Connection: The Best Defense Against Employee Attrition

Posted in Best Practice Thoughts & Culture

Updated 28 October 2022

The world of flexible and hybrid work has opened up many doors for our employees.

… unfortunately, some of those doors lead to other companies.

But fear not! Our latest research uncovered how you can harness the awesome power of human connection in the workplace to increase retention and reduce employee attrition (You don’t even need to create any fancy new incentive plans, complicated programs, or initiatives!).

A crisis of connection

The sudden shift to remote work over the past couple of years gave our people an opportunity to do more than just spruce up their home offices – it also gave them a chance to think and reevaluate bigger topics, like the meaning and priority of work in their lives.

And this has undoubtedly contributed to trends like the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, as many of our employees realized that their more human needs (like connection, family, happiness, and security) mattered more to them than promotions, career paths, and other work-related objectives.

While it’s a good thing that employees are doing some soul-searching and discovering the things that make them feel most fulfilled, this turnover can leave your business in a lurch.

In fact, current estimates show that it costs approximately 1.5-2x an employee’s annual salary to replace each employee who leaves, and this doesn’t even account for all of the soft costs required to onboard a new employee, the impacts on morale, or the ways that whole teams can be affected when it’s a manager who leaves.

What makes things even more complex is the apparent lack of commitment that our employees feel. According to the ADP Research Institute, even among those employees who said they were not “actively” looking to leave their jobs, 42% said they would consider it for the right opportunity (this was more than double the number of employees employers had anticipated would give this response).

It may feel like we’re trying to hold up a house of cards on top of an out-of-balance washing machine, but the insight comes when we realize that work and happiness don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

In fact, everything improves when we bring the two into harmony.

The impact of connection at work

The feelings of belonging and purpose that connection fosters are among the top benefits people are looking to get from their work. (The latest research from BetterUp Labs found that over half of the employees they surveyed were even willing to trade some compensation for more meaningful relationships with their coworkers.)

And feeling more connected at work doesn’t only make employees happier, it also has several other demonstrable effects on employee productivity and even their overall perception of their workplace.

For example, 94% of employees agreed that they’re more productive when they feel connected to their colleagues, and, when compared to employees who didn’t feel actively connected to their workplace, connected employees were:

  • 4.5x more likely to answer “strongly agree” that their workplace is more collaborative
  • 3x more likely to say that their workplace keeps them engaged
  • 5.5x more likely to report that their workplace motivates them to go above and beyond their job responsibilities
  • 7x more likely to agree that their company encourages innovation
  • 3.5x more likely to say that their company is a great place to work and would recommend it to others
  • 2x more likely to consider their company inclusive.

And, yes, connection strongly influences retention as well – employees who felt connected were more than 4x more likely to say that they were “very satisfied” with their jobs and half as likely to leave within the next 12 months.

So, how do we increase these feelings of connection? Should we just pull everyone back into the office?

Return-to-office isn't always the answer to better connection

While more than half (57%) of the respondents we interviewed said the ability to form stronger relationships with their coworkers was the main reason they wanted to go back into the office, a recent study from Accenture found that on-site workers were the most likely to say they felt disconnected at work (42%) when compared to hybrid workers (36%) and their fully-remote counterparts (22%).

It’s clear that the building itself isn’t special.

As with most things, it’s what’s inside that counts.

Growing retention through connection

two work friends

“People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.”

At least that was the old mantra.

While we did find in our survey that respondents who reported feeling “very disconnected” were more than twice as likely to cite their manager as the cause of their ill feelings, only one-quarter of respondents said their manager made the biggest impact on whether they felt connected at work.

On the contrary, we found that the things that made the biggest impact on employees' feelings of connectedness (and, thus, their retention rates) were things we’re likely already doing like team meetings (49%), skills sharing with coworkers and peers (29%), spontaneous interactions with colleagues (28%), and all-company meetings (26%).

In all, nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) said their coworkers and peers had the biggest impact on helping them feel connected (and remember that an employee who feels connected to his or her peers, is an employee who sticks around).

So, where do we go from here?

Remember, we promised that you wouldn’t need any new programs or initiatives to increase your employee retention, and we meant it (Although implementing a buddy system would certainly be a smart move if you don’t have one).

As you can tell from our list above, the key to keeping your employees engaged and happy isn’t buying them with big bonuses and salary increases (which have been shown to be ineffective in the long term anyway). Nope, the key to retention is to simply enable and facilitate the everyday interactions between peers and coworkers that your people are craving.

  • Make sure your employees are making the most of their in-office days and that there are adequate spaces and reasons for in-person interactions.
  • Encourage communication across departments and employees of different ages and experience levels.
  • Make sure your remote employees are feeling the love and aren’t being overlooked for team and company events. And just be mindful to create opportunities for genuine human connection.

Remember: Increasing employee retention doesn’t just help your company; it helps your people too.

Because an employee who feels connected and stays with you is a happy employee.