opening our eyes to new possibilities in how we work and bringing new stressors that tested our resilience. Here are three ways the pandemic impacted employees. 

  • New expectations about flexibility and autonomy.

    For many industries, the pandemic put remote work to the test for the first time. Although skeptical at first, most companies — and employees — realized that remote work can be viable and productive. Moving forward, many employees will expect greater flexibility in when and where they fulfill their job responsibilities. According to IBM, 54% of workers hope to remain fully remote after the pandemic. 
  • Greater desire for work-life balance.

    Having spent the majority of 2020 at home with family, many workers have reevaluated their priorities. Rather than return to working long hours in the office, more and more people are reporting that work won’t take precedence in their lives anymore. In fact, a survey by the Achievers Workforce Institute found that 25% of employees would leave their jobs for better work-life balance
  • Higher rates of burnout.

    The pandemic was particularly taxing on parents and caregivers who had to juggle home and work responsibilities around the clock. Women and people of color were hit hardest with stress and fatigue. In November 2020, there were 2 million fewer women in the workforce than in the previous year. People of color, who are sadly at greatest risk of being laid off, faced added stressors of job insecurity. 

Clearly, the pandemic disrupted work as we know it. Rather than simply trying to return to normal, it’s important for employers to consider the ways that work has been forever changed — and understand the new needs and desires employees are bringing to the table. 

What factors are causing so many employees to quit?

Although the pandemic impacted employees in many ways, these only partly explain why workers are leaving their jobs in record numbers. Experts point to a range of additional factors pushing people away from their current workplace — or out of the workforce entirely: 

  • Early retirement.

    After the pandemic hit, many aging workers decided to call it quits — for good. The New York Times reported that 1.6% more people ages 65 to 74 were retired in March 2021 than the year prior. A number of factors could be the cause, from a rise in home values to a reluctance to work in person. 
  • Fear of the coronavirus.

    Many people are still fearful of the coronavirus — and keeping clear of jobs that require in-person work. This partly explains the shortage of workers at bars, restaurants, and theme parks. 
  • Better unemployment benefits.

    Some experts point to the extension of unemployment benefits as a reason why people are staying out of the workforce. While some low-wage workers might make more through unemployment benefits than their pre-pandemic jobs, this doesn’t tell the full story. A 10% increase in unemployment is correlated with a mere 3% decrease in the number of jobs to which a worker applies. 
  • Low wages.

    Many employees are quitting for higher salaries in order to support their families. Out of the 4 million people who quit in April 2021, over 740,000 worked in leisure and hospitality. In response, employers in the food service industry have raised wages by an average 4%, twice that of the private sector. 
  • Desire for hybrid work.

    While there are certainly workers who would rather not return  to the office, the fact is that most want to go back — at least some of the time. A study by Accenture found that 83% of workers prefer a hybrid model, and the proponents have good reasoning. During the pandemic, hybrid work was correlated with better mental health, stronger work relationships, and less burnout than completely on-site or remote work. 

  • Relocation.

    For employees who relocated during the pandemic, the question of whether they’d like to return to the office is irrelevant. Many moved out of the state or across the country when the shutdown occurred, without promises from their employers that they could keep their job when the pandemic ended. As offices open back up, some have chosen to simply quit rather than move back. 

For employers, the message is clear. In order to boost attraction and retention of employees, you need to make proactive changes that align with employees’ desires and increase well-being at work. 

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How can you prevent employees from quitting?

The first step in preventing turnover is simple — listen to employees. While exit interviews are an important step in understanding why employees are leaving, it's better to learn this information before they give their two weeks’ notice. Consider rolling out a quarterly engagement survey to gauge how employees are feeling and how the organization can better support them. By cultivating a culture of constant feedback, you can hold onto the employees you haven’t lost yet — and save the costs of finding replacements. 

Overhauling your benefits package is another effective way to raise employee retention. Better benefits and compensation is the number one reason employees look for new work, which means updating yours should be a top priority. Luckily, doing so is simpler than you’d think. Here are a few five-star benefits to consider:

  • DashPass for Work.

    DoorDash for Work found that 78% of employees believe food benefits would positively impact their company culture, and 63% of recruiters believe a food offering could help them close more candidates. By rolling out DashPass, a program that offers free delivery and reduced service fees on eligible DoorDash orders, you can show current and prospective employees that you care — while enjoying a significant return on investment. Beyond fueling employees with delicious meals, DashPass also offers free delivery on grocery and convenience store offerings. This way, staff can spend less time stressing about errands — and more time focusing on what matters most during the workday. 
  • Employee Gift Cards.

    Another simple way to increase employee happiness? Showing gratitude. 82% of employees agreed they’d be more satisfied at work if their company offered free food delivery cards, making DoorDash gift cards the perfect way to demonstrate your appreciation. Buy gift cards individually or in bulk, and schedule them to be sent out on birthdays, work anniversaries, or any other day of the year — just to show you care. Remember: a little gratitude goes a long way. As UC Davis Professor of Psychology, Dr. Robert Emmons, puts it, “Most of our waking hours are spent on the job, and gratitude, in all its forms, is a basic human requirement. So when you put these factors together, it is essential to both give and receive thanks at work.”
  • Group Orders.

    If your company has plans to return to the office, integrating food perks into your routine can help spark strong employee relationships again. Group Orders from DoorDash for Work brings your whole team together for a meal while still allowing everyone to customize their order. For optimal safety, your food arrives individually packaged and labeled. 

  • Expensed Meals.

    Are your employees scattered between home and the office? Expensed Meals lets you cater to both. After you set a budget and ordering hours, employees can order a meal from one of 450,000+ restaurants nationwide and recharge during a busy workday. 

Complacency isn’t an option in the Great Resignation era. Moving forward, companies must commit to meeting evolving employee needs every single day — prioritizing retention by cultivating cultures of constant feedback, updating corporate policies, and revamping benefits packages to stay competitive in a crowded market.   

Of course, some turnover will always be inevitable. But with the right strategies in place, you can keep employee retention as high as possible — helping workers stay happy and healthy in any environment. 

Hungry for more tips on supporting your team through the coming months? Download our guide, The Future of the “Office” to improve your company culture and employee satisfaction in the new era of work.

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author-kristenvannest
Kristen Van Nest
Writer

Kristen Van Nest is an L.A.-based freelance writer with bylines in Forbes, HuffPost, and VentureBeat to name a few. As a former Fulbright Scholar and Newsroom Columnist for the British Chamber of Commerce’s publication in China, she specializes in market trends and strategies businesses can use to grow. Her free time is spent ordering in dumplings and honeycomb ice cream and writing funny content to make people laugh.