It's on every leader's mind and it's what keeps many up at night….  “Where’s the talent and how am I going to retain my best people?”


To answer that question, we need to step outside the problem for a moment; to ponder and consider the external perspective.

What is it that makes you stay in a job?

What pulls you towards another job?

Why might people be loyal to you or leave you, as their leader, for greener pastures?


Employee retention and engagement is not a linear model. Employee retention is an ecosystem of patterns, combining the economic pulls and pushes, the expansion and retraction of energy within company cultures, and the interchangeable nature of the human psyche.


In a January 2022 report titled ‘Keeping Us Up at Night’, KPMG detailed the results of a 400 strong client survey, where executives were asked to share their key challenges both now and in the coming years. Overwhelmingly, 69% stated that talent acquisition, retention and re-skilling for an increasingly digitised future was what was keeping them awake.


Given the number of reports showing data on ‘The Great Resignation’ or ‘Great Attrition’ and more recent commentary on ‘Quiet Quitting’, it comes as no surprise that this is the current key challenge.


So how do we tackle it?


In her role as a Recruitment Leader, Reo Group CEO Stella Petrou Concha has developed three key ideas that hold significant influence on employee retention and engagement. This blog covers the first idea, the paradox of safety and responsibility vs freedom and adventure.

The paradox of seeking safety and security whilst also expecting freedom and adventure


In 2020, with the advent of the COVID pandemic, businesses moved from a state of ‘thriving’, to ‘surviving’. Whatever this looked like, shutdowns, layoffs, shift in product or service offering; it most certainly meant a new way of operating for most. We were in survival mode, with little to no control.


Survival sits at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with shelter, water, food, safety, employment and health the key basic elements we require sitting in the bottom sections of the pyramid, psychological needs and safety needs. For many, these elements were threatened. In terms of employment, job security was certainly under threat as businesses closed or reduced hours, with no certainty over what the future held.


Add to this the inflated salaries that emerged as the economy opened back up again. For corporates the cost to serve ballooned, and whilst they may have managed to be agile, pivoting to suit conditions, this has come at a cost. Their people have been under pressure to deliver more for less, to create and manage change under the tightest of timelines.


Prolonged survival-mode impacts people’s mental health and wellbeing. We are not built to be in that mode for too long. Whilst this is micro impact, this is a collective psychology.


Add to the effects of survival the enforced captivity we faced. Without the freedom to choose what to do and where, when and how you do it, many people put their dreams and goals on hold. Even on the other side of lockdown, with the cost of travel being out of reach for many, it is an undesirable feeling of being controlled that we can’t shake off.


Control, security and consistency exist on a continuum, with their opposites, freedom, adventure and novelty. For years we have been forced to sit at one end of that spectrum as we focused on survival. As we have emerged from that period the pendulum has swung swifty back in the other direction, towards freedom and adventure, as we attempt to regain the balance we have craved for so long.


This is where we find ourselves. The Great Attrition and Quiet Quitting are a collective stampede towards the other end of the continuum. What has been missing are those elements of novelty and freedom, which is where we should be turning our attention if we want to attract and retain good people. It is our role as a leader to understand this paradox and manage our response to it.


Career stability and career growth are always in a state of flux, and we are always looking for the balance point. We must understand that sometimes your people don’t resign because of you, or because of the company, but because there is something deep within themselves that is driving them. They are trying to address the balance. You need to understand these drivers if you want to work on retention.


Stella recommends some questions for reflection, to consider the role of novelty and adventure in your team and organisation:

  • Are you offering your people the opportunity to participate in something new.
  • Are you accommodating for the basic human need of novelty?
  • Are your people bored?
  • Are there new adventures that can expand their capacity, their skills, and their thinking?
  • Do you offer your people the opportunity to learn new things, giving them the chance to explore adventure and novelty?
  • Have you asked your people how they have been emotionally impacted by Covid? Have you spoken to the about what they haven’t been able to fulfill? The gaps?


Now consider these themes as an individual:

  • Where do you personally sit on the continuum of safety and responsibility when it comes to matters of the career vs adventure freedom?
  • Are you the type of person that likes the safety and consistency of the same company? Do you feel peaceful in the comfort of knowing you have security in your role?
  • Or are you someone that requires significant freedom, movement and adventure to feel fulfilled?


The paradox of safety vs adventure is the first idea in a series of three, focusing on the challenge of talent retention and engagement in today’s economic climate. Next we will focus on Stella’s second idea, the role of desire as a pull mechanism in people retention.

*This blog is adapted from a keynote address on 'Talent Retention and Engagement for Today's Economic Climate', delivered by Reo Group CEO Stella Petrou Concha.


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