How to keep workers in post-pandemic economy

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Q: As the economy emerges from the pandemic, what can I do to keep employee turnover low?

A: While there is no “sure thing” with respect to what will keep employees from leaving, there is some advice I can offer based on a research study I did with several colleagues at the University of St. Thomas (Rothausen, Henderson, Arnold, & Malshe, 2017). We interviewed 59 people across a variety of organizations and industries in order to develop a model around people’s decisions to stay or leave their organization.

We found that there were six core elements of identity and well-being that played a key role in people’s life decisions (including their job). We organized these six elements around the acronym PTREAD, which stands for Purpose, Trajectory, Relatedness, Expression, Acceptance, and Differentiation.

Purpose relates to a person’s sense of meaning or significance in life. Trajectory refers to growth and development over time. Relatedness deals with connections to others. Expression involves a sense of agency and competence. Acceptance concerns the ability to feel positive with one’s decisions, and differentiation is the sense that one’s uniqueness is recognized and valued by others.

Given these results, I believe a company that offers opportunities for these six core elements to be realized will reap the benefits of lower employee turnover.

For example, it seems likely that relatedness has taken a significant hit since the pandemic started, as people were practicing social distancing and quarantining. Now that more people are vaccinated and summer is here, companies should seek to find [safe] ways to do social gatherings, so that employees can reconnect to one another.

As another example, I think leaders should make a genuine effort to show appreciation for their employees’ hard work this past year, as that will foster acceptance. I’m just guessing as to which of these six elements are most relevant to employees at this point in time, and individual circumstances may vary, but I hope PTREAD proves helpful to you (and other companies) as you seek to retain your amazing employees. Good luck!

Kevin Henderson is a professor in the Management Department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

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