Creating a Stay Culture: Navigating Commuting and Other Work Conundrums

By Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

image of a coffee cup with a post it note that says Back to Work UGGHHHHAsking “why” folks are resistant to returning to the office, even after “all this time,” can help to understand why someone might quit even when things are going well. Conduct “Stay Interviews” and learn what is threatening retention.

Previously, people “put up” with a lot as a casualty of “working for a living,” but in COVID, we saw other ways. (And can we ask ourselves: do we get our best from everyone when they put up with casualties of work?!)

An example is the exhausting commute and all its byproducts—taking time away from family, fatigue, not spending enough time exercising, maybe even some anxiety—and suddenly, it is not “why are they resisting our HR policies?” It’s a request for support of a healthy work and life.

Expectations of Flexibility at Work

We have all come out of COVID and have forever changed. You cannot go through the biggest health crisis of your lifetime without having had, as psychoanalysis Dr. James Hollis calls it, “a meeting with ourselves.”

You look at everything differently. Including the things you felt you needed to put up with.

For example, my hub, Mark, commutes to work. It was always a drag, but he didn’t think much of it. Getting out when the bell rang and bringing his marking home with him allowed him, most days, to get ahead of the traffic.

image of Sarah and Mark McVanel wavingDuring COVID, teaching from home, although not rewarding, allowed him to experience other little luxuries he had never experienced, such as working out at lunchtime. When he volunteered to teach in the virtual school once everything opened up again, he saw it as a way to both help the kids who were still too anxious (some clinically) to head back into the classroom in 2022 and keep health and well-being at the top of the list.

And then, the announcement: all virtual teachers must work at school. At school! Bring your equipment (that the teachers had to purchase themselves), drive into a decommissioned school, and teach in a classroom. For what? The most enjoyable part of Mark’s job is the students, but these young folks weren’t comfortable putting on their cameras, so the second best thing is flexibility. And now there’s no joy, no fulfillment, and no flexibility. A broken psychological contract.

I gotta tell you, I’ve never seen Mark so low as a teacher as I had that year. He dragged himself to that school to talk to a faceless screen without engagement. He experienced spot inspections by the virtual school principal to confirm he was in the classroom. He chased students to hand things in and then heard parents’ wrath when their kids were stressed out due to low marks (from not having handed anything in.)

When he returned to the classroom, he was so grateful. But it had eaten away at his joy of teaching, his faith that teachers were valued by their school board, and even his confidence.

Intention to Stay

I share Mark’s experience because this was someone with a good reason to stay: six years from retirement in a role with a great pension and a mandate to have a daily impact; let’s just say the sacrifice of flexibility balanced out. It doesn’t work for everyone.

In other words, not everyone has an “intention to stay” so firmly rooted that it’s hard to shake. And we HR folks know that intention to stay is one of the best predictors as to whether there is looming turnover.

Think about it: What about professionals struggling to make a living wage? What if the rising cost of groceries paired with the gas bill makes your choice to work closer to home for you? What if you don’t get your mojo back post-COVID, and you’ve lost your sense of purpose and passion for the work? What if you never had it, and you’re looking for a role that gives you more of what you need personally?

image of a woman at a desk working while a baby plays under her desk on a play matWhether you’re reading this as an employer, a middle manager, an HR professional, or an individual contributor, we all know folks are asking themselves questions like:

  1. What is this job worth to me? What is it costing me?
  2. What is this job giving me? How is it fueling me?
  3. What gives me meaning and spirit? Am I getting it here?
  4. Who is important to me? Does work make me feel more connected?
  5. Am I safe here, getting to work and getting home?

We cannot be everything to everyone, and of course, everyone has their own definition of a job that seems to give more deposits than it makes withdrawals look like. Simply being mindful that this is a question worth reflecting on will serve us well in gauging the intention to stay. In fact, asking questions like the ones above helps get a picture of why people stay and how likely they are to stay.

When we learn folks are a flight risk, what can we do about it?

The school board Mark works for got off lucky. He was already a lifer in his head. Had he been in a workplace without such security and his love for his students so easily be “refound”, he likely would have been one of the many people who opted for flexibility over their pre-COVID job.

Not every workplace has gotten off so lucky.

The more folks are leaving, sooner and in greater numbers than ever before, we get a chance to pause, try to understand what is happening, and explore what can be done about it. As expectations rise in some sectors, opportunities remain abundant, and tolerance for role change is higher than ever, it’s up to each organization to dive into this fundamental question: “What makes people stay?”

Stay Planning

Guess what? When you ask questions like “What makes people stay?” you find answers that were there all along and that you can now act on.

We’ve been building Stay Plans with our clients in 2024. With a bit of prep and a powerful mix of folks, we facilitate folks through a one-day process where a one-page Stay Plan maps out one clear “reason to stay every day” elevator script, clarity of the burning platform, the max three priorities to fix turnover, the outcome and process measures to track progress, and a list of quick wins across all 10 phases of the employee experience journey.

Gone are the days of cumbersome People Plans. Our strategy needs to be relevant to the world around us, and that means we need a very tight line of sight on what to do to create a stay culture and what to measure every week to gauge progress.

We can talk about the trends happening “out there” or get deeply curious about what’s happening “in here.” This is where we can make lasting, impactful change for short-term gain and a longer-term picture that fits the forever-altered value set of our workforce.

If you’re unsure why folks would stay or how to build a plan to solidify stay in your organization, we should talk. Book a chat with me. Let’s see how we can make 2024 the year of stay.

Here are more delicious tidbits to help create your own Stay Interviews:

Disclaimer/Humble Brag Moment: 100% of this content was human-generated (by us folks here at Greatness Magnified). We are committed to authorship integrity and will inform you what percent, if any, is AI-generated.

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