The key to retaining hybrid workers? Address work friction

With more organizations returning to the workplace and adopting a hybrid work model, HR leaders must address work friction to attract and retain talent.

Organizations continue to face a unique labor market – mass turnover coupled with increased job openings – as the global economy recovers from the trickling effects of the pandemic. And many employees recognize their newfound power. According to Gartner analysis, U.S. employee annual voluntary turnover is likely to jump nearly 20 percent this year, from a pre-pandemic annual average of 31.9 million employees quitting their jobs to 37.4 million quitting in 2022.

Understandably, employers are concerned. A recent Gartner poll of 100 business leaders in October 2021 revealed more than half of respondents are significantly concerned about employee turnover.  

Work friction creates retention risks

As HR leaders determine how to address the challenge of mitigating employee attrition, it is vital for them to consider the root causes for employee departures. There are many reasons employees leave their jobs, including organizational changes, their personal lives, their external environment or work experiences. 

Still, organizational changes related to employees’ work experiences remain firmly as a major influencing factor in an employee’s decision to leave an organization. 

Specifically, Gartner research shows when employees experience a high level of work friction – i.e., when work is unnecessarily hard – they are much more likely to leave their organization. In fact, when employees report more than nine work frictions in their day-to-day work it can result in up to a 35 percent drop in their intent to stay. Examples of common work friction include work delays waiting for a colleague to weigh in, signoff processes for new ideas or approaches being too long, and critical job-related information being hard to access.

Many of these challenges are not unique to specific talent segments, however, hybrid workers are experiencing the most work friction. 

A recent Gartner survey of more than 3,000 global employees found those who work in a hybrid or remote work environment are 40 percent more likely to report a high level of work friction than on-site workers. They are 14 percent more likely to report an overwhelming rise in the volume of tasks they complete and 67 percent more likely to be forced to create new processes in their work because none exist already. 

In a world where employees have so many opportunities available, frustrations in their work experiences will act as the trigger for them to finally respond to that recruiter or open their recommended roles email from LinkedIn. 

Today, as more employers begin to reopen their offices and adopt a hybrid work model, Gartner recommends HR leaders pursue two strategies to prevent attrition. 

Reset hybrid collaboration habits 

As teams have become more geographically dispersed, coordination of work arrangements remains a major challenge many teams are still learning to navigate. 

Teams need to create new collaboration norms. One leading organization’s HR team recognized the importance of actively supporting teams and revisited their collaboration habits to ensure they continued to be effective, rather than leaving them to muddle through and figure it out themselves. 

Some of the changes they implemented included:

  • Setting collaboration hours where everyone in a particular region agrees to be available for synchronous collaboration. This time is not intended for back-to-back meetings, rather for employees to work together, chat or even work in documents.
  • Blocking time for focused work. This approach allows employees to schedule time for solo, asynchronous collaboration. This time is for collaborating through email or commenting on documents at a time that works for employees’ needs and preferences. 

Ruthlessly prioritize work based on impact

Gartner research shows only half of employees who work hybrid or fully remote agree they can maintain a balance between work and life. This imbalance puts individuals at risk for burnout. Without the signals of a commute or in-office work experience, employees who work from home can find it difficult to identify the boundaries between their personal and professional lives. 

For hybrid and remote teams to be successful, it is critical they prioritize their work effectively. Doing so ensures employees are not only working on the highest value task, but also limiting burnout

For instance, one leading organization’s organizational effectiveness team helps teams clarify where they should focus their efforts. They help teams define the activities that will have the largest impact on business deliverables, categorize those tasks into four categories of activities and assign different levels of effort and time to those categories based on their business impact relative to the effort they require. By turning this activity into a habit, team leaders can protect their hybrid workers from being overwhelmed. 

Hybrid work models have fundamentally changed how work happens and most organizations are still grappling with the realities of these disruptions. These realities have created new work frictions faced by employees at the same time organizations face The Great Resignation.

To stem this risk, HR leaders need to work with business leaders and managers to reset hybrid work collaboration habits and ruthlessly prioritize work based on impact. Doing both will safeguard the employee experience and ensure organizations remain attractive to critical talent segments.