How to Retain Employees Amid the Great Resignation

Three companies share advice for engaging employees.

Written by Cathleen Draper
Published on Jul. 14, 2022
How to Retain Employees Amid the Great Resignation
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Between January 2021 and February 2022, 57 million people quit their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In May alone, 4.3 million people quit, a number that has been unchanged for months. 

And it’s not over yet. A 2022 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found one in five employees plan to switch jobs in the coming year.

People’s reasons for quitting are varied. Pew Research found they include low pay, not enough flexibility, lack of opportunities for advancement and career development, and less than optimal benefits. A Gloat survey found that 43 percent of workers are burned out and 54 percent feel their employers don’t value their aspirations or interests.

Now, they’re seeking workplaces where they can be their authentic selves, maintain work-life balance and grow professionally. And they want a job where their work aligns with their values and passions.

The Great Resignation poses an opportunity for companies to improve at engaging and retaining their employees, which will help attract new talent, too. Employers like Northwestern Mutual, Laika and Healthee are listening to what their current — and former workforce — wants and strengthening their engagement efforts. Built In NYC sat down with them to find out how.


Kara Hughes
Vice President and Senior HR Business Partner • Northwestern Mutual


Northwestern Mutual designs tech that helps make finance accessible anywhere and to anyone. 


What is the greatest lesson have you learned from the Great Resignation?

The Great Resignation isn’t affecting companies in the same way at the same time. Our attrition is higher than last year, but it’s lower relative to what other industries might be experiencing, which leads me to believe that perhaps our Great Resignation may be lagging behind other industries and companies. Fortunately, we have yet to experience the high attrition numbers some other companies are.

However, one of the greatest lessons for us is the way we work has changed — likely forever. People have reshuffled their priorities and fit work into their lives by choosing how and when they want to work. We’ve had to make tough decisions to determine how much as a company we’re going to change and accommodate changing employee expectations, ranging from remote roles to a hybrid approach. We’ll continue to evolve as the employee landscape shifts and to remain competitive, because there will still be high demand for talent.

The way we work has changed — likely forever.”


What do people need from their employer to stay?

While the pandemic has certainly shifted the way people work, some of the core tenants on how to retain talent haven’t changed. We know the table stakes: total rewards, flexibility, professional development, a good work environment where people can bring their full selves to work and do their best work. The list of must-haves has changed and will continue to evolve, but the consistent thread in retention is knowing your people and their aspirations and motivators.


Oftentimes, people leave roles because of a leader, not the role itself. As a manager, it’s critical to make connections with your people, understand what their professional goals and aspirations are and get feedback on the environment. By asking your employees the right questions, you can keep a pulse on what they enjoy about their job and adjust as needed to give them new opportunities, flexibility and more.


What advice do you have for a manager who is faced with a top performer who is considering leaving?

Find out why they’re considering leaving and then reflect on a few things. How far out the door are they? Should you have recognized this sooner? Is there something you can do to still retain them?

We’re making a concerted effort for our leaders to have “stay conversations.” This is a proactive engagement to understand where our team members’ heads are at. It’s not intuitive for everyone to have these types of conversations, but it’s something that we’re working on. We’re in the process of creating a structured playbook with tips for how managers can broach these types of conversations on a regular basis with their employees.

At the end of the day, employee relationships with their leaders are critical to having ongoing and open conversations about career paths and planning. This will ensure that employees are heard and continue to advance in their careers.



Joe Bast
VP, People & Operations • Thoropass (formerly Laika)


Laika’s end-to-end compliance and audit management helps businesses pass audits and become trustworthy partners in the marketplace.


What is the greatest lesson have you learned from the Great Resignation?

Employee engagement is central to the retention and performance of your workforce. It’s not a simple strategy, but rather a complex set of organizational tactics and actions and individual leader behaviors.


How are you applying that lesson to Laika’s own retention efforts?

There are four key pillars of engagement: transparency, learning, culture and total rewards. We work hard on these every day at Laika. We hold weekly all hands meetings to ensure transparency into goals and results. Our leaders conduct weekly one-on-ones that provide an opportunity for employees to voice concerns, questions and ideas. We have a quarterly performance development process that provides opportunities for feedback and a link to a career learning plan. We have a team dedicated to weekly cultural engagements, including diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, lunch and learns, and get-togethers like game nights and happy hours. Finally, we conduct quarterly talent and compensation reviews to ensure our total rewards are competitive and compelling.

Authenticity is most important — be sure you can follow through on what you commit to doing.”


What advice do you have for a manager who is faced with a top performer who is considering leaving?

Build a strong relationship with them before you need it. Conduct regular one-on-ones, career discussions and listening sessions. Have a learning plan for them and provide regular feedback, both positive and constructive. Openly discuss compensation and career progression. Listen to their goals and talk about a plan to achieve them together. Finally, if you are still in a place where they are considering leaving, ask them why. Ask them what they love about their current role and what they dislike, what about the new opportunity is intriguing, and how they might find that at your company.

Most importantly, listen authentically to their perspectives and ideas. Ask questions to show your concern and provide real answers, timelines and commitments. Authenticity is most important — be sure you can follow through on what you commit to doing. End by setting up a time to follow up with them and come to that meeting prepped with both answers and more questions. Make the discussions ongoing and have those discussions with the rest of the team. If one team member has a concern, chances are others share it.



Healthee team members taking a selfie


Debbie Ben Zaken
VP of People • Healthee


Healthee is a healthtech company that aims to fix employee health benefits and make health insurance less complex, confusing and costly. 


What is the greatest lesson have you learned from the Great Resignation?

As an HR leader at a rapid-growth company, your focus can easily be pulled in many different directions like attraction and acquisition. But it’s important to pay proper attention to the people you already have and focus on retention. Ensuring your team members are happy is the best way to keep talent and overcome the Great Resignation, and it’s the best strategy to continue to attract talent. 


What do people need from their employer to stay?

Understanding how employees feel on a more personal level should be a priority. Continue to make sure you know what’s happening with your teams through every step of their employment lifecycle. Surveys are a great way to keep your fingers on the pulse of your team’s satisfaction and incorporate their feedback into effective retention programs. Remember to actively involve employees with any new programs, which can include brainstorming and execution sessions, so they’ll have more ownership and input over their own job satisfaction.

Employees need to feel seen as individuals by their employers. They need to feel like they are developing professionally and as human beings.

Employees need to feel like they are developing professionally and as human beings.”


What advice do you have for a manager who is faced with a top performer who is considering leaving?

Have development-focused conversations on a regular basis to avoid surprises and ensure your employees are challenged, fulfilled and meeting their potential. No matter what, create a safe space for people to talk about their goals. Open dialogue about opportunities for growth should be a natural part of the discussion. If an employee has a growth opportunity you can’t compete with, that’s fine. Encourage your people to do what feels right for them and make the choices they feel comfortable with. 



Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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