5 strategies for improving retention in a turbulent market
With more employees soon to be scanning the market for opportunities in 2021, retention is set to become an even more important focus for HR leaders.

Research conducted for SEEK reveals 2 in 5 Australians are planning to change jobs before the end of this year. The upheaval of 2020 created the opportunity for reflection – which led many people to rethink their employment opportunities.1

What’s more, 1 in 3 hirers are anticipating greater staff attrition this year, largely in response to the pandemic.2

But there are strategies that leaders can drive to help their organisations to retain top talent:

  1. Put leadership in the spotlight
  2. Walk the talk on learning and development
  3. Create open channels for feedback
  4. Get proactive about wellbeing
  5. Promote a sense of security

Here we’ll take a closer look at each of these strategies, with examples from leading organisations.

1. Put leadership in the spotlight

More than 60% of candidates view authentic and transparent leadership as among the top ways to foster a sense of belonging, so consider giving employees a direct line to the top.1

This is a strategy at ANZ Bank. During the peak of the pandemic last year, the company’s CEO, Shayne Elliot, instituted a weekly live video chat with any employee who chose to join in. He fielded questions submitted live via a remote audience engagement platform.

Melanie Treloar, General Manager, Reward and Pay, ANZ Bank, says the initiative is going to continue at the bank and that no topic is off limits.

“Shayne would often bring a member of the leadership team into the calls, and they would field questions and answer them honestly and candidly. It was really clear and genuine that they wanted to give people clarity on the things that were important to them."

Treloar says questions often blurred the boundary between work and life.

“Some people said they were worried about home schooling and productivity and their ability to be present for my colleagues,” she says. “The responses from Shayne came from a place of empathy and understanding and reassurance that we're all in the same boat.

"From an HR perspective, we know that the most meaningful messaging people receive is from their direct leader or one leader above them, but it's also really important for them to hear from the senior leaders in the organisation."

2. Walk the talk on learning and development

Learning and development is a vital retention tool, with 53% of employees saying it’s a top contributor to their sense of belonging in an organisation.2

Lauren Jackson, National Lead Partner for Client Learning at KPMG, works with senior business leaders across the country on strategies for reskilling and upskilling their workforce at scale with the help of learning technologies. She says the most innovative solutions empower employees to curate their own learning, so long as it’s aligned to organisational goals.

“If you want to build digital literacy, for instance, you might provide a structured learning pathway, as well as the ability for individuals to curate their own learning together and to share their learnings back within a peer group, via an online portal,” Jackson says.

KPMG works with eLearning platforms like Chameleon, as well as the Degreed Learner Experience program, which connects internal learning systems to worldwide ecosystems of open and paid learning resources.

"People can now expect to have so many different work roles, and careers are changing so rapidly,” she says. “It's much more cost effective for an organisation to hire individuals once and keep retraining them with different skills over their lifetime, rather than bringing in scarce skill sets that are really expensive.”

“From a KPMG perspective, one thing I can say about our approach to learning is that it is seen as absolutely critical,” adds Jackson. “It is part of our employee value proposition: ‘When you come to KPMG, you will develop yourself and your career’.

3. Create open channels for feedback

The importance of leaders listening – and responding – to what their people want emerged clearly from the research, with 43% of candidates flagging open channels for feedback as a top contributor to belonging at work.1

This is the approach at Mercy Health Group. Sandra Cinar, Mercy Health Organisational Development and Diversity Manager, says the organisation ramped up its feedback channels during the height of the pandemic.

“We have engagement surveys for different parts of our business, but last year we implemented quick pulse surveys to get a sense of how people were feeling, whether they felt connected with their teams and managers and whether they felt that communication was clear and timely and addressed their concerns.”

Cinar says response rates have been high and that employees can see that Mercy puts their words into action.

“We use the feedback to inform the kinds of initiatives we think would support our staff around things like resilience, mindfulness and mental health training for managers.”

4. Get proactive about wellbeing

With work-life balance a growing priority, a clear commitment to employee wellbeing can engender loyalty.

ANZ’s wellbeing team gave employees an app called HealthyMe to help stay on top of their mental and physical health during COVID-19. Treloar says the organisation provides different options and levels of support, ranging from podcasts and articles to webinars.

“We also supported around 7000 of our people leaders with a science-based program designed to help them lead through a period of so much uncertainty, stress and change.”

ANZ has also taken an innovative approach to leave entitlements to promote wellbeing as well as retention. Initiatives include ‘lifestyle leave’ which allows employees in Australia to buy up to an extra four weeks of additional leave with the cost spread across their annual pay.

“We also offer loyalty leave, which is for people who have over three years of service,” says Treloar. “For eligible employees, essentially, it’s a bonus week of leave to recognise tenure and commitment.”

5. Promote a sense of security

Job security is a primary driver for candidates, with 64% listing it as their top priority.1 It may be tough to make promises in turbulent times, but there are things employers can do to make their people feel more secure.

At Mercy Health, a sense of security was promoted by making people feel valued and that their wellbeing really mattered.

"I think what people will remember from this time is how they felt their employer treated them. Did we put them first? If you feel like you were valued and you were treated respectfully and with compassion, you are much more likely to stay with your employer."

Mercy’s employee assistance program is offered to all staff, but Cinar says managers were also encouraged to do what she describes as “proactive wellbeing check-in calls” with individuals in their teams.

“With employee’s consent, we can also engage a counsellor via our EAP provider to call them directly and have a chat to see if everything is ok. It was important that people could see that we were staying true to our values and ethos at a time when there was so much uncertainty."

With more employees weighing up their options after the disruption of COVID-19, strategies for retention may require more attention. Creating a sense of belonging through authentic leadership and feedback channels, learning and development opportunities, wellbeing and a feeling of security can help to make you their employer of choice.

Read the Belonging at Work research paper here.


  1. Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published January, February and March 2021.
  2. Fostering Belonging Within Organisations, independent research conducted for SEEK by Honeycomb Strategy, interviewing 234 Australian HR Professionals conducted for SEEK in February 2021.