People & Transformation

Dear Communicator: An Open Letter on Talent Retention & Recruitment

Dear Communicator,

It’s hard to believe that so many of us were coming to terms with furloughs and layoffs just a year ago. A job felt like a gift. And now, here we are: In the midst of “the Great Resignation,” and one of the most frequent questions we at FTI receive is, “what can we do to hold on to the talent we have and fill our open positions?”

Once again, there is no one strategy that’s going to solve your organization’s unique talent challenges, and it’s certainly not going to happen overnight. That said, we do have some ideas on where to start and what communicators need to look out for as plans evolve…

  1. Be sure you’re solving the right problems. It’s easy to jump to simple solutions, but holding onto talent in this market is not easy, and inflated salaries and perks are not sustainable. The key is to understand the pain points employees are feeling now and how their personal calculations of value have changed throughout the pandemic.

Just as businesses are evolving, what employees are looking for and what they consider when making long-term career decisions has been impacted by the pandemic and broader societal changes, particularly shifting expectations around DE&I, leadership, ESG and purpose.

Employees today are wanting to bring their whole selves to work – not just their work selves – and this is creating a desire for more meaningful connections, stronger levels of flexibility, clearer opportunities for both personal and professional growth, stronger inclusivity, and a focus on “whole health.” It’s an opportunity for companies to color outside the lines while making it specific to their employees’ needs.

When we really listen to what people are saying in formal and informal exit interviews, focus groups and other channels, we can focus our efforts on the areas that are most likely to move the retention needle and adjust for nuances across departments and demographics.

  1. Get ok with incremental progress. The questions we’re dealing with speak to the heart of the employee value proposition – what you’re offering your people as it relates to purpose, the nature of the work they do, the value they get from their interactions with leaders and colleagues, the opportunities they’re given, and the rewards they receive for a job well done. Many (if not most) companies will need to redefine how they show up for their people in all of these areas, but the retention question won’t wait for this work to be done.

Specific strategies will be defined based on what we learn in the listening stage, but we know this to be true: Speed and precision are critical. What looks like help to your people RIGHT NOW?

Think about resources to help managers better connect with their teams and lead in a hybrid environment, targeted training programs that help struggling teams onboard new talent faster, and ways to equip employees to stretch into the next role as colleagues leave. Think about flexible work hours, designated time for focused work vs. yet another call, extra time off and reprioritizing in ways that create time. Think about new recognition programs that aren’t just about the money but about impact and influence. Think about the strengths of your organization – why people joined and why they stay – and play to those strengths to get employees re-energized about what’s great about their job and the company. Think about the meaningful quick wins.

  1. Make it ok to let go as you take on more. We believe managers play a key role in helping employees to feel heard and connected. It’s been a long year for all of us, and to keep moving forward, employees need to feel physically, mentally and emotionally supported and respected to bring their whole selves – especially as they are blurring the lines between work and home. It takes a ton of time from leaders and managers to consistently show up.

Leaders and managers have to be active coaches, guiding employees to the right solutions, encouraging participation, making all team members feel seen and included, and role modeling the right behaviors. Giving leaders and managers the space to be there for employees requires that you also make it ok to put things down via delegation, better time management or simply letting go of the things that aren’t generating the right ROI. If you can make it happen for them, they’ll make it happen for others – and that’s an important step for mental and emotional health and resilience. 

  1. Tell the stories. Human nature leads us to believe everyone else has it together. Imposter syndrome is real. We need to help people get out of their own heads by telling stories that aren’t about perfection but about perseverance – stories that provide a sense of purpose, help colleagues feel seen and set a positive example.

One of the best things we as communicators can do to support both retention and recruitment is to find these stories, amplify them internally and share them externally in ways that speak to job candidates. The holy grail is to find ways to help leaders tell their authentic stories on a regular basis, so they’re creating a safe space for others to do the same. Anyone willing to be vulnerable in order to help others should be seen as a rockstar in your company. Let’s create a movement.

  1. Make it an evolution – not a revolution. We’ve all been through a lot of change in the past 18 months, and many of us (let’s be honest – we all take turns) are reaching the edge of the cliff. Changing everything overnight or constantly shifting strategies only pushes people closer to the edge because it makes them question everything. Are we even the same company anymore? Are others leaving because they see something I’m missing? Are our customers going to leave? What happens next year if the world turns upside again?

If you look like you’re freaking out and reacting, your people will, too. So, embrace change. It’s here to stay, and the companies that will be best positioned to thrive long term are those that embed a change capability into their cultures and set a clear tone from the top that shares where the organization is going, the progress being made, and the importance of each individual in contribution to the vision. But also remember it’s a tight rope, and holding onto your people also requires talking about the things that will never change. Honesty and transparency are crucial.

There’s a lot more where this came from. We’ve built a whole framework to help our clients think through their unique challenges and what’s most likely to move the needle.

But if you take one thing away from this summary, please let it be this: The key is simply to start – to do even one targeted thing that shows your people you’re listening and want to help them thrive. Change is the new normal, but if you show your people you really see them, they’re far more likely to come along for the journey.

We’ll be here cheering you on.

Your Friends at FTI Consulting


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