Canadian employers may need to step up their game if they want to avoid costly staff turnover, a new survey suggests.

Research conducted by Nielson on behalf of human resources software company Ceridian found that nearly three quarters of respondents were either looking for work, or would consider jumping ship if approached with the right opportunity.

Among 1,001 Canadians and 1,000 Americans surveyed for the company’s annual Pulse of Talent report, 37 per cent said they were either actively or casually looking for a new job, and 36 per cent say they’d consider a new position if recruited.

In November, the unemployment rate in Canada hit its lowest point since Statistics Canada started tracking that data 40 years ago. Given the particularly tight labour market for skilled workers, human resources experts say companies can’t afford to assume staff will stick around — even for a few years.

In fact, most of the employees surveyed said they knew within one year on a job whether or not they’d stay long-term.

Lisa Sterling, who heads up HR for Ceridian, said that means employers must act faster to work with junior employees on their career development and job satisfaction — things that naturally build loyalty.

Lisa Sterling, head of human resources for software company Ceridian, said employers risk losing staff if they don’t reach out to them early in their tenure to ensure there’s a clear path for their development and growth. (Ceridian)

Going for growth

Perhaps unsurprisingly, better pay was the reason cited most often for accepting a new job — but not by a landslide. After compensation, people were most likely to leave because they didn’t find their work interesting, followed closely by not feeling respected, and by lack of opportunity to take on new responsibilities.

Sterling says that doesn’t surprise her. “I think it’s absolutely imperative for organizations to have a significant structure around a growth philosophy. It’s incredibly important for people at any age to feel like they have growth and movement.”

Traditionally, employers target senior staff for promotions and opportunities to expand their portfolios of responsibility, she says. But that won’t cut it today.

Millennials do have a desire to do work that is interesting to them … I think they’re more willing to walk away than the generations that came before them.”– Lisa Sterling, Chief People and Culture Officer, Ceridian

“The expectations are different than even 10 years ago,” said Sterling. Raised by baby boomers, many of whom clocked long hours on the job, millennials don’t want to wait decades for work they find fulfilling.

“Millennials have a desire to do work that is interesting to them. Things that give them joy and satisfaction. I think they’re more willing to walk away than the generations that came before them.”

Sterling says that spirit is beginning to influence older workers, too. “It’s one of the positive things that we’re seeing from millennials — they’re driving this desire for meaning across the organization regardless of age.”

Beyond the corporate ladder

All of this requires employers to rethink the traditional career path in ways that don’t necessarily require somebody to move into management in order to grow in their role.

“The way work is evolving now, it’s more about continuing to have an expansion of your knowledge and your experience,” says Sterling. “It doesn’t always mean climbing a ladder.”

Employees of Klick Inc. on a monthly lunch-hour bus trip, this time to St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. (Klick Inc.)

Klick Inc., a Toronto-based technology and health marketing company, has won dozens of best-employer awards, including being named a Top 100 Best Places to Work in the Globe and Mail seven years running.

Executive vice-president Glenn Zujew said that’s because of the emphasis the company places on keeping staff happy both in and out of work.

On the personal and professional growth side of things, the company has thousands of hours of curated online training content on its so-called Klick University — and not just for work-related tasks.

“You can learn how to DJ here; you can learn how to get your first mortgage. You can learn how to be a designer,” he says.

Investing in retention

Klick has a team entirely dedicated to making sure staff are happy, said Zujew. It runs monthly lunch-hour outings to visit local attractions, holds sessions that help staff adjust to new parenthood, organizes clubs that cater to various interests. It takes groups to football games and has even brought puppies into the office. On Father’s Day, it held a pickle-making workshop and on Mother’s Day a flower arranging class.

If a staffer is pulling long hours on a special project, said Zujew, “they’ll reach out to the family and make sure some Swiss Chalet is delivered to the home or a cleaning person is sent.” It’s a small investment with a big return in loyalty, he says.

“The cost to retrain somebody, to bring in a new employee and do all the onboarding is way greater than doing something like that.”

Priyanka Mehandiratta, a Toronto-based human resources consultant, said employers are wise to take this kind of holistic approach to retention.

“Employees have a lot of choices now,” said Mehandiratta. “If the work doesn’t give you the satisfaction at the physiological level, you’re not going to do it for a long time.”

She says workplaces must cultivate an employee-friendly culture that’s inclusive and flexible. “If you’re stuck in an old-school model and still looking at when an employee is coming or leaving work, I don’t think you’re going to stay relevant.”

In the end, it’s the employees who make the company and that’s the simple truth.– Priyanka Mehandiratta, HR consultant

Mehandiratta said employers can keep people happy by cultivating “a culture of feedback” so both staff and managers know how they’re doing.

“Listen to your employees, promote from within, train from within,” she said. When employees feel valued and heard, they’re more motivated to go above and beyond at work, said Mehandiratta.

“In the end, it’s the employees who make the company and that’s the simple truth.”

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