Redemption Amid "The Great Resignation": Three Ways Companies Can Boost Employee Engagement

Every organization wants to do well and enjoy good financial returns. But before they can reap these rewards, they should first invest in their teams.

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Startup funding in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continues to rise to new heights, with it having reached US$206 million across 44 deals in December 2021, registering an increase of 215% from the previous year. The sector's exponential growth is impressive- when I first started working with startups in the region four years ago, a client's Series A funding achievement of $10 million broke records, but today, this amount wouldn't even make the top 30.

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Indeed, a small network of venture capitalists has now grown into an investment stadium filled with angels, local institutions, family offices, strategic investors, and global investment brands. In addition to this inflow of funding, many of the region's early stars are now blossoming into prime thoroughbreds. To say it's an exciting time to be part of the region's startup ecosystem would be a vast understatement.

However, this rapid rate of expansion might not be sustainable for much longer. As firms begin to grow inorganically and quickly across borders, the need for more skilled tech talent is intensifying especially in fields like agritech, healthtech, and artificial intelligence (AI). Critically, unlike larger regions, the talent pool here in the Middle East is more limited. Although we are seeing talent move from the private sector into earlystage businesses, startups still can't hire fast enough. Without the necessary capabilities and access to functional experts, growth in the startup space may soon stall.

The current tech talent crunch is a global affliction that the MENA is not spared from, and organizations here continue to rely heavily on importing talent from overseas. But hiring is only the first step– to ensure sustainable growth and maintain competitiveness, retaining talented employees is just as crucial to ensure the workforce accumulates institutional knowledge and experience to drive the company forward. Keeping in mind the importance of building and securing a pipeline of talent, how can leaders motivate and keep their employees committed?

EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT: NOT A ONE-WAY STREET

Before companies jump in and take action to keep employees satisfied, they must accurately identify their priorities so that efforts can be directed at what really matters. In our experience at Heidrick & Struggles of working with HR leaders, the lack of advancement opportunities is one of the most common reasons for employee departures.

As we now work in a hybrid world, concerns over missing out on learning and development opportunities are amplified– remote workers worry that reduced contact time with their superiors will affect performance reviews and impede career progression, while others feel upskilling progress is disrupted, as some companies have not yet adapted their training frameworks to accommodate hybrid arrangements. Career development takes two (or more) hands to clap– while individuals should rightly be expected to take charge of their careers, companies who want to retain these ambitious and talented workers must also do their part, and work closely with employees to help them achieve their aspirations. Here are three steps companies can take:

1/ Create a conducive culture that leverages digitalization to boost flexibility and upward mobility

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that hybrid work is incredibly viable, and that it has helped to support and elevate various groups of employees, including working mums, by allowing them to balance professional and personal commitments from wherever they are. In fact, many of our clients have reported improved retention rates when flexible working arrangements are implemented. For instance, a top software company allows employees to work two days a week in the office, and also offers a ten-week work from anywhere in the world policy every year.

Meanwhile, a healthtech organization we've supported now leaves the decision up to their workforce- they can work from home when they need to, or come into the office when they crave brainstorming and interactions with their friends and colleagues. Additionally, digitalization can facilitate more equitable upward mobility, since everyone everywhere can have equal access to opportunities, and create new options for those who can't relocate or physically be in the office. HR and business leaders should explore creative alternatives that leverage virtual arrangements such as taking on a new position, or working with a diverse global team, no longer need to be hindered by geography.

Related: "The Great Resignation," And The Future Of The Workplace

2/The soft touch in nurturing employees

It's promising to note that more companies are paying attention to improving employee experience, and making every interaction count. A Heidrick & Struggles client recently shared that their management is now focused on addressing the different touchpoints of an employee's journey, beginning from the candidate experience right through to offboarding. Since revamping their onboarding and induction process, they've already received positive feedback from new hires. But of course, there is now more work to be done after an employee has settled in.

Through a good coaching and feedback system, employees and their leaders will enjoy better alignment in expectations, while also building stronger relationships to encourage commitment. Instead of simply depending on annual performance reviews, it's advisable for leaders to set up more regular and even informal check-ups with employees. This will provide valuable opportunities for employees to refresh their goals, share progress, and update aspirations (that may evolve with time). Recognizing the importance of facilitating employee development, we've seen companies apply proper grading structures, strengthen their performance management process, and train line managers in supporting their teams.

3/ Imparting the hard skills for employees to thrive

Beyond cultivating soft skills like empathy and communication, companies should also ensure that employees are equipped with the right technical expertise. With refreshed definitions of core capabilities in this digital-first era, leaders must help to identify the company's specific gaps, and ensure their teams develop the necessary competencies. For instance, understanding new technologies to serve customers, and learning how to incorporate technology to build more efficient workflows are some skills that will serve the company well in time to come. Enabling workers to contribute to the company's growth, will provide them with a sense of ownership that builds stronger commitment to the organization they work at.

CREATING A GREAT WORKPLACE TO END "THE GREAT RESIGNATION"

One of our clients from the software industry once shared an important lesson that "people leave managers, not companies." Indeed, while organizations implement strategies and programs, it is ultimately leaders who are responsible for executing and driving a positive culture. Companies that prioritize leading with empathy, and maintaining a dynamic and diverse working environment are likely to report low attrition rates- so, it's no surprise that according to Heidrick and Struggles' Leadership Monitor, 72% of APAC leaders have embedded more inclusive practices to accommodate new modes of working.

Every organization wants to do well and enjoy good financial returns. But before they can reap these rewards, they should first invest in their teams. With the right efforts and measures in place, startups that encourage the growth of their people are sure to find themselves growing together with them as well.

Related: In The Era Of "The Great Resignation," Entrepreneurs And Business Leaders Need To Add Soft Skills To Their Arsenal