Lessons from Asia: How to handle the return to work

As businesses begin to allow workers to return following the disruptions caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for organisations to get their “return to work” right — not just for employee and customer safety, but also to retain their workforce.

Many organisations are finding out that returning to a pre-pandemic way of thinking and working is no longer an option for success.

Before the pandemic, employees’ top reasons for leaving a job were due to insufficient compensation or benefits, or a lack of job security and growth opportunities. Now, in the post-pandemic workplace, employees have also come to expect flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely at least part of the time, and a healthy work-life balance. Employees are seeking personal well-being from their jobs, and organisations that fail to make that desire a priority are struggling to retain their employees and will continue to do so as more employees return to the office.

Employees resigning in record numbers

Indeed, many organisations this year have seen an abnormally high employee turnover rate, and it is not just unhappy or disgruntled employees who are leaving. According to a 2021 study by global communications agency Zeno Group, 48% of satisfied employees are open to new employment opportunities, and 54% of employees believe their organisation needs to make professional growth and career mobility a primary focus.

Clearly, in the post-pandemic atmosphere, employees are expressing their strong desire for interesting work, opportunities to grow, the ability to move up within their organisation, and continued flexibility to work from home.

In the United States, the pace of employee resignations, or quit rate, across multiple industries has increased this year compared to 2020, with the most notable rises occurring in professional and business services, goods manufacturing, and leisure and hospitality. According to statistics released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the quit rate for all industries in June 2021 was 33.3% higher than during the same month of 2020.

Asia prioritises employee well-being

To prevent high rates of employee turnover, employers in all industries need to focus on handling their office reopening well. Employers must get to the root of the problem and find ways to solve it. For some examples on how to do this, employers should look to several companies in Asia that made employee well-being a top priority by introducing important employee benefits. These companies included:

  • In China, Hilton held a webinar on return-to-work safety with infectious disease experts.
  • In India, Medtronic introduced a vaccination program for employees and their families.
  • Signify, a lighting company, has in-house doctors available to employees a couple of times a week.
  • Canva, a graphic design platform, offers free COVID-19 vaccinations for employees and families in the Philippines.
  • EY, a global accounting firm, started hobby clubs to help employees combat isolation while working from home.
  • SAS, a multi-national software provider, gave all its employees a paid mental health day.

These companies are all highly ranked in the area of employee well-being because they prioritise their employees’ physical, mental, and financial health. Employees who feel cared for and believe their organisation is a healthy place to work are less likely to leave.

According to Great Place to Work, the best workplaces in Asia in 2021 are those that provide unique benefits to employees, give employees a fair share of the profits made by the organisation, and involve employees in important decisions. These workplaces also encourage fairness, transparency, innovation, and trust between managers and employees.

Tips for retention

If employers want to retain employees, they must make an effort to meet their employees’ needs. This includes implementing tools and offering benefits to improve employee well-being and reduce the rate of employee turnover. Some of the tools that employers should consider implementing include:

  • surveying new hires, those employees leaving, and those staying to find out why they are joining, leaving, or staying with the organisation;
  • adopting an Employee Assistance Plan to help employees who may be experiencing personal- or work-related problems;
  • establishing career paths for a wide range of interests;
  • promoting from within to allow employees to build their skills and advance;
  • making sure employees feel valued by acknowledging excellent work; and
  • offering perks that will boost employee morale, such as wellness programs, flexible schedules, remote work, and paid sick leave.

Today it’s more important than ever that employers make employees feel like they are essential to the organization’s success. If they don’t, then employers will likely continue to see employees resign in unprecedented numbers, hampering an organisation’s success.

Daniel’s article was originally published by the Thomson Reuters Institute, the Thomson Reuters thought leadership forum.

Daniel Shortt is a Compliance Learning Legal Editor at Thomson Reuters, where he has written and edited compliance training materials and courses for eight years, including multiple courses on preventing discrimination and harassment.

Before joining Thomson Reuters, Daniel practised law at a private firm in New York and assisted in editing a bankruptcy law treatise. He is a member of the New York State Bar and holds a JD from Pace University School of Law, where he was an Executive Productions Editor on the Pace Law Review.

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